Time flies, doesn’t it? We’re already nearing the end of 2020. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and here are three books startup founders should read during this festive season.
Use this weekend to breathe, think, and recharge to finish the year strong. Here are three books to help you think deeply about your startup.
The three books founders should read during Thanksgiving:
- Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham.
- Getting Real by Basecamp team.
- 7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy by Hamilton Helmer.
In general, I don’t follow reading trends or fads. Instead of giving you the “2020” list of what books to read, these three books are timeless classics that helped me and countless other founders.
Hackers & Painters, for example, was published in 2004. I read the book last month (October 2020) and most of his ideas still hold up even now. Same with Getting Real by the Basecamp team. They wrote the book in 2006. After 14 years, they’re still applying the same concept and playbook originally introduced in Getting Real to their latest adventure, Hey.com (I’m a happy customer).
7 Powers is relatively more recent than the others; it was written in 2017. It’s a deep, insightful summary of his 30 years of work in the strategy space, read by founders like Reed Hastings, Reid Hoffmann, Daniel Ek, and Peter Thiel.
When seeking wisdom, search for ideas that have stood the test of time. Ideas that have stood the test of time are more likely to be true than the ideas introduced recently.
All three books on this list are classics of entrepreneurship and building software businesses. They are written in clear language, from the writers’ own experience (which is important, I prefer ideas that are generated from one’s own experiences to secondhand analyses, reviews, etc.).
Hackers & Painters
Hackers & Painters is a collection of essays written by Paul Graham. The book doesn’t follow a chronological order, so skim the Table of Contents first, skip chapters, and read the ones you’re interested in. He published the book in 2004, yet his ideas are very insightful and relevant today.
Topics vary between essays, but they all share a “hacker” mindset, which is still exemplified by Y Combinator.
As you read his essays, you’ll notice there are connecting ideas to the work of prominent thinkers like Nassim Taleb and Naval Ravikant. A few examples: the notion of wealth is not the same as money, and to make wealth you have to apply specific knowledge, accountability/measurement, leverage, and ownership to your work.
Here's my favorite quote in the book:
There are only two things you have to know about business:
Build something users love, and make more than you spend. If you get these two right, you'll be ahead of most startups. You can figure out the rest as you go.
– Paul Graham
I almost highlighted all the pages when I finished the book. It’s that good and worth your time.
Getting Real is a book written by the famous Basecamp team. It teaches you how to build software that people actually want to use and launch it in a smaller, faster, and better way.
Many ideas in the book challenge conventional wisdom. For example, the Basecamp team advises readers to “forget the functional specs and pristine product roadmaps."
Forget the functional specs and pristine product roadmaps.
– Basecamp Team
We’re a software company, too, and reading this book has helped me be more effective when designing and marketing our products.
In January, I attended a fireside chat hosted by Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, in Chicago. In the event, he presented the same principles and concepts that he wrote in this book. Again, ideas that last tend to be true.
Getting Real is a collection of short, bite-sized essays. You can read the entire book in a single sitting. The book is available for free both online and as a PDF. You can also purchase one in hard copy – which is what I have.
7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy
7 Powers is an excellent business strategy framework. I spend a lot of time contemplating strategy and how to apply it to businesses, and 7 Powers is the most comprehensive framework I’ve seen so far.
It’s not just me. Podcasts like Invest Like the Best and Acquired have featured Hamilton Helmer as a guest and spent a lot of time discussing his ideas. Keith Rabois, a General Partner at Founders Fund, has praised the book, “Silicon Valley’s best-kept secret.”
Hamilton points out that strategy should be simple and straightforward for anyone to follow, but not simplistic so that you don’t miss something crucial. The book is very simple and straightforward. It’s short, but it’s a good guide on how companies like Netflix, Intel, Adobe, Microsoft, and LinkedIn became so dominant in their respective markets.
If you want a framework to think about your strategy, this book will teach you how to develop your strategy and how to implement it.