Startup books are a great resource for leaders. Whether you’re in the planning stages of your new business or you have a few years under your belt, startup books can show you new perspectives and approaches to the business-related problems you face. These books can be advice-filled sources of motivation; usually through stories told by successful people who have been where you are.
Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke understands this well. The programmer-turned-entrepreneur (after launching an online snowboard shop that would become the motivation behind Shopify) credits multiple titles for his business success. In turn, Tobi has compiled a carefully curated book bar. The recommended reading list highlights some of the best business startup books for ecommerce shop owners.
What are startup books?
Startup books are designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch or build a new business. Some focus on a single topic—such as how to find venture capitalists, scale a business, or manage a team—while others cover a combination of subjects. These types of books usually include anecdotes, inspiration, and insight about what to expect from startup life.
Why read startup books?
Although every business is unique, many startup founders face the same challenges: getting funded, developing talented employees, and finding inspiration. Reading startup books can help you realistically address such challenges, because they’re written by experienced entrepreneurs. You’ll usually learn to adopt best practices and avoid some of the common pitfalls that small business owners encounter, like underestimating the demands of a new business or undervaluing your product.
Reading books from experienced entrepreneurs can also help you get out of your head, so to speak, and see that many radically successful businesses started at the bottom. Startup business books may contain some overlapping ideas, but each is told from a unique perspective and can help guide you on your startup journey.
14 best startup books for ecommerce business owners, selected by Shopify founder Tobias Lütke
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
- Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
- Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
- Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door—Why Everything Has Changed About How and What We Buy
- The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
- The Elements of Style
- Range: Why Generalists Triumph In a Specialized World
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- High Output Management
Whether you’re facing a challenge, gathering ideas, or learning about new topics, startup books can be a source of motivation. Here are 14 of Tobi’s best startup books to help you get your shop off the ground, establish good habits, and navigate some of the inevitable challenges of creating a successful business.
1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
Authors: Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Having an original business idea is the key to any startup—but to succeed, you need to build a culture of creativity. In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull, president and co-founder of Pixar, shares the ideals and techniques that have made his own company one of the most successful, innovative, and profitable in the world. If you want to leverage human creativity, seek unconventional leaders, and foster originality, start with this book.
2. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Author: Kim Scott
Every leader wants to strike a balance between showing compassion and commanding respect. In Radical Candor, CEO coach Kim Scott explains how to become the startup owner who creates strong workplace relationships, provides constructive feedback, and gives praise when appropriate. Her seven-step methodology—listen, clarify, debate, decide, persuade, execute, and learn―will help you understand what needs to happen at your organization to achieve your vision.
3. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Author: Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.
Every business needs to hear “yes” from employees who invest in your vision to customers who buy your product. In this book, you’ll learn why people say yes—and how to apply skills of persuasion to your business and everyday life.
4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Author: Ben Horowitz
Running a small business isn’t always easy, and leaders need to learn how to make tough choices and have hard conversations. With relevant examples, successful entrepreneur and thought leader Ben Horowitz provides practical advice about some of the most complicated issues not covered in business school. Learn how to face challenges head on: minimize office politics, talk with employees about poor performance, fire workers, and more.
5. Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World
Authors: Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross
Talented people create radically successful businesses. So whether you plan to hire one employee at your startup or 100, you’ll need to learn how to spot workers who can take your business to the next level. In Talent, renowned economist Tyler Cowen and venture capitalist/ entrepreneur Daniel Gross guide the reader through the mechanics of finding good job candidates, conducting interviews, understanding personality types, and matching the perfect employee to your company.
6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Author: Mark Manson
“Let’s be honest,” Mark Manson writes in this bestselling self-help guide. “Shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” Manson explains that the key to improving your life is to cut the toxic positivity (or positivity at all emotional costs), accept the imperfections in life, and choose not to care. While not geared specifically toward startup advice, this book will help you break free from the fears and faults that may be getting in the way of your business.
7. Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door—Why Everything Has Changed About How and What We Buy
Author: Christopher Mims
If you’re an online retailer, you should understand how your products get to where your customers are—and how the industry is being rebuilt from the bottom up. In Arriving Today, Christopher Mims chronicles the journey of a single product, from a far-away factory to a doorstep in the US—highlighting the evolving technologies and management strategies that keep products moving forward.
8. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
Author: Josh Waitzkin
Joshua Waitzkin, who won his first national chess championship at the age of nine, dives into the life lessons he’s learned on his journey to the top. He explains that a well-planned approach to learning is what separates failure from success. By reading this book, learn about the routines Waitzkin uses in all his competitions, so you can achieve peak performance at work—or home.
9. The Elements of Style
Authors: William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
If it’s not there already, add this point to your startup checklist: Write great website copy. Why? Ecommerce is about more than just having a good product. To drive traffic to your site and convert customers, you have to tell a compelling story and maintain credibility. This style manual offers practical advice on improving writing skills. When your content is clear and actionable—with no typos—visitors are more likely to become customers.
10. Range: Why Generalists Triumph In a Specialized World
Author: David Epstein
A startup owner might specialize in one area, but they’ll wear many hats when launching a small business. From designing the company’s marketing strategies to hiring talent and researching the competition, founders must do it all. This book can help you understand why having this kind of range is the key to success. And that’s especially true of digital shop owners, who need to understand the basics of website maintenance in addition to their specialty.
11. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Author: Daniel H. Pink
While some business leaders use punishments and rewards to motivate workers, Daniel H. Pink says humans also respond to something called “intrinsic motivation.” Leaders and employees with this inner drive will do something out of the inherent satisfaction of getting stuff done. In this book, you’ll learn about the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and how to apply them to your business.
12. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
Authors: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
No matter the setting, leadership is the key factor in whether a team succeeds or fails. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, who worked with Navy SEAL task units, share how their leadership principles apply to any business that has a “battlefield” to dominate. With this book, learn how you can implement these practices with your team.
13. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Author: Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.
World-renowned psychologist Carol S. Dweck, PhD, shares how something as simple as a mindset can make the difference between failure and success. People with a “fixed” mindset are less likely to succeed, while those with a “growth” mindset are more likely to flourish. Read this book to learn what these varying mentalities are and how to adopt a growth mindset for yourself and your organization.
14. High Output Management
Author: Andrew S. Grove
Lauded by tech leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Campbell, and thought leader Peter Drucker, among others, High Output Management has been called the bible for entrepreneurs and a staple within Silicon Valley startups. The book offers a crash course for any leader looking to improve their management skills and strengthen their company. In this book by Intel’s former chairman and CEO, you’ll learn practical skills for navigating realistic business scenarios, techniques for creating highly productive teams, and ways to stay motivated so you can reach peak performance.
There may be nothing more satisfying in the business world than coming up with a great idea and bringing it to market. If you’ve already got the idea, all you need is a push in the right direction with entrepreneurship training from Shopify.Start learning
Best startup books FAQ
Why are startup books worth reading?
What are the 5 key elements of a startup?
- Vision: What problem does your business solve, and where is the business going?
- Values: What beliefs and principles drive your business?
- Product and engineering: How well does your product or service perform?
- Feedback loops: Your company, its customers, and its leaders are all connected. How well do they communicate?
- Resilience: How well do you and your business perform under pressure? Do you recover quickly and move forward?