19 best books for starting a business

Starting a business is exhilarating, but it's also full of challenges. Books recommended by top business schools and thought leaders can help, so we've compiled a list of the best books for starting a business in any field.

by Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom
updated May 11, 2023 ·  9min read

There will never be a “one size fits all" approach to starting a business. Nevertheless, there are common challenges founders face when navigating the long but rewarding process of business formation. As you embark on your own business journey what better place to look for answers and advice than top business schools?

To help you improve your business acumen, we've scoured required reading lists, online newsletters, and alumni-written books, from Wharton, Harvard and others to find what they're recommending to their students and alumni. While we can't promise you an MBA, these books might just be the next best thing.

man sitting in his living room reading a book

Best books to inspire innovation

best books infographic

1) The Unicorn's Shadow

With a no-fluff, science-backed approach to launching a successful business, this book details how entrepreneurs can tilt the odds of success in their favor. Even better, it does it all in under 100 pages.

  • Author: Ethan Mollick
  • Key Takeaway: There's a data-backed method behind the madness of massive entrepreneurial success. As a burgeoning business owner, it's important to realize the inner workings of successful startups
  • Amazon Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2020
  • Page Count: 116 pages

2) Rework

Written by the founders of project management platform Basecamp, this actionable guide can help overzealous founders avoid burnout. Learn how to start a business without bringing on outside investors, why it's smart not to obsess over your competitors, and why you don't need to sacrifice your personal life to thrive professionally.

  • Authors: Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
  • Key Takeaway: You can build a solid foundation for a start-up and grow exposure without driving yourself crazy by following the counterintuitive, thought-provoking ideas in this book.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2010
  • Page Count: 288 pages

3) Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing

Anyone starting a business needs to understand the competition first. As a follow-up to their first successful book, Blue Ocean Strategy, this book explains their actionable five-step process to helping your business stand out in a crowded market.

  • Authors: W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
  • Key Takeaway: Any founder can switch from an existing crowded market into a clear new market space.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2017
  • Page Count: 336 pages

4) The Creator's Code

Creators are not born with an innate ability to conceive and build $100 million enterprises — they work at it. In-depth interviews with moguls behind companies like Yelp, Zipcar, and Chobani, and process analyses of their companies offer fodder for education and inspiration.

  • Author: Amy Wilkinson
  • Key Takeaway: The six main skills that successful creators and entrepreneurs possess aren't rare gifts or talents, but rather can be learned and practiced like anything else.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2016
  • Page Count: 240 pages

Best books to grow and scale your business

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5) The Lean Startup

This no-nonsense guide to making sure your new business doesn't fail shows an efficient way of changing the way companies are built and new products are launched. The author is the founder of the Lean Startup theory, which has helped thousands of business owners over the years.

  • Author: Eric Ries
  • Key Takeaway: It's a tough pill to swallow, but most startups fail. Thankfully, there are some golden rules outlined in this book that you can follow to avoid the preventable mishaps that often lead to a new company's demise.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2011
  • Page Count: 336 pages

6) The Money of Invention

Burgeoning business owners can learn about navigating the relationship between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists so they can build a business that actually makes them money. Dig into the pros, cons, and limitations facing founders and VC firms, and find out which kind of funding matches your business idea.

  • Authors: Paul A. Gompers and Josh Lerner
  • Key Takeaway: Learn how to understand the limitations and challenges of raising capital as an entrepreneur. Level-set your expectations and stay one step ahead to keep your finances in check.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2001
  • Page Count: 320 pages

7) Scaling Up Excellence

Scaling is more that a buzz word, it's essential to getting funding and success. Learn best practices for successfully scaling a company without compromising the character and key aspects of the original, small organization's roots.

  • Authors: Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao
  • Key Takeaway: Whether or not you know and when and how to scale will either be the success or the demise of many founders' new businesses.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2014
  • Page Count: 368 pages

8) Zero to One

The realities of scaling a business and the unpredictable nature of starting one go hand in hand in this examination of entrepreneurship. In the words of the authors: “The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innova­tive."

  • Authors: Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
  • Key Takeaway: Learn how to open new business frontiers by creating novel products and services that fulfill societal needs without relying on following one formula for success.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2014
  • Page Count: 224 pages

Best books to improve team management

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9) True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership

In this ultimate guide to becoming a business leader, the author provides solid advice regardless of your situation. Learn to create your own personal leadership development plan and build a successful team to support you.

  • Authors: Bill George and Peter Sims
  • Key Takeaway: Knowing your authentic values and defining your leadership principles will allow you to face any difficult decision as a business owner with grace.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2007
  • Page Count: 251 pages

10) Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most

Pearls of wisdom in this book will help leaders build confidence in communication. Get tips for navigating tricky topics without becoming defensive or divisive.

  • Authors: Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
  • Key Takeaway: Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable is key when you're starting a business. As an entrepreneur, dealing with confrontation needs to become second nature.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2010
  • Page Count: 352 pages

11) Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty

Building and scaling a talented team that sticks around is one of the toughest challenges when starting a business. And many time tried talent management practices have lost relevance in the digital age. Learn what it takes to build a top notch talent pool with new practices that have been proven to work.

  • Author: Peter Cappelli
  • Key Takeaway: Learn how to navigate talent management as a business leader who is trying to cultivate a truly innovative, loyal team while being conscious of cost.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2008
  • Page Count: 288 pages

12) Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Extremely well-researched and captivating, this book explores the psychology of grit and how it applies to various aspects of life, especially the business world.

  • Author: Angela Duckworth
  • Key Takeaway: Consistency and determination sustained over time are much more powerful when starting a business than a feverish obsession with success that burns out quickly.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2016
  • Page Count: 368 pages

Best books to master strategy and problem solving

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13) See Sooner, Act Faster

Staying ahead of the competition has a lot to do with anticipating and proactively solving problems. This book provides frameworks for actually staying ahead of competitors, with proven examples from Fortune 500 companies who use the same strategies.

  • Authors: George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker
  • Key Takeaway: In a fast-paced digital business world, being hypervigilant is a must. Learning the thought processes required to stay a few steps ahead as a business owner will protect your business and help you thrive.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2019
  • Page Count: 208 pages

14) Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking Is Your Best Short-term Strategy

In a world obsessed with quick wins, overnight successes, and instant gratification, the data-backed insights and examples in this book prove long-term strategies always pay off in the end.

  • Authors: By Dennis Carey, Brian Dumaine, Michael Useem, and Rodney Zemmel
  • Key Takeaway: Building and/or leading a business that expands consistently year over year is the result of a strong commitment to a specific type of long-term mentality.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Page Count: 119 pages

15) Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't

To launch a radical restructuring and thrive in the aftermath business leaders need to be smart and strategic. Get a crash course in management strategy and practices that have been proven to work.

  • Author: Jim Collins
  • Key Takeaway: As a business owner and team leader, try to strike a balance between a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship to empower your company.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2001
  • Page Count: 400 pages

16) Tools of Titans

Any business owner understands there are only so many hours in the day and every minute is precious, and this book provides the tools to make the most of your time. In the words of entrepreneur author Tim Ferris: “I've used dozens of the tactics and philosophies in high-stakes negotiations, high-risk environments, or large business dealings. The lessons have made me millions of dollars and saved me years of wasted effort and frustration."

  • Author: Tim Ferriss
  • Key Takeaway: To truly succeed as a business owner, you need to optimize as many areas of your life as possible — the compilation of tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers found in this book will help you reach your full potential.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2016
  • Page Count: 736 pages

17) Crushing It!

Looking for advice on navigating the world of branding, marketing, digital content creation, and social media? Get the guidance you're looking for, without a sugar coating.

  • Author: Gary Vaynerchuk
  • Key Takeaway: Amplify your personal brand in addition to your business's brand identity. Start following tactical advice on how to gain more organic visibility as an entrepreneur.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Page Count: 288 pages

18) Everything is Figureoutable

Get actionable tips for accomplishing your wildest dreams as an entrepreneur. Marie Forleo gives tips and advice for developing a forward-thinking, solution-oriented mindset in this uplifting book.

  • Author: Marie Forleo
  • Key Takeaway: To succeed in business as an entrepreneur, you need a ferocious commitment to self-accountability and problem-solving.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2019
  • Page Count: 304 pages

19) The Underdog Advantage

Could being the underdog actually be a superpower? Find out how to use underdog status to sneak up on the competition and learn to tap your unbridled potential.

  • Author: Dean Graziosi
  • Key Takeaway: Being an underdog as a new business owner is actually an advantage — it means you don't have to prove your worth to anyone but yourself and your team.
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Year of Publication: 2019
  • Page Count: 288 pages

Check out the infographic below for a quick visual reference guide to these books, conveniently categorized by the aspect of starting a business they're most helpful for.

best books for business infographic


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About the Author

Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.