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10 Essential Startup Books for SaaS Founders​ & CEOs

By Ryan Law on Mon, Jul 8, 2019

When faced with a challenge, it's so easy to consult the wisdom of Q&A's and startup blogs, that we're often guilty of neglecting the humble book.

But many of the defining principles of the startup and software-as-a-service business model come from old fashioned paper and ink books, like Eric Reis' Lean Startup and Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm. 

So today, I'm collecting together the best SaaS-specific advice ever to grace the pages of a startup book, and showcasing advice and insight from serial founders, successful investors and renowned professors alike.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

By Ben Horowitz

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As one of the driving forces behind Netscape (a company that helped shape the internet as we recognise it today), Loudcloud (one of the first organisations to adopt the software-as-a-service model) and Andreessen Horowitz (one of the most successful VC firms in existence), Ben Horowitz is uniquely qualified to speak to the challenges of growing a startup.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things applies Ben's trademark humour and straight-talk to a diverse array of topics - including software development, management, investment and selling a business. Filled with tons of actionable takeaways and overt Hip Hop references, it's an invaluable and deeply engaging read for any SaaS founder.

The Lean Startup

By Eric Ries

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It's easy to forget that there was a time before the concept of a "lean" startup had even entered into our lexicon - but it was Eric Ries' ground-breaking book that laid out its core tenets.

Taking inspiration from lean manufacturing processes developed by Toyota, The Lean Startup outlines a framework for rapid, iterative business development, relying on validated learning and constant experimentation to test and improve ideas. Though MVPs, feedback loops and unit economics are a staple of most modern SaaS startups' practices, it's well worth revisiting Ries' clear, example-driven explanation of lean development.

Lean Analytics

By Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz

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Part of the Lean series of books and edited by Eric Ries, Lean Analytics is the actionable, hands-on counterpart to the legendary Lean Startup. At the core of the book is the simple concept of prioritisation: choose a single, vital performance metric, and run experiments until it's sufficiently improved to move on to the next area of focus.

For a startup founder trying to improve everything at once, the clear, simple guidance contained in Lean Analytics (and its 30+ case studies) are invaluable for working out which areas need your attention first.

Crossing the Chasm

By Geoffrey Moore  

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Few ideas can withstand the startup world's rapid pace of change, but despite Crossing the Chasm nearing 26 years of age, its central argument is more relevant today than ever before.

In the book, Geoffrey Moore explores the adoption of novel and disruptive technology, and the massive hurdle that faces every innovative startup founder - making the leap from the small early market of technology enthusiasts and visionaries, to the huge late market of pragmatists, conservatives and outright skeptics.

The Innovator's Dilemma

By Clayton Christensen

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Disruption is at the heart of the startup ethos, but why do huge companies leave themselves so open to being disrupted? And what happens when your own startup succeeds? How can you avoid the same fate?

Is his seminal book, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen explores the need for startups to continually innovate, and the inertia that stops most big businesses from challenging the status quo. Packed full of examples from dozens of different industries, The Innovator's Dilemma is both an actionable handbook and a prescient warning for any SaaS founder keen to disrupt incumbent giants.

How to Castrate a Bull

By Dave Hitz

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From high-school dropout to billionaire Silicon Valley stalwart, How to Castrate a Bull charts the incredible trajectory of data storage giant NetApp, and its former-cowboy co-founder Dave Hitz.

Despite being one of the lesser-known entries on this list, the book is packed-full of actionable insights from one of the valley's most resilient companies - documenting their highs ($4 billion in ARR, reaching IPO) and lows (surviving the DotCom crash) through Dave's engaging, personal narrative. 

And thankfully, to quote an Amazon reviewer: "...the details on actual bull castration are pretty sparse."

From Impossible to Inevitable

By Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin

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From Impossible to Inevitable sets out to prove a simple hypothesis: the growth of the world's most successful SaaS companies can be traced back to an unchanging formula that you can replicate in your own business.

With examples and anecdotes from the likes of Zenefits, Salesforce and co-author Jason Lemkin's very own EchoSign, the book offers a clear, no-nonsense exploration of the phenomenon of hyper-growth. From Impossible to Inevitable also collates together Jason Lemkin's best long-form blog content, making it worth the sticker price for his advice alone.

Four Steps to the Epiphany

By Steve Blank

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Four Steps to the Epiphany is something of a paradox: an ugly, unwieldy book that was responsible for planting the seed of the entire "lean startup" movement that followed (including Eric Ries' book of the same name).

Written by Harvard Business School lecturer Steve Blank, the book puts forward the concept of Customer Development as the pivotal focus of any new startup - a radical departure from the then-product focused world of new business.

It's a fundamental must-read for any SaaS founder, but be warned. To quote Steve himself:

"I never imagined more than a few hundred copies would be sold to my students. 15,000 copies later, the horrifically bad proofreading, design and layout is now a badge of honor. You most definitely read the book for the content."

The Science of Selling

By David Hoffeld

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I had the pleasure of seeing The Science of Selling author David Hoffeld speak at HubSpot's INBOUND conference, and his talk was everything my data-driven brain had lusted after: a scientific, research-driven account of proven selling strategies.

His book cuts through the mystique and disinformation of traditional sales, and offers straightforward strategies for applying neuroscience, behavioural economics and social psychology to the sales process - helping you sell to people the way you'd like to be sold to yourself. 

Zero to One

By Peter Thiel

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The central premise of Thiel's book is deceptively simple: it's easier to copy an existing business model than it is to create something completely new, taking the world from 1 to n. But true innovation, the kind that builds billion dollar companies, is the act of creating a new paradigm - going from 0 to 1.

As a co-founder of PayPal, early investor in Facebook, partner in Y Combinator and the founder/president/investor of a half-dozen other ventures, Peter Thiel knows a lot about innovation. From Zero to One is his treatise on creativity, and it offers a succing summary of his experience and advice for any founder looking to truly innovate in their space.

Still Hungry?

If these great startup books haven't sated your thirst for knowledge, fear not - we'll be updating the list on a regular basis, as we work through our bookshelves of great SaaS-specific content.

In the meantime, there are a few other great resources you can turn to to continue your SaaS development:

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