One of the best and worst things about starting your first business is that you have no experience to fall back on. On the one hand, this means you have a relatively clean slate from which to build your skills meaning you have a unique opportunity to choose what kind of leader you want to be. On the other hand, it is an incredibly steep and rocky learning curve.
Fortunately there are some brilliant books out there to help you find your way. Each and every one of the selections below have contributed in some way to Hirestreet as you see it today. It feels like if there was ever a time to be creative and try something new Spring 2020 is it. From the unprecedented uncertainty will come waves of disruption and innovation – so why not go and write your business plan?
The Lean Start Up by Eric Reis
There is a reason why this book is on 99% of entrepreneurial book lists. First things first, you don’t have to read the whole book – you just need to take away one very important principle – the concept of a Minimum Viable Product. The purpose of a start-up is to find a sustainable business model, and the best way to do this is through validating your business concept with real customers. The best start-ups start as lean as possible, and iterate after testing their product in the real world.
This book was instrumental to the way Hirestreet started. The first version of Hirestreet was launched on a tiny budget of about £6,000 – offering 80 products with logistics being operated from the basement i.e. a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Our MVP enabled us to prove the concept and learn from customers. Once we got to the stage of raising our seed investment round, we had data backed assumptions to build from.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
From proactivity to prioritisation this is an easy to read book that makes you really reflect on your every day behaviours. Whilst some of the habits may sound obvious, their grounding in examples helps to make you realise the little things you could tweak in your daily routine – with massive impact. My favourite concept from the book is the idea of “emotional bank accounts.” Relationships are all about balance, you can only withdraw so much before the bank becomes empty. It’s important to keep “depositing” into your relationships, and there are simple easy ways to do this like having the utmost integrity, keeping promises and being courteous.
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
Probably one of my favourite books I have read this year. Nike has not been a start up for a long time, they were already making billions of dollars a year by the time I was born. However, this is a story of grit, passion and the importance of surrounding yourself with people who share your vision. If anything, this book should give all entrepreneurs hope – the path to success is anything but straight forward – even for the iconic brands that we know today.
How To Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
This book has stood the test of time for good reason. Despite first being published in 1936 there are several age old principles in here to help you navigate relationships with people around you. From avoiding criticism at all costs, to showing appreciation for basic things, there are some great stories in here to help you remember Carnegie’s lessons and apply them to your every day life. This book had such an impact on me and the way I managed, that one of my team actually guessed I was reading it!
The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle
Culture is the single most important factor influencing the performance of your team. As a founder you have a responsibility to try and influence your business culture, but it’s not easy – that’s why there is more than one ‘culture focused’ book on this list. Coyle’s key message is that group dynamics determine outcomes, achieving a productive, supportive and safe group dynamic is essential -but if you can go further and unite your team around a sense of purpose then you are on the right track. Using contrasting examples from how teams of Kindergarten kids, students and lawyers interact as a group, another key takeaway is the importance of focusing on supportive group interactions as opposed to competing amongst each other.
Rebel Ideas – Matthew Syed
Teams are essential to problem solving, cognitive diversity and an environment where people feel safe expressing differing opinions is essential to progress. The most powerful example in the book focuses around the recruiting policy of the CIA, which before 9/11 was predominantly made up of white middle/upper class males. Despite their intelligence and resources, they had a blind spot. Their lack of cultural diversity meant that they overlooked key clues about Osama bin Laden’s growing influence. They lacked authentic understanding of Islam, they failed to realise that he was modelling himself on a prophet. His simple robe and life in a cave led them to dramatically underestimate him, which ultimately ended in tragedy. The key message? Don’t hire people who think like you – the best teams aren’t made up of people who all think the same.
Start With Why – Simon Sinek
Another absolute classic for entrepreneurial book lists. The key point – no one buys into an idea, product or project unless they clearly understand why it exists. If you want to change behaviour, then you need to tap into peoples emotions. Take the Hirestreet team for instance, they don’t work night and day to bring you a rental service, they work night and day because they want you get that amazing confident feeling that comes from having a dress you love, but in an environmentally and financially sustainable way – they believe in WHY we do what we do. Having a clear purpose not only unites teams, but it also sends an authentic brand message to your customers.
High Output Management – Andrew Grove
Management can be overwhelming, but Grove simplifies the process and provides actionable insights that have powerful impacts on how you should approach your day. From setting up frequent meetings with subordinates, to understanding your leverage and making decisions – this book is full of advice from created a business now worth hundreds of billions of dollars – Intel. A managers output is the output of the people/parts of the organisation under his influence – so understanding and optimising the way you influence your organisation is essential to success. This is not an easy read, but it is more than worth it.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
It’s lonely at the top – CEO’s have to make life or death business decisions every day. There is no such thing as plain sailing, last year Hirestreet’s turnover grew over 1000%, however as I write this we are in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, we are unable to take orders and there is no end in sight. Horowitz describes “The Struggle” as the stress that can occur when dreams of success meet reality – this pressure can affect your entire life, health, relationships etc. – unfortunately something I have learnt the hard way. This book is full of brilliant tips for coping with “The Struggle” and it has never been more relevant.