From productivity hacks to inspirational stories, we round up the top 30 must-read books on business, technology and productivity based on the reading list of entrepreneurs across the UK.
Chip and Dan Heath
Serial entrepreneur Sean Mallon started his first business, Intelligent Business Transfer, ten years ago, before founding Bizdaq three years ago. In those ten years, he grew Intelligent into one of the largest business transfer agents in the UK. His current start-up, Bizdaq has been named as one of the 50 most disruptive UK businesses twice and was in the finals of the 2016 Europas Startup Awards. He credits Decisive as the business book that helped him along his journey.
“It looks at what hinders great decision making, and how to improve any decisions you make,” he tells GrowthBusiness.
“Any entrepreneur knows how crucial their decisions in business are (and how devastating indecision can be). Decisive helps the reader to understand how good decisions are made, what key elements to look for, and how to make your choices better and quicker,” he adds. “Making good decisions is paramount for any entrepreneur, and this book will help you to do just that.”
The Magic of Thinking Big
Find Me A Gift is an online gift retailer, established in 2000 in a bedroom. Now the business stocks over 9000 products and has an annual turnover of £13 million. Managing director, Adam Gore, recommends every business owner read David Schwartz’s The Magic of Thinking Big to visualise success early on.
“When I was initially thinking of starting my own business, this was the first book I read that opened my eyes to a life of limitless possibilities, success and satisfaction that anyone can achieve,” he says. “It explained simple tools and steps that gave me the knowledge and confidence to succeed in starting and growing my own business. It also gave me the confidence to take on 100 per cent of the business debt for 100 per cent ownership when the other three founders decided to leave the business after two years.”
Gore credits the book as fuelling his drive to grow the start-up. “It lead the my desire to grow Find Me A Gift to be bigger than Amazon! Although we aren’t quite as big as Amazon (yet!), this year we are forecasting to turnover £15 million, and already employ 58 people- which isn’t bad considering we started in a spare bedroom with a £6,000 loan from the bank.”
Man’s Search for Meaning
“Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning helps me keep everything in perspective, during the highs and lows of building a business,” says Jennifer Janson.
Janson is a serial entrepreneur, and the brains behind mybusinessbookclub.com, a site that helps entrepreneurs access peer-recommended business books for self-improvement. For her, two books top the list, and they both focus on leadership.
Who – The A Method for Hiring
Geoff Smart and Randy Street
“On a more operational level, Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street,” she suggests. “It gives you a very practical approach to hiring A-players and fundamentally changed how we build our businesses.”
Her current venture, Mybusinessbookclub.com aggregates data from all major book websites and combines it with Janson’s own knowledge and experience to re-create a peer-to-peer environment that other entrepreneurs can trust. It has just launched a subscription service, which is growing rapidly. “We no longer settle for anyone but the best,” she adds, crediting this book.
For Isabelle Ohnemus, founder and CEO of personal fashion-sizing platform EyeFitU, this is the most inspiring book she has read to have helped her run her start-up. “This book, to be read and re-read, is a historical and extremely well documented history of the digital revolution, carrying insightful surprises along the way,” she summarises.
“Why this book has been a huge source of help for me, and could help every entrepreneur, is the emphasis on the collaboration of the smartest people over time. Throughout the digital revolution, starting with Ada (Lovelace) and the brightest minds of her time, it is ultimately teamwork that has enabled it.
For DUKE’s chief strategy officer, Steven Stokes, once the business started to grow, he came across The Halo Effect, which changed his outlook entirely. “It questioned the delusions of business books and the pseudoscience that some use. It reminded me that the advice given in business books may not necessarily be right for you, your team, your business or the current situation,” he says.
“After you’ve finished reading, it will make it harder to believe what’s written in business books, which is challenging if you are looking for a formula for success. However, it will remind you not to blindly believe everything you read or hear, and that asking the right questions at the appropriate times will give your business a better chance to survive and grow.”
How remarkable women lead
Geoffrey Lewis, Joanna Barsh, and Susie Cranston
Dr Aidan Bell, the director of EnviroBuild – a supplier of sustainable landscaping and construction materials – believes there are two key books that should be on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf; How Remarkable Women Lead, and Beyond Performance.
“A great motivational book on how to drive and sustain success as a female leader. It was a beneficial way of changing my mindset by looking into a different perspective that I was previously unfamiliar with,” he says.
For food and beverage entrepreneur, Pia Varma, founder of Just A Splash, a literary classic tops the list of inspirational books. “My top book recommendation for any aspiring entrepreneur is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. As one of the most successful books ever written, Atlas Shrugged has been inspiring business people and entrepreneurs for decades,” she says.
“I read it when I just graduated university and was instantly captivated by the lead heroine, Dagny Taggart. She was in charge of operations for her family’s railway business and understood, intimately, every aspect of the business. For her it was not just a job but a passion. I had never read a book with a businesswoman as one of the main protagonists and it inspired me to follow my passions as well.”
Varma launched her own new business after reading about Dagny Taggart’s journey.
“Dagny taught me to look for opportunities where others aren’t looking. If there is something lacking in the market, don’t complain about it, change it,” say Varma.
“I was frustrated at a supermarket having to buy a big bottle of alcohol when I only needed a splash for a recipe I was making, so I decided to do something about it and launched Just A Splash, a range of culinary alcohols in cheaper recipe-sized pouches,” she adds.
“Whenever I’m in a tricky situation I always ask myself ‘What would Dagny do?’
The 4 Hour Work Week
Alex Packham, CEO of ContentCal, started his business when he was 23. On a family holiday in 2013, he read two books that resonated with him so deeply that it still stays with him to this day.
“The 4 Hour Work Week is by the legend that is Tim Ferris. For those who don’t know Tim as an author, it sounds a bit like a ‘get rich quick’ book – however it’s completely the opposite. It covers the processes to start a business in pure layman’s terms, and completely removes the various things people find ‘daunting’ about starting a business from scratch with real examples and tonnes of resources,” he says. “It also teaches you there’s no such thing as a ‘right time’ to start a company – like everything in life you just need to make a plan and start to execute.”
Another entrepreneur who credits Tim Ferris’ breakthrough book is Harry Simonis, he man behind Tailored Athlete Clothing. According to Simonis, this book helped him turbo-charge his whole business model.
When he was a student at Loughborough University studying international business, I dropped out after six weeks and launched his first business. While running this business, he took on an internship with New York based fitness celebrity and entrepreneur, Brandon Carter.
“A book that every entrepreneur should read is by far The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I read this book when I was 18 (now 20) and something just clicked. My motive is freedom,” he adds. “Nine-to five and myself don’t work. The ‘4 Hour Work Week’ is all about outsourcing tasks and setting up automations. This equals freedom which is exactly what I was after.”
This has been crucial for Simonis, who has now moved his physical products business to a fulfilment centre while scaling Facebooks ads. “Thank God I have moved my stock there, as I currently have over 1500 shirts coming from my manufacturers!” he adds.
As the company grows, Simonis believes he will be implementing more of what he learned from Tim Ferris and outsourcing customer service to keep the business lean. “I really value my time and Tim Ferris has taught me so much about managing it that I believe as many entrepreneurs as possible should know and benefit!”
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup is one of every tech entrepreneurs ‘must read’ books, says ContentCal’s Alex Packham. “It teaches the whole concept of ‘build – measure – learn’, something that if you adopt in your business at the early stage, will allow you to be nimble and agile beyond belief – giving you the edge as you grow against the well established competitors in your space,” he says. The book also has practical examples of how each stage was adopted in the author’s first business, IMVU. “These learnings are vital for any entrepreneur getting started, and help you avoid countless mistakes one might make without them as the initial guide to starting your business.”
After reading this book, along with Tim Ferris’ The 4 Hour Work Week, Packham realised that there was no ‘right time’ or ‘right age’ to start a company. “You just have to make a plan and get started,” he adds. “Within three months of reading these two books, I had written my business plan, secured £5,000 of funding, and had my business website up and running, alongside three clients who were paying a total of £9,000 per month.”
Packham was still working full time during those early days, but the rush and buzz of starting a company kept him enthusiastic and motivated, he adds. “What are you waiting for?”
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Heather Baker, former president of the UK chapter of the Entrepreneurs Network and CEO of PR firm, TopLine Comms, cites Essentialism as the most influential business book she has read. “This book taught me a valuable lesson about focusing on what’s most important and saying no to everything else. This approach freed up my time dramatically; suddenly focusing on sales and strategy was something I did, not something I wanted to do,” she tells GrowthBusiness.
“One profound result that came from having the time to strategise is that we stopped pitching for the cheaper jobs. Not only because they were less profitable, but because it sent the message that we were playing in a lower league. Changing our thinking saw an immediate upturn in our average sale value.” According to Baker, the firm now attracts bigger clients with bigger budgets and higher standards as a direct result of this approach.
“If you’ve ever found yourself stretched too thin, feel simultaneously overworked and underutilised, or, and this one was a biggie for me, feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas, then Essentialism is the game changer you’ve been looking for. This book changed my life and the business”
Scott Keller and Colin Price
For Dr Aidan Bell, director of EnviroBuild, this book is one to read before you start a business “to form ideas on the business culture you’d like to foster, or when you’re running a business and would like to make some changes within your organisation.”
“In tough times or in times of tough decisions, The Dip is a masterful little book that leads to breakthroughs in thinking and action from the legend that is Seth Godin,” says entrepreneur and philanthropist Bolton.
Death on Ice
“One of the best books you could read about building a start-up has nothing to do with starting a company! It’s a book called Death on the Ice, by Robert Ryan, and it’s about the 1910 expedition to the South Pole, led by Robert Falcon Scott,” says Stratajet founder and CEO, Jonny Nicol.
“A lot of the challenges that team of explorers faced will be the same challenges the CEO of a new start-up will face. There will be dizzying highs and crushing lows. There will be times when all you can do is work and it seems like you’re chipping away at a never-ending mountain.”
Nicol’s own success came from years in the military, and five years of strategising before launching his start-up, essentially the world’s first platform for chartering private jets. Stratajet is on a mission to democratise private aviation, and it all started when inspiration struck Nicol after reading this book.
Lulu O’Connor is a fashion entrepreneur and founder of Clothes Doctor, the UK’s first online seamstress service. For her, the most inspirational book she has read is Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. “It’s hugely thought provoking and in particular it encouraged me to think really hard about whether I wanted to run my business by trial and error or with strategic clarity and vision,” she says.
While the prevailing wisdom may support trial and error; where entrepreneurs test something in the marketplace and adjust planning based on the feedback received, O’Connor sees it differently, thanks to this book. Thiel argues that constant fear of uncertainty about the future has developed in Western culture in recent years. He cites stubborn visionaries like Steve Jobs as examples of the necessity of strategic clarity, says O’Connor. “In reality I believe the answer to this question depends on the circumstances, and is (un-excitingly) somewhere in the middle, but having read it, I approach my big decisions by weighing up the merits of each route,” she adds.
“For example, should I confidently agree to a three to five year lease on workshop space in return for a discounted fee, or should I pay more to insert break clauses every 6 months? Whichever option I choose, the concepts in this book help me to clarify and justify those choices, which is incredibly valuable as a solo founder.”
Many entrepreneurs are inspired to set up a business because they want to fix something in their sector, says Steve Stokes, chief strategy officer at DUKE. “One must-read book for such entrepreneurs that want to take their brand’s fledgling proposition, their drive, spirit, personalities and angst and cement it into a Challenger brand (such as Brewdog, Gymbox, Simba Mattresses or Lush), is Eating the Big Fish,” he says, adding that the second edition is a big evolution on the first).
Challenger brands avoid the typical pitfalls of mimicking the conventions of the category and find an enemy that they can push against. This enemy could be the market leader, the attitudes of consumers that are sleepwalking in the category, or something that is wrong with the culture around the category. This then gives them energy and a springboard to define what they stand for, resetting the agenda for the category, he explains.
“At DUKE, we recognised the increasing indifference from consumers towards brands and most of their advertising. This gave us a springboard to be always radically fighting indifference, because we passionately believe that radical thinking and creative work is one of the best ways of truly transforming businesses.”
For Stokes, this book gives inspiration to how your challenger brand should behave in the market, internally, with its customers and through any communications it undertakes.
The Slow Pace of Fast Change: Bringing Innovation to Market in a Connected World
Why do some innovations succeed wildly, and other ideas which are just as great flop when they come to market – or take years to be widely adopted?
“I first read this book when it had just come out after the technology bubble had burst, and thought it provided real value in helping to understand managing innovation. I have recently re-read the book and feel it is just as relevant despite the significant changes in markets over the last decade,” says Punter Southall Aspire’s Butler.
From Good to Great
David Brudö is the co-founder and CEO of the mental wellbeing app and personal development app Remente.
For Brudö, this book helped him to realise two things: the importance of having the right team and talent for your organisation, and the importance of focusing on and putting resources to the strengths and opportunities of your business.
“If something works well, try do more of it. As a start-up, and in general, we often put all our resources and thinking into solving what isn’t working, forgetting about the things that actually work and how we can do more of that,” he says.
“You generally have more problems and challenges than you actually have resources and money at your hand, that’s why it’s so vital to not forget what works and focus on doing more of it.”
48 Laws of Power
Meggan Roxanne, founder of the The Good Co. favours 48 Laws of Power as her top choice. “It was recommended to me about 10 years ago when I first embarked on my entrepreneurial journey and since then, I’ve referenced and researched it so many times; I’ve even kept a copy in my car and on my phone,” she says.
“It’s packed with knowledge and wisdom collected from historical accounts that helps strengthen your character and opens your mind to the harsh realities of business and life in general. I’ve learnt how to avoid potentially harmful situations by recognising the red flags and patterns that were taught in the book.”
For Roxanne, the biggest pull of the book is that it allows readers to pick and choose what parts you want to apply. “My advice would be to purchase a copy and enlighten yourself too.
“This is one of the best books showing you how to master the skill which is the setting and achievement of goals,” says entrepreneur and philanthropist Bolton.
“Brian is a good friend and is consistently voted one of the top three motivational speakers in the world.”
“A great sales and marketing book from the master marketer and personal mentor of mine,” adds Bolton.
Crossing the Chasm
Marcos Steverlynck is the chief technology officer of Rise Art, an art marketplace that curates work by emerging and established artists selected by an independent panel of experts. The platform makes works of art accessible for buying or renting, levelling the lofty art world in a way never before done. In his field, Steverlynck views customer service as crucial. “One of the most influential books ever for entrepreneurs has to be Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore,” he says.
“Although a bit dated now (having first been published in 1991), it still provides amazing insight into the technology markets and the adoption of technology by consumers. Many startups fail to understand their markets. Moore’s book helps entrepreneurs to understand their customers better, and to cater to their needs.”
Inspirational business lessons
McDonald’s: Behind the Arches
John F Love
“I have found it be a blueprint for business. The idea of being knocked back but always keep getting back up again and not seeing yourself as ‘too small to accomplish something’. The author embraced being different to the crowd and this is something I really relate to when it comes to where I see my business and how I see it going in the future,” says Tim Ankers, managing director of The Waste Group. “The way in which the book describes the relationship taking placed between suppliers, employees and the franchisee is inspiring. Also, I relate to the preconception that many have when it came to the author’s chosen industry.”
For Ankers, fast food is often taken for granted, seen as almost a ‘dirty job’ of low stature, which is the misconception that often applies to his chosen industry of waste management. “This is the view that I aim to change and I have since bought this book for three of my senior management team – it’s brilliant!”
There are plenty of business books telling entrepreneurs how to build successful companies. But what happens when everything goes wrong?
“This is a very, very honest account of what it’s like to lead a technology start-up, written in a gripping style (for a business book…). Ben Horowitz, who is now one of Silicon Valley’s prominent venture capitalists, clearly signposts the lessons he learned as founder of LoudCloud, a cloud computing firm which worked through successive disasters in the early 2000s.”
Anyone who wants to start or run a business should read this warts-and-all book, Punter Southall Aspire’s Butler adds.
Who says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Another rocky business ride – this time not from the perspective of a start up, but of turning around a business giant.
“In the early 1990s, Gerstner inherited an “elephant” of a company. IBM had a conservative, slow-moving corporate culture, focused on processes rather than customers, and was failing fast, overtaken by far more agile competitors. This is his account of how he resurrected the company, changing its strategy and culture and completely restructuring it.”
Punter Southall Aspire’s Butler outlines this as another must-read for business leaders and future entrepreneurs, who need to understand the complexities of managing a business.
The Intelligent Entrepreneur
Adam Ewart, CEO of Send My Bag, studied Ancient History at University and to this day, is fascinated with factual books and biographies. Around the time he set up Send My Bag, he picked up a copy of The Intelligent Entrepreneur by Bill Murphy which he still highly recommends to any budding businessperson.
“The Intelligent Entrepreneur is a collection of three autobiographies from Harvard Business School graduates who each launched a company and it’s an invaluable source of information for anyone setting up a business. The book looks at the lessons learned after ten years of successful trading and how hedging bets, self-belief and thorough research allowed them to leave their mark on the world,” he says.
“This book introduced me to the entrepreneurial biography genre – and motivated me as I took a chance with my own start-up. I like to encourage my team to read this type of book to help them understand that everything is doable, and if something doesn’t work you don’t give up, you try again.
Society and change
The 100-Year Life: Living & Working in an Age of Longevity
Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott
“The fact that people in wealthy societies are living longer has obvious implications for healthcare and social care. This fascinating book argues that attitudes to education and career path will have to change too, when we routinely live to 100, working for much longer and retraining several times over the course of a lifetime. So will the way we save and spend – a process that we can already see in pensions and which will inevitably impact employers,” says Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire .
The 100-Year Life includes some practical ideas about how people can adapt their lifestyles, and is his top pick for all HR and pension professionals.
“In the last election, Theresa May made much of ‘Intergenerational fairness’ when arguing, unsuccessfully, for the so-called ‘dementia tax’. Perhaps she’d read this book by former Conservative minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, which highlights how the baby boomers have accumulated wealth at the expense of their children, who are now paying higher tax, and working longer with a lower quality of life,” Butler adds.
“Is the older generation willing to change things in order for wealth to be distributed more evenly? And if so, what can practically be done?”
The Pinch complements The 100–Year Life in addressing large societal issues which are shaping the current social and economic landscape and, despite being published six years ago, remains as relevant as ever according to Punter Southall Aspire’s Butler.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Bolton recommends this classic as a must-read for entrepreneurs.
“A worldwide best-seller that has changed the mindset of many people regarding money,” he says. “It is what the wealthy teach their kids that the poor and middle class don’t.”
The Hungry Spirit
This book is another must-read, according to Bolton.
“One of the UK’s best modern day philosophers and a personal friend, Charles Handy explains why the perpetual drive for more and more materialistic possessions leads to an unfulfilling path and provides some much better alternatives.”