Learning = Winning: The Best Tech Books to Start Your 2019

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

We've always appreciated how reading deeply into a topic (versus blogs/medium/tweets) can change your perspective on a business model or strategy. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of the best books we read in 2018 and our biggest takeaways.


1. Ken Kocienda – Creative Selection

Why: If you want an incredible look at Apple’s design philosophy that has resulted in the creation of truly design-centric products (from someone that was actually there) . If you are a consumer / B2C product led company who wants to get some thoughts about how to really deliver value to your users and to iterate that. The product demo to Steve Jobs scene is fantastic.

Biggest takeaway: Design is how something works not how it looks. Get feedback, iterate and repeat. UX is a product feature. Think about how your process encourages creative design methodology and the selection of that design


2. Elad Gil - High Growth Handbook

Why:Elad Gil spent months interviewing successful entrepreneurs (Dropbox, Stripe, YC and others) and has put together a selection of curated interviews and essays on hiring, product, financing and the startup lifecycle. A book I have recommended to portfolio companies this year.

Biggest Takeaway:Only work on things you believe in and be very careful of the people you bring into your team (employes, peers and investors). “Valuation is temporary, control is forever”


3. Nicholas Nassim Taleb – Antifragile

Why:While a very challenging (and long) book, Antifragile and its predecessor “The Black Swan” cover a large amount of ground on the identification and adaptation to systemic risk

Biggest takeaway:Invest at the ends of the barbell. Holding a blended portfolio of gold and high risk investments is much better than holding a medium risk, medium reward portfolio (look at people that had defensive portfolios in the GFC as an example). The opposite of fragile is not strong, but Antifragile (gets better when pressure exerted)


4. Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh - Blitzscaling

Why:The newest book in this list and from Reid Hoffman the “most connected man in Silicon Valley” and founder of LinkedIn, investor at Greylock. Actionable insights for startups who want to go big.

Biggest takeaway:Not all companies should “go hard or go home”.Too much scale too fast kills. If you don’t commit 100%, you shouldn’t look to blitz scale. Post blitz scaling the biggest challenge becomes how do you move to becoming the navy, from being a pirate eg Facebook and the challenges it faces now.


5. Ed Catmull – Creativity Inc

Why:Another company under the undoubtable influence of Steve Jobs, Pixar has brought us Toy Story, Monsters Inc and many more. A look under the hood of the intense rigour of creative production. The “Notes Day” idea hackathon is a very interesting look at the culture of the Pixar “Brainstrust” and has interesting parallels to the same “shut down the company and listen” sessions held by Howard Schultz when he came back to the helm of Starbucks

Biggest Takeaway:Good ideas can come from any place, regardless of hierarchy. Dysfunctional cultures can be brought together through good principles.


6. Ray Dalio – Principles

Why:Having lost it all, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates resolves to never bet on gut again, and to bet on data / full information. Almost the reverse of Apple’s “build it and they will come philosophy” and has resulted in Bridgewater being the largest hedge fund in the world. A comprehensive list of 20 work and life principles (with hundreds of sub principles)

Biggest takeaway:In order to be good at anything we have to let our egos go and objectively evaluate it (and let others evaluate us as well). You can’t be great at everything and you need to a design a system that leverages the skills of your team. Identifying but leaving sub-par elements in your team or strategy is as bad as focusing on a bad strategy. Have zero tolerance for things that don’t grow you or your vision.


7. Kevin Roberts – Lovemarks

Why:An older book, but one that the CEO of Saatchi and Satchi discussed why do we love certain companies and brands. Why are brands felt deeply in the human psyche? How do you create a brand that has integrity, deserves trust and delivers a great design. At the end of the day brands and customers are emotional creatures.

Biggest takeaway:Who are your customers who are loyal behind reasons. How do you form emotional relationships with them. Get out of your office and start talking to your users.


8. Tien Tzuo – Subscribed

Why:Founder of subscription billing service, Zuora, sets out an insightful blueprint into the history of the subscription model which has changed the way we deliver products. A roadmap of the PADRE (Position, Acquire, Deploy, Run, Expand) framework that Zuora uses for any SaaS business and the factors impacting success.

Biggest takeaway:Is this the end of “ownership”? What can be delivered as a service? How do we deliver new innovative products – subscriptions + legacy IT = chaos


9. Jack van der Kooij and Fernando Pizarro – Blueprints for a SaaS sales organisation

Why:I actually recommended this book to a number of our portfolio companies for a no-nonsense, though provoking look at making systems that sell, sell, sell. Good sales systems and people are significantly and substantially better than mediocre (the power law – better sales people close more deals, higher contract values, less churn etc)

Biggest takeaway:SaaS sales teams are not built superstars who just “get” sales. At the core of every great SaaS sales team is a documented system which needs to speak to the average sales team member.


10. John Doerr – Measure what Matters

Why:Legendary venture capital investor John Doerr worked for Intel and Andy Grove then went on to fund early stage Google. These are the actual methodologies used by these companies and Bono, Bill Gates, etc to set goals which lead to results – OKR methodology (objectives and key results).

Biggest takeaway:Periodic and public accountability is required to motivate great teams and to dissect post-morgen both successful and unsuccessful deals. Even when companies are in seed stage thought should be given to how you set and assess goals. Stretch for amazing.

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