Whether at work or for life in general, I’m a big believer in continuous education, and reading is a big part of how I keep learning.
Here are the best marketing / business / non-fiction books I read in 2018, loosely arranged by topics. Most were published in 2018, but some are a bit older, and a couple are classics I went back to this year. I would love to hear your recommendations — I’m always on the hunt for the next good book.
If you want to read about the startup struggle and how to accelerate growth…
High Growth Handbook – Elad Gil. Detailed playbook for startup growth through candid interviews with industry titans like Marc Andreessen and Aaron Levie, and numerous examples from companies Elad worked or consulted with, like Twitter, Airbnb, and Pinterest.
Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World – Rand Fishkin. Finally someone tells it like it is – the good & bad of the “startup dream.” Raising a lot of money, building a successful startup, leaving… In addition to being super informative, this book is also highly entertaining and well-written.
The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture – Scott Belsky. Full of thoughtful insights about scaling a company, from the Founder of Behance and now chief product officer at Adobe. Scott has a lot of perspective having bootstrapped for a few years, then raised funding, grew a startup, sold it to a large enterprise, stayed there for a few years, and invested in a bunch of other high-growth startups.
Building a good company + culture
Very different viewpoints on what it means to build a good company with a culture you’re proud of.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. If you’re looking for a contrarian view to the usual Silicon Valley tech bubble / cult from the founders of a successful tech company, you should read this book (as well as their others, Remote and Rework).
EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches – Dave Ramsey. Dave writes about building a “real” company, not a VC backed startup, but so many of his lessons apply to startups as well, especially those related to hiring and developing talent.
The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last – Tom Peters. Lots of UPPERCASE and exclamation points in this very enthusiastic book, but the basic premise is sound – a lot of advice on building a culture of excellence.
Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility – Patty McCord. If you liked the Netflix Culture Deck, read this book by the woman who co-architected it with Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO). It’s also refreshingly direct and blunt, making it a fun read.
Macro-trends that may apply to your startup
Driving Digital Strategy: A Guide to Reimagining Your Business – Sunil Gupta. Great for startups who sell into enterprises and want to understand their mindset and business priorities. Plus he was my marketing professor and knows his stuff. 🙂
21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari. Israeli pride. 🙂 I think Yuval is at his best when narrating history as opposed to writing about the present and future, but this is a well-written, original read. My favorite of his remains Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a remarkably original take on a well-worn topic (world history).
Marketing basics & getting stuff done
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande. A classic I went back to this year and wrote a whole blog post about, What happened after I accidentally emailed 60,000 unsubscribers.
This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See – Seth Godin. Seth’s newest, which I surprisingly liked less than some of his previous books, like We Are All Weird and Purple Cow. The material is all solid — it might just be that because I read Seth’s blog every day, most of the ideas weren’t new to me.
Companies gone terribly bad (with useful lessons for yours)
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou. One of my favorite reads this year. Superbly researched and written, with a jaw-dropping Silicon Valley story to boot. Read it, and think about how to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen at your company.
American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road – Nick Bilton. In a year where seemingly innocuous tech platforms proved to be enablers of… pretty bad things, this is a cautionary tale about the immense power of platforms. Plus it’s Nick Bilton, so this ranks up there with my favorite thriller and fiction reads of the year.
How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In – Jim Collins. This year I went back to this classic and its predecessor, Good to Great. Recommended for both the direct lessons for growing startups, as well as for understanding the lifecycle of enterprises.
Learn from legends, even if they lived 50+ years ago
Personal History – Katharine Graham. If you’re a startup working with publishers or media companies, this is a great read about the golden age of newspapers by the former publisher of The Washington Post.
Confessions of an Advertising Man – David Ogilvy. A 1963 classic by “the father of advertising.” If you’re in marketing, this should be part of your curriculum.
Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay – Lester Wunderman. Another marketing / advertising innovator, who pretty much invented direct marketing, CRM, and personalization about fifty years ago. If you’re a marketer and take your craft seriously, you should read this.
Read about food and apply lessons to your startup (and to you)
This year I was on a tear of reading food-related books by and about chefs and restaurateurs. Obviously it’s a very different industry, but a lot of insights that can be applied to tech and startups – working in a fast-paced environment, hiring and retaining talent in a competitive market, building passion-based businesses, and developing a culture of excellence with low tolerance for mistakes. Plus, reading about food is always fun.
Front of the House – Jeff Benjamin. How to do customer service and keep getting better from a two-time James Beard Award nominee.
Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire – Barbara Lynch. Starting from nothing and building a restaurant empire, with lots of ups & downs in between.
Ritz and Escoffier – Luke Barr. The story of the famous hotelier who founded the Ritz-Carlton hotel brand, and his chef business partner (who basically codified modern French cuisine). They created the best hotel in the world back then with extreme attention to detail, investment of time & money into what matters, and… personalization. (If you thought personalized products and marketing were new, we’re talking 1890s here!)
Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America – Jonathan Dixon. Memoir of a student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York, arguably the country’s best culinary school.
Cooking On The Line… from Food Lover to Professional Line Cook – Wayne Cohen. From a hobbyist to a professional through self-learning and hard work.
The Bottom Line
What were your 2018 favorites? What are you looking forward to reading in 2019? Feel free to share in the comments.