10 Must-Reads for Start-Up Founders

Michael Downing
4 min readMay 20, 2021

( Ignore this amazing list of useful resources for Start-up Founders at your own peril)

  1. [Book] Zero-to-One, by Peter Thiel
  • “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.”
  • “Competition is for Suckers”
  • “Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. And if you can’t monopolize a unique solution for a small market, you’ll be stuck with vicious competition.”

2. [VIDEO] The Full YC Start-up School Curriculum on Video (YouTube). **This should be mandatory watching for literally anybody who endeavors to build a start-up (thanks Paul Graham)

3. [Book] The Lean Start-up By Eric Ries (Any entrepreneur who DOES NOT follow this operational methodology for iteration and developments is at a MASSIVE disadvantage and highly unlikely to succeed.)

  • “We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”
  • “The lesson of the MVP is that any additional work beyond what was required to start learning is waste, no matter how important it might have seemed at the time.”
  • “The ability to learn faster from customers is the essential competitive advantage that startups must possess.”
  • “The point is not to find the average customer but to find early adopters: the customers who feel the need for the product most acutely. Those customers tend to be more forgiving of mistakes and are especially eager to give feedback.”

4. [Book] The Hard Thing About Hard Things….By Ben Horowitz (The first book to detail the intense struggle that awaits you as a founder)

  • “Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary cofounder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.”
  • “Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.”
  • “Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?” Ben: “What?” Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”
  • “As a technology startup, from the day you start until your last breath, you will be in a furious race against time. No technology startup has a long shelf life. Even the best ideas become terrible ideas after a certain age.”

5. [Book] The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, by Steve Blank

  • “Get out of the building and talk to your customers.”
  • “In a startup no facts exist inside the building, only opinions.”
  • “Early evangelists can be identified by these customer characteristics : The customer has a problem. The customer understands he or she has a problem. The customer is actively searching for a solution and has a timetable for finding it. The problem is painful enough the customer has cobbled together an interim solution. The customer has committed, or can quickly acquire, budget dollars to solve the problem”

6. [Book] Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

  • “the key to getting beyond the enthusiasts and winning over a visionary is to show that the new technology enables some strategic leap forward, something never before possible, which has an intrinsic value and appeal to the non-technologist.”
  • “Positioning is the single largest influence on the buying decision.”
  • “To get an early market started requires an entrepreneurial company with a breakthrough technology product that enables a new and compelling application, a technology enthusiast who can evaluate and appreciate the superiority of the product over current alternatives, and a well-heeled visionary who can foresee an order-of-magnitude improvement from implementing the new application.”

7. [Book] Running Lean by Ash Maurya

  • “Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.”
  • “Customers don’t care about your solution. They care about their problems. — Dave McClure, 500 Startups”
  • “Startups that succeed are those that manage to iterate enough times before running out of resources.”
  • “So the question we are called on to answer is no longer primarily, “can it be built?”, but rather, “should it be built?”

8. [Book] Rules for Revolutionaries, Guy Kawasaki (Way back in 1999 this was one of the very first books on how to do a start-up)

  • “Don’t Worry, Be Crappy, Revolutionary products do not fail because they ship too early, They fail because they aren’t revised fast enough
  • “Great companies start because the founders want to change the world… not make a fast buck.”

9. [Book] The Art of the Start, by Guy Kawasaki

  • “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.”
  • “The purpose of a pitch is to stimulate interest, not to close a deal.”
  • “The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader, and in a startup, that first follower is usually a cofounder.”

10. [Blog Post]: 10 Rules for Start-ups (linked) By Ev Williams (had to really dig to find this great old blog post)

  • Be narrow
  • Be different
  • Be user-centric…

11. [Bonus Quote] Jeff Bezos : “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to get comfortable being misunderstood for long periods of time.”

12. [Bonus Quote] Sean Parker: “Running a start-up is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.”



Michael Downing

Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur - Pre-Seed Investor- Co-founder 6 software companies| 4 rock-bands| 2 children| 3 acquisitions| 1 IPO