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

 
 

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Another product, RadOnc-AI, is designed to help doctors prescribe radiation dose plans for head and neck cancers.

“Ideally the perfect plan would be to provide radiation to the tumor and nothing around it,” says Havelka. “We’ve built a product, RadOnc-AI, which autogenerates the dose treatment plan based on medical images of that patient.”

It can be an hours-long process for doctors to figure out the path and dose of radiation themselves, but the new product “can build that initial pass in about five minutes,” Havelka says.

That in itself is an exciting development, but because this technology was developed using the expertise of some of the world’s top oncologists, “the first pass plan is in line with what [patients would] get at tier-one institutions,” explains Havelka. This creates “tremendous equity” among patients who can afford to travel to major facilities and those that can’t.

To that end, RadOnc-AI was recently awarded a $1.55 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency that funds cancer research. The Radiological Society of North America announced late last year that InformAI was named an Aunt Minnie Best of Radiology Finalist.

“It’s quite prestigious for our company,” says Havelka. Other recent laurels include InformAI being named one of the 10 most promising companies by the Texas Life Science Forum in November.

And InformAI is only gaining steam. A third product is earlier in its stage of development. TransplantAI will optimize donor organ and patient recipient matches.

“A lot of organs are harvested and discarded,” Havelka says.

His AI product has been trained on a million donor transplants to help determine who is the best recipient for an organ. It even takes urgency into account, based on a patient’s expected mortality within 90 days. The product is currently a fully functional prototype and will soon move through its initial regulatory clearances.

The company — currently backed by three VC funds, including DEFTA Partners, Delight Ventures, and Joyance Partners — is planning to do another seed round in Q2 of 2023.

“We’ve been able to get recognized for digital health products that can be taken to market globally,” says Havelka.

But what he says he’s most excited about is the social impact of his products. With more money raised, InformAI will be able to speed up development of additional products, including expanding the cancers that the company will be targeting. And with that, more and more patients will one day be treated with the highest level of care.

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