Startup School

5 books every budding entrepreneur needs to read

Before you even start thinking about starting your own company, read these books. Photo by Utamaru Kido/Getty Images

You thought you were done with homework, but, if you're an entrepreneur looking to start a company, that's not the case. The startup world is a lot of fun, but also a lot of work and preparation.

So, what kind of homework should you do? Unfortunately, watching Shark Tank and HBO's Silicon Valley can only take you so far. You need to know about pre-money valuations, convertible notes, liquidation preferences, control provisions, and so much more. Fortunately, there are plenty of books to get you up to speed. Yes, books — do you remember those? Turns out plain old books can be very useful if you're looking to get involved with the even the highest tech parts of the startup world. So here are five books to get you started.

The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's Most Exclusive School for Startups

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As a startup founder, you'll need to know what Y Combinator is, how it works, what the people are like, and how great founders and mentors conduct themselves. This book offers a behind the scenes look at the most elite startup incubator/accelerator. Why is it the most elite? Because it keeps producing unicorns (companies valued at over $1 billion) — think AirBnb, Dropbox, Twitch, Stripe. With this book, you'll really get a sense of the day to day conversations and challenges that startups face. It is also just a really entertaining book and a great starting point.

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

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After reading Launch Pad, it is time to get down to business. Venture Deals is a fairly in-depth breakdown of the relationship between investors and startup founders. It runs through typical VC titles, processes, and incentives. Perhaps most importantly, it goes into the economic and control provisions of the term sheet. You'll want a pen and paper to take plenty of notes when going through this one. Do not expect this book to always be fun, but do expect to learn a lot. If you can make it through this one and really absorb what is being said then you might actually be serious about the startup world, so good job.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

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Whether you'll be a founder, investor, reporter, or just want to be a successful person, you need to set lofty goals, write them down, share them, and stick to them. OKR stands for objectives and key result. This book is less about startups and more about pushing yourself to achieve more. OKRs force you to break down your goals in metrics that can be tracked. For example, I knew I wanted to meet with hundreds of startups per year for my investment job. But how many exactly? How do I set a goal for that? Simple — just say you need to meet with at least two startups per day for a least one hour. That means at least 10 startups per week (five working days), or over 40 per month. Set lofty goals, so that you fail to achieve 30 percent of them.

Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business

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Time to step inside the shoes of the CEO — must be nice to be in charge, right? I'm sure it is nice in some ways, but it is also an unbelievable amount of work. This book goes through every last detail — in detail. You may feel overwhelmed at times, but you might also feel ready to manage a company. There is much more to managing a company than can be found in a single book, but this is a great breakdown of the day-to-day activities. It has tips on how to be organized, prioritize time, grow your key employees, and interact with the board of directors. Sure, you'll still need to build a great product that customers want, and you'll still need to have great interpersonal and communication skills, but at least this book describes the details of how to operate.

​Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future​

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The final book in this short list will drive you to think big — and think differently. Think about building a dominating monopoly. Yes, monopolies are a good thing when you're the one making the business. I hope that concept is not too upsetting, but you should be ruthless when you are out there competing. That means giving your customers something amazing that your competition can't even compete with. If you think about it, the big tech companies pretty much dominate at least one market. Google has search and maps. Facebook, since owning Instagram, has social media. Amazon has logistics. If you're going to start a startup you should aim to be 10 times better than any competition in one key way. You want to clearly differentiate your product from your competition. Zero to One teaches you how to think that way, and so much more.

So, there you have it. I think these five books will give you a good starting point. There are a dozen or more other books you should also read about innovating, investing, and managing, but you must start somewhere. This list gives you a little bit of everything to get you started.

Now, you just have to actually start.

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Mark Friday is an associate leading venture capital investments at Houston-based Cathexis Holdings LP.

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A Rice University scientist will be working on the team for NASA's latest Mars rover. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Rice University Martian geologist has been chosen by NASA as one of the 13 scientists who will be working on a new Mars rover.

Perseverance, the rover that launched in July and is expected to land on Mars in February. It will be scouting for samples to bring back to study for ancient microbial life, and Kirsten Siebach — an assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — will be among the researchers to work on the project. Her proposal was one of 119 submitted to NASA for funding, according to a Rice press release.

"Everybody selected to be on the team is expected to put some time into general operations as well as accomplishing their own research," she says in the release. "My co-investigators here at Rice and I will do research to understand the origin of the rocks Perseverance observes, and I will also participate in operating the rover."

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perseverance is headed for Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide area that once hosted a lake and river delta where, according to scientists, microbial life may have existed over 3 billion years ago. Siebach is particularly excited hopefully find fossils existing in atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in water — which usually exists as limestone on Earth.

"There are huge packages of limestone all over Earth, but for some reason it's extremely rare on Mars," she says. "This particular landing site includes one of the few orbital detections of carbonate and it appears to have a couple of different units including carbonates within this lake deposit. The carbonates will be a highlight of we're looking for, but we're interested in basically all types of minerals."

Siebach is familiar with rovers — she was a member of the team for NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. For this new rover, Siebach knows what to expect.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades."

Siebach and her team — which includes Rice data scientist Yueyang Jiang and mineralogist Gelu Costin — are planning to tap into computational and machine-learning methods to map out minerals and discover evidence for former life on Mars. They will also be using a Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, to analyze the materials.

The return mission isn't expected to return until the early 2030s, so it's a long game for the scientists. However, the samples have the potential to revolutionize what we know about life on Mars with more context than before.

"Occasionally, something hits Mars hard enough to knock a meteorite out, and it lands on Earth," she says in the release. "We have a few of those. But we've never been able to select where a sample came from and to understand its geologic context. So these samples will be revolutionary."

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