Summer reading list: 10 picks for early stage tech startups

Matt Heinz

Guest Commentary: There’s nothing wrong with that trashy novel you’ve tucked away for the vacation, long weekend, or mere sunny afternoon in the backyard. But you can also use the long summer days ahead to catch up on some important reading that will help your business.

Below are ten summer reading recommendations for startups – especially those who start, run or work with early-stage technology businesses.

Some of these recommendations have a distinct technology bent, but they’ve collectively been chosen to give tech leaders and entrepreneurs a focused but well-rounded set of ideas and inspiration to continue driving innovation and growth well past Labor Day across all facets of the business.

Without further ado:

Do More, Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup: Written in the form of short essays by entrepreneurs who have been where you are, this quick read from the co-founders of TechStars is organized to tackle the biggest challenges start-ups face – hiring, product development velocity, customer service and more. It’s the kind of book you can read front to back, or pick and choose the categories and topics you’re most interested in.

Digital Body Language: Deciphering Customer Intentions in an Online World: If you know what you’re looking for, you can identify and take action on a prospect or customer’s interest, intent or needs by simply watching what they do online – what they say, how they respond, where they are, how others interact with them, and so on. This excellent book provides specific examples of what to look for, and how to translate that into an actionable plan for your business. If nothing else, it will change how you approach and derive value from the social networks your customers and prospects are engaged in every day (with or without you).

The Truth About Managing People: Similar format to Do More, Faster – short essays with meaningful, practical advice. One of the best books on managing people I’ve read, both for its direct value and accessibility. The majority of entrepreneurs are smart product people but not always great at the round corners of hiring, motivating and driving focus among their workforce (direct, virtual and otherwise). This book offers a number of suggestions you’ll be able to put to immediate use.

Content Rules: How To Create Killer Content That Engages Customers & Ignites Your Business: I believe this could be the single most important marketing book start-up executives read this year. The marketing currency right now is all about content. Everything else is a conduit, a channel or an accelerant to good content. This book is a blueprint for not only how to create good content, but how to leverage it to drive authenticity, trust and preference for your products and services.

The eMyth Revisited: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It: You may have heard of Michael Gerber, but never read his stuff. He’s one of the foremost small business gurus in the world, and this book more than any has helped me frame the early-stage growth of my own business. It’s about building a business based on your vision, but growing that business so that you spend your time working on the business, not in the business. This is a critical leap for many founders and entrepreneurs, and will stunt growth for those who can’t create a business that can scale with their leadership but not their day-to-day execution.

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do To Increase The Value of Your Fast-Growth Firm: Early-stage and fast-growth companies have a lot in common. They’re moving quickly, have too many competing priorities, and constantly need to drive greater focus, process and execution across all functions. This book offers both a strategic blueprint as well as several tactical tools to better manage the growth of your business. The “daily huddle” and “one-page strategic plan” concepts are worth reading the book alone.

Scientific Advertising: This book was written 90 years ago, but it’s still one of the most relevant books in print about how to connect with and drive action from prospective customers. I encourage entrepreneurs to read this not as a marketing book, but as a set of integrated product development recommendations. Bake these concepts into your product, into the way you drive users through the experience, and I guarantee you’ll have something that organically creates far greater conversion and monetization.

Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service: A couple of guys started a deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their approach to customer service is summarized in this short book. Each chapter is highly relevant to how we should treat customers in any context, and particularly online. A deli has the advantage of looking the customer in the eye for most interactions. Online, we have far fewer tools and emotive touch points to leverage. Strong customer service skills are more important now than ever, to drive both loyalty and differentiation. The guys with the deli can teach us a lot.

That stack of magazines you’ve been building (and ignoring): OK, it’s not a book. But you get them and keep them there for a reason. You know there’s hidden value in those pages. You know there are new ideas, things you want to check out, inspiration from fellow entrepreneurs. The trick is to not get intimidated by the stack. You do not have to read each magazine cover to cover, or even flip through the whole thing. I recommend a scan and rip approach to moving through the stack quickly, and separating out the shorter stack of content that’s most relevant, and that you want to take action on in shorter order.

Baked In: Creating Products and Businesses That Market Themselves: Marketing doesn’t happen after the product. It doesn’t happen separate from the product. The best marketing is the product. This short book talks about why that’s important, what it really means, and how you can go about integrating product and marketing more meaningfully and permanently in your organization.

What’s missing from this list? What’s on your reading list this summer? Should GeekWire start a book club? Share your comments and additions below!

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via email, Twitter, LinkedIn or his blog.

  • johnhcook

    Love this list Matt, especially the inclusion of the Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service where my wife previously worked as marketing coordinator. That place is truly amazing, and there are a number of lessons from the Ann Arbor deli that we are applying here at GeekWire. 

    I’ve also read most of “Do More Faster” — which was a great guide in the early days of getting GeekWire off the ground. (Funny story: My 18-month-old woke me up one morning this week banging the Brad Feld book on my head. Guess, he was telling me to get back to work. :) 

    Some of these other books look great too, so I’ll add to my list. Love the idea of the GeekWire book club. Maybe we can all agree to read one book this summer and then meet some time in early September to discuss. What would that one book be?

    • Anonymous

      Agreed, great post. Mentioned this on the podcast a while back, but another good one for the list is ‘In The Plex’ by Steven Levy — great book about what makes Google tick. http://www.amazon.com/Plex-Google-Thinks-Works-Shapes/dp/1416596585

      • http://trevinchow.com/blog Trevin

        I’ve read “In the Plex” and agree it’s a great book.  However, I don’t think it belongs on this list for “early stage startups”.

    • http://www.heinzmarketing.com Matt Heinz

      I’m in two book clubs right now, both focused on some really good
      business books. Both – despite well-intended members, great leadership
      and really well-chosen books – are having a tough time continuing.

      For busy professionals, the attraction of a book club is clear. Many of us
      want to read more, and we figure a book club will not only help
      motivate us to actually finish, but give us a chance to share ideas and
      learnings with others.

      Problem is, we still don’t necessarily have time to read. And because we feel guilty that we haven’t finished the book and prepared for the meeting (and assume others have), we bail from the discussion, and eventually from the club altogether.

      The solution to this problem for any book club but especially a business-oriented club is surprisingly simple.

      Don’t require that people read and finish the book.

      Instead, to foster a successful and growing book club, try the following steps:

      Pick a book, as usual, that is relevant to the club’s focus and that everyone wants to read

      Pick a date on which the club will meet to discuss the book, ideally no less
      than three weeks away to give folks a chance to get through it in between their already busy schedules

      Three days before the book club meeting, write a blog post or executive summary with the gist of the book, it’s key findings, it’s key implications and opinions,
      etc. (if you don’t have time, find one already written on the Web –
      someone will have already written a review, an executive summary, an
      outline of key points).

      Send the summary to all book club members. Those who have read the book, as
      well as those who haven’t, will be on the same page and ready for the discussion

      A good business book club meeting doesn’t spend a lot of time on the book anyway. It uses the book and its findings/ideas as a launching pad for discussing what the book means for each individual member and their respective businesses.

  • http://blog.CascadeSoft.net @CascadeRam

    “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston (http://www.foundersatwork.com/ ) would be another great addition to the list

  • http://monkeyrankings.com/ MonkeyRankings

    Great list, I will add a few of these to my reading list.  Content Rules is at the top of the list. 

    Thanks! 

  • http://twitter.com/12sided Max Effgen

    +1 for Zingerman’s!

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    Thanks Matt! I have two of these books in my reading queue right now.

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    Thanks Matt! I have two of these books in my reading queue right now.

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    Thanks Matt! I have two of these books in my reading queue right now.

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    Thanks Matt! I have two of these books in my reading queue right now.

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    Thanks Matt! I have two of these books in my reading queue right now.

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    Thanks Matt! I have two of these books in my reading queue right now.