Keep these 12 unusual books on your desk if you’re a startup founder

A couple of weeks ago we hosted our very first Product Hoist ‘Ask Me Anything’ [AMA] with Paul Bennetts from Airtree Ventures. Amongst many fascinating insights, were some absolutely golden recommendations for books you might not have heard of, but if you’re in the business of making ideas happen… you definitely should read.

“Oh man, I can see a book buying spree coming on!” – Raph Goldsworthy


Ready Player One

Read Ready Player One – it’s the future..”Paul Bennetts

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.


“The updated edition just came up. I would definitely grab a copy. Most founders underestimate the work that is required to find marketing channels that work for you startup. And most go for the same channels over and over rather than thinking through all 19 channels..” – Paul Bennetts

“Awesome recommendation. So many start-ups are laser focused on online channels, but are there any offline channels you think are under utilised by start-ups?” – Raph Goldsworthy

“All of them. One of our portfolios companies is using local radio to blanket the world – its super cheap and is working well. Keep in mind, different channels for different levels of scale. To get 10 people to turn up to your party, you ask your friends. To get 100, you ask your family. To get 1000, you rent a billboard. To get a million, you ask Canva.” –  Paul Bennetts

An overview from Paul’s detailed notes

Startups can get traction through 19 different marketing channels. The authors researched 40 successful startups to document this. Many tried multiple channels until they found one that worked.

Startups can get traction through 19 different marketing channels. The authors researched 40 successful startups to document this. Many tried multiple channels until they found one that worked.

Far too many startups focus on the same channels. And ignore the most underutilized (and likely promising) channels.

Keep in mind that it will be hard to predict the channel that will work best.

19 channels (don’t dismiss any of these because successful companies have built off each) include targeting blogs, publicity, unconventional PR (stunts), SEM, social and display ads, offline ads, SEO, content marketing, email marketing, engineering as marketing, viral marketing (referrals), business development, sales, affiliate programs, existing platforms, trade shows, offline events, speaking engagements and community building.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Although not your typical business / startup book, the story behind it is very relatable!”  Ashok from MyProperty

First published in 1923, “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator” is the most widely read, highly recommended investment book ever. Generations of readers have found that it has more to teach them about markets and people than years of experience. This is a timeless tale that will enrich your life–and your portfolio.

Fooling Some of the People All of the Time, A Long Short Story

“If you like discovering an insight that no one else has in the world, I highly recommend reading “Fooling Some of the People All of the Time, A Long Short Story”. Be careful you may not look at the world the same ever again..” – Paul Bennetts

“Interesting title, sounds like it sums up most of Wall Street…! Will definitely check it out.” – Ashok from MyProperty

In 2002, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, gave a speech at a charity investment conference. He was asked to share his best investment idea, so he did. He described his reasons why Greenlight had sold short the shares of Allied Capital, a leader in the private finance industry. Greenlight bet that the stock would decline because the company’s business was in trouble and its accounting was corrupt. Einhorn’s speech was so compelling that the next day, when the NYSE opened for trading, Allied’s shares remained closed. So many investors wanted to sell or short the stock that the NYSE could not balance all the sell orders to open Allied’s trading in an orderly fashion.

The book follows what happens next. Page by page, it delves deep into how hard it is to develop a non-obvious insight that has a high potential of being right.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie and first published in 1936, it has sold 15 million copies world-wide.

Warren Buffett took the Dale Carnegie course “How to Win Friends and Influence People” when he was 20 years old, and to this day has the diploma in his office.

Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

“I read the Foundation Trilogy in my first year of university. Amazing! I love how a very fragile planet with very intelligent people can carve out a way to survive in the face of much larger entities. Directly applicable to the startup world.” – Paul Bennetts

Having very few resources is a direct driver of innovation.” Steven Speldewinde

“BOOM!”  – Paul Bennetts

The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second great empire arises. Seldon also foresees an alternative where the interregnum will last only one thousand years. To ensure the more favorable outcome, Seldon creates a foundation of talented artisans and engineers at the extreme end of the galaxy, to preserve and expand on humanity’s collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for a new galactic empire


Today, encyclopedias, jetliners, operating systems, mutual funds, and many other items are being created by teams numbering in the thousands or even millions. While some leaders fear the heaving growth of these massive online communities, Wikinomics proves this fear is folly. Smart firms can harness collective capability and genius to spur innovation, growth, and success.

Team of Teams

Possibly more relevant to existing companies trying to cope with the pace of change in today’s world, but some good thinking in what I have read so far. – Raph Goldsworthy

In this powerful book, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and other or­ganizations. The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products for Tomorrow’s Customers

Jan Chipchase is a freakin genius – Raph Goldsworthy

Hidden in Plain Sight by global innovation consultant Jan Chipchase with Simon Steinhardt is a fascinating look at how consumers think and behave.

Chipchase, named by Fortune as “one of the 50 smartest people in tech,” has traveled the world, studying people of all nations and their habits, paying attention to the ordinary things that we do every day an how they effect our buying decisions.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The modern world has given us stupendous know-how. Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry—in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely.

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption

We are a product of affirmation bubbles. We seek, create and fight to retain them. When we read something that agrees with us we feel good. We fall into an information diet that comforts and numbs us, just like we love to gorge on carbs and sugar. The wrong foods lead to obesity. The wrong information sources leads to a cow like existence. The easiest thing to sell is carbs and sugar. Media works the same. – Paul Bennetts

We’re all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut—what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective.

And if you want more…check out Paul Bennetts post – 5 books every venture capitalists should read.


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