3.25 Books every founder needs to read

November 11, 2021

My two interests (among others) are reading and working with founders on their zero to one journey. During my consulting gigs with founders, there are several instances where I’d recommend books to gain insights/overcome a specific startup issue.

If you are a founder working on building something great, you might have heard about these books. There are of course several great books that could have been included in the list and I was tempted to add some more. But if you must read just three, I’ll recommend these:

  1. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
  2. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
  3. Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

And if you are curious about the quarter (.25), feel free to scroll to the bottom of this post.

The Lean Startup:

The way we can’t talk about design/UX without mentioning Apple; we can’t talk about startups without The Lean Startup. For the first time entrepreneur this book is a great introduction to this proven system of product development and growth.

"The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible."

The Lean Startup

Over the years, I’ve known several founders who’ve spent months (and in some cases years) creating the product that no one wants. They would have their brand identity and product roadmap created, before identifying who their customer is and if they’ll ever pay for your product. In most cases this approach leads to waste and disappointments. And the Lean Startup philosophy can help startups avoid waste by introducing them to entrepreneurship management.

The book advocates validated learnings through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. If you’ve got an idea, you can systematically test it by running experiments and hopefully create a successful startup. Instead of asking “Can we build this product?” the founders should be asking “Should we build this product?” and “Can we create a sustainable business if we built this product/service?”

"Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects. It is more concrete, more accurate, and faster than market forecasting or classical business planning"

The Lean Startup

I can’t recommend this book enough, and this is one book I plan to re-read every year.


While the Lean Startup gives you a roadmap and the mindset, Rework gives you a fresh way of thinking about the startup. In fact, one of my favorite chapters from the book is: Start a business, not a startup.

"A business without a path to profit isn’t a business, it’s a hobby. So don’t use the idea of a startup as a crutch. Instead, start an actual business. Actual businesses have to deal with actual things like bills and payroll."


Founders often struggle with prioritization and growth (among many other things). This book helps you tackle all those questions and much more.

"If you’re opening a hot dog stand, you could worry about the condiments, the cart, the name, the decoration. But the first thing you should worry about is the hot dog. The hot dogs are the epicenter. Everything else is secondary."


The book is filled with practical advice, actionable tips and heartwarming words for entrepreneurs. It challenges the way most founders and startups think of work, teams, competition, product development, marketing, hiring, decision making, collaboration, etc.

"If you’re planning to build “the iPod killer” or “the next Pokemon,” you’re already dead. You’re allowing the competition to set the parameters. You’re not going to out-Apple Apple."


I feel this book isn’t just for founders starting out, but also for seasoned entrepreneurs. One of those books where you open any page and will find insights, wisdom, and comfort.


The Lean Startup and Rework are excellent books for learning about product and business strategy. Once you’ve figured that out, you need to start thinking about customer acquisition. How will you get your first 100 customers? What is the best way to reach them? And Traction, helps answer that part for you.

"Traction is a sign that something is working. If you charge for your product, it means customers are buying. If your product is free, it’s a growing user base."


Please note customer acquisition is not something you’ll think after shipping your product. The book recommends a 50 percent rule for the founders - spend 50 percent of your time on product and 50 percent on traction.

"This 50 percent rule is hard to follow because the pull to spend all of your attention on product is strong."


If you’ve built a great product the customers will find you, is not the way it works unfortunately. You can’t wait for customers to come to you, you must go out there and get them.  

There are 19 channels of traction/marketing – SEO, SEM, Email Marketing, Content Marketing, Publicity, P.R., etc. It can get overwhelming if you aren’t familiar with all these marketing channels. But the book does a great job not just in explaining these 19 channels but also in figuring out the prioritization.

Bullseye Framework provided in the book is a fantastic three-step process built on the Lean Startup principles, to identify the best traction channels for your startup.

"Poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have great business."


As a marketing strategist, I knew all these 19 traction channels but still managed to learn a lot. I’ve recommended this book to several founders in the past couple of months, when I realised they were only focused on product and not traction.

And here is the quarter:

Traction had a link to an article/essay by Paul Graham titled ‘Do things that don’t scale’. I keep coming back to this article because it carries one of the most profound advice for the founders.

"Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going."

Paul Graham

This article is at least equivalent to quarter of a book if not more, in terms of weight and value of the insights. Founders need to manually recruit their first users, it’s that simple. Most founders I’ve worked with are comfortable hiding behind emails and product backlogs, but that doesn’t work in most cases. The author shares fantastic examples of how Stripe and AirBnB founders got their first users on the platform.

Founders operate in uncertainty, and many believe nothing can prepare you for it. ‘You’ve got to take the leap of faith and do it’ they’ll say, but that’s a ridiculous advice in my opinion. We can always learn from the experts and mentors. You aren’t the first founder/entrepreneur on earth and your problems aren’t as unique as you imagine them to be. These books, therefore, are required reading because they’ll at least give you the right mental models to tackle the uncertainty. Wishing you loads of success validated learnings and traction 🙂

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