Saturday, January 8, 2011

Launching Tech Ventures: Part IV, Readings

This is the fourth of four posts about Launching Technology Ventures (LTV), a new MBA elective course I'm developing at Harvard Business School to explore lean startup management practices. Part I provides an overview of concepts covered in the course. Part II describes LTV's class sessions. Part III lists a set of tools and techniques that I think any MBA working in a tech venture should master.

[Addendum, Apr. 10, 2011: if you are interested in lean startup concepts, you should also check out the LTV course blog. Students write blog posts instead of taking an exam. They've done terrific work.]

Below, I've compiled a list of readings — mostly blog posts, but also some books — that cover topics relevant to my course, i.e., lean startup management practices, product marketing/management, and business development. I don't list readings on funding a startup, motivations for founding, or co-founder relationships. For readings on those topics, see my earlier compilation for web entrepreneurs.

Of course, learning-by-reading is no substitute for learning-by-doing — but almost everything on the list was written by people who work or invest in new ventures, so there's a lot of wisdom here. If I've missed valuable readings, please let me know in your comments below.

Lean Startup Concepts
Business Model Analysis
Product Management
Customer Conversion Funnel Analysis/Optimization
B2B Selling
Public Relations
Business Development
Recruiting/Organizational Issues
More Books and Tools
  • Do More Faster, edited by Brad Feld and David Cohen, compiles advice across a range of topics from TechStars entrepreneurs and mentors.
  • Founders at Work, by Y Combinator's Jessica Livingston, collects her interviews with two dozen founders relating their lessons learned.
  • Tom Hulme at IDEO has compiled and crowd-sourced a list of tools for tech startups, organized by function and company life cycle stage; a similar list compiled by Shyam Subramanyam; another list from Jaret Manuel; and my own list of free software tools for lean startups.


  1. I would suggest the addition of "art of the start" by Guy Kawasaki.

  2. Thanks, Tej, I agree: Kawasaki's book is what I tell my students who are 1st-time entrepreneurs to read when they are pulling together their investor pitch.

  3. Great list. I'd also recommend "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development" by Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits (

  4. Thanks, Ben, I agree: the book is a very clear and readable summary of Steve's "Four Steps."

  5. Tom -
    Thank you for including the Innovation Games(R) Product Box on this list. Please know that we have a variety of online and in-person serious games that help entrepreneurs understand market, customer, and channel partner needs that enable clear, direct, and actionable decision making.

    Our games can help:
    - identify new opportunities
    - understand complex product and product ecosystem relationships
    - identify key pain points in existing solutions
    - prioritize features
    - establish system boundaries
    - improve marketing messages
    - understand product usage over time
    - develop product and service roadmaps

    Thanks, again, for including us on this list. It is a great resource.


    Luke Hohmann
    CEO, The Innovation Games® Company
    Author of Innovation Games®: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play
    821 W. El Camino Real
    Mountain View, CA 94040
    m: +1-408-529-0319 The seriously fun way to do serious work -- seriously.
    Follow me on twitter at lukehohmann
    Knowsy knows...

  6. Nice post, Tom. Quite a comprehensive list. Here's another resource non-programmer internet entrepreneurs might find helpful:

    It's a presentation my co-founder and I gave at a Women 2.0 partner event a couple of months ago on specific free/freemium tools that non-programmers can use to get their minimum viable product going without coding. (More info on our blog at

  7. First off it's an honor to be included in this company, thanks Tom.

    You've got a great list and perhaps the only thing I'd add, or at least parts of it is Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide by Amy Shuen. It is focused on web firms but it includes lots of case studies and discussions on network effects, LTV of a customer, monetization, etc.

  8. That is an epic and valuable list. Thanks for taking the time and energy to pull it together.

  9. I'd add Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker. Easily the best book on the subject but for some reason isn't as popular as other 'pop' entrepreneurship books like Good To Great, In Search of Excellence and so on...

  10. awesome list! read most of the essentials listed above but there are some gems there that I haven't run across before that I'll definitely get to.
    I would maybe add Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think" as that had me completely look at design in a whole different way.

  11. This is a great resource that you have compiled here. I would like to recommend, Business Model Generation, it provides an excellent overview that all entrepreneurs should become familiar with. -J

  12. is a list of the books most often recommended by Hacker News users (a news aggregator with a strong startup emphasis).

    I think between hn-books and the list posted here, new entrepreneurs have access to an incredible amount of great information.

  13. Awesome to be in a Harvard B-School reading list. :)

  14. this post is truly surreal.
    Legions of Startup founders have repeated for years.. stay away from MBA's.. but of course HBS doesnt 'get it'. how can you ? your salary depends on your 'not getting it'.

  15. Some of this material has little meaning without practical real world experience in the trenches for many years on successful projects and death marches at big companies. Without that type of experience and the background in the politics of groups and companies your startup can self destruct. Analyzing failed startups and what caused them to fail is in many ways more important than knowing what it takes to succeed. Avoiding fatal errors that will kill your company is more important than getting all of the to dos right. If you do not drive over a cliff you can always implement the to dos later.

    One of my friends who runs another startup often reminds me: KISS, hire great engineers, web designers, and marketing people to get the product right, get feedback, don't listen to your own BS but at the same time don't listen to the "torpedoes", build something quickly, get viral quickly, and monetize.

    Hiring (and firing) people is an art that is learned through experience. You learn from your mistakes. After you have hired 50 people you begin to see your mistakes and successes. After another 50 and a couple of years you begin to see a pattern. Then when someone walks into your office for an interview you know how to push their buttons based on your experience and track record you can quickly figure them out. You can then tailor the interview to their responses. Written tests that are modified during the interview based on how quickly they get it, combined with your experience from past hires, can be used to direct the interview and see how they respond to pressure, are they combative, are they going to be a team player, can they dig in and solve the problem under pressure, do they have a bad attitude, do they give up to easily,... Knowing how to identify these traits is critical to hiring good people for startups. But it is not possible to learn how to identify these traits in a document. Only through experience can one learn how to hire for a high pressure environment that requires cooperation while pushing the envelope. And only experience can identify the potential diamonds in the rough, who do not have 4.0 GPA's, are a little rough around the edges, but are master hackers.

    What I do not see mentioned in the course materials are all of the great videos that are being put out by VC's that are effectively opening up the black box that the VC world is to entrepreneurs. This material generally is not available in written form and is invaluable.
    Videos are great because you can listen while you code and if you watch you can see the body language.

    Perhaps the following people should also be on the list: Andy Grove, Naval Ravikant/Nivi and perhaps George Zachary at CRV. Naval/Nivi have revolutionized the funding process with angellist.

  16. Great post! Steve Blank also has a list of startup tools here

  17. Thanks so much for including my blog post here, Tom! Much appreciated.

  18. Hi Tom,

    My name is Karel van der Poel CEO and founder of Mirror42. It's an honor to make your list. Thank you.

    You might consider adding Rework by 37Signals to your reading list. It holds some interesting new ideas on startup cultures, efficient working and the way lean startups can organize themselves in this global economy.

  19. Now I know I've really ticked off the folks at Harvard...

    1. This made me laugh. :)

  20. Great to have a list like this! I've read most of the MUST READ (and only a 20%-30% of the total list) and really like the recommendations.

    Something to improve: have 2 must read in each category, maybe they're not in the list yet, but maybe with some crowdsourcing is possible.

    Thank you for putting together this list.

  21. Great set of resources -- here are two more I found really helpful, and much more "how-to", than the regular "fail fast" stuff:

    First is a good reference for *how* to determine where to draw the free / paid line for freemium products:

    The same author also has an interesting framework for how to find product / market fit:

  22. This is fantastic!

  23. It's great to see those concepts being taught on the east cost now. Maybe some day they'll make it's way across the ocean to europe as well. Having MBAs understand the contects makes everyones life easier. Tom, Keep up the good work!

  24. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting the time and effort in to save me and others the time! Awesome!

  25. Great list, Tom. I'm just sad that we didn't have this when I was at HBS. Man, how times have changed in the past 15 years.

  26. Wow, that reminds me. I need to update that taxonomy! Would you mind pointing the link to my new blog?

    We will eventually shut down the startupsquare blog. Thanks.

  27. This is a great list. To be honest I'm shocked how current and relevant it is. Lucky students. Good job!!!!

  28. Thanks MUCH for the connection to Paul Graham. His is one of the most thoughtful, honest and inspirational blogs that I have ever read.

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  30. I don't list readings on funding a startup, motivations for founding, or co-founder relationships. For readings on those topics, see my earlier compilation for web entrepreneurs.

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  32. Dear Tom,
    I read your blogspot ,its really very interesting sites and awesome list! read most of the essentials listed above but there are some gems there that I haven't run across before that I'll definitely get to.
    If you maybe add Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think" as that had me completely look at design in a whole different way.I am also asoociated with a company which focuses on Lean Startup to achieve the goals. You can check it out here -

  33. In the times where being a founder of a tech startup is as attractive as being a rock-star in the 80’s, launching a tech venture is not easy nor is everyone cut out for it, as with running a marathon. You must be ready mentality and physically for the long haul. You will get tons of blisters, it will be painful at times to a point that you don’t know if you can finish but when you make it to the end, it is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.