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5 Books for Startup Founders: Must-Reads that aren’t The Lean Startup

We're taking a look at 5 books that have inspired and educated Louis on his journey to establish and lead The Delta.
March 24, 2022
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Founder & CEO, The Delta

1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz 

Weirdly comforting about how hard things can feel building and running a company.

Horowitz is one of the most respected and experienced entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Rather than glamorising the life of a founder, The Hard Thing About Hard Things takes a hard look at how lonely and difficult being a founder can be, especially in the tech industry. 

This is an essential read for founders as it looks at what to do when things go south and explores the pitfalls that are integral parts of running a company. The book will prepare you in ways that the typical optimistic entrepreneur books don’t. 

When I read this book, it clicked for me that the path to building a successful company was THROUGH all the seemingly comically hard times and that trying to go around was counterintuitive and worse. This realisation makes it far more possible to stay calm in tough times, and just keep swimming. This is the most important lesson I’ve learnt from any book.

“The only thing that prepares you to run a company is running a company.”

Actionable tip: Take Care of The People, The Products, And The Profits – In That Order

Ben Horowitz discusses this quote from Jim Barksdale at length. If you take care of your people first, they’ll stick by you when problems arise in the product or profit areas. A strong team can solve most problems, especially the ones you can’t solve alone.

People are the most difficult area to take care of, but you’ll learn quickly that they’re also the backbone of your business.

2. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel, Blake Masters 

Prompts you to question your business idea so you can find new, and hopefully better ways to serve your audience.

Getting from Zero to One is the hardest part of starting a business because you’re moving from nothing to something, essentially creating something that doesn’t yet exist. 

This book positions innovative startups as builders of the future. We don’t know what the future will look like, but we do know that it will be different. By creating something new and different, your startup is building the future.

The most important lesson I learnt from this book is that “Competition is most fierce for mediocre things” — easily achievable things are counterintuitively difficult because everyone is doing them. 

“Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.”

Actionable tip: Don’t build a culture, define a mission

Startups often throw time, money and energy into building a strong company culture. But a well-defined mission to build a company that is innovative and unique enough to change the world will unite your employees way more than any team-building activity can. 

Put time into defining your mission and constantly reminding your team why it matters. 

3. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

A valuable manual for instilling inspiration in your team, and removing the obstacles that get in your way.

Written by one of Pixar Animation Studios co-founders, Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. explores creativity and what it takes to lead creative teams to bring ideas to life. Before something exists, it must be created in someone’s mind. That was the case with Toy Story, the first-ever full-length digitally animated film. 

The book has important lessons about building trust and candor in the workplace because creativity can’t thrive without them. 

"Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it."

Actionable tip: Protect new ideas, or as Ed calls them, ‘Ugly Babies’.

New ideas often arrive incomplete and poorly defined. It’s much easier to write off the ugly babies than to treat them like they’re going to become the next Toy Story. 

But that’s the thing with projects as great as Toy Story, they all start as ugly babies and become great with nurturing, time, and patience. Protect the ugly babies because they’re the future of your business.

4. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Essential food for thought to make sense of some macro trends like AI.

After taking us back in time with his previous books Homo Deus and Sapiens, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century unpacks what’s happening in the present. Harari gives perspective on a range of modern-day issues from inequality to AI to planning the Olympics all the way back in 1016. 

“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.”

Actionable tip: Start practising mindfulness in your day-to-day life

The overarching message in this book is that we need to stop worrying. Harari isn’t saying we can solve problems by meditating, but practising mindfulness will help us worry less about the things we can’t control so we can focus more on the things we can. 

As the world becomes a smaller place, we’ve become more aware of global issues and less willing to tolerate misery and misfortune. Mindfulness is the only way to gain clarity while navigating the 21st century, especially for founders and leaders. 

The main value of reading books for founders is that it drives reflection of yourself, your core limiting beliefs, perspectives, self-image, and ego. This reflection helps you accelerate your personal growth as well as your skillset growth. The rate of that equals how quickly you can adapt, and that equals good startups.

5. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer

An interesting twist on rewiring psychological safety in the workplace.

Netflix pivoted from a DVD-by-mail startup to the streaming service we know it as today. They credit their successful pivot to their trust-grounded company culture that does away with useless policies and disperses important decision making to all levels of the business. 

No Rules Rules explores the philosophy of the streaming giant in a way that challenges founders to rethink what business structures should look like. 

“Talented people make one another more effective.” 

Actionable tip: Throw out the rules but make sure you have these three things:

  1. High talent density

You’ll get further with a few talented employees than you will with an office-full of average ones. Pay higher salaries and hire fewer employees. 

  1. A lot of candor

Hire employees who will challenge your decisions. This also requires creating an environment where disagreeing is not only okay but normal. 

  1. Throw out pointless policies

Removing rules increases accountability. At Netflix, they don’t make employees keep track of time or days worked and they don’t even have a leave policy. 


Finding time to read is so worth it. I usually read on holiday, or in bed before I go to sleep. But lately, I've started using Audible to listen anywhere when I'm trying to unwind. It’s kind of a game-changer.

And I don’t only read serious business-related books. For leisure reading, I’m a big fan of a series of super nerdy Warhammer 40k books — if you don’t know what that is, they’re science fiction books set in the distant future. 

The series I’m into is called the Horus Heresy and I'm on book 40. 


The insights I’ve gained from reading these books have been formative for me on my journey as a founder. At The Delta, we’re working to build a strong ecosystem where founders can share resources and knowledge to build and launch the next generation of unicorns

If you’d like to stay up to date with our ecosystem, follow us on LinkedIn. Or, if you’re a founder in need of support in building your venture, talk to our team here

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