More Great Books for Entrepreneurs

In his wonderful recommendation of my book, business maven Jack Covert calls my list of resources “the best I have seen.” And he’s seen a lot. It’s time to update these selections. The original list of resources were meant to help you solve particular problems and to gain deeper mastery in the key areas I outlined in Startup Garden. They tend to be action-oriented guides that provide answers to specific challenges in areas such as raising finance, dealing with employees, keeping the books, and so forth.

When writing the Startup Garden, I made a conscious decision about what to include and not include in terms of "payoff" material. Because so many books for entrepreneurs provide a glut of confusing information that overwhelms the reader, I chose to focus on a handful of simple principles that help people develop the skills to get the best data, and cited more technical books within these categories.

Over the past few years, new books have been published, websites have emerged, and, personally, I’ve discovered gems that would have gone into my list of resources if I’d known about them at the time. Here’s a beginning. This list is by no means complete. In fact, I’ll stop at five, and do five more later this week. And then, perhaps five more, until finally the list is exhausted. Or am I.

The first two books are essential texts that teach the most powerful lesson I’ve learned since writing the book. “Effectiveness,” writes Peter Drucker, “is a habit; that is a complex of practices. And practices can be learned.” InThe Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, Drucker explains precisely what these practices are.

The most fascinating thing to me about Drucker’s book is its role in so many leading books of the past twenty years. Drucker basically mentions that the productivity of the knowledge worker is the most important factor for companies to succeed today—and this applies to a venture of any size. In my opinion, the legitimate heir to Drucker’s role as guru, at least in the fundamental area of being productive, is David Allen, whose Getting Things Done: The Stress-Free Guide to Productivity is more than just a how-to guide for being more effective. His system has become a cultish religion for many.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it. Allen, whose website has a wealth of useful material (read some of the articles on him and his system), appeals to a wide swath of followers. He does some executive coaching, conducts numerous workshops across the country, and has a devout following among the tech-y crowd. His great appeal lies in the way his system focuses people on doing the one right thing at the right time, and doing it completely. He recognizes that unfinished loops are one of the most wasteful and distracting elements in one’s mind or on one’s desk; and his system truly proves that by dealing with matters fully so as to eliminate them, less can be more. I recommend his book highly.

I touted the next book as the very first post on this blog; nothing since has lessened my enthusiasm. Jill Andresky Fraser’s book, "The Business Owner’s Guide to Personal Finance: When Your Business is Your Paycheck," (Bloomberg Press, $25.95,) is based on a simple though profoundly important insight. For the vast bulk of entrepreneurs, your personal finances and the financial life of your business are inexorably intertwined; and to ignore this link invites disaster. Accordingly, Fraser provides wise advice to entrepreneurs on tending to critical such matters as paying yourself a salary, creating a good credit history, and thinking through the tradeoffs of working at home or how to communicate with investors who are often friends and family. Naturally I am drawn to this book for recognizing the dynamic link between the individual who runs the business and the way in which this person’s behavior animates the enterprise; in financial matters the cause and effect takes on critical importance which Fraser carefully limns. Her book goes beyond keeping the books to guide one in all aspects of starting and growing a business. I rank this with "Small Time Operator" by Bernard Kamoroff, "Self-Defense Finance for Small Business" by Wilbur Yegge, and "Managing by the Numbers" by Chuck Kremer and Ron Rizzuto with John Case, as the top finance books for entrepreneurs.

Harold Evans has produced one of the best books ever on entrepreneurship: They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine, Two Centuries of Innovators. Think of this nearly 700-page book as a nightly book of entrepreneurial fairy tales to read to your inner child. This ambitious book takes on no less than a history of the greatest American innovators, including such diverse individuals as Thomas Edison, Thomas Watson (father and son,) and Ruth Handler. Because Evans focuses so finely on how inventive entrepreneurs applied their ideas, the stories are compulsively readable. They document the messy and upredictable way that entrepreneurs succeed (and fail) over time. They work as great stories above all.

One of the things that makes this book so satisfying to read is Evan’s focus on the way entrepreneurship occurs in a specific time and place, and is always tied to the prevailing cultural, technical, and social trends—indeed, how the most powerful innovations don’t merely respond to these changes, but hasten them along. One of my favorite chapters shared the story of Lewis Tappan, the deeply moral entrepreneur who essentially created the credit rating—which became crucial for merchants needing a source of guidance about lending decisions at a time of huge social change. This book contains a wealth of insights for entrepreneurs with both big visions and modest hopes, and I recommend it highly.

Next on the list is Arthur Rubinfeld’s Built for Growth: Expanding Your Business Around the Corner or Across the Globe. Here’s a smart and substantial book with useful instruction on how to develop the proper internal controls, values, and practices that position your company to grow real big. Rubinfeld, who was in charge of real estate and store design for Starbucks during its growth from 100 to 4000 stores, understands that growth is a function of doing the right things from the very beginning so as to be able to successfully duplicate them at any pace. He doesn’t merely argue that you must get every last detail right from the start to grow healthily; he you shows how to do so. With information ranging from how to pick the right retail location to how to make smart choices about fixtures or people, he provides the blueprint for healthy growth.

Here’s a nice quote from the book. “When learning to walk, toddlers put all their energy into getting the first step right. Soon they are tearing around the house. After the first step, it is all a matter of repetition and variation. The same thing is true in retail. If you put all your effort into getting the first store to be as good as it can be, you too will soon be off and running.”

Readers, as a bonus for reading this far, I continue my special offer to you. Please buy my book, The Startup Garden, directly from me, and I will send you a signed copy, AND I will include a free copy of another business book. I’ve got scores of new business books in my office and would love to share them with readers. To take advantage of this offer: go to Paypal and make a payment of $15 to me at This will generate an email to me with your address. I will send you a new signed copy of my book, plus a bonus title (I’ll decide what to include.) If you have any questions just email me directly at the

Posted by tom at August 15, 2006 01:23 PM
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