September 15, 2013

7 Books that Influenced Boston Entrepreuneurs and Innovators

As the temperature steadily drops and the orange and red of fall replaces the green of summer, the sight of yellow school busses and the Green Line jam-packed with new faces are the visible signs that we are officially at the start of a new academic year.

In the tech world, education always returns to the top of the "hot topic" list this time of year. However, this year there seems to be some bigger players involved in the education sector: Google just announced a partnership with EdX to bring online classes to the world, Udacity just created the Open Education Alliance with Google and AT&T, and MOOC provider Coursera is starting to see a profit (via TechCrunch).

A lot of the trends in education are based on the premise that many people who want to further their education are motivated enough to do so on their own through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, there is a ton of debate in both the tech and education sectors about whether or not the online innovation is improving education. Yes, courses are available to more people than ever; anyone, if they choose, can get the equivalent of a college education or teach themselves computer science. 

They just have to be motivated. 

So how are MOOC's any different than an influential book? I'm really not sure yet. 

In many of my interviews with entrepreneurs, innovators, and startup founders, more often than not, unprodded, they will often talk about how a book or two played an enormous role in their thinking as they set off on their startup adventure. There are even a handful that pop up again and again, The Lean Startup, The Four-Hour Workweek, etc. No one, as of yet, has referenced an influent online course they took.

Here are some of the more interesting books that local startup founders, VC's, innovators, and entrepreneuer's say played an influential role in their career or life:

Ben Saren, Influential - The E-Myth Revisited

In my recent interview with Saren about his new politics-changing project, he couldn't say enough about the role that Michael E. Gerber's E-Myth (Revisited, there are a few versions) played as he started his first company and impacts many of the decisions he makes as a founder. 

The book, which tries to dispel some of the wrong (and often business ruining) assumptions of founders has been a favorite of entrepreneurs since it was first published in 1986.

For Saren, the most prescient topic had to do with the different types of founders. While reading the book, he identified with the idea that successful companies need more than just 'technicians' to run a business. Seeing the possibility of combining his leadership skills with other innovative thinkers, Saren applied many of the theories of Gerber's book to his successful companies including CitySquares, which was acquired in 2010.

Jeff Bussgang, Flybridge Capital Partners - Younger Next Year

Bussgang wrote a great blog post about some of his favorite books a couple of years ago. When I pressed him to pick one, he said that Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, was the one book that, "Keeps me on my toes and focused on health and wellness!"

Here is what he had to say about the book in the blog post:

"One of my softball teammates pushed this one on me and I adored it.  I've given it to a dozen friends as a gift - encouraging them to maintain the philosophy that health, fitness and well-being does not have to degrade as you get older."

Brian Halligan, HubSpot - Blue Ocean Strategy

Halligan picked a book that was influential in the early days of the now monster HubSpot. 

As he explained, "When we first started HubSpot, Dharmesh and I used Blue Ocean Strategy to map out our approach.  The book is great at challenging you to differentiate from not only your competitors, but your alternatives."

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, written by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne argues for creating untapped new market spaces that are "ripe for growth" instead of getting bogged down in the unpleasant world of battling competition for market share in an ultra-competitive market.

Cort Johnson, Terrible Labs - Love is the Killer App

Johnson, the founder of Terrible Labs, said the one book that played a role in the early days of his business planning was Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders. 

As Johnson said, "It shed light on how to go about building relationships which are ultimately the foundation of a successful career." He added, "I'm sure if I read it now I would laugh, but at the time it was the perfect book for me to read."

Dave Balter, BzzAgent - Diffusion of Innovations

Balter, the founder of BzzAgent and a part of Boston Seed, said that the book that had the biggest impact on him and his career/life was Everett Rogers breakdown of "how new ideas spread via communication channels over time."

As Balter explained, "He put true science to how ideas spread." He added that the book, "makes the 'tipping point' look like a pop culture afterthought."

"If you want to know about the power of advocacy and word of mouth, this book is the fountain from which everything else springs."

Rob Go, NextView Ventures - The Black Swan

Go had a whole handful of books that were influential on his life and career (including Different by Yongme Moon and Geoff Smart and Randy Street's Who), but singled out Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan

As Go said of the book, "Being a VC and entrepreneur requires a completely different view of risk than we are typically tuned to. This book is a great primer and is extremely thought provoking for anyone dealing with long-tail, asymmetric outcomes."

Keith Cline, Dissero and VentureFizz - Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs

Cline, the brains behind this operation and someone who truly has his pulse on the Boston tech scene, told me that Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan's Inbound Marketing blew his doors off when he first read it years ago. 

As he explained, it really opened his eyes and played an important role in how he approached Dissero and later VentureFizz.


What are some of the books that I missed, that played an important part in your career/life?


Dennis Keohane is a staff writer for VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.