Does the idea of being an entrepreneur feel like it’s too big of a risk? Do you feel like you have ideas for a business, project or nonprofit, but don’t know how to start? Maybe you’re wondering how a high school student can even start a business without much access to funding or resources. Luckily, in this article, you’ll find that many young entrepreneurs have asked the same questions. Below are several of the best books for young entrepreneurs to figure out how to get started.
Some of these books are very practical and will answer many of the questions you have. Others will develop your mindset. However, they all provide a strong foundation for anyone who wants to build a Spike, what we define as an entrepreneurial passion project with a real-world impact. A Spike is one of the most compelling ways to increase a student’s chances of gaining acceptance to a highly selective college. Several of these books, such as The Lean Startup, directly shaped our Spike Coaching program!
The books in this list tackle ways to learn and think like an entrepreneur. We’ve included the following categories: Top Business Books for Young Entrepreneurs, Other Top Books For Young Entrepreneurs, Other Resources For Young Entrepreneurs. (The last category includes podcasts.) Even if you don’t aspire to be an entrepreneur, these books give you the tools and insight to bring your idea into reality.
Top Business Books for Young Entrepreneurs
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The idea of starting a business is daunting, especially for a young adult. The prospect isn’t encouraging knowing that 75% of businesses fail. However, failure is an essential part of success and a core part of the Lean philosophy. In The Lean Startup, you will learn different frameworks that will equip you to tackle the inevitable failures and frustrations accompanying entrepreneurship. The book will teach you to systematically learn from your failures so that you can make concrete progress. Aspiring entrepreneurs learn to rely on a data-driven system of testing critical assumptions about their business model. In the end, they craft a solution that people want to use. The Lean Startup is one of our primary recommendations because the Lean principles are fundamental. We use its principles to coach young entrepreneurs in our Spike Coaching curriculum.
Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder
Do you have an idea that you want to transform into a functioning business? Then this book is for you! Business Model Generation is a practical book for young entrepreneurs to map out business ideas. This book includes easy-to-follow templates and organizers that are coupled with illustrative examples of how others have done it. One key template is the business model canvas. With this template, you will see how your idea can function in the real world and understand the steps to take to actualize your business. This book also aligns with our Spike Coaching program, where we provide hands-on guidance to map your idea into an entrepreneurial project.
Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder
Value Proposition Design is an essential book for young entrepreneurs in helping them understand their customers. Many young entrepreneurs ask themselves, “What if no one wants what I offer?” This fear is valid. However, it is also rooted in a lack of understanding of your customer’s profile. In Value Proposition Design, you learn how to study your ideal customer through modeling, asking the right questions, and seeking proper feedback. The book will teach you to create a customer “avatar,” which maps out your ideal customer’s feelings, beliefs, wants and desires around your product. When you understand your ideal customer’s perspective, you have the necessary context as well as the grounded data to sell and market with confidence.
This book is all about purpose, alignment, and understanding how to become an inspiring leader. As an entrepreneur, you will face situations where the right decision is not always clear. You will also encounter opportunities that detract from your original purpose. With these problems in mind, Start With Why’s premise is simple: your “why” is the reason your company exists and does what it does. Your actions, your product, your logo, and everything else should align with your “why”. So when you face those inevitably alluring and ambiguous situations, you’ll have a framework to align each decision with your original purpose.
On top of this, the book will also teach you how to discover your purpose and how to use it to become a more inspiring leader. You will even learn how to use your purpose to find your ideal customers. These practices are important not only for the business side of entrepreneurship but also for life in general. When you know your purpose and can communicate it effectively, you can more easily attract people who want to help you reach your goals.
Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
Loonshots is chock full of inspiration, especially for young entrepreneurs who love to think far outside the box. This book is for anyone who has ever had crazy, unrealistic, or far-fetched ideas that are readily dismissed, even by the very person who came up with these ideas in the first place. However, hard-to-believe, “crazy” ideas (also known as loonshots) are the ones that change the world. This fact is important to any young entrepreneur because even if your idea is fairly grounded, you will still encounter resistance and conflict from people who don’t see value in your perspective. For that reason, it’s important to develop resilience to harsh criticism. By reading this book, you’ll study up close how innovators before you successfully brought their “loonshots” to life.
The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
Many young entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed with the idea of starting their own business. Where should they start? What are the best steps to take? The Startup Owner’s Manual is a hefty book made to answer these questions and more. The author Steve Blank is considered the godfather of Lean (fun fact: Eric Ries of Lean Startup was his student). Blank’s book explains the concepts behind Customer Development (a precursor to Lean) and gives a roadmap to implement them. The Startup Owner’s Manual thoroughly covers the early stages of product development and introduces the best practices and shortcuts. You will gain clarity on what steps to take based on the problems you are currently facing in your business. You’ll also develop a systematic approach for testing and refining your product or service based on customer feedback. This approach is essential for young entrepreneurs to master quickly as you will undergo this process numerous times in product development.
Other Top Books For Young Entrepreneurs
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck championed the concepts of a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”. The former keeps you stuck in certain beliefs about your abilities and prevents you from learning effectively, while the latter enables you to actually grow to your full potential. Dweck proved that whatever mindset we hold about our capabilities can actually influence them. In this book, she explores concepts of a “false growth mindset” and explains how you can develop a powerful way to think about your ability. While the concept of a “growth mindset” is simple to understand, putting this concept into practice is quite challenging. However, if you can master this concept as a young adult, then having a growth mindset speed up your ability to learn and develop important skills. This concept is also foundational to our Spike Coaching program, where we foster a growth mindset in all of our students.
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
Many young entrepreneurs will encounter tasks that they haven’t learned how to do. A common thought young entrepreneurs have when playing with the idea of starting a business is “I’m not skilled enough”. When an entrepreneur faces this obstacle, they must either outsource the work or learn to do the work themselves. As a young adult, you likely won’t have the funds to outsource, which is why this is such a great book for young entrepreneurs.
The Art of Learning investigates the principles of learning told through the fascinating narrative of a man who won a National Chess Championship at age nine and later became world champion of Tai Chi, a martial art. This book will teach you the correct mindset to learning and mastering skills. It’s an easy to read as well as an entertaining narrative that is critical for anyone who wants to become a lifelong learner.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
A tale about a tumultuous exploration of the South Pole, Alfred Lansing’s Endurance is about persistence and what it takes to achieve great things in the real world. Most young adults don’t fully understand how much persistence it takes to launch your venture. Projects assigned in school are often miniaturized and scaffolded so much that they fail to help students build a true sense of endurance.
The struggle to stay persistent also easily discourages aspiring entrepreneurs. However, Endurance offers an incredibly motivating story that young entrepreneurs can aspire to. Experiencing explorer Ernest Shackleton’s voyage up close in this book will leave an enduring impression on anyone who wants to achieve big dreams.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
While most people think creativity is serendipitous, the most successful entrepreneurs and artists develop a habit of creativity. Written for artists and creatives, The Creative Habit is also wonderful at helping entrepreneurs grapple with the uncertainty that comes with starting a business. After all, creativity is essential to entrepreneurship. Like artists, all entrepreneurs come face to face with having to start from scratch in the beginning. Entrepreneurs also lack inspiration when they hit rock bottom. In these scenarios, the ability to make out-of-the-box connections (also known as creativity) is important. Choreographer Twyla Tharp shares her best frameworks and productivity tools for artists and entrepreneurs who must stay on the grind. With this book, you’ll learn how to maintain your momentum every day and how to create a ritual for consistent and creative work.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi’s autobiography captures his struggle as a neurosurgeon coping with stage IV lung cancer. His memoir is especially for students who are interested in science and medicine and/or want to explore the power and limitations of empathy. Even if you’re not interested in STEM, this book offers perspective. Although morbid, Kalanithi’s memoir is about memento mori or contemplating death. Kalanithi captures the thoughts and feelings that revolve around mortality. This inner dialogue not only sparks emotional growth but also forces you to re-evaluate your priorities and life’s purpose. Having a strong sense of motivation and purpose is critical for any young entrepreneurs who are interested in creating a business or nonprofit, or any students who want to launch a meaningful Spike.
Other Resources For Young Entrepreneurs
Rejection Therapy with Jia Jiang
This resource isn’t a book but rather an entire program where entrepreneur Jia Jiang underwent 100 days in which he made unusual requests at the risk of being rejected. In his Rejection Therapy program, each day’s request becomes more significant over time, so that you build up your resilience. Jiang’s vlog exemplifies the very process of growth and persistence in the face of fear. When watching his videos, you can see how nervous Jiang is in his first video compared to his hundredth. If you struggle with rejection, we challenge you to complete Jiang’s 100-day challenge or come up with your own.
Season One of “The StartUp Podcast” by Gimlet Media
Are you curious about what an entrepreneur’s journey looks like? As a young entrepreneur with zero experience, knowing what to expect can help you visualize the challenging journey ahead. This valuable context is what makes Season One of “The StartUp Podcast” so great. Journalist Alex Blumberg details his experience of trying to get “The StartUp Podcast” pitched and off the ground. He shares stories from his own life, stories talking to investors, stories of tragic mistakes, and more. You learn from his successes and shortcomings in each episode.
The Pitch by Gimlet Media
Are you curious about what it’s like to pitch an idea to investors? Are you tired of watching Shark Tank? Look no further! Gimlet’s “The Pitch” is an entertaining alternative. This podcast features the stories of real entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas to serious investors. These entrepreneurs also receive critical feedback. This resource is for young entrepreneurs looking to learn vicariously through the entrepreneurs who speak on this show. Most of all, you will gain confidence in pitching your ideas, become familiar with what mistakes to avoid, and understand how business is communicated effectively.
How I Built This by NPR
Similar to “The StartUp Podcast,” “How I Built This,” hosted by Guy Raz, looks at the stories behind many popular brands and companies, the most recent featuring Rick Steves and Mailchimp. Raz interviews these brands’ creators. He delves into their experiences growing up as well as their struggles with conceiving a business. As a young entrepreneur, you’ll find many of Raz’s interviewees relatable and gain confidence in your ability to start a successful project. Although each successful entrepreneur has had a good deal of luck, they’ve also made many attempts before finally succeeding. This experience is a rite of passage for every young entrepreneur.
How to use this list of books for young entrepreneurs
With so many resources out there, where should you start? We recommend that students prioritize the ones that resonate with them most. If you want to learn how to pitch more effectively, read Value Proposition Design or listen to Gimlet’s “The Pitch.” If you’re stuck in a “fixed mindset” and believe that you’ll never be good enough at a certain skill, look into Carol Dweck’s Mindset. If you’re interested in participating in our program, check out The Lean Startup. Last but not least, if you want more specific advice about areas within entrepreneurship (like marketing or sales), you should scour other recommendations online. There are a ton of resources, and our list is just a starting point for your journey.
Don’t wait until after you finish reading to start your venture or project. The best way to learn these concepts is to apply them. You might not think a high school student can launch their entrepreneurial endeavor or Spike, but it is! Our students are living proof as well as some of the most well-known teens of our age. Take advantage of the time you have left this summer and get started now.
If you’re a student (or a parent of one) who is interested in creating your own business or Spike project, then click here to schedule a free private consultation.