5 books every pre-monetization startup should read

Each startup is unique, however the stages that most go through are surprisingly similar and the advice that applies to a startup building an airbnb for warehouses can often apply for a startup working on a fitbit for pooches . Every founder will encounter situations where they don’t know if they are headed in the right direction. It is during such times when one needs to not only introspect for character building but also seek inspiration to stay optimistic, and advice of what can be done.

More than half of TechHub’s community are at an early stage, so this list was put together with very early stage startups in mind, those that are still working on their MVP and are trying to figure out monetization, sales, lean methodology, and how to build a product based on customer feedback. Because of the narrow focus you will not see some amazing books that are widely recommended like The Hard Thing About Hard Thing , or Crossing the Chasm as these books are better read when the company has started to scale and has the first dozen of clients and a growing tea,, and when your problems are customer service, hiring/firing and company culture.

The ‘Must read’

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (2011)

This book has been called the startup bible by many. At the time when it was written, in 2011, it was truly groundbreaking, 7 years on you would have heard many of the books ideas in passing from mentors, startup founders, and at startup talks. The main idea of the book is deceivingly simple - do not wait till the product is built for the customers to use it, have them test it every step of the way and implement that feedback.

It is never too late or too early to read this book and the best part is that Eric Ries will be speaking and live coaching at TechHub London on the 14th of November .

Figuring out the next steps and finding your first customers

Four Steps to Epiphany by Steve Blank (2005)

Eric Ries has credited the success of his company IMVU Inc to Steve’s customer centric approach. This book is the inspiration behind the lean startup movement and it is worth reading on its own terms. It explores how traditional company milestones are tied to the building process of the technology and the untested and unproven business plan that the founders have sold the investors on. In other words, the sales and business development teams are made to execute an unproven plan, and sell a product that is rarely built with customers in mind or using customer feedback.

Blank tries to tear down this traditional approach and argues that the sales, business development and marketing teams should be talking with potential clients way before the product is ready to be shipped. The customer feedback should then be used to make necessary changes to the product, and the business plan should be altered accordingly. And let's face it how many startups flopped because the founders overestimated their client base’, or assumed that their idea is super needed without asking possible customers if they would pay for their solution to a perceived problem.

A must for tech founders who are uncomfortable with sales

To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink (2012)

Sooner or later every founder has to sell. Either you will be selling investors on your idea, or selling your product to your first customers, it will be you the founder doing the selling. No matter how early you hire your head of sales or business development or how talented they are if you cannot figure out how to sell your product to people they won't either.

If you are squeamish about sales, if you would rather do literally anything rather than research your potential clients, if the idea of cold calling induces panic attacks, then this is the book for you. It helps not just explain the sales process but also put you into a sales friendly state of mind. After all we all sell each other on stuff every day be it selling your partner on the idea that it’s their turn to cook dinner, or selling an investor on your business plan.

Want to up your technical skills?

The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen (2015)

The one criticism that the Ries’ Lean Startup book has is that it has very few actionable points which is where this book comes in, it is less inspirational and more step by step action plan on how to quickly prototype, test and iterate.

This book is a must read for every founder and co-founder, especially those who do not have technical skills as this will give insight into how the product is built, and what questions to ask when you are in the customer discovery stage.

Figuring out inbound marketing and sales

The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to Go from $0 to $100 Million by Mark Roberge (2015)

Bonus read: Disrupted: Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Start-up Bubble by Dan Lyons (2016)

The Sales Acceleration Formula will help you make sure that you, your co-founder, and your small team do your blogging in a smart way, that the blog actually acts as a lead generation tool rather than as the company's diary. The book walks you through Mark’s experience of leading Hubspot’s sales team, it is packed with surprisingly actionable advice even if you do not have Hubspot’s budgets behind you.

One criticism that this book does deserve is that Hubspot comes across almost intimidatingly awesome, to counteract that read Disrupted by Dan Lyons. Disrupted is a tale of a disgruntled 50 something year old ex-employee at Hubspot who says it how it is. The book is entertaining and makes fun of the startup world, it will not give you any business insights but it will show Hubspot as it is rather than through rose colored glasses.

Other book advice articles to look into:

The 9 Best Books Every Startup Founder Should Read

Books for founders at each stage of a startup

4 books every aspiring startup founder should read

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