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I am always keen to know what reading means to entrepreneurs, simply because they are my primary audience when it comes to writing. Over the last year, I have interviewed more than fifty entrepreneurs just for my upcoming book on Indian startups, not counting the other interviews I do for my columns. As I am in the last stage of completing my manuscript, I am even more curious to know why entrepreneurs actually read and how they perceive business books. I have managed to have an encounter with all kind of readers and nonreaders in the startup ecosystem.
Like any situation in life, I would divide the category of readers into three – either they read a lot (Black) or they don’t read at all (White). The third category is the entrepreneurs who want to read and have no time (Grey).
With the risk of survival of my writing profession , I can tell you that both non-readers and readers have equal chances of being successful entrepreneurs. Let’s take two examples, that two of both extremely fascinating entrepreneurs. Paras Chopra, Founder, Wingify.com, told me last year that he finished almost 40 books in six months- which I estimate would make 80 books a year. “I am not sure if I believe in mentors, but I learn through books, what professors and success stories of other entrepreneurs tell me,” he says. A few months later in 2016, I met Nithin Kamath, the founder of Zerodha who says that he does not believe in reading books and learns mostly from personal experiences by meeting new people and talking to them. Without getting into statistics, I can tell you that both startups are doing a brilliant job!
So if you are in the first category as Paras is, who likes to read and learn and then apply techniques, please continue reading this article. Even if you are like Nithin, continue reading because you might just know what a book can teach you that people may be not able to. Of course, there are also things that people can teach you but books cannot.
Everyone talks about how business books and biographies of entrepreneurs inspire and motivate them, but what interests me more, is how entrepreneurs can use the knowledge in books to solve the day-to-day technical problems and build business models. The books that talk about business-as-usual are the real problem-solvers. Anand Vemuri, Co-founder, 91Springboard says, “Books and blogs have been my primary sources of knowledge at every stage of our company. Since we’ve been running for five years, I can’t really summarize what we’ve learned in one sentence. Some things we ended up applying are for eg. doing unscalable things when we were still small and finding product market fit. As we’ve grown we’ve also applied a lot of organizational and management principles from Amazon (how to run meetings), Google (OKRs), Intel (1on1s) and other companies from books we’ve read.” Angela De Giacomo, Initiator at WunderNova, mentions that she learnt about the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) when she was starting up through a business book. In my view, books can help in various micro and minute skills, which people don’t talk about. For instance, when I read Lean Startup by Eric Ries, I realized that good books always first focus on the micro problem and then magnify it to a bigger scenario. Here is a quote from his book which illustrates this,
“The lesson of the MVP is that any additional work beyond what was required to start learning is waste, no matter how important it might have seemed at the time.”
How to chose your book?
Harit Soni, Founder , Ecolibrium Energy, says while he believes that reading books is the key to personal growth, he does not have enough time to do so. The last book he read was Start with Why! , which helped him know more about market positioning. These days, he is exploring the idea of using an app called mentorbox.com to decide which book to read next. Choosing what to read is easier than ever before. As if Kindle was not enough, now you have apps which summarize a book in fifteen minutes for you. Read more about how you could use these apps here.
Norbert Herrmann, who studied economics and is now curious about ideas to support startups. He talks about books being replaced by other mediums, “As a student of economics, I did have to read those books, nowadays I hardly do – I only download cost-free extracts to my Kindle to read before falling asleep. I tried video-learning (YouTube), semi-interactive eLearning, mobile Learning, Google Learning, but the best way of learning still is face2face with a relevant person next to me.”
Vemuri says that he manages to read 30 to 40 books a year, but only about half would be business books.
“ 80% of the business reading is driven by something I want to learn because of some challenge we’re facing at the company. Most of the rest is because the book seemed interesting or someone recommended it.”
There are certainly books that change our lives. For instance, Moritz Warntjen, Founder , WunderNova shares, “In my opinion there are many great books. But in my case, there was indeed one life changing book. For me this book started my own entrepreneurial journey. It was “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau. I loved it back then because it gave me the feeling that I can start RIGHT NOW! Before that, I always had the feeling I need to wait for the right moment or until I have enough money to start something. That book really changed a lot! If you read this book you have no excuse for not starting something.”
On that note, I am leaving you with a few personal recommendations on business books which I feel are a must-read for startup founders :
- The Hard Thing About Hard Thing
- Zero to One
- The Lean Startup
- The $100 StartUp
- The 7 Day Startup