The funny thing about becoming an entrepreneur? You’re not just becoming an entrepreneur.
You’re becoming a senior executive, a marketing director, a content writer, an accountant, a sales rep, a design director, a strategist, a customer support representative, and an amateur psychologist — all rolled into one.
Is it any wonder that successful entrepreneurs are information sponges and avid readers?
Ask anyone on the GrowthLab team, and chances are they’ll show you a “to read” list as long as your arm.
- Here’s a list of 50 books our CEO, Ramit Sethi, personally recommends.
- Here’s where our director of product, Lars Lofgren, tracks every book he’s read over the past seven years.
- We wrote an entire post highlighting our 20 top picks on copywriting alone.
And today, we decided to bring all that dang literacy together into a definitive list of GrowthLab’s absolute best books for entrepreneurs, divided into ten areas that every entrepreneur needs to master:
- Building a business on your own terms
- Business basics
- Product & positioning
- Your customers
- Getting stuff done
- Mindset & performance
- Making decisions
- Dealing with hard things
- Persuading & negotiating
- Doing things differently
Note: None of these are affiliate links. We just like these books!
BUILDING A BUSINESS ON YOUR OWN TERMS
1. Barefoot Executive: The Ultimate Guide to Being Your Own Boss
Read it if: You need to reconnect with the reason you want to start a business in the first place.
Why it’s great: Carrie Wilkerson gets it. She gets who the people who want to start their own businesses are, and more importantly, what they want to start their own business for. It’s not the corner office. It’s not the staff of 500+. It’s for the freedom. Best of all, this book isn’t just about the why — it’s about the how to get there.
2. Small Giants: Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
Read it if: You need a reminder that bigger isn’t always better.
Why it’s great: Bo Burlingham’s book is a much-needed corrective In a society that’s obsessed with billion-dollar unicorns and “grow or die” mentality. The book takes an in-depth look at fourteen companies that have made the radical counter-cultural choice to focus on values other than insane growth — and reaped the rewards as a result.
3. The $100 Startup: Reinvent The Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
Read it if: You need reminding that plenty of other people are building businesses on their own terms — so why not you?
Why it’s great: What makes this book impressive is the depth of research that went into it. Author Chris Guillebeau looked at 1,500 case studies of people who have built businesses with almost no investment, and a pattern started to emerge: people with no special skills, realizing they have a passion that could earn them money — and using that fact as a pathway to living the life they wanted.
4. The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
Read it if: You feel like your lack of basic business savvy is holding you back.
Why it’s great: Josh Kaufman crams months worth of business school knowledge into a little under 400 pages. And best of all: it’s WAY cheaper than the semesters you’d spend in a “real” MBA program.
5. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
Read it if: You need a crash course in the basic principles of marketing — or a refresher.
Why it’s great: If you’re an engineer, it helps to understand Newton’s Laws of Motion. If you’re a entrepreneur, it helps to understand the 22 principles outlined in this book. And once you master the rules of the game, you can start to break them.
6. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
Read it if: You’ve ever wondered, “What exactly is branding?”
Why it’s great: A companion to “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” these Immutable Laws apply the same framework to the world of branding. Authors Al Ries and Laura Ries pack their book with plenty of crunchy examples featuring iconic global brands like Rolex, Volvo, and Heineken. Plus, the updated addition is two books for the price of one: you get “The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding” for good measure.
7. 80/20 Sales and Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More
Read it if: You want to get better at knowing where you should be spending your marketing time (and money).
Why it’s great: Once you understand the 80/20 rule — the idea that 80% of your results in any area come from just 20% of your efforts — it unlocks massive amounts of potential everywhere. In “80/20 Sales and Marketing,” Perry Marshall applies this rule to the world of sales and marketing, showing you how you can get 80% more done by focusing in on the right 20% of your market.
8. Confessions of the Pricing Man: How Pricing Affects Everything
Read it if: You have no idea where to start when it comes to pricing your product — or you suspect your pricing could be better.
Why it’s great: Hermann Simon has more than 40 years of experience pricing products, which means he’s smarter on the subject of the pros and cons of various pricing structures, and what your pricing tells your customers, than any of us can ever hope to be.
9. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
Read it if: You’re having trouble telling customers what you do in a way they’ll understand.
Why it’s great: At this point, it’s old news that customers relate to stories. In this book, Donald Miller goes beyond the surface observation to deliver clear, actionable advice you can apply to tap into your customers’ story-detecting brains to clearly convey the value that you have to offer.
10. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
Read it if: You’re ready to plan for the long haul.
Why it’s great: As authors A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin point out, strategy is complex — but that doesn’t mean it’s hard. In this book, they break down the art of guiding your business with larger strategic goals through five core questions: What is our winning aspiration? Where will we play? How will we win? What capabilities must we have in place to win? What management systems are required to support our choices?
PRODUCT AND POSITIONING
11. The Luxury Strategy: Breaking the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands
Read it if: You want to know how to make your product feel like more than a product.
Why it’s great: Luxury brands like Ferrari, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Chanel are masters at creating products that transcend their status as “things” and become experiences. Here, Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien expose the work that goes into making that happen, with a special emphasis on the often counter-intuitive marketing choices that go into creating desire.
12. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
Read it if: You’re worried that your target audience is “too niche.”
Why it’s great: This book busts the myth that you have to have millions of customers to be successful. Sure, last century was all about “hits” — because with all of the resources that went into building a product, the only way to turn a profit was by making things that everyone would like. But the Digital Age is all about specialization and customization. That means it’s more than possible to be successful by building weird, quirky products for the weird, quirky people that want them.
13. Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business
Read it if: You want to know how to deliver top-tier customer service. (Hint: You should want to do this.)
Why it’s great: Author and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer earned his customer service cred in one of the toughest industries out there: the restaurant business. But the tenets of Enlightened Hospitality, the customer service philosophy he outlines here, stretch way beyond the dining room. If your business involves serving customers in any way, shape, or form — and again, this is virtually everyone — you need to read this book.
14. The Art of Community
Read it if: There’s a strong community component to your business.
Why it’s great: Community is a word that’s being used more and more in business contexts these days. In this book, Charles Vogl illustrates that great communities don’t just happen — they can be cultivated. He outlines seven principles to grow lasting, thriving, impactful communities. And best of all: the book comes complete with tools that you can use to take those principles and adapt them to the needs of your community and business.
GETTING WORK DONE
15. Smarter Better Faster: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity
Read it if: You want to understand the “why” that drives more productive habits.
Why it’s great: Charles Duhigg wrote the book on why we do what we do, “The Power of Habit.” Now, with “Smarter Better Faster,” he’s back to dig deeper into how we get things done. Along the way, he outlines eight key productivity concepts including motivation and goal setting to focus and decision making — and why the real secret to productivity isn’t what you do — it’s how you think.
16. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less
Read it if: You’re ready to simplify your life without sacrificing results.
Why it’s great: If you think knowing about the Pareto Principle is enough, think again: there’s a huge difference between knowing, in theory, that 20% of your efforts get you 80% of your results, and really understanding how to apply that principle to your life. This book bridges that gap, and shows you how to apply the principle to everything from how you spend your time to who you spend your time with.
17. The Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Read it if: You want to glean your productivity advice from the best.
Why it’s great: Tim Ferriss knows a thing or two about Top Performers, having talked with hundreds of hundreds of them for his podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show.” Along the way, he’s picked up some unparalleled insights into habits and routines that work. This book distills the best of those insights — all test-driven and vetted by Ferriss himself.
18. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Read it if: You find it hard to focus each day.
Why it’s great: Cal Newport defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” It’s an essential for any knowledge worker, and doubly important for entrepreneurs. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who has a hard time ignoring the siren call of their inbox, Twitter feed, or Slack notifications.
19. Self-Directed Behavior
Read it if: You’re having trouble adjusting to the new reality of being your own boss.
Why it’s great: One of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur is realizing that nothing gets done unless you do it — and nothing changes unless you change it. And it’s hard to change anything if you can’t change yourself. This book comes packed with research-based strategies for developing greater personal insight, so you can be the change you want to make in your business.
MINDSET & PERFORMANCE
20. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
Read it if: You’ve asked the question “Who am I to write/build a business about this?”
Why it’s great: This is a book that dismantles everything you think you know about what makes the greats great. Expertise isn’t innate — it’s earned, and it’s learned. And in this book, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool lay out exactly how.
21. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How
Read it if: You want to kick that fixed mindset to the curb once and for all.
Why it’s great: Daniel Coyle boils talent down to three core, essential elements: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. And, like with so many of the ideas and books on this list, once there’s a process, you can follow it, and replicate the results.
22. The Art of Learning
Read it if: You want to get really, really good at acquiring new skills.
Why it’s great: Being an entrepreneur means getting good at lots of things that you might never have thought you would have to deal with until you started your own business. This book is a crash course in learning new things, told through the story of one man who has gotten really, really good at learning: author, chess champion, and professional learner-of-new-things Josh Waitzkin.
23. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got
Read it if: You’re ready to make the most of the untapped potential around you — and in yourself.
Why it’s great: Jay himself sums this one up best: “You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence, and success. The problem is, you just don’t see them.” This is the book that shows you those simple, obvious solutions.
24. Thinking, Fast and Slow
Read it if: You want a clearer understanding of why you think the way you do.
Why it’s great: Our ability to make good decisions — and understand the decisions of others- – gets better when we know why we make the decisions we make.
25. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts
Read it if: You struggle with making decisions based on incomplete information and always feel like you need to do “more research.”
Why it’s great: Acting in the face of uncertainty is one of an entrepreneur’s most essential skills — and one of the toughest to learn. Champion poker player turned business consultant Annie Duke outlines a framework for better decision-making based on a series of questions — How sure am I? What are the possible ways things could turn out? What decision has the highest odds of success?
DEALING WITH HARD THINGS
26. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It
Read it if: You want to get better at dealing with stress.
Why it’s great: When you’re building a business from scratch, stress comes with the territory. So you might as well make it work for you. In this TED favorite, psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains how, with a change in perspective (stress = excitement), you can harness your stress and turn it into focus and energy that you can pour back into your business.
27. The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph
Read it if: You want to get better at dealing with setbacks.
Why it’s great: Stress is one inevitable side effect of starting a business. Struggle is another. But if you’re like a lot of high achievers we know, you’re not entirely comfortable with that idea. Using examples from across history, including greats like John D. Rockefeller, Ulysses S. Grant, and the omnipresent Steve Jobs, Ryan Holiday outlines three principles for dealing with any obstacle or setback: Control what you can, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher.
28. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers
Read it if: You need a reminder that the reason starting a business feels hard is because .., it is.
Why it’s great: In a Silicon Valley culture that’s obsessed with (the appearance of) effortless success, Ben Horowitz’s willingness to air his own challenges, frustrations, and failures isn’t just refreshing — it’s downright revolutionary. And, bonus: the book comes peppered with lyrics from Horowitz’s favorite rap songs, in case you like your hard business lessons with a bit of flow.
29. Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do
Read it if: You want to get better at learning from failure — and fast.
Why it’s great: In this book, Syed shows exactly what’s at stake in learning from our mistakes that’s the case. He also outlines the predictable patterns of human error that people fall into again and again, and how to recognize and avoid them.
30. The Dip
Read it if: You’re on the brink of giving up on your business idea.
Why it’s great: Out of the many, many books of Seth Godin’s we could have chosen for this list, we chose The Dip, because it deals with a challenge we see entrepreneurs struggle with again and again: how to tell when the rough patch you’re going through is just that — a rough patch — and when it’s a sign that it’s time to throw in the towel.
PERSUADING & NEGOTIATING
31. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Read it if: You want to be a wizard at getting people to do what you want them to do.
Why it’s great: Copywriting isn’t the only place where the power to persuade comes into a play. Robert Cialdini lays out six universal principles, and how you can apply them to become a skilled persuader—and how to defend yourself against them.
32. To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
Read it if: You think you don’t know how to sell.
Why it’s great: We hear all the time from entrepreneurs who say their problem is that they “don’t know how to sell.” But as Daniel Pink explains here, selling isn’t the ultra-specialized skill we think it is. Whether we’re selling our boss on a new business system, or selling our friends — we’re all selling all of that time. Pink identifies a whole raft of frameworks we can use to become better at the selling we already do.
33. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Read it if: You want to get better at tapping into what really motivates your audience.
Why it’s great: Forget the five “W”s — when it comes to persuasion, one “W” reigns supreme: Why. In this book, Simon Sinek lays out what the best leaders and change-makers throughout history have understood: that getting buy in on any product, service, movement or idea always comes back to “Why.”
34. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Read it if: You want to get better at creating messages that get stuck in your audience’s mind.
Why it’s great: In an online business landscape that’s crowded and getting more crowded, the businesses that succeed are the ones that can break through the white noise and connect with audiences in a way that feels urgent, relevant, and above all — memorable. Chip and Dan Heath’s book breaks down how to craft messages that do exactly that, using countless real-world examples to illustrate the six characteristics that “sticky” ideas have in common: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.
35. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended On It
Read it if: You want to learn how to negotiate the way the best negotiators in the world do.
Why it’s great: Author Chris Voss knows a thing or two about negotiation: he’s a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI. Your stakes may not be as life-or-death as the ones Voss and his colleagues had to deal with — but you can still negotiate as if they were.
36. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Read it if: You want to get better at the art of negotiation.
Why it’s great: Some business skills rise and fall, but the ability to “get to yes” and find solutions that work for everyone never goes away. Fisher and Ury’s book is an all-time classic on the subject, with the authoritative heft of the Harvard Negotiation Project behind it.
DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
37. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Read it if: You want a better understanding of how great ideas are made — and how you can generate them yourself.
Why it’s great: Adam Grant is easily one of the best thinkers on innovation out there. What’s great about this book in particular is that he makes originality feel achievable. He breaks originality down into concrete components (reject the default, explore whether an alternative exists, seek input from fellow creators in your space, DON’T quit your day job) that are recognizable and, above all, replicable.
38. Creativity, Inc.
Read it if: You want to turn creativity into a replicable habit. And if you want an inside look at how Pixar manages to grab you by the tear ducts again. And again. And again.
Why it’s great: At Pixar, creativity isn’t just an art — it’s a business. That means it needs to happen regularly — and reliably. Ed Catmull was an integral part of making that happen. In this book, he breaks down the exact frameworks and mindsets that have made Pixar one of the most respected and dependable creative organizations in the world.
39. Zero to One
Read it if: You want to know what it takes to build a business that truly changes how things are done.
Why it’s great: This one is an instant classic in startup circles, and for good reason. Peter Thiel lays out a simple yet definitive blueprint for finding an idea with the ability to truly change the world — in big ways, or small.
40. Lean Startup
Read it if: You want all the wisdom of the startup universe, just without the startup.
Why it’s great: We wrote this list mostly for solo entrepreneurs who are building businesses as a pathway to personal freedom — not looking to build the next Uber or Twitter. But that’s not to say we have nothing to learn from our silicon cousins in the startup world. In particular, Eric Ries’s book is a must-read on the subject of “validated learning,” rapid experimentation, distinguishing real progress from “vanity metrics” and getting to the heart of what your customers really want.
We know you have them, so tell us: What are the books that have done the most to transform the way you approach your business, your life, and the connection between the two? Give us your recs in the comments below!