Startup founders are some of the most unorthodox individuals you'll ever meet. They boldly venture into extreme uncertainty, relying on a hearty dose of self-confidence to go where most fear to tread. They thrive amidst constant turbulence. They fall in love with their ideas and rarely have an “off" button. They often come from tumultuous backgrounds.
While each founder — and their backstory — is unique, startup founders do share one common trait: A high tolerance for risk.
They can be a tough group to work with, which is why corporate innovation teams are sometimes hesitant to jump into partnerships. Founders, with their quirky personalities and bullish ways, are the antithesis to the corporate mold, and working with them can be scary.
If you're struggling to bridge the gap between intrapreneur and entrepreneur, check out the following books recommended by successful founders. Not only have these insightful reads helped the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Cuban make billions, but they will also help your team understand what makes entrepreneurs tick — and how to forge more fruitful corporate-startup relationships.
The Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown
“This year's fierce election battle prompted me to pick up this 2014 book by an Oxford University scholar who has studied political leadership — good, bad, and ugly — for more than 50 years. Brown shows that the leaders who make the biggest contributions to history and humanity generally are not the ones we perceive to be 'strong leaders.' Instead, they tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate and negotiate — and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers. Brown could not have predicted how resonant his book would become in 2016."
— Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
“Anybody who starts a business and builds a business knows there's going to be lots of times when you feel beaten down and need some motivation, and that's when I [first] turned to this book … It was incredibly motivating to me. It encouraged me to think as an individual, take risks to reach my goals and [take] responsibility for my successes and failures. I loved it. I don't know how many times I have read it, but it got to the point where I had to stop because I would get too fired up."
— Mark Cuban, Self-Made Billionaire and Investor on ABC's “Shark Tank"
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin
“Unsurprisingly maybe, there are many similarities to starting a stand-up career and being a founder. Stand up is one of my favorite forms of entertainment because [of] how unvarnished it is. You can't fake being a good stand-up comedian. Similarly you can't fake building a great product. Martin, without any pretension, reveals the struggle of the art. The book is honest, entertaining and moving."
— Qasar Younis, Founder of Talkbin and COO of Y Combinator
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
“Ed Catmull, [who co-founded] Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, [reveals how the studio] built a culture of openness, honesty, self-reflection and risk-taking that protects new ideas and creativity instead of squashing them."
— Aaron Epstein, Founder of Creative Market
Screw Business as Usual by Richard Branson
"The best book I've ever read on leadership, business and entrepreneurship is Screw Business as Usual by Richard Branson. It completely changed my life and how I view my business and clients — and also, more importantly, how I have come to create and embrace every opportunity to make an impact outside of my typical CEO comfort zone."
— Amber Kelleher-Andrews, Founder of Kelleher International
What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Brendan Moynihan
“I grabbed a copy of What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars, and I've since read it many, many times. For less than $20, this tool has helped me avoid multiple catastrophes, and I can directly credit its influence to roughly half of my net worth. The ROI has been incredible. The book, [which won] a 2014 Axiom Business Book award gold medal, begins with the unbroken string of successes that helped Jim Paul achieve a jet-setting lifestyle and land a key spot with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It then describes the circumstances leading up to seven-figure losses, and the essential lessons he learned from it. The theme that emerges: There are 1,000,000+ ways to make money in the markets (and many of the “experts" contradict one another), but all losses appear to stem from the same few causes. So why not study these causes to help improve your odds of making and keeping money?"
— Tim Ferriss, Serial Entrepreneur and New York Times Best-Selling Author of The 4-Hour Workweek
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
“Best book I've ever read for my work as an entrepreneur is Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It's not a traditional business book, but it's about being creative and taking risks. I first read it while I was in the corporate world working for Disney. It was the kick in the butt I needed to start my first business, and it's been foundational to my current work as the owner of a branding agency."
— Annie Franceschi, Founder of Greatest Story Creative
Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston
“This collection of interviews with founders of successful technology companies will give you an inside look at how they grew in the earliest days. What was life like before they were famous? How did they come up with — and stick to — those initial big ideas? How did they convince investors to support them early on? And how did they handle failures along the way? Jessica Livingston, co-founder of Y Combinator, shares her conversations with founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Max Levchin (PayPal) — just to name a few. This is as close as it gets to being there on the ground level yourself. If you want to understand how to build a successful startup, Founders at Work is the ultimate collective blueprint."
— The Product Hunt Team
Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans by Peter Shankman
“My recent favorite is Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans by Peter Shankman. For me, this book put to words what we always try to practice in customer service. It completely justified my wanting to go the extra mile for my customers. It clearly showed different ways in which top-of-the-line customer service is the best practice for retaining top-of-the-line customers. I refer to it all the time."
— Roberta Perry, Founder of ScrubzBody
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone
“Founders frequently find that their big issues have to do with their interpersonal relationships: whether it be [with] their co-founders, investors, clients, employees or spouses/partners. The book walks you through the many stages one goes through when taking part in a difficult conversation — how a party might be inadvertently attacking the other's identity, how we often misunderstand intent and how we can usually work a bit harder to understand the other person's perspective. This book is recommended for anyone, particularly at places like startups, where so much of our work is tied to our identity."
— Ana Diaz-Hernandez, Investment Team at Kapor Capital
Takeaway for Corporates
As a whole, startup founders are risk-takers, problem-solvers and change-makers — but their efforts do not exist in a vacuum. As a more established company with additional resources, there are three things you can do to assist startup founders to create a win-win situation for partnerships:
1) Mitigate their risks (as well as your own) by building a culture that celebrates intelligent failure
2) Minimize any fear surrounding taking the leap together by coming up with a clear mission to make it easier for each party to understand the other's goals
3) Evaluate the best way you can provide value to a startup, whether it's investing, acquiring or partnering.
Want to learn how smart innovation efforts can minimize risk and help your company develop a competitive edge? Learn more about our Corporate Membership Program and how we help corporate innovation professionals gain exposure to game-changing startups in their industries and the tactical toolkits to partner with them.
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