Top Startup Books: 13 Must-Read Books To Learn About Silicon Valley

Get ready for a career in startups and Silicon Valley
Picture of Mike Hinckley
By Mike Hinckley
Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    The best startup books not only educate, but also provide inspiration for the entrepreneurial path.

    I’ve compiled a list of some of the best startup books out there – based on reputation and my own personal experience.

    With the help of these top startup books, you’ll get a better sense of what startups are actually like, you’ll learn actionable tips, and you’ll get inspiration and motivation.

    The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

    A top Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Ben Horowitz, wrote a book titled The Hard Things, and its title alone would strike a chord with most startup people.

    This book’s primary goal is to teach you the skills you’ll need to solve some of the most challenging, real-world situations you’ll encounter as a founder. It’s a light and entertaining read, with plenty of hilarious anecdotes and even rap lyrics thrown in to emphasize key points as he describes his own life and the lessons he’s learned.

    Working in startups can be isolating and unpleasant, especially for founders.  Reading this book can help you feel better and more prepared for some of the toughest issues you may face. 

    Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber

    Super Pumped, which has been called “the definitive book on Uber and Silicon Valley,” tells the narrative of how the iconic startup of our time was started and grown.

    Uber, a company with billions of dollars in venture capital backing and a brash and ambitious founder, promised to transform the way people and things were transported around the world. What happened along the journey for Travis Kalanick and others involved is an epic tale with many cautionary lessons about startup culture.  

    The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billion, and Created Plenty of Controversy

    I’m biased about this one, because I worked at Airbnb (a General Atlantic portfolio company) 🙂 

    That said, Airbnb has an incredible story that many people can learn tons from.

    Airbnb was started by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk and is now worth billions!  The path to get there, though, had several incredible twists and turns.  This book is the first to focus exclusively on the Airbnb story.

    Leigh Gallagher, the editor at Fortune, delves into Airbnb’s meteoric rise and the company’s darker side. 

    Read it to get deeper insight into starting and working at game changing starting.

    Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making

    Build is a book full of personal stories, practical advice, and fascinating insights from Tony Faddell, one of the creators of the iPhone as well as the founder of Nest. 

    It is written for startup folks across the spectrum – from recent graduates navigating their first jobs to CEOs weighing the pros and cons of selling their company.

    Each chapter addresses a specific issue that readers may be having right now, such as whether or not to quit their job, how to secure funding for their startup, or how to cope with the jerk in the cube next to them.

    The Four Steps to the Epiphany

    Among the canon of great startup books, The Four Steps to the Epiphany stands tall. 

    The Lean Startup methodology was introduced with the publication of The Four Steps to the Epiphany. This book gives an incredible, step-by-step guide to how to find a customer insight and start a startup that is worth starting.  The process is called the “Customer Development” process.

    The Four Steps to the Epiphany is a must-read for anyone starting a company, but also anyone who is working within a startup trying to find product market fit. 

    The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

    Arguably, the most influential startup book in the last several years.

    So many concepts in this book (e.g. pivot, MVP, etc) have been completely absorbed into the Silicon Valley orthodoxy.  Still, it’s very worthwhile to read the original text here and make sure you’re grounded in these concepts.

    Also, worth noting, author Eric Ries helped develop several concepts with Steve Blank (author of Four Steps to the Epiphany).  There are lots of similarities between this book and Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany, but both are worth reading.

    The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers & Learn If Your Business Is a Good Idea When Everyone Is Lying to You

    Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test has become Silicon Valley must reading.

    It is a how-to manual that walks you through a series of questions designed to elicit honest answers from a startup’s customers. 

    Too often, startups believe they’ve landed on big business ideas when they haven’t actually because the feedback they get from customers and friends is too positive.  Basically, people don’t want to be rude, so they give positive feedback.

    This book helps startup folks figure out what customers really think about your offering.  Must read.  Bonus points because it’s a quick read. 

    High Output Management

    This classic business tome has been a must-read in Silicon Valley for many years.

    High Output Management is written by Andy Grove, former chairman and CEO of Intel.  The book is based on Grove’s time as CEO and employee number three at Intel, one of the most successful technology companies in the US. 

    It is useful not only for business leaders but also for folks just joining startups. Grove discusses strategies for assembling high-performance teams, illuminating the ways of motivating that yield optimal results.

    The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion


    What can we say about WeWork?

    Such an incredible story, and so many lessons to learn.  This book is a definitive account of the company’s meteoric growth and demise. 

    The Cult of We tells the fascinating tale of reckless and often absurd decisions made during the course of building WeWork. It’s full of shocking, previously unreported details.

    Very engaging read.

    The Great CEO Within: The Tactical Guide to Company Building

    This book is by one of Silicon Valley’s most sought after executive coaches, Matt Mochary.

    Typically, he coaches high flying startup CEOs, but in this book he details many of his key lessons into a short book.

    I highly recommend this book for any employee at a startup, not just CEOs.  You’ll learn how to institute a structure of responsibility, efficient problem-solving, and open feedback.

    Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

    Phil Knight, founder and board chairman of Nike, offers a rare insight into the story of how he started one of the world’s most iconic companies, Nike.

    He is notoriously media-shy, but in this New York Times bestseller, Knight provides details about the company’s journey from a fearless startup to one of the most recognizable and lucrative brands in the world. 

    The best part about it is how open Knight is about the near death encounters the company had throughout its path to greatness.  He describes his wins and defeats openly.  

    In this way, he makes entrepreneurship seem much more approachable, and he shows it’s okay to have setbacks in startups as long as you live to fight another day.

    High Growth Handbook

    Elad Gil is a global technology executive, entrepreneur, and angel investor.  He’s backed the likes of Airbnb, Twitter, Google, Stripe, and Square as they expanded from startups to category leaders. 

    Based on his analysis of these successful businesses, Gil has developed a straightforward playbook for growing high-growth enterprises (which he calls the “High Growth Handbook”).  In the book, he also taps other top Silicon Valley folks to contribute lessons as well. 

    Read this for an actionable guide to organizational structure, late-stage fundraising, secondary stock sales, business culture, global expansion, recruiting executives, acquisitions, and other issues.

    The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

    Famed author Michael Lewis wrote one of the first great books about Silicon Valley, The New New Thing. 

    In it, he shares the story of Jim Clark, the founder of three firms worth over $1 billion each (including Netscape). 

    While Lewis chronicles the quirky Clark and his many ventures, it’s also a chronicle of the modern internet and Silicon Valley.

    More recommendations


    The #1 Online Course for Growth Investing Interviews

    Screenshot of course preview

    Get My Best Tips on Growth Equity Recruiting

    Just great content, no spam ever, unsubscribe at any time

    Picture of Mike Hinckley

    Mike Hinckley

    Founder of Growth Equity Interview Guide


    Coached and assisted hundreds of candidates recruiting for growth equity & VC

    • General Atlantic logo     Investor at General Atlantic 
    •      Operator in portfolio at Airbnb 
    • Deutsche Bank logo     I-banker at Deutsche Bank
    • US Treasury Department logo      Advisor in Obama Administration
    • Wharton logo     MBA at Wharton
    Company logo


    Get My Best Growth Equity Interview Tips

    No spam ever, unsubscribe anytime