Best books for start ups hoping to scale up in 2022


As a startup company working on scaling, we try to learn from other businesses as much as we can. Our ‘learning objective’ is to pick up on best practice from the world’s most successful leaders - and their mistakes. 

Besides trying to scale, it's been a particularly challenging time to run a business. Of course, hardly any of the business books published last year could really provide insight and tips into what it was like to run a company during a pandemic. Especially a pandemic that started in January 2020 and is still impacting us all today. 

In addition to reading anything and everything about the pros and cons of remote working and how to do it well (any recommendations would be greatly appreciated), there were three main themes that I found myself drawn to repeatedly during 2021: leadership communication, employee motivation and hiring talent. 

In trying to come up with answers to these issues, I sought book recommendations from colleagues and peers. Many of the following books touch upon numerous management issues. Plenty of them have been around for a while. After reading around thirty business books last year, here are my ten top reads that helped me to understand and address the three really sticky problems that I grappled with in 2021.

Leadership communication 

  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. By John Carreyrou. A gripping account describing the beginnings and demise of Theranos. Interestingly, today the court found Elizabeth Holmes its former CEO, guilty of fraud. Salient lessons on how not to communicate with staff and investors. *
  • Never Split the Difference. By Chris Voss, Tahl Raz - a real page turner of a book with case studies referring to his time as a negotiator with the FBI. This book transformed my way of negotiating with everyone including my kids. 
  • Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love. By Marty Cagan - great methods on how to listen to customers and test out ideas before building features. 
  • Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products. By Marty Cagan - further advice on how to manage and support effective product and dev teams.
  • The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. By Carmine Gallo - another fantastic read whether you are in business or not. I’d love my older kids to read this one too.  I truly believe presenting is an important life skill. So learn from the best. You can still see the master in action presenting the launch of the iphone in 2006 on Youtube.
  • Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. By Phil Knight. A fascinating story about resilience and introspection regarding personal communication and leadership style. Phil Knight is frank and open about his strengths and weaknesses.

Employee Motivation

  • The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.  By Michael Bugay Stanier. Infinitely sensible advice with supporting video materials too. I am still working on improving my skills to say the least, but this is a book I keep by my side to refer to on a regular basis. 
  • Coaching Women to Lead. By Averil Leimon, Francois Moscovici and Helen Goodier. We have a female strong team and I’m regularly reminded of the need to proactively encourage them to be confident and assume well-earned leadership roles and responsibilities. Again I haven’t cracked this and it’s very much work in progress but this book is a good start.

Hiring Talent

  • Who: The ‘A’ Method for Hiring. By Geoff Smart. Not a new book and one, frankly I should have read years ago. The current competitiveness around finding and retaining talent means not only have I read this, I am buying additional copies for members of my team. 
  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention. By Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. Whilst I didn’t find the no holiday argument that convincing, chapter six describes more compellingly, the benefits of giving freedom and responsibility and a four step innovation cycle. Helpful advice especially in a larger or scaled up organisation. 

Now we’re in 2022 and I’m about to start the Empire of Pain, by Patrick Radden Keefe (is it just me obsessed with healthcare businesses right now?). I would love to hear if you agree or disagree with my choices.  Any other suggestions for this year? 

* “Theranos Defense Hinges On Fine Line Between Perfectly Legal Puffery And Intentional Fraud” and “Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes found guilty in criminal fraud trial”, Financial Times, 4 January 2021

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