Startup Reads: 11 Books Every Early-Stage Entrepreneur Should Read

I haven’t always been a big reader, but I’ve got more into it over the past few years of working with startups. In a past article, Five Pillars of Success: Curated Content for Early-Stage Entrepreneurs, I mentioned that last year I read 12 books. This year, instead of aiming for double (24), I set myself a stretch goal, and I’m aiming for 48. Will I make it? I’m going strong so far. 

With all this reading, I’ve come across some great books. I know lists are supposed to be top 10, but I loved all 11 of these too much to cut one off the list. 

Here my 11 top reads for early-stage entrepreneurs:

11. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, by Simon Sinek

Why are you building this company? Why should people listen? Why are others successful, and you aren’t? This book may make you rethink why you’re building what your startup—but it will also surely help you tell your story better… or get you to work on something more aligned with your why. 

10. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries

A book for aspiring entrepreneurs and early stage founders, Ries breaks it down into simple steps: how to systematically approach building your business, get it validated, make it profitable, and set up the basics for it to grow.

9. Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup, by David Cohen & Brad Feld

Written by our Techstars co-founders, this book is an easy read of  bite-sized advice from across the brilliant worldwide network itself. Perfect for those who are new to the startup world to and want to figure out how to set up your company, get customers, hire—and many other must-knows for any early stage entrepreneur. 

8. Delivering Happiness: The Path to Passion, Profits, and Purpose, by Tony Hsieh

If you’re building a company and want to learn about how to make a good customer-centric business, with the best company culture, this book will show you how. It’s about more than just business, though, it’s also about life.

7. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

Every company should make this book mandatory reading. It opened my eyes to gender inequality. While putting some responsibility on men to support women more, it also details how women can take the lead themselves to take part, aim higher, and take more risks. 

6. Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp

Know what the biggest startup killer is? Lack of market: when you build something no one wants. This is the book that the Google team wrote and practiced, and it will show you how to test (and possibly invalidate) ideas in five days. My team at Evolve used it before we sold our company to Hubspot, so I can tell you that it really works.

5. Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, by Al Ramadam, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lockhead, and Kevin Maney

This book explains how launching a startup is more than about creating and launching products. It discusses why you should consider launching a product category, and how and why to condition the market so they demand your solution. 

4. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success, by Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown

In my opinion, the number one growth marketing book of all time. I’ve read it yearly since 2010, and recommended it to every founder I meet. Need customers? Is your current customer acquisition strategy not working? Not sure how to run marketing experiments? Read this!

3. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It, by Chris Voss

Written by an ex-FBI hostage negotiator, this is the book that every one of my book club members said I have to include here. It’s the way to get better at negotiations and influence—and get what you want. Note: it’s not just useful for sales people, it’s helpful for all types of negotiations, or even discussions with partners, friends, or family.

2. Mastering the VC Game: A Venture Capital Insider Reveals How to Get from Start-up to IPO on Your Terms, by Jeffrey Bussgang

This is one you won’t find on other lists. It’s a perspective from the other side: an entrepreneur turned VC. So keep this a secret. Knowing how they think will help you plan your moves. It’s a little more technical and financial than the others here, but it’s worth the read when you’re a little later on and want that opposite perspective.

And my #1 recommendation is….

1. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance

If you’re looking for inspiration about changing the world, look no further. In my eyes, Elon is by far the greatest innovator of our time. I mean, he brought together a brilliant team, and learnt how to build a rocket from scratch, for a lot less money too. I also really appreciate that Elon didn’t get “final revisions,” so the book has a certain raw, unbiased lens.

So now what? Go read the books. You don’t have to read one a week like me or even one a month, but if there’s one thing I learnt from all of these books, you have to set goals so you can stay motivated and keep it consistent.

Lastly, don’t forget to reread your books. In case you didn’t know, the most successful people in the world all say that you shouldn’t just read a book once and put it away. The best part is reading it again when older, smarter, at a different stage, or after you’ve gone through different experiences that the book touched on — unlocking more value from the book for you.

What are some of your favorite book recommendations? Tweet me @iamsabakarim

Five Pillars of Success: Curated Content for Early Stage Entrepreneurs

So you’ve got a terrific idea for a startup? Great!

If you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, you may feel overwhelmed by all the new vocabulary and concepts around building a business.

Techstars encourages all of us to #GiveFirst, so today my gift to you is a long list of great resources from across the web. Give these articles a read, and before you know it, you’ll be finding a great co-founder, building a MVP, acquiring customers, perfecting your pitch, and even raising a seed round!

BUSINESS: Defining and fine-tuning your core offering

  1. The business model canvas:
  2. Building a MVP (Minimum Viable Product):
  3. Achieving PMF (Product-Market Fit):
  4. Running design sprints:
  5. 10 steps to perfect your startup pitch:
  6. Pricing your product:
  7. Branding must haves:

PEOPLE: Finding and working with the right people

  1. Finding great co-founders:
  2. Creating the right culture for your startup:
  3. How great leaders inspire action:
  4. Three types of mentors you need:
  5. Five rules for networking:
  6. How to write the best forwardable email:

TECHNOLOGY: Getting the tech correct

  1. What makes a good CTO?
  2. Making engineering team communication clearer, faster and better:
  3. Common UI/UX website mistakes:
  4. Understanding modern web development:
  5. What is blockchain?
  6. Everything you need to know about AI (Artificial Intelligence):

GROWTH: Getting customers

  1. Tools for understanding your customers:
  2. Marketing tactics:
  3. Marketing automation:
  4. The ultimate guide to customer acquisition:
  5. Dictionary of marketing terms you should know:
  6. Making sales a priority:  

FUNDRAISING: Money to grow and scale

  1. Startup fundraising:
  2. Raising money for your startup:
  3. A fundraising template every entrepreneur can use:
  4. What is an angel investor?
  5. 16 startup metrics you need to know:
  6. Nine seed funding gotchas:
  7. Why investors prefer founding CEOs:


Read all these and still want more? The Techstars Entrepreneur’s Toolkit offers videos, exercises, and more to help you #domorefaster.

Saba Karim

P.S. Last year I read 12 books. This year, I set myself a stretch goal, and I’m aiming for 48! However, I’m going to need your help. If you also like reading, tweet at me @iamsabakarim, and let me know what you’re reading so we can chat about it—and possibly feature your recommendation on my next Techstars Blog.

Techstars Is Coming To Town

Applications are now open for 22 of our accelerator programs (the most open at the same time ever), across North America, Europe, and Asia. This is why our managing directors and program managers are hitting the skies to learn more about what you’re working on.

Come to a Meet and Greet in your city and find out if Techstars mentorship-driven accelerators are a good-fit for you. If you haven’t attended one before, check out this video to see what our Meet and Greets are all about.

Pro-Tip: There are six things we looks for in a company: team, team, team, market, progress, idea. No, that’s not a typo. What this means is if you get the opportunity to connect with us in-person or online, worry less about digging into your technology stack, product features, or financial models—and show us who you are, how awesome your team is, where your passion lies, and why we should invest in you.

What to know more about what Techstars is up to? Here are just a few recent launches:

We look forward to meeting you! If you’re unable to make any of Meet and Greets listed, feel free to join an upcoming Virtual Meet and Greet.

Techstars Is Coming to Town

As we continue to grow the Techstars worldwide network, we are on the lookout for startups worldwide from even more verticals than last year… or even last week.

Join us over the coming months as our team visits cities across the world. This is your opportunity to get inspired, connect with our team, and share with us what you’re working on. You can also apply for a one-on-one meeting with our program staff to learn more about our programs. Visit to sign up.

There are 16 Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs that will be kicking off in February 2019. Applications are now open.

Pro tip: Unlike your college essay, it does help to submit earlier. In some cases, we’ve had an influx of applications come through on the night before applications close. Again, it’s not compulsory, but it doesn’t hurt to get in front of our team earlier.

If you’re not familiar with Techstars, perhaps you have heard of one of the companies that went through our programs that we’ve helped accelerate:

So what makes Techstars different? We’re a mentorship-driven accelerator – an enormous network of mentors, who are investors, entrepreneurs and business professionals who continue to give advice and help companies grow. Until six years ago, Techstars was just in the United States. Ten years ago, we were only in Boulder. Now, our mentorship-driven accelerators are across North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia and my homeland of Australia.

Now is your opportunity to join the Techstars worldwide network by joining us for a meet and greet session in your city!