Ten books you need to read to be a better startup founder

6 min read
26 Jul 2021
Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

– Harry Truman

fter interviewing thousands of startup founders in our guidebooks, we believe the above statement holds true. From psychology and entrepreneurship to philosophy and personal development, many books offer valuable insights that could influence a company’s success or motivate a founder to challenge the status quo or improve their organization. 

In our discussions, we noticed that some titles show up again and again. Here is a list of ten of the most recommended books by startup founders, including three personal favorites from our founder and CEO, Sissel Hansen.

“We have reached a stage where we often pursue growth for growth’s sake, a condition that in medical terminology would simply be called cancer.”

Frederic Laloux's Reinventing Organizations is considered by many to be the most influential management book of the last decade. It lists the different paradigms of human organizations through the ages and proposes a new one: Teal organisation, which is built on three pillars related to wholeness, self-management and evolutionary purpose.

Leaders, founders, coaches and consultants will find this book very valuable and full of insights, examples and inspiring stories.

*Recommended by Joana Breidenbach, Cofounder of betterplace.org; Eva Neugebauer, Cofounder and CEO Frischepost; Daniel Krauss, Cofounder and CIO of Flixbus 

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow summarizes the author’s decades-long research on human thinking, cognitive biases, prospect theory and happiness. Kahneman exposes both the brilliance and limitations of the human mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. 

The book offers both practical and enlightening insights into the choices we make in both our business and our personal lives, and examines how we can use different techniques to guard against errors in memory, judgment and decision-making. 

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

First published in 1989, this business and self-help book is written from the author’s belief that the way we see the world is entirely based on our own perceptions. He proposes that to change a given situation, we must be able to change our perceptions. It challenges readers to think and act in service of others as well as provides actionable advice on how to live effectively and achieve success. 

*Recommended by Mitsuki Bun, Founder and CEO of Beautiful Smile; Iwan Märki, PHD, CTO of Abionic

“Realise deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”

A bestselling, spiritual self-help book that was promoted by Oprah. After struggling with severe depression for many years, the author claims that he found peace overnight. In this book, he shares the simple message that living in the now is the true path to happiness and enlightenment. The book also offers methods of relaxation and meditation to help readers anchor themselves in the present.

“History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.”

Yuval Noah Harari is a historian, philosopher, and the bestselling author. First published in Hebrew, Sapiens takes the reader on a ride through human history, from its evolutionary roots to the age of capitalism and genetic engineering, to uncover why we are the way we are. The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach that bridges the gaps between history, biology, philosophy, paleontology and economics in a way never done before. It explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us and even our personalities

*Recommended by Nicolas Durand, CEO of Abionic

“Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”

Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to creativity and can hold many people back from reaching their full potential. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes her creative process and unique perspective about creativity. The author discusses the attitudes, approaches and habits we need to live our most creative lives. Whether you are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in your work or simply infuse your everyday life with more mindfulness and passion, this book will give you the courage you need to pursue your goal.

*Recommended by Caroline Assaf, founding director of CoCoWorld

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor who practiced stoicism and wrote about his own stoic practice in his journals. While the Meditations were composed for his own benefit, not for an audience, Marcus Aurelius also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy – a timeless collection that has been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and readers throughout the centuries.

The book provides actionable advice and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. Some of the major themes in this book include change, death, shortness of life, the role and importance of the rational mind, the chase for pleasure and fame, living according to nature and fully accepting its course.

*Recommended by Jonathan Normand, founder and executive director of B Lab Switzerland

Book recommendations from Sissel Hansen, Startup Guide founder and CEO: 

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fictional story of a new CEO who encounters a series of issues as she tries to lead her new team. 

This leadership fable offers some specific insights into what makes a good team and how to make dysfunctional teams work better together. The author introduces readers to a simple and accessible model of teamwork to address five levels of dysfunctions: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Simon Sinek is a visionary thinker, author and inspirational speaker. He may be best known for popularizing the concept of WHY in his first TED Talk in 2009. In his work with organizations around the world, Sinek noticed that some teams trust each other so deeply that they would literally put their lives on the line for each other. Other teams, no matter what incentives are offered, are doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure. 

In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek explains where many leaders have gone wrong and puts out an urgent call for people to step forth to make a positive difference. This is a book for those who want to feel they and their work matter and for those who want to inspire others to feel the same.

“It's easier to be a fool than an enlightened person. A fool never doubts, thus never changes his mind. An enlightened person always does both.”

Never before in history have we been more educated, wealthier and lived longer with more opportunities in life. At the same time, we have never been more stressed, anxious, depressed and lonely.

In One Life, the Danish philosopher, author and businessperson Morten Albæk investigates the paradox and the absurdity that all of the world’s impressive socio-economic advancements have not been translated into more existential well being. In order to find fulfilment in life, the author advises readers to stop separating their persona into working humans and private humans, and instead to see themselves as one human with one life in one lifetime.

Looking for more recommendations and expert insights? Check out our books: Startup Guide Shop

Written by Anastasia Ilcov.

Edited by Hazel Boydell.