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

 
 

It's undeniable that businesses are facing economic uncertainty in 2023. Here's what marketing tools to tap into to navigate the challenges ahead. Photo via Getty Images

All indications point to a fair amount of economic uncertainty in the coming months. I think a lot of B-to-B companies, across many industries, are going to retrench in their spending, and deals will likely be harder to close because more approvals will be required. Still, there are going to be those companies who will continue to grow because they are using the right go to market strategies and tactics.

Here are some of the things for high growth company management teams to consider doing.

Invest in a CRM tool — and the time to set it up

A customer relations management, or CRM, tool is an essential component of data measurement — and every company needs to closely track those key performance indicators towards revenue and growth goals.

A CRM tool doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many low initial investment options such as Hubspot, SharpSpring, and others. The investment then becomes the staff or consultant time to set it up correctly so that it meets a company’s needs and to continue to monitor it.

How much time is spent depends on what you want the system to do. Some companies run their website out of a CRM platform, or send automated emails, or do their other social media through it. Others only use it to track their contacts and sales.

Data may show desired progress — or it may show stagnation — and a team needs to be able to analyze information expediently to reformulate a plan, or pivot to a new one, if needed.

Prioritize the digital toolkit

While companies have a lot of different digital marketing tools at their disposal, there are five basic elements to consider optimizing. If the resources aren’t available to tackle them all at once, the management team needs to determine their top priorities.

Website design and content: Think about this as a company’s virtual lobby. A well-designed website with relevant content is essential for attracting new business. Ranking well in organic web searches — SEO — is also a very important component.

Social media: LinkedIn, with its business focus, is a great place to start. Companies can share their story, interact with potential investors, and build relationships with potential clients.

Email marketing: An email marketing newsletter is the logical step after developing a compelling company website. The content should benefit the reader. What can you do for them?

Content marketing: Blog posts, videos and ebooks are just some of the value added content you can share with potential investors and clients. What makes your company different from your competitors?

Paid advertising: Companies can use paid advertising to target potential new customers through online channels such as search engines and social media. The nice thing about paid advertising is that the attribution is there — companies can pinpoint exactly what messaging resonated with a potential client.

Let goals drive strategy

SEO and digital ads are not the solution for every company. Some companies need to make only a handful of deals each year to reach revenue goals. Broad-based digital marketing is not the best strategy for these players. What is? Often content.

The internet has given potential customers unparalleled ability to comparison shop. They want to know what a company does differently than its competitors. Whether a service or product is cheaper or faster or easier to work with. So tell them.

In addition to web content, speaking opportunities at conferences are a powerful way for companies to position themselves as differentiated in a given marketplace.

On the flip side, high volume players who require a lot of smaller deals would do very well with a far-reaching digital outreach approach.

Listen to experts

No one is an expert in all areas. And they shouldn’t try to be. Whether that is financial analysis or digital marketing, hiring the right people to fill in any deficiencies is the smart move.

Trying to wing it through effort and good intentions is often frustrating for everyone. With digital marketing and lead generation, a lack of expertise can sometimes result in implementing a product or service that’s not really going to generate the expected results.

If a company spends big money on a digital marketing tactic, and it fails to land new business, then the assumption might be that digital marketing doesn’t work. That’s often not the case. It was simply the wrong tool for the job. An expert would help pinpoint the correct one.

Measure success first by revenue

Digital marketing should primarily be responsible for moving potential customers down the sales funnel. And sales revenue is the best evidence that the marketing was effective.

There has always been that push and pull with sales and marketing about what actions actually contribute to closing a deal but a good CRM tool will help.

There are other ways to measure the success of any campaign:

  • The number of visitors to a company’s website or social media page
  • The level of engagement a campaign generates or the amount of time a prospect engages with content
  • The number of leads generated, along with the quality of that lead
  • The return on investment

Continued growth starts with goal setting and coming up with a marketing and business development strategy that fits the unique needs of a business. This works most effectively when a company’s management team ensures that marketing and sales are working in lockstep. They are two sides of the same coin and need to see themselves that way to maximize results and therefore profit.

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Libby Covington is partner at Houston-based The Craig Group, a strategic digital marketing solutions consulting firm. Her specialty is in understanding how sales and marketing work together effectively.

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