The Science of Tech Startups – Especially Lean Ones

Many of the tech blogs / news blogs that I’m reading are suddenly about deals. financings, IPOs, valuations, and bubbles (or not bubbles). Several years ago, there was a lot more about “how to startup a company”, especially around product, vision, and team. Now a lot of that focus has shifted to deal making and exits.

It was with this backdrop that I read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries over the weekend. If you don’t know Eric, he’s the pioneer of the Lean Startup Movement, building on the great work of one of his mentors, Steve Blank who wrote the seminal book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Both Eric and Steve have must read blogs and Eric’s new book will join Steve’s as a critical book for any entrepreneur working on a tech startup.

The Lean Startup is focused on the early stages of a company, but apply throughout the lifecycle of any business as all product initiatives, especially new ones, benefit greatly from the Lean Startup approach. We spend a lot of time on this at TechStars and you see a lot of the lean startup principles reflected in the stories in Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Entrepreneurship. While Eric’s book isn’t out until September, I encourage you to preorder it now and gobble it down when it gets to you.

I’ve been a fan of Eric’s for a number of years ever since I first started reading his blog. We’ve worked closely together on the Startup Visa Movement and I put him on my short list of people who I’d support in any endeavor that was important to him based on his attitude, vision, deep thinking, and great style and approach to things.

As the world becomes fascinated with exits, I’m going to keep focusing on startups because without them, nothing else matters in the entrepreneurial chain. As part of this, I’d like to put together a great bookshelf of “startup books” – books aimed at the startup phase of entrepreneurships.

If you’ve got any favorites, please mention them here and – if I haven’t read them – I’ll go grab them.

  • Well, you already mention one of my favourites here, but I’ll say it anyway: Do More Faster ūüėČ

    I particularly enjoy that one since the short story format makes it possible to pick up and read from any point in the book, and to stop at nearly any point and pick it up later, which is obviously important for the busy entrepreneur.

    Side note: thanks for the focus on the startup itself. While I agree that knowing how to structure the deals and making one’s exit are important, the most important thing is indeed actually getting a company together in the first place. Once you get to that point and get your startup out the door, you’ll have more resources to figure out the rest.

    Will definitely watch out for Eric’s The Lean Startup. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • My two favorites are great for not only entrepreneurship but life in general:

    How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Blink by Malcom Gladwell

    • Vijay Nathan

      I’m surprised it took this many comments for someone to mention How to Win Friends.¬† It’s a critical book for, well, just about anyone.¬† When I attended the admitted students weekend at my business school a few years back, one of the advisors said “don’t show up here in the fall if you haven’t read it.”¬† I bought it the next day.

  • Judy Shapiro

    My favorite book that I¬†believe¬†every person in ANY startup should read is “Influencer – the power to change anything” by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield… ¬†

    So much about whether a startup succeeds revolves around the ability of a startup to be an intellectual, emotional, technology and “practical”¬†influencer.¬†

    This insight demands that people learn the specific skill set needed and this excellent book provides a “step by step” guide about the elements and mechanics of being an influencer.

    I realize it’s not your typical “startup” book – but probably one that can broadly and positively impact a venture’s outcome.¬†


    P.S. It’s interesting to note that this book was published in 2008 – just in advance of the social revolution. So now, with our socially connected world – these concepts can be realized on a scale much¬†broader¬†than these authors at the time ūüôā¬†

  • My favorites are Purple Cow, by Seth Godin. ¬†Crossing the Chasam, by Geoffrey A. Moore. Good to Great, by Jim Collins. ¬†And, The Monk and The Riddle, By Randy Komisar.

    All great books I’d recommend to anyone running/starting a company.

  • Rich

    Exit, exit, exit… It’s a flipping bubble. Just like the recent real estate flipping bubble.

    When I talk with¬†people about startups or investing,¬†many¬†don’t¬†even understand bulding a business. They only look at a business from a fashion standpoint. They want to know how quick it can be flipped for a few bucks.

    In these economic times, I can¬†understand the desire to get in and get out. But, where are the anchor businesses gonna’ come from? There are lots of people turning small tech ideas into small businesses that hinge on ideas that can’t grow. They are here today gone tomorrow ideas.

    When you talk to investors about long-term they get a bit glassy eyed. I’ve tried talking industry or segment, instead of fashion but¬†that doesn’t seem get me anywhere. But, if I talk spaceships and timetravel everyone listens.

    • Rich

      Heck, I talked to you about a large growth business¬†in a “do more faster” segment and you passed in the blink of an eye.

  • Rework from the people at 37 Signals is my must read book:¬†

    • That has been on my ‘to read’ list for awhile now. It is on my summer reading list and I need to cross that sucker off my list. As a side note, I find almost all Tweets from either Jason Friedman or David Heinemeier Hansson to be great as well.¬†

      • REWORK should be an easy one to knock out – it’s a very quick read – I think it took 1-2 hours cover to cover.

        • Nice; I have not even seen it. Just keep coming across it and put it on my to do list but have never acted; reading some other stuff – I need to finish George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series still. ¬†Thanks for the info. Bing now that I know that I can slot it and push it up the priority based on time. #appreciation

  • Not startup books per se, but the wisdom contained inside “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson and “Flow” by¬†Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is directly applicable to entrepreneurs.

    • Was going to recommend SJ’s book as well as “Little Bets” by Peter Sims and “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” by Peter Drucker.¬†

  • Andy Blackstone

    “The Referral Engine” by John Jantz, and my book, “Small Changes” (you don’t even have to buy a copy – Seth has one).

  • When you talk about Lean Startups, you need to also remember “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development” (go to¬†

    The beauty is in it’s simplicity. It doesn’t go into the depth of Eric or Steve’s work but it’s very helpful in getting your entire team on board and understanding both the value of and the implementation of being a lean startup. It’s a quick read, so it’s easy to ask your entire team to read it; they can do so in an hour or two.


  • “ZAG” and “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” have been tremendously helpful to me.

    I’m a finance and products guy.¬† These won the brand strategist who recommended both to me a permanent spot on my good list.

  • “The Map of Innovation” by Kevin O’Connor is one of my favorites, highly recommend it:

  • JohnbMtl

    Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

  • SteveD-

    Another great Lean Startup read is Ash Maurya’s Running Lean. Full of case studies and step by step details based on real world experience it’s a perfect companion to Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits CustDev book.

  • Girish

    I have been dying to get a copy of the book – The lean Startup. But, they won’t give it to me before the release date. How can I get the book ? I have already pre-ordered.

    • It’s hard to get in advance – if you send me an email I’ll send a note
      to Eric Ries.

  • zach
  • ‘Little Bets’ by Peter Sims would have to be my favorite so far this year. It talks about lean startup principles in less techy terms.¬†

  • I’d highly recommend Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. Tony discusses all the good/hard times, luck/hard work that they’ve had building Zappos and shows how important it is to truly care about the culture/impact you’re creating not just the money you might gain.

  • Ash Maurya’s book is awesome:¬†– in my opinion, he tends to be even more prescriptive than Eric – if one is brand new to lean startup, I suspect Eric’s book will be the perfect intro. Ash’s is the perfect action plan.

    I also really like Rob Walling’s: His book is for bootstrappers and even “lifestyle” businesses, but I found his advice incredibly simple and easy to follow (e.g., go in this order: market, marketing, design, functionality – most developers do the opposite, which is a recipe for failure). I’d be very interested in what you think of Rob’s book from a VC perspective (the target audience would not typically seek venture capital – does it still resonate with those who would?)

    Lastly, Jason Cohen doesn’t have a book (we all need to encourage him, I suppose), but his writing on his blog is incredibly clear and insightful: Any startup should have Jason’s blog on their weekly must read list.

  • I would definitely read What Customers Want by Anthony Ulwick, The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen, and Do The Work by Steven Pressfield.

  • We’re publishing an entire series of ebooks targeting specific start-up practical skills- sales, reputation marketing, networking, leasing commercial space, managing lifestyle issues, etc., in a very concise and down to earth format. I’d be happy to send you some if you’d like.
    I’ve very much enjoyed your books and those you mention. They are very motivational. Our titles are focused entirely on day to day skill building. And we’re a start-up and just raised a little seed round so we understand what it’s like!

  • Hi Brad,

    Indeed… its¬†always¬†great to read the personal side of¬†entrepreneurship¬†from your posts…

    We¬†learned¬†a lot from Lean Startups… how/when to pivot, define and reach you MVP, iterate¬†like¬†mad, find a scalable biz mode, dont waste the world money¬†until¬†you know you have a real biz at hand, customer¬†development¬†plan and so much more…

    With so much numbers,¬†statistics¬†and news its not trivial to focs on what really matters…and its gr8 to be reminded once in a while what’s its all about.. brining value to the world ūüôā

    10x 4 sharing,

  • Adding to the summer reading list, here’s my two favorites which are focused on how to build products that customers want in rapid iterations.

    Marty Cagan Inspired
    Steve Krug Rocket Surgery Made Easy

    Firas Raouf
    OpenView Venture Partners