13 Books That Have Changed The Way I Do Business

1) The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout

I think I first heard Tim Ferriss recommend this book in an interview several years ago. I had been into reading the “latest” books on business, and not diving too much into books that were published long before I got into the startup world.

This book changed all of that.

It’s brilliant, easy to follow, and the principles taught by the authors are just as valuable today as they were over 20 years ago.

Search for an opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader. The key word here is opposite – similar won’t do.

Buy “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” on Amazon

2) The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The most groundbreaking book on iterative business building I – and millions of others – have read. Eric made the lean startup concept accessible for everyone with this book, and frankly, I’d expect every founder who’s constrained by resources but wants to win to read it.

We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.

Buy “The Lean Startup” on Amazon

3) The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun

WordPress is one of the companies I admire most, and this book tells the story of how the team behind the product operates. Like Groove, Automattic is a fully distributed team, and many of the insights in this book have helped shape the way I’ve built and led the Groove team.

In the scramble to survive, founders often hire to solve immediate needs and simultaneously create long-term problems. This mistake is common enough that Bob Sutton wrote a book, The No-Asshole Rule, to help executives recognize the damage these hires cause to culture.

No matter how many golden lectures a leader gives imploring people to “Be collaborative” or “Work as a team,” if the people hired have destructive habits, the lecture will lose.

Buy “The Year Without Pants” on Amazon

4) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Know that feeling of doing something and being “in the zone” where you’re happy, excited, enjoying life and know that absolutely nothing can stop you from succeeding.

That state is called “flow.” For a long time, the most I ever felt it was on my surfboard.

This book explains the science behind flow, and has helped me systematically engineer it into my business life, and I’m more productive and happy because of it.

Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.

Buy “Flow” on Amazon

There’s a huge (and dangerous) assumption on the part of many first-time founders that if you build a great product and then simply tell TechCrunch about it, you’ll “launch” successfully.

I held the same assumption early in my career, too, and I’ve never seen it actually work.

Effective PR is not what it looks like on the surface, and anyone who’s into getting big PR value without investing many thousands of dollars would do well to read this book.

This book changed the way I see the news.

The link economy encourages bloggers to repeat what “other people are saying” and link to it instead of doing their own reporting and standing behind it. This changes the news from what has happened into what someone said the news is.

Buy “Trust Me, I’m Lying” on Amazon

6) Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

I’ve gotten more and more into biographies over the last few years, and this is one of my favorites.

John D. Rockefeller was probably one of the most controversial businesspeople in America’s history, and also one of the most successful. This book is a fascinating look at how he went from an unprivileged childhood to the greatest fortune in the world. To build his empire, he did a lot of things that I, and many others, find terrible, but he was also a great philanthropist and one of the men who build America. He’s a complicated character, and this book does a great job treating him fairly and sharing valuable lessons from his life.

Success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed.

Buy “Titan” on Amazon

7) How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Len noted this as his favorite book on his customer service reading list. It’s one of my favorites, too. There’s no single book I’ve read that packs more insights about social psychology and persuasion into a few hundred pages.

In fact, if there’s a single book on this list that I’d recommend you read if you’re growing a business, it’s this one.

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

Buy “How to Win Friends and Influence People” on Amazon

8) Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

This book was one of the biggest reasons we do marketing at Groove the way we do today. Seth’s thesis is that permission marketing – where the audience gives you permission to reach out to them – is far more effective than more traditional “interruptive” marketing. In our own experiments with marketing, we’ve found that to be incredibly true, and now permission marketing makes up 100% of our channels.

It’s not just about entertainment – it’s about education. Permission marketing is curriculum marketing.

Buy “Permission Marketing” on Amazon

9) The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

A lot of us, Groove included, are newer entrants into markets that have existed for some time.

It’s important to understand the way that technology and innovation change the way markets evolve over time, and this book will help you do just that. It dives into how (and most importantly, why) entrenched companies often lose market share over time – even when they’re doing everything “right” – because of new technology. And while the book is meant as a cautionary tale and guidebook for those established companies, we’ve found it to be invaluable in our own position as the new guys.

Watching how customers actually use a product provides much more reliable information than can be gleaned from a verbal interview or a focus group.

Buy “The Innovator’s Dilemma” on Amazon

10) The Fish That Ate The Whale by Rich Cohen

The most recent biography that’s made a big impact on me, The Fish That Ate The Whale is the story of Samuel Zemurray, America’s “banana king.” Zemurray came from nothing to build (and then leave, and then return and overtake) the world’s largest fruit company.

Like Rockefeller, Zemurray’s tactics weren’t always honorable, but like Rockefeller, he was a complicated person: he also gave many millions to charity and did a lot of good in the world, while – purposefully or not – harming many others in the process.

Reading this book, though, I was reminded what true “hustle” really looks like; Zemurray was tireless, productive and used leverage in brilliant ways to get what he wanted.

There are times when certain cards sit unclaimed in the common pile, when certain properties become available that will never be available again. A good businessman feels these moments like a fall in the barometric pressure. A great businessman is dumb enough to act on them even when he cannot afford to.

Buy “The Fish That Ate The Whale” on Amazon

11) Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen

TechStars is one of the most powerful startup accelerators in the world, and this book shares valuable growth lessons from some of their standout companies. It reads more like a collection of short blog posts, but each one has insights that any first-time founder would find useful.

In rapid iteration, the most important thing isn’t how perfect code is, but how quickly you can revert.

Buy “Do More Faster” on Amazon

12) Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler

As Director of Corporate Sales at Salesforce.com, Aaron Ross helped the company add $100M in annual revenue to the company through outbound sales.

We don’t do much outbound sales at Groove, but the insights Ross shares from his experience are valuable for anyone that’s doing sales or marketing in any SaaS company.

Customers don’t care at all whether you close the deal or not. They care about improving their business.

Buy “Predictable Revenue” on Amazon

13) Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll & Ben Yoskovitz

Data has been a big part of Groove’s growth; we track a lot of different things, and we share many of those things on this blog.

But understanding what to track, and figuring out which metrics are actually important and which aren’t, is tricky business.

This book was a huge help with that, and explores metrics at every stage of the startup growth process, especially if you, like me, weren’t a statistics major in college.

Customers are people. They lead lives. They have kids, they eat too much, they don’t sleep well, they phone in sick, they get bored, they watch too much reality TV. If you’re building for some kind of idealized, economically rational buyer, you’ll fail. But if you know your customers, warts and all, and you build things that naturally fit into their lives, they’ll love you.

Buy “Lean Analytics” on Amazon

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