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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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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