How to start a business

The best books for starting a business

December 12, 2019

7 min.

Books are comfort. Books are a slow and measured way of looking at this crazy world. It’s like having a deep conversation with someone interesting as compared to a million meaningless hellos with people who don’t matter much.

I am a big believer that books find their way to you at just the right time in your life. There is something in each book that you can learn from, while a select few can even change your whole worldview.


Here’s a list of some of the best books for starting a business for every would-be founder.

1. Biography books

My top picks:

  • Barbie and Ruth (2009) by Robin Gerber
  • Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination (2017) by Adam Lashinsky
  • Sam Walton: Made in America (1992) by Sam Walton
  • Losing My Virginity (1998) by Richard Branson
  • Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln (1724) by Glückel of Hameln

Biographies are one of my favorites. They tell of obstacles, successes and failures through the stories of real people. My best piece of advice here would be to find people you greatly admire… those who are leaders in your industry or share a life story similar to yours.

I loved Sam Walton’s story Made in America about the beginnings of Walmart. His concept of servant-leader stayed with me, influencing the way I work with my own clients and employees.

Looking for something more bold? In Losing My Virginity, Richard Branson describes what has made him a daring entrepreneur. His lessons should be required reading, especially to anyone wanting to start their own business.


Another favorite is a virtually unknown book called Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, which tells the story of a 17th-century Jewish woman entrepreneur in Germany, who became successful against all odds.

So whatever it is that drives you to a certain person, don’t trivialize it. In their biography, you might find answers to your own questions about how to start building your business.

“The small stores were just destined to disappear, at least in the numbers they once existed, because the whole thing is driven by the customers, who are free to choose where to shop.”― Sam Walton

2. Psychology books

My top picks:

  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  • Contagious: Why Things Catch On (2013) by Jonah Berger
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) by Stephen Covey

Sometimes the best books for starting a business are the ones that speak to your soul or help you see things from a different perspective. And at different times in your life, a guru is just what you need (don’t worry if it looks a little crazy). For me, two authors I can rely on for this are Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Stephen Covey.

Their strategies can help you dig deep inside yourself to reevaluate your own attitudes toward success and failure. And that’s important because often you don’t even realize what’s holding you back from business achievements.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” ― Stephen Covey

3. Playbooks & strategy

My top picks:

  • Delivered (2019) by Jacqueline Phillips
  • The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company (2012) by Steve Blank
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) by Dale Carnegie
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2008) by Daniel H. Pink

There are tons of books out there that explore new tactics for launching or growing your business

Delivered by Jacqueline Phillips actually grew out of Kommo’s need to dig into their own strategy and understand the future of customer relationship management. In it, she explores how communication is changing while companies are asleep at the wheel.

It suits both types of readers: those who are only preparing to start their own business, and those entrepreneurs who want to stand out as a company, treat customers better and boost sales.


If you need a more of a step-by-step instruction book on how to build a successful startup, then you should definitely go for The Startup Owner's Manual.

And don’t forget the essential How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. After all, starting a company means building relationships, and when you make a good impression, more doors open for you.

“Simply put, the era of convenience is here. Like it or not, communication is now short and quick, and the tool of choice is messaging apps.”― Jacqueline Phillips

4. Sociology & behavioral economics books

My top picks:

  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (2008) by Dan Ariely
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Freakonomics (2005) by Stephen J. Dubner

Years ago, I gifted a book to a friend that, I am now told, played a key part in her son’s career choice. This young man chose to study economics and sociology because of one of my favorite authors – Malcolm Gladwell.

His best-seller The Tipping Point and Dubner’s Freakonomics are not just fascinating reads. They are — without a doubt — some of the best books for starting a business. They really can make you look at your industry and your product selection in a completely new light, perhaps lending insights into product improvement and creative marketing strategies.


Likewise, every book by behavioral economist Dan Ariely is a must-read. From his experiments on what drives people to cheat to the unexpected ways people react to pricing, he shows you that common sense is often totally wrong.

“People are willing to work free, and they are willing to work for a reasonable wage; but offer them just a small payment and they will walk away.” ― Dan Ariely

5. Fiction

My top picks:

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1960) Richard Bach
  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013) by Mohsin Hamid
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Novel (2013) by Haruki Murakami

Sometimes our brains work best when we give them information in an indirect way. Have you ever noticed how seemingly unrelated events can sometimes spark a fresh idea in you?

That’s why I love fiction. It gives you a story (that in a less obvious way) makes you think about your life, your business and the decisions you make. If you’re a creative thinker, the best books for starting a business might be found more in this category.


There are two books I always recommend when someone asks which piece of fiction changed by life.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull lets you soar and test the limits of what’s possible through the story of a seagull. Both had a tremendous impact on me at different points in my life.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia another must-read for all those who want to succeed in the business world. It motivates the reader through a journey of an impoverished rural boy who is full of entrepreneurial energy.

“Many skills, as every successful entrepreneur knows, cannot be taught in school. They require doing. Sometimes a life of doing.” ― Mohsin Hamid

6. The classics

  • The Wealth of Nations (1776) by Adam Smith
  • Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy (1867) by Karl Marx
  • Description of the World (c. 1300) by Marco Polo
  • The Prince (1513) Niccolò Machiavelli

I am certain that most people need to read The Wealth of Nations and A Critique of Political Economy to understand how our system of economic and business coordinates works and the Description of the World to learn how trade is conducted in different parts of the world. These books will help you avoid failure, especially before starting your own business.

And don’t worry if the texts are too dry, you can always find simplified versions and videos. This will give you a good bird’s-eye view of where you and your enterprise fit into the grand scheme of things.


To this list I am tempted to add classical philosophers from the times of ancient Greeks, but I won’t. I will go with a less obvious choice — The Prince — because that book is the epitome of all things self-interest, which often dictates people’s actions in business and as consumers too.

I must confess that there are many classical theory books that I haven’t read cover-to-cover, but I would like to see myself on a lifelong journey of learning. So join me!

“Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.”― Niccolo Machiavelli

Word of caution: choosing the best books for starting a business

When looking for a new business or motivation book (from the list above or whatever catches your eye in the bookstore), be careful not to fall prey to “get rich quick” kind of promises. They are very tempting, but they rarely have anything useful to add to your tool box.

What’s more, I feel that they are destructive because they make you feel inadequate — am I doing something wrong? Why am I not working 1 hour/day, 1 day/week, making millions? Use books to learn and get inspiration. Don’t let them drive you down with fake promises… I guarantee that the brilliant entrepreneurs you look up to did it through hard work, not some secret hack.

As you can see from my list, I believe that you can find inspiration and answers in a very diverse selection of books. The best books for starting a business are going to be the ones that speak to you.

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Jane Ivanov

Writer @ Kommo

Serial entrepreneur, recipient of the North American E-Business Champion award

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