July 13, 2008
A post on TheFunded.com caught my attention today with the subject of Must Read Books For Entrepreneurs. It recommended the story of startup execs building their companies Founders At Work (and then adamantly disclaimed no association with the authors which I found a bit forced). The post got me thinking about business book in general.
In launching iContact in 2002-2003 while also running Preation I spent very little time reading books about entrepreneurship and growing businesses, I stayed heads-down delivering software and trying to educate the market about our offerings. It wasn’t until 2005 when I began traveling for business about twice a month that I began to force myself to read again, it had been since my childhood that I had read anything not directly related to formal education. I even had a lot of fun ridiculing two of my good friends from college when they formed a book club among their girlfriends and acquaintances.
As my need to fly coast-to-coast and to Europe increased a bit I suddenly had a great deal of time on my hands sans-broadband but wasn’t about to allow myself to sit idly. Shortly before a trip to San Francisco (typically 5 hours in the air each way over two flights connecting in Dallas) I picked up Jim Collins’ book about out-performing organizations Good to Great from a large stack prominently displayed in Barnes & Noble at nearby Southpoint Mall. This kicked off a business book reading spree and began my so far three-year streak of boring my wife to tears with the neat little anecdotes I pick up from a variety of topics: start-ups, web 2.0 technology, management strategy, performance teams, marketing, branding, organization and operations, focus, communication, and task execution.
As an entrepreneur you literally cannot find a book in the popular business categories that doesn’t apply to some part of your realm of responsibility, unfortunately you can’t read them all. Maybe there’s a book that can help you better plan which books you should read… but I guess it would be unfairly biased if it concluded that you should read it first. I think I once saw a book about how to best retain information from books that you read, I need to look for this one again, it’s certainly a challenge mentally bookmarking all of the tips you pick up along the way. Actually bookmarking them would be futile. Also, some books have one or two great ideas but spend the rest of the 200-300 pages hoping to prove the intelligence/authority of the author or the premise of those good frameworks. This is where asking around before you begin a book may save you a lot of time. Nearly every good business book today suffers this ailment, probably a symptom more of the publishing world’s expectation of the length of a paperback hit than a failing of the author to communicate properly (whether done consciously or not).
So, in hoping to pass along a road map for the juicy nuggets in two of my favorite business books I responded back with the following (revised slightly for this venue):
I suggest Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore (http://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-Geoffrey-Moore/dp/0060517123) and Good to Great by Jim Collins (http://www.jimcollins.com/). The concepts in both are useful in building strategy that the Venture Capitalists like, ie: working to focus your efforts and attack your most likely prospects.
We used the concepts in these two books to revise our view of the market slide in our funding deck and immediately saw a great response from VCs. You should at least be familiar with these books and their high level recommendations. You don’t necessarily need to read the two books, just make sure you’re familiar with the concepts as follows (you can cherry-pick the right chapters if you look carefully):
Crossing the Chasm:
The Adoption Curve
What the chasm is and how you attack it
Good to Great:
The Flywheel Metaphor
The Hedgehog Concept
The School Bus Metephor (right people on the bus, right people in the right seats, then steer the bus in the right direction)
There you go, master these concepts and you’ll have a startup MBA in the eyes of the VCs. Good luck.