We have been asked to provide book recommendations a few times in the past couple of months, so I thought it would make a good blog post.  Here are is an initial list of books I think are useful relating to digital marketing, startups and technology. I have tried to structure the list into groups but  I think they’re all pretty good.

In addition to the recommendations below you should also have a look at this list of recommended reading from Harvard’s “Launching Technology Ventures” course, part of their MBA course — this has a great list of online resources, on topics ranging from business development through to hiring talent for start-ups.   And Hacker News has agreat book list here – lots of tech books but also a lot of more general business and marketing books too. If you know of any other good lists please let us know.

Top book recommendations

  • Crossing the chasm“, Geoffrey Moore – a basic text book that everyone in a technology startup should have read.  For technologists without any previous exposure to marketing or product management it will introduce some important concepts.  In terms of practical application, parts of the book are very good (e.g. on positioning), just don’t get involved in too many discussions about whether you are in the chasm or not.
  • Lean startup“, Eric Ries – very commonly quoted – read this so you know what people mean when talking about ‘pivoting’ and ‘minimum viable product’.  The books uses ideas from Agile software development that I know work and there is a lot of food for thought.  For example, I like the idea of start-ups trying to prove a “value hypothesis” and a “growth hypothesis”, which is another way of saying “Have you proved that your product delivers value to your customers” and “have you hit on a predictable way to acquire an increasing number of customers”.  Make something people want and then sell it to them.
  • Don’t make me think“, Steve Krug – a brilliant book on web design and a great example of clear communication.  The book’s design and layout reflects his theme.  Some books you read because of the information they convey, some (rare) books are an absolute pleasure to read and this is one of them.
  • Ogilvy on Advertising“, David Ogilvy – another one of those rare books pertaining to business that are a pleasure to read.  A really good book on lots of aspects of running a business and managing people.  Includes lots of odd nuggets such as how to deal with the percentage of your staff that are alcoholics.
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship“, Peter Drucker – excellent book showing how to systematically look for innovation opportunities and then how best to exploit them.  He emphasizes that start-ups need to be really disciplined in their financial management.
  • “Hire with your head“, Lou Adler – the best book I’ve read on how to hire good people and it ties in with my own experience – worth reading now as you think about the team you will need in the future.
  • Marketing high technology“, William Davidow – this is old school tech marketing, written about Intel in the 80s, but a lot of it is still relevant, particularly a very tough attitude to making sure you drive your product to achieve market domination and crushing your competition on the way.
  • “Lead generation for the complex sale“, Brian Carroll – if you are selling “business to business” then this is a good introduction to some of the characteristics of B2B technology sales that you need to become familiar with.  If your system is complex, multi-featured and potentially expensive then you will have to sell to a bunch of roles within a target organisation. This book provides a guide to doing this.Digital Marketing books
    • The art of SEO“, Fishkin et al – a good guide, doesn’t get going until about page 90
    • Web Analytics“, Avinash Kaushik – bought it but haven’t read it yet, but lots of people I respect recommend it.
    • Advanced Google adwords“, Brad Geddes – most online guides are pretty light, this book goes into more detail.

    Persuading audiences

    • Influence“, Robert Cialdini – discusses how humans make decisions and how that can be influenced.
    • Nudge“, Thaler and Susstein – also about how humans decide and how you can ‘nudge’ them to make ‘better’ decisions.
    • Made to Stick“, Chip and Dan Heath – discusses what makes some ideas ’stickier’ than others and how to use that when promoting an idea.
    • Persuasive business proposals“, Tom Sant – how to write proposals and presentations in a way that convinces your audience.
    • The Language Of Success“, Tom Sant – how to write more effectively. He provides some really good advice e.g. keeping words as simple and concrete as possible, keeping sentence structure clear, developing a persuasive structure to your writing etc.

Other business book recommendations

  • Business greatest hits“, Kevin Duncan – a short review of the most popular management and business text books – a good starting point when deciding which books to read (and which to avoid).
  • Thinking for a living“, Tom Davenport – I like this book’s analysis of the increasing importance of knowledge work and how you should manage knowledge workers.  (Peter Drucker was one of the first to spot the future growth of knowledge work back in the 1950s. I wrote a white paper on knowledge intensive processes back in 2009so it’s an area that interests me.
  • Principles of marketing“, Philip Kotler – if you’re a technologist and want to educate yourself about marketing, this is a good standard text book, although a lot of the examples are from consumer goods.
  • What would Google do?“, Jeff Jarvis – covers a lot of industries, discusses our current “age of abundance” in contrast to the old days of scarcity and uses examples from Google to draw analogies and lessons for other sectors.
  • Venturing forward“, Diane Mulcahy – a good introduction to the terminology and steps required when raising funding, what to look out for in a term sheet, what to consider when preparing a share structure, how to avoid a ‘hairy deal’ etc.
  • In search of excellence“, Tom Peters – I really like this book, even though some elements of it are a bit dated and it may not be as rigorously scientific as they portray.  The main lessons are (i) stay really close to your customer and (ii) keep on shipping i.e. get stuff out there as often and as quickly as possible.
  • The Halo Effect“, Philip Rosenzweig – a good counter balance to a lot of the airport business bestsellers, he reviews some of the best known books (including “Good to Great”) and says why the conclusions are not fully justified.
  • Good to great“, Jim Collins – it may have its flaws but it is an upbeat book that identifies characteristics from successful companies that I think are useful, such as focusing on disciplined action. It also has a small section on getting the correct people on-board that I think is definitely correct (“getting the right people on the bus”).  The only drawback is the reference to an overachieving spouse who wins triathlons and to “rinsing your cottage cheese”.
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey – this is one of those airport best sellers you may not think worth buying, and the writing can be a little irritating –for example, he offers advice on how to treat your spouse. However, the heart of the book has some very good advice on how to manage your time and prioritize your goals.  This book uses a 4 quadrant grid with the axes marked ‘Urgent’ and ‘Important’.  People generally spend too much time fire-fighting and dealing with things that are both urgent and important. He suggests ways to anticipate and schedule upcoming tasks so you can spend most of your time working on things that are important but not yet urgent.
  • Four hour work week”, Tim Ferriss – another airport bestseller, but again has some good  ideas on how to manage and allocate your time
  • Viral loop“, Adam Penenberg – I’m not sure how you can use the insights from this book, but it provides a good analysis of the creation of LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks
  • Competitive strategy“, Michael Porter – a standard MBA text book, you hear about Porter’s “5 Forces Analysis” a lot. I’m not sure how his analysis can be applied practically in an early stage high tech firm, but it is worth reading because it at least provides some framework for analyzing your competition and identifying ways to compete with them
  • Managers not MBAs” by Henry Mintzberg – a really good critique of current business education, he is critical of Porter and other well known business academics.  He highlights where he thinks most MBA programs are failing and offers some solutions.  You need to be good at both strategy and execution.  His analysis of the MBA programs is that they suggest you can use simple strategic cookbooks and apply them to any business, regardless of your business experience.  But good execution is as difficult as strategy, and practical managerial experience of getting things done and coordinating resources and people to achieve an outcome is as valuable as the analytical frameworks you learn in business school.

Other books  – a little more general

  • Managing the professional services firm“, David Maister – most relevant if you are providing consulting services, but parts are relevant to any business.   Makes some good points on how people will choose between different service providers when the service is too complex for them to understand themselves. (He has also written a book called “Strategy and the Fat Smoker” which is a great title, although I haven’t read the book yet).
  • Startup Nation“, Dan Senor and Paul Singer – a review of the Israeli success in startups and what lessons there may be. (Note that there is an academic in Texas that thinks the Israeli model shouldn’t be copied because most of the IP and ownership ends up outside Israel within 10 to 15 years)
  • “Softwar” – biography of Larry Ellison that starts off badly for about 50 pages then becomes really interesting.  Larry seems a bit nuts but very funny. And very rich.
  • Snowball” – biography of Warren Buffett, another very interesting and very odd dude. And also very rich.
  • Gates” – biography of Bill, published in the 90s so the initial growth of Microsoft is still fairly fresh in the book.  Also very rich.  And a friend of Warren’s.


  • Harvard and other business schools publish cases that they use during MBA classes.  Have a look at the case Thoughtworks (A) and (B).


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