In a prior post I discussed whether entrepreneurship can be taught. I concluded that you are better off learning key elements of entrepreneurship through experience and reading. There is one more element you will need, but first, let’s talk about what you need to read.
Classify Your Reading Material, So You Know WHY You’re Reading That Book
I often say that every business starts with one or more ideas and is propelled forward by relationships. So you need to read about how to handle those two things. Really! The basic elements of being an entrepreneur can be categorized into just two bins: handling ideas and handling relationships. As they say, “That’s all there is to it!” You can take dozens of courses in business and entrepreneurship, read scores of business books, and memorize hundreds of inspirational aphorisms. But it all comes down to ideas and relationships. Of course, every author does not think the same way I do, so they often categorize their books differently. Consider that classification for a minute.
Take “Relationships” as a category. Many, many authors (and CEOs) say “People” is the most important thing in business. It’s almost heretical to disagree with that. But a singular focus on “People” ignores the important relationships between Companies. Other authors concentrate on the “Leadership” skills an entrepreneur supposedly needs to be successful. But Leadership is merely one aspect of complete Relationship Management. So I stick by my preference to classify one of the things you need to study is “Relationships.”
What about “Ideas?” Well, ideas come from people. If you are properly managing your relationships with the people your company uses, you will be managing their ideas as well. So you might say that everything boils down to managing relationships, and you would not be far off. But to be fair to my original statement (first Ideas then Relationships), at least come of your company’s ideas come from you, the founding entrepreneur. And you have to manage those ideas as well, not just the ones from your people. More importantly, managing ideas requires you to manage a portfolio of properties, which is distinct from managing relationships. So, while you really do need to manage people in a way that manages (and protects) your company’s ideas, that is distinct from managing your relationships with your people.
Fortunately I have read a lot of the popular business books, so I here I’m giving you my recommended reading list. Whether you are just starting out, adding people or products, or expanding from a small to medium sized business, you need to read these books. And while you are reading each of these books you need to ask yourself how the materials will help you manage ideas and relationships.
The Entrepreneur’s Reading List
1. Know “Why.” “Why” starts every effective business plan. “Why” attracts the right relationships and generates the right ideas. “Why” tells you when to continue, pivot, or stop.
The best modern book on “Why” is Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. Just get it and read it
2. Concrete example. The concepts in Sinek’s book sometimes feel abstract, even though he points to many famous companies for backup. For me the whole concept of “Why” lit up when right after Start With Why I read The Airbnb Story by Leigh Gallagher. This book entertains as well as instructs. You’ll watch three guys stumble with an idea and gradually develop a “Why” around that idea, which leads to massive (legendary?) success.
3. Learn from mistakes.The path to success has way more landmines that strawberry patches. There are so, so many ways to screw up your company as you try to grow it, you are just bound to find yourself about to make “one of those” mistakes. And virtually every one of those ways to screw up is documented in The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman. It’s full of statistics, which turns off some readers, but even if the only thing you do is catalog all the decisions you have to make as an entrepreneur going from stage to stage of your company, you’ll be way ahead of the headaches you’re going to have.
4. Start from startup. Get, read, and read again The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. This is for sure a book for startup entrepreneurs, especially technology startups. But it is also indispensable for any company that is introducing a new product or service (even non-tech companies), no matter how big and how much money you might have to throw at your new baby. I did not put this book first on the list, because honestly you need the messages in the first three books before you proceed with starting a new product or service. But once you have your “Why” and your organization’s path laid out, this book will help you develop a roadmap for roll-out.
5. The secret to marketing. The last book in this particular list is almost too good to tell you about. I seriously thought of keeping this a secret so only I would know how to market. But word is bound to get out. In Building A StoryBrand, Donald Miller finally explains what we’ve all heard: People respond to stories. If you integrate your “StoryBrand” with your “Why,” you are going to have an explosive business combination.
It’s true there are many other great books. But you MUST read these and internalize what they tell you. You could spend a fortune on getting an MBA and do worse than mastering the concepts in these five books.
You might well ask why I did not say a word about legal stuff, seeing as how this is a blog post on a law firm website. Well, I did mention at the top of this post that there is one more element you need besides experience and reading. And that is you need advisors. You need people in your corner who have specific experiences that you will not have the time or inclination to obtain. So let me finish with the plug for legal advice. While you are reading the above books and thinking about how they apply to ideas and relationships, bear in mind these two legal facts:
- Every idea is free for everyone to use, UNLESS you do the right things to convert those ideas into Intellectual Property that you can protect. The path to converting ideas into property is laid down in applicable law for each type of idea. Your intellectual property lawyer will show you how that is done.
- Every business relationship is a Contract, whether you write it down or not. In the Western World, and in the United States in particular, Contracts acquire the status of law, they are in fact private law. What’s in a Contract is enforced (mostly). Write it down. Read it. Get an expert (a lawyer) to review it. And negotiate the terms. Think of every contract as a mini-business-plan for the relationship it covers, but a plan that must be followed and cannot be altered except according to the terms of the plan.
Now go out, read those books, and use what you learn to make a lot of money!
Entrepreneurs are going to save the world, and Argent Place Law wants to help. That’s why we work very hard every day to earn the title “The Law Firm For Entrepreneurs.” In providing Legal Business Counsel to Entrepreneurs just like you, we focus on protecting ideas and drafting and reviewing contracts or all kinds.