Back to school: 6 books every tech founder and CEO needs to read

Summer is winding down. And while the kids you know probably aren’t thrilled to be heading back to school, the reality is that it’s an inspiring time of year to stretch your mind and commit to learning new things. That’s particularly true if you’re the founder or CEO of a SaaS company. After all, any time you can carve out to increase your knowledge or hone your business expertise is time well spent.

To help get you motivated, we’ve curated a back-to-school reading list that any tech founder or CEO could benefit from. It includes classic and groundbreaking books featuring advice from serial founders, successful investors, and industry professionals. Work your way through these books and you’ll also find real-life case studies and innovative ideas to help give you and your business a competitive edge.

1. From Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin

In their book, Ross and Lemkin set out to prove that the success of the world’s best SaaS companies comes down to a formula that entrepreneurial SaaS founders can replicate in their own businesses. Lemkin, who founded EchoSign, uses examples from companies like Salesforce and Zenefits, and is highly effective at persuading you that you can grow your business by following in such companies’ footsteps. If you want a no-nonsense guide to how to grow your business according to the experts, this one is well worth your while.

2. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Many people talk about the hurdles they face when starting a business. Few go on to explain how hard it is to run a business once it’s set up. Founders face an array of challenges every day, which most of them never talk about. Enter Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s most experienced and respected entrepreneurs. He’s not just brutally honest about the challenges of growing a startup, he also shares his own experience and insights on everything about running a new tech company. With practical wisdom, humor, and advice, this book will give you the insights you wish you’d had from the start.

3. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

Do you see your company as a disruptor? Fair enough, but what happens when the disruptors get disrupted themselves? Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen poses this question, while also exploring how big companies leave themselves open to being disrupted. If you want to avoid that fate, and capitalize on new waves of innovation rather than letting your product fall victim to them, then Christensen’s book is for you. Visionaries ranging from Steve Jobs to Malcolm Gladwell have all cited his work and sung its praises.

4. The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen

Whether you’re a start-up or an established company, building great products that help consumers solve a problem, improve their lives, or make them happy, is paramount. “The Lean Product Playbook” is a practical guide to creating products that customers love. As a hands-on resource, you’ll be walked through an easy, repeatable methodology from invention to product-market fit. If you’re passionate about creating the best products going, this book will be your bible.

5. The Best Team Wins by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

New York Times bestselling authors Gostick and Elton know exactly what it takes to build the best collaborative teams for peak performance. Working in teams is ubiquitous for most employees these days. That’s why these guys studied more than 850,000 employee engagement surveys to develop their five disciplines of team leaders. In the book, they explain what those disciplines are, how to boost individual engagement, and how to unify teams to achieve the best performance possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting out with a small team or scaling up, this book will help you understand how to make the best out of collaboration within your employee base.

6. ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Traditional business plans have been around for decades, but tech founders Fried and Hansson have thrown them out the window. Their new and original way of starting and building a business show an alternative to traditional approaches, based on true productivity, organic exposure, and growth. Fried and Hansson, who founded software company 37signals, give an entirely new perspective and counterintuitive ideas that have worked for some of the most successful startups. Using tech tools that were once out of reach but now ultimately accessible, this duo demonstrates how what was once impossible, is now possible.

Read your way to success

While blogs and articles can be enormously helpful to tech founders and CEOs, there’s an absolute treasure trove of knowledge to be gained from books. Experts in the field and hugely successful entrepreneurs have taken the time to put their wisdom on paper, writing step-by-step guides and providing inspiring advice based on their own successes and failures. These are absolute must-reads if you want to get ahead and learn from the best.