A search for books on entrepreneurship yields almost 90,000 results on Amazon. And while i’m sure thousands of those are repeated advice to the tune of their respective authors, the question remains: is there really that much to learn about the pursuit of entrepreneurship? If you filter the results to only include books that have received a rating of 4 or 5 stars, you are still left with more than 25,000 books. How in the world do you know what to pick up and what to avoid? In this post, I share three lessons I’ve learned from reading over 50 books on the subject of entrepreneurship, and offer advice on how to pick the book that’s right for you.
Let’s start by debunking the myth of the “definitive way.” Several books market themselves as the superior – the one and only – path to success in entrepreneurship. However, after reading the accounts of numerous successful entrepreneurs that have beaten down different paths, it’s clear that there are multiple ways to succeed. Some entrepreneurs start with a problem they’re facing. They then go on to launch a business that provides a solution to that problem. Some entrepreneurs start with a hot new technology, look at the possible applications where this technology can provide value, then capitalize on the opportunity. Some entrepreneurs play the “fast learner” game. They wait for upstarts and innovators to be first in market, closely examine their moves, and then launch a better option faster and leaner. Entrepreneurs have succeeded using different strategies. If you’re looking for a definitive strategy, you won’t find what you’re looking for. If you do find a book that claims to be the “definitive” way, then beware. You have been warned.
You can find a book that you feel you can relate to, and use its ideas as a guide for how you launch and operate your business. However, that book won’t tell you what’s the right decision to make. Your situation will always be a unique situation. For example, there are books that tell you when to quit a startup. They try to offer sound advice the best they could, but you will still need to practice using your intuition and gut feeling to make the final decision.
Throughout my readings, I’ve found many gross generalizations – things that have worked for the author, and as such, are deemed a rule of thumb. This is clearly not the case, at least not always. Different books claim that focusing on a certain aspect of your business is most important. Usually, that aspect is the author’s forte or the concept of the book. For example, a book on branding will most likely claim that branding is the most important part of your business. This is also not true. Why? Because another quite popular book claims that nailing down your business model is THE most important. What books rarely touch up on is the role of luck. The majority of entrepreneurship books imply that starting a business is a science – that with a couple of calculated steps, you are more or less guaranteed success. Their claims and reasoning sound great on paper. In reality? Markets are much more unpredictable and ever-changing. Perhaps no author wants to claim that luck played a role in his or her success because they fear being labeled lucky?
With thousands and thousands of titles out there, it could become a daunting task to pick the right book for you. In order to pick a book that is well suited for you, I suggest looking into the author. For example, let’s say you are trying to choose between two books on customer research. Both are highly rated, and both are bestsellers. The smart thing to do is to look up the backgrounds of both authors. Perhaps one has launched a couple software startups while the other has succeeded in launching a successful startup in the banking sector. You should expect that the majority of examples in their books would be software and banking related, respectively. If you happen to be toying around with the idea of launching your own small business geared towards professional banking, then the second book is a better choice for you.