I’ve read hundreds of books on entrepreneurship and business but some have stood far above the rest.
This is a list of 15 books that are essential reads for aspiring entrepreneurs. Reading them will improve your business mindset, soft skills, productivity, and more.
They are divided into four main categories for convenience.
- 1 Business and Entrepreneurship
- 2 Startups
- 3 Marketing
- 4 Soft Skills and Miscellaneous
- 5 Summary
Business and Entrepreneurship
These books are focused specifically on creating and running businesses to build wealth.
The E-Myth Revisited
The E-Myth Revisited was published a few years after the original (The E-Myth), and is focused on small businesses.
The main concept is that most people who start businesses run them with an employee mindset. They understand the technical jobs, but don’t have the big picture knowledge to create a smoothly functioning and profitable business.
This book emphasizes adopting the right mindset to build processes that will allow an entrepreneur to run their business, rather than work in it.
It’s an easy read, and largely focuses on a hypothetical business case study.
Keep in mind that this was written before the Internet was really a thing, but the principles still apply.
The 4-Hour Workweek
The 4-Hour Workweek is the book that really made a name for its author Tim Ferriss.
It tells the story of how he was able to turn his supplement business into a lifestyle business.
Instead of working 40+ hour weeks, he was able to reduce his workweek to around 4 hours, while still remaining profitable.
He did this through a lot of streamlining, delegation, and automation. He’s also a big fan of leveraging the Pareto principle.
The book details everything he did to transform his business, and shows you how you could apply the principles to your own.
The Millionaire Fastlane
This title scares off a lot of people (including myself) at first, because it does sound like a get rich quick book.
But it’s far from that. Give it a chance.
The first big chunk of The Millionaire Fastlane focuses on the author’s background, and how he studied average people who went on to achieve great wealth.
The purpose, above all else, is to remove the mindset that the path to wealth is to get a job and invest money safely. DeMarco loathes the thought of only having wealth when you’re too old to fully enjoy it.
Instead, he proposes the “millionaire fastlane,” a track to unlinking your time from money. This is the only way to achieve exponential wealth growth.
Despite the terminology sounding a bit sketchy throughout the book, the writing is captivating, and the principles themselves give you a lot to think about.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building A Business When There Are No Easy Answers
I love books written by authors who have had sustained success; It gives the writing more credibility.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things was written by Ben Horowitz, who’s one of the most respected entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. That raises the bar of your expectations for this book and you won’t be disappointed.
In particular, this was written for CEOs, and entrepreneurs who want to be CEOs.
It mostly focuses on how to be an effective leader. This includes both how to decide what needs to be done, how to define it clearly, and how to get others to help you accomplish it.
Ben also has written a ton of posts on his blog, I highly recommend reading a few to see if you enjoy his writing style.
Start With Why
Start With Why is both focused on business, but also on psychology and mindset.
The main message is that all great leaders do one thing differently than others. Instead of focusing on what they want to accomplish, or how they’re going to do it, they start with why it’s important.
This conclusion is based off of research that Simon Sinek (the author) did, looking at leadership traits of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs.
If you’re looking to build a brand, movement, or even just be a more inspiring leader, this book will have at least a few great takeaways for you.
Startups are a special kind of business, so I placed these recommended reads in their own category.
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup is a framework developed by Eric Ries. It’s a great book to read if you feel like there’s too much luck involved in creating a successful business.
It’s very different from most business books, because it focuses on a scientific approach to validating ideas, building products, and selling them.
The core concept and motivation behind the book is that most people get a business idea, spend months or years building it, and then find out that no one even wants to buy it.
Instead, Ries proposes to get data as soon as possible, and keep revising your idea and product until it matches what a market really wants.
This approach will help you minimize wasted time and investments, and give you a better chance at creating a thriving business.
The $100 Startup
If you’re not interested in making tens of millions, but would rather create a business that allows you to live comfortably and with freedom, The $100 Startup is a must-read.
Chris Guillebeau started by finding 1,500 people who have built successful small businesses (earning $50,000+ per year), without a large investment. Many cost less than $100 to start, hence the title.
He chose the very best of those to create case studies and identify patterns that others could follow to achieve similar success.
In short, he found that people were able to find an intersection between their skills and knowledge and what the market will buy. His writing makes it clear how these connections were made, and with a little thinking you could do the same.
Zero to One
If you feel like all the good ideas are taken, this book will change the way that you see how businesses fit together in a market.
It’s written by Blake Masters based on direct input from the well-known entrepreneur (and billionaire) Peter Thiel.
Unlike The $100 Startup, Zero to One focuses on creating startups with huge potential.
Instead of taking an idea that’s already been done and improving it, he proposes a thought framework leading to true innovation.
He proposes to niche down and find a problem that only you (or very few) have the unique perspective, skills, resources, and timing to solve. In doing this, you essentially create your own monopoly that no one can replicate.
This is definitely not a “how-to” book, but he does offer practical steps.
Being able to create a product is useless if you can’t get anyone to buy it. Marketing is an area that most entrepreneurs struggle with, but these books will help you understand how to use it effectively.
Anyone can build a product, but it’s difficult to get people to use it.
Traction is all about gaining traction, more specifically, choosing the right marketing channel using a 3-step process called “Bullseye.”
Those 19 channels include blogging, SEO, content marketing, and so on.
This isn’t a revolutionary book, but it will certainly clear up where you should focus your marketing efforts on.
Alternatively, you could just read a ton of blog posts written by the most respected marketers, but consider this book a shortcut that will save you some time.
Trust Me, I’m Lying
I wasn’t sure whether or not to include this book on this list, as it’s kind of depressing.
Ryan Holiday is a highly successful marketer, and wrote Trust Me, I’m Lying to really expose how modern online media works.
He clearly explains and shows why you see so much clickbait, even on what used to be respected websites.
With that understanding, you can either use it to manipulate media to your business’ benefit, or just develop better reading habits.
Either way, it’s an enjoyable read.
Seth Godin has written a collection of great books, but Tribes is the one I chose to include on this list.
The concept of a tribe is a group of people that are connected together through an idea, a leader, or each other.
This book does require a lot of thinking on your part if you’re going to get a lot out of it. It’s not explicitly practical.
Godin analyzes different “tribes” and explores how they work, in particular, the leadership. If you have a cause or purpose that you’d like to lead and build a tribe around, this is a great book to gain a few insights and show you what to think about.
Soft Skills and Miscellaneous
A lot of your success won’t be determined by your hard skills, but by your social skills and mindset.
The books in this section are not necessarily business books, but will help you be more successful, both in and out of your business.
The Obstacle is the Way
This is the most philosophical book on this list.
The main goal of The Obstacle is the Way is to help you react to failure as well as possible, and turn it into success.
There are several interesting stories included of famous historical figures like John Rockefeller and Ulysses S. Grant.
If you feel like you take failure really hard, and it’s crushing your motivation, this is a good book to read to start to reframe some of these events.
Think and Grow Rich
This is an old book, but Think and Grow Rich has stood the test of time since being released in 1937.
Allegedly, Napoleon Hill studied successful individuals for over 20 years leading up to this book, as well as his others.
This book focuses on 13 principles that he identified in these people, that will lead to riches.
It has a nice balance between being motivational and being practical. One principle involves belief, and thinking clearly about what you’d like to achieve, which may sound a little like something that should be on Oprah. But then another involves careful organization and planning.
Of course some things have changed over time, but there’s a reason why so many successful people today give credit to this book.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
This classic, written in 1936, should be a must-read whether or not you’re an entrepreneur.
How to Win Friends and Influence People contains a series of stories and compelling arguments that will help you do exactly what the title promises.
Some of it will strike you as common sense, but just about everyone can benefit from learning how to connect with others better.
You will learn concepts that will help you get clients, maintain better relationships with them, and have happier employees. These ideas will benefit you in your personal life as well.
Besides just being interesting, this final book has some direct lessons that you can apply to your business.
Predictably Irrational is all about weird human judgment and behavior. Why do we make poor decisions?
Dan Ariely analyzes a variety of psychological experiments to find out what drives certain decision-making paradoxes.
The most successful entrepreneurs never stop learning, and neither should you.
If you can read just one book a month, you’ll have finished all of these books in just over a year. Your entire outlook on business will be revitalized and improved.