Ask an Entrepreneur: Required Reading

In this series, we pose questions from student entrepreneurs to our entrepreneurial instructors, and let you read their answering chatter. Casual, off-the-cuff, intelligent, informed responses are guaranteed. Want to ask a question? Email entrepreneurship@wharton.upenn.edu and include “Ask an Entrepreneur” in the subject line.  

Nidhi Shah WG’17 asked:

What books or research have shaped your thoughts on the entrepreneurship journey?Book with glasses 600x450Here are the entrepreneurs who are answering today’s question:

Jeffrey Babin C’85/WG’91: Associate Professor of Practice and Associate Director of Engineering Entrepreneurship at the School of Engineering and Applied Science; Lecturer in Marketing and in Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School, Venture Initiation Program Advisor

Patrick Fitzgerald: Vice President for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

Tyler Wry: Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School

Here’s what the entrepreneurs answered:

Patrick:

I love Beer School by the founders of Brooklyn Brewery. Really showcases unique founder relationships, flexibility of business model, alternative revenue streams and exits. Also heavy on “outsider” innovation.

I also have enjoyed Revolution in a Bottle by Tom Skazy of Terracycle. Shows how to tackle a very challenging industry from a young age.

Jeffrey:

This is awesome. Thanks, Patrick, I was just starting to build my summer reading list and look forward to adding these (and Tyler’s) to the five from Bill Gates (https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Summer-Books-2016)…

I’m going to give you four with VERY different perspectives and rationale.

  1. The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth (Joseph Campbell). Really changed my life as I transitioned from the music industry to the computer industry. The latter book is actually a PBS series of interviews with famous anthropologist/mythologist, and conducted by Bill Moyers, that did a wonderful job of refocusing me on “following my bliss” and the power of storytelling (a requirement for entrepreneurs).
  2. Decoded (Jay-Z). Pretty poorly written and controversial (just like Jay-Z), chronicles the development one of the music industry’s most successful artists and businessmen. Taught me a lot about rap, free-styling, and more importantly how art, society, culture, business, and values are all inextricably intertwined.
  3. Selling to VITO (Anthony Parinello). One of the books I recommend most frequently to entrepreneurs, especially since we do not have a course on Sales at Wharton/Penn. May seem like an infomercial at times, but is incredibly valuable in understanding B2B selling and relationship development with customers, business partners, and vendors. When selling and networking, ALWAYS start at the top! Plus, price is right for entrepreneurs, too: http://www.vitoselling.com/contact/selling-to-vito-sales-ebook/
  4. Marketing High Technology (William Davidow). Yes, that Davidow of Mohr Davidow Ventures. Get in touch with your geek history (Davidow was Intel’s lead marketer for Intel during the microprocessor explosion. This book is still one of the best marketing books going and all of Bill Davidow’s core principles are staples that others have been writing and re-written about ever since.

Tyler:

Looks like I need to add to my reading list! Jeff and Patrick have suggested some great books that illustrate specific contexts of venture creation. My favorites are a bit more general, and focus on aspects of creating and testing new venture ideas. I recommend these books to all of my students, and consider them required reading for any aspiring entrepreneur.

  1. Business Model Generation (Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur). The book doesn’t have any really novel insights about different types of business models or how these relate to organizational outcomes—recent work by my friends and colleagues Raffi Amit and Charles Baden-Fuller is much more informative in this regard—but it does do a nice job of laying out the key features of a new venture and the importance of considering how these relate to each other. There’s a free preview of the book available here.
  1. The Startup Owner’s Manual (Steve Blank). This book delves into customer discovery, and its importance for startup success. The core idea is that it is not enough for an entrepreneur to design the ‘perfect’ model, or write the ‘perfect’ business plan; you need to get outside and actually talk to customers, competitors, industry insiders, and anyone else who can give you meaningful feedback on your idea. I’ve worked with a number of entrepreneurs who define their early progress in terms of ‘number of conversations per day’ that they have about their venture: this book started all that.
  1. The Lean Startup (Eric Ries). The book is similar to The Startup Owner’s Manual, but takes things a step further in terms of outlining a specific methodology for identifying and testing the assumptions in a nascent venture’s business model. The ‘lean’ metaphor here comes from manufacturing, and the idea that it is crucial to minimize waste and maximize learning. From this perspective, building a venture is an iterative process where you identify and test assumptions, and then adapt based on what you learn. It’s also a fairly light, fun read.
  1. The Art of Startup Fundraising (Alejandro Cremandes). Alejandro is a terrific entrepreneur who has generously shared his time with Wharton students over the years. His book focuses on one of the most important topics for any startup, and nicely covers recent innovations such as crowdfunding as well as the more tried and true VC and Angel investors. It’s a very accessible read filled with practical advice and examples.