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Best Books for Entrepreneurs
(Updated 2023)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
Last update: November 27, 2023

Do you, at some point, no longer want to work as an employee? But rather self-employed or as a solopreneur or entrepreneur?

On this page you will find short reviews of the best books for self-employed, founders, about entrepreneurship and startups.

As a self-employed or startup entrepreneur, you'll be also interested in books on online marketing and books on how to design and develop products.

If you're beyond the start-up stage and want to grow your business, you'll find books on business strategy, business management and employee management.

(Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Start With Why - Simon Sinek

by Simon Sinek

Link to the book at Amazon

“Why is Apple so successful when it’s just a computer company like many others? Why did Martin Luther King lead the civil rights movement when he wasn’t the only good speaker to suffer racial discrimination? And why did the Wright brothers manage to do controlled motorized flights when others were better qualified and better-financed?”

In this insightful book, the author presents answers to these questions in a very inspiring way: All these personalities placed the question “Why” before their actions. Among other things, this book led me to search for my personal “Why” and finally to start this blog.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, but I’ve read the printed version and therefore cannot judge the audiobook edition.

I also highly recommend Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” which presents the contents of the book in a condensed form. This talk is so inspiring that I’ve probably watched it more than ten times.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

zero to one - peter thiel

by Peter Thiel

Link to the book at Amazon

In his bestseller, Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and Facebook’s first external investor, provides insights into the world of startups and explains which characteristics are essential for a startup to become a long-term success.

Thiel’s seven criteria for success are: groundbreaking technological progress, good timing, monopoly position, the right team, distribution strategy, sustainability, and a secret to success.

Two of the criteria stand out in particular:

1. To be successful, it is not enough to marginally improve an existing technology (from “one to n”). Success requires boldness and risk: the development of a completely new technology (from “zero to one”) or the improvement of existing technology by at least a factor of ten.

2. Contrary to common belief, it is not competition that makes a company successful but a monopoly position achieved through innovation. Competition leads to ruthless rivalry, short-term planning, and struggles for survival in which employees are not seldom the casualties. Creative monopolies, on the other hand, have resources to plan for the long term, drive progress and provide a pleasant working environment for their employees. Creative monopolies, Thiel argues, are what make the future better.

The book is relatively short, easy to read, and contains numerous entertaining anecdotes and real-world examples – of both successful and failed startups – with analyses of each of the seven success criteria.

Thiel’s theses are not based on research findings such as in “Good to Great” but exclusively on his personal experience as one of the most successful founders and investors in Silicon Valley.

An absolute must-read for anyone considering founding a startup or investing in one.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine

Profit First - Mike Michalowicz

by Mike Michalowicz

Link to the book at Amazon

Many small business owners and freelancers know the problem: they work twice as much as employees but can barely keep themselves and their businesses afloat.

The Profit-First system is designed to bring relief by putting the entrepreneur's profit first rather than last. The system is simple: distribute income to four bank accounts according to specific percentages: profit, owner's compensation, taxes, and operating expenses. And never spend more than is available in the operating expenses account.

Of course, business owners could derive the relevant data from their accounting reports – but few read them regularly. What they look at is, however, their bank account. And so, most base their financial decisions on their bank balance: they spend first – and end up forgetting their profits.

The Profit-First system allows entrepreneurs to maintain this "management by bank balance" principle by utilizing Parkinson's Law, according to which we use as much of a resource (in this case, money) as we have available. And if we only have a limited amount available for expenses, we become innovative and find solutions to get along with it.

The book is extremely practical; the author describes how to introduce the Profit-First system step by step. Besides, the book contains numerous case studies and amusing anecdotes from the author's life, which lighten up the dry numbers and instructions in a highly entertaining way.

Sometimes, the author rambles and repeats himself, and he probably could have condensed the book's content into half as many pages. However, this in no way detracts from the usefulness of the book.

I recommend it to all entrepreneurs who have so far based their decisions on their bank balance.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes absolutely! It is narrated by the author himself, and all graphs and tables are available online.

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It

The E-Myth Revisited - Michael E. Gerber

by Michael E. Gerber

Link to the book at Amazon

Most companies are made up of "technicians" (bakers, craftsmen, mechanics, lawyers, web designers, programmers, etc.), who are dissatisfied as employees and hope to find happiness in self-employment.

Over 90% of these companies fail. A good cook is not automatically capable of running a restaurant. An excellent lawyer is not necessarily a good partner in a law firm. A good computer tinkerer cannot automatically build a company like Apple or DELL.

On the one hand, a successful business needs not only the technician but also an entrepreneur (that's what the "E" in the title stands for) and a manager.

On the other hand, the company needs a system of processes so that the founder can hand over areas of responsibility and not remain solely responsible forever and ever (which will ultimately be more stressful than the employment relationship from which he wanted to get out).

Thus, one of the book's core statements reads: The founder must not only work in his business – he must work on his business.

The book is easy to understand and entertaining due to numerous practical examples and a (fictitious?) conversation with a self-employed pie baker that runs through the whole book.

A must-read for everyone who wants to start a business and for every entrepreneur who realizes that he is reaching his limits.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

by Eric Ries

Link to the book at Amazon

"Lean Startup" describes a management approach to bring new products to market faster and more successfully. The term "startup" does not refer to the size or age of a business, but to an organization that creates something new under extremely uncertain conditions.

In traditional development, new products are designed and developed for months or sometimes years to eventually determine that potential customers have no interest in the product.

Lean Startup, on the other hand, is about bringing a rudimentary prototype, a so-called MVP ("Minimal Viable Product"), to market as early as possible. The goal is to receive customer feedback as quickly as possible and – based on this – to improve the product ("Build-Measure-Learn" product cycle).

The book is particularly worth reading because the author does not only explain the lean startup approach. Instead, he vividly reports how he developed it based on his own painful experience.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely, and the author reads it himself.

The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field

pumpkin plan - mike michalowicz

by Mike Michalowicz

Link to the book at Amazon

What toilet paper was in the "Toilet Paper Entrepreneur", pumpkins are in this book.

The author transfers the systematics of successful pumpkin farming to establishing and managing a sustainably successful company. He presents a step-by-step guide for business management without frustration and exhaustion but with joy and quality of life.

To grow a giant pumpkin, the farmer needs the right seeds; he must focus on the most promising sprouts, water the plants, regularly check the roots, and remove pumpkins that are too small and rotten, so that the robust and healthy ones can thrive.

Accordingly, entrepreneurs must:

  1. Find a business model that a) fits them, for which b) there are customers, and which c) can be systematized.
  2. Promote their own strengths and those of their strongest employees.
  3. Identify their top customers, cultivate good relationships with them, and tailor their products to meet those customers' needs.
  4. Find other suppliers to their customers and together serve their joint customers better.
  5. Walk away from high-maintenance customers that add more stress than value, and say "no" to opportunities (= distractions) that arise far from the core business.

The steps are by no means presented as easy. The author gives concrete instructions for action and makes it clear that each step involves hard work and uncomfortable decisions – but in return, the chances of success are maximized.

Each chapter ends with a "pumpkin-plan your business" section, using a fictional company (from a wide range of industries) as an example to apply the strategies presented.

The book is easy to read, understandable, and written in humorous, easy-going language. A recommendation for anyone who owns a small or medium-sized business or plans to start one.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is narrated by the author himself.

Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: The tell-it-like-it-is guide to cleaning up in business, even if you are at the end of your roll

The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur by Mike Michalowicz

by Mike Michalowicz

Link to the book at Amazon

In this book, toilet paper is a metaphor for resources. The more you have, the more carelessly you use them. And if you have only a few, you have to get inventive.

Mike Michalowicz, founder of several multimillion-dollar companies, offers an unconventional guide to starting and running a business. A sustainable business is usually built not with millions of dollars in venture capital but with ingenuity and passion.

The book is divided into three parts:

Part 1, "Values": Values are enduring and guide a person. Businesses also need values, and when the values of the founder and the business match, the business becomes authentic and automatically attracts customers who share those values.

Part 2, "Focus": In the initial phase, a company must focus on one product – namely, the one that corresponds to the founder's core competence. Founders must say "no" to everything else.

Part 3, "Actions", contains numerous practical tips and instructions, including long-term planning and its continual adjustment, short-term planning of action items, defining and monitoring metrics, and – ultimately – raising capital.

As a reader, you quickly realize that the book was written by an experienced founder, not an economist. Theory and detailed analysis should not be expected in a book with "toilet paper" in the title. Instead, you are confronted with the unsparing truth about entrepreneurship – in profane language and with a good dose of "potty humor".

I found the book very inspiring and recommend it to anyone who is thinking about starting a business (or has already started one).

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is narrated by the author himself.

Nail It then Scale It: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation

Nail It Then Scale It - Book cover

by Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom

Link to the book at Amazon

The number of successful businesses, measured by the number of start-ups, is small. Most entrepreneurs fail. But if the probability of success is so low – why do successful entrepreneurs exist who repeatedly manage to be successful and innovative?

The authors have spent years investigating what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful entrepreneurs. They have analyzed recurring patterns, and, with the "Nail It Then Scale It" method, they present a timeless step-by-step process that successful entrepreneurs follow to minimize risks and increase the probability of success.

The method is based on the realization that entrepreneurs do not fail because they cannot build a product. Instead, they fail because they build a product that nobody wants.

Instead of following their instincts, entrepreneurs should proceed scientifically and unemotionally. It is necessary to identify a monetizable pain, i.e., a problem that customers are willing to spend money on. Then they should verify this need, and finally – together with the customers and through early prototypes and feedback – develop a solution. Just like in agile software development.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.