15 Books to Read Before Launching a New Business

You have an entrepreneurial spirit, and you are eager to bring your new product or service into the marketplace, but did you know that about 50 percent of new businesses in the United States fail in their first five years? Gallup research finds that the success of a new business has a lot to do with the person behind the launch of the venture. One of the best ways to drive future performance is for prospective founders to take the time to educate themselves about best practices and to learn from the mistakes of others. You can learn a lot from those who have successfully—or unsuccessfully—navigated the startup terrain.

Below we have listed 15 books worth reading before you decide to launch your new business.


    1. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 2004

A six-year research project, Built to Last examines the inner workings of 18 exceptional companies to determine what sets them apart from their competitors. The selected companies are followed from the startup phase to the point where they became large, successful organizations, and the authors look for common threads among the companies that can be applied to any business.


    1. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (Audiobook) by Tony Hsieh, 2013

This behind-the-scenes look at online shoe retailer Zappos is written by the company’s CEO. Hsieh reveals how Zappos became successful by following an unconventional path that included offering new employees $2,000 to quit, making customer service a companywide responsibility and concentrating on making the world a better place. The book is a reminder that profits should not be a company’s only goal.


    1. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days by Jessica Livingston, 2009

Livingston provides a collection of interviews with some of the biggest tech company founders, such as Steve Wozniak of Apple, Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail and Caterina Fake of Flickr. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn the basics of a successful startup, and includes how the founders got their ideas, convinced investors to back their ventures and recovered from setbacks.


    1. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, 2009

Understanding economics is an essential part of entrepreneurship, and Freakonomics explains the incentives, motives and factors that drive the economy in a fresh and compelling way. The book examines such unconventional subjects as drug dealers and cheating teachers juxtaposed against real estate agents and the world of campaign finance.


    1. Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition by Guy Kawasaki, 2011

Kawasaki has worked at Apple, advised Google and is on the board of trustees for Wikimedia. He uses these experiences—and many more—to create a humorous yet informative guide covering a variety of topics, including how to get a standing ovation, how to create a community and how to learn the art of schmoozing to help entrepreneurs get ahead in the business world.


    1. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, 2010

Two software entrepreneurs operating a company with more than 10 years of sustained profitability wrote this guide to modern business practices. Learn how they turned their backs on advertising, salespeople and a board of directors to generate millions of customers with only 16 employees and no marketing department.


    1. Start Run & Grow: A Successful Small Business by Toolkit Media Group, 2008

This is the quintessential primer for small business owners. Covering a variety of topics including business financing, planning, marketing, managing cash flow and managing employers, this book provides easy-to-follow guidelines, along with checklists and business documents.


    1. The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau, 2012

An ideal book for those who want to leave the traditional employment environment and pursue their passions while earning a living. Guillebeau interviews ordinary people with no special skills who were able to turn investments of $100 or less into businesses making $50,000 or more per year, allowing them to do what they love, resulting in more freedom and fulfillment.


    1. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss, 2009

Ferris offers tips to entrepreneurs—and overworked employees—on ways to reject the “deferred life plan” and earn more money while working fewer hours by understanding the importance of time and mobility. The book includes ways to outsource your life to virtual assistants overseas for just five dollars an hour, how to obtain free housing and airfare at discounts of up to 80 percent, and how to eliminate 50 percent of your work in 48 hours.


    1. The Business Planning Guide by David H. Bangs, 2002

This guide offers real-word business advice and explains how to forecast finances, budget effectively and perform business analyses. With step-by-step instructions and three complete sample business plans, Bangs provides a straightforward approach to business planning and financial proposals.


    1. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber, 2004

The “E-Myth,” or entrepreneurial myth, addresses two fallacies: most people who start a smart business are entrepreneurs, and someone who understands the technical side of a business can successfully operate a technical company. This book was voted the No. 1 business book by Inc. 500 CEOs as a result of the practical, step-by-step business advice that Gerber provides.


    1. The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen, 2011

It is possible for a business to do everything right—and still lose their share of the market, or even fail. Christensen reveals that the failure to constantly embrace the next wave of technology causes a paradox among companies that are destroyed by the same practices that led to their success, and he discusses the importance of embracing “disruptive innovation.”


    1. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries, 2011

Ries provides a scientific method for creating and running a startup. The book reveals how to eliminate uncertainty by asking the right questions. Many people ask, “Can this product be built?” when they should be asking,“Should this product be built?” and “Can we build a sustainable business around this product—or service?” Ries also explains the importance of regular testing, as well as developing a minimum viable product.


    1. The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, 2012

Every successful company needs customers, and this book reveals a tested and proven method for developing customers. It includes a step-by-step process for customer development, along with a business model canvas to monitor progress, and detailed information on how to develop and market physical products versus web and mobile products.


    1. Will It Fly? How to Know if Your New Business Idea Has Wings...Before You Take the Leap by Thomas K. McKnight, 2003

Entrepreneurs need to know—as soon as possible—if their idea will work, and McKnight uses 44 key success elements to help evaluate ideas. Before you quit your day job or invest your hard-earned money in your idea, the Innovator’s Scorecard can help you assess everything from competition and market demand to setting prices and understanding the management process. The book also shows entrepreneurs how to improve their score.


For more business strategy tips, read our post on 10 podcasts to sharpen your sales skills.