These are given in the order in which I would read the respective books linked from each lesson. These lessons represent some of the most important things I’ve learned from reading business books and managing my business over the past 10 years.
1. Figure out what you really want to do and who you want to be. Do you want to be a millionaire, or just live like one? Do you want to work 80 hours per week and be on the covers of business magazines, or do you want to work 4 hours per week, be an unknown, but have all the time and money you need to do whatever it is you want to do? Read The Four-Hour Work Week and change your perspective. You might find out you want to be a different kind of entrepreneur than you thought you wanted to be, or you might find out you don’t want to be an entrepreneur at all, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Assuming you still want to be an entrepreneur after reading the first book…then read these.
2. Have a plan. If you’re going to start a business, then it’s worth paying $15 and a few hours to buy and read a book that will help you get the basics of starting and running one. In my opinion, The E-Myth Revisited is the best option. It includes simple, common sense tips for making sure you set your sails in the right direction. I just barely read this book and wish I had read it 10 years ago when I was starting my business. There was nothing shocking in it, but plenty of moments when I thought “Duh, yeah, I should be doing that.”
3. Learn how to make good decisions. Unfortunately it’s hard to do this without experience. How do you get experience? By making mistakes. How do you make mistakes? By diving in. How do you dive in without making too many mistakes? Read this book–Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls.
4. Learn how to execute your plan. I get people approaching me with business plans on a regular basis. They want me to “partner” with them, by which they mean they want me to provide them with free web development services, right now, in exchange for a cut of their business which may or may not be worth anything in the near future, if ever. They often want me to sign a non-disclosure agreement because they’re afraid their idea is so good I’ll want to quit the business I’ve poured my heart and soul into for the past 10 years and which is just starting to make a decent amount of money and steal their idea. In addition, they think their idea is so good that I’ll instantly recognize that it’s better than the 50 ideas I’ve come up with myself for other businesses, and I’ll skip over those ideas which I’ve already researched and in some cases put money into, in order to steal their idea. What they don’t know, and which I do, is that ideas are worthless without execution to back them up, and execution takes intelligence, experience, relevant knowledge, and plenty of hard work, amongst other things. Did you know that I invented WordPress and iStockPhoto.com? It’s true. I came up with those ideas, wrote rudimentary business plans, bought URLs, etc. And yet somehow I’m not a millionaire. Why? Because I never executed those ideas, and a few years after I had those ideas someone else had the same ideas and executed them. What was the value of those great ideas to me? Nada. What’s the value of your great idea to me? Slightly less. I don’t want your idea. I don’t want to start your business. Because I’m not interested in the execution of all it will take to make it successful. I’m busy executing my own ideas, and it’s hard work. So put away your NDA, go read the previous books, and once you’ve read those read Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done so that you’ll know how to make things happen and your idea can become the one that maybe, just maybe, I should have stolen.
5. Treat people, and yourself, right. If you aren’t treating your people right, you’re probably not treating yourself right, and vice versa. People are people, not objects, and they increasingly want to be treated like people, whereas once upon a time they were content to be treated like a piece of machinery. Leadership and Self-Deception and Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It will help you figure out what you’re doing wrong, why customers don’t buy from you, why your employees don’t respect you, and why you can’t get anybody to do things right. Short answer–it’s not them, it’s you.
6. Understand that you’re a good person. Despite what you see in the news, movies, and TV shoes, business people are not evil, nor are you. Your business does not have to be a non-profit, “green”, or donate 10% of its profits to feeding starving children in order to be good. Your business is good if it sells something people want, sells it in an honest way, and makes a profit. What better social program is there than providing someone with a job, not because you have pity on them, but because you and they have entered into a mutually beneficial relationship? And yes, if your business does not generate a profit (and non-profits do generate profits, mind you, they just get reinvested into the company), then your business is not good. Trust me and my employees–I ran a non-profitable business for eight years, and it didn’t do anyone any good. If you need convincing, read Atlas Shrugged and then follow it up with Free to Choose.
7. If you want to dream big, then dream big. I don’t mean dream about being a billionaire or having money like Scrooge McDuck. I mean dream about changing the world and making a real difference. Unless reading the Four Hour Work Week has convinced you otherwise, then no biggie, be happy with your $50K per month from your somewhat-exciting business. But if you want to do something really exciting, read The Innovator’s Dilemma. Sure, it focuses a lot on technology, but don’t let that fool you. The principles are what matter, and they apply to any business and teach you how to not just create something slightly better than the next guy, but something entirely new. And if you like it, you’ll probably want to read The Innovator’s Solution.
8. Read a lot of books. Some books are big in the sense that they’re long. Others are big in that they are important, or contain mounds of useful information that undoubtedly will change your life. Other books aren’t so great, but may contain a gem here or there that still makes them worth reading. I’ve learned that from reading books like The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, The One-Minute Entrepreneur: The Secret to Creating and Sustaining a Successful Business, and Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence People. But if you’re an entrepreneur and aren’t reading business and entrepreneurship books at all, or only reading a top-seller here and there, you’re missing out. And if you’re saying “I don’t have the time to read books” then read audio books while you’re in the car, doing the dishes, or training for a triathlon.
9. Learn how to build something permanent. If you haven’t learned it from some of the books above, learn it by reading Good to Great. You’ll find out that great leaders aren’t necessarily ruthless blowhards, and that great companies don’t exist to the detriment of their customers or employees. You’ll learn something about having a long-term perspective and building something that will be a legacy. Unless you want to create some sort of Internet startup, hire 200 people, never be profitable, but then sell the company for millions. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, if that’s what you want to do.
10. If things don’t work out… well, you could always read Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School and 65 Successful Harvard Business School Essays and start thinking about going back to school to get an MBA.