Opinion: The book(s) on startups: Klipfolio founder Allan Wille on what Ottawa’s entrepreneurs need to read

By Allan Wille

Years ago, when I was in my early 20s and the company I was with was just getting off the ground, I decided I should read Robert’s Rules of Order. I figured the information in the book would be useful for running board meetings.

Robert’s Rules of Order was first published in 1876, and though it remains a standard guide on how to run meetings and deliberative bodies, I found it so boring I swore I’d never read another business book again.

Luckily, my outlook changed over time. As we worked to get Klipfolio off the ground, I found myself turning to books on business in my search for ideas, inspiration or simply reassurance.

Since then, I have found several books to be tremendously helpful. Over the last few months, I have often referenced these books in passing. I thought it would be useful to list some of them, in case anyone is interested in a little reading now that summer has passed us by.

This list is in no particular order; what these books have in common is that they’ve helped me understand the business world. I think they’d be valuable to just about anyone working with a startup.

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers, by Geoffrey Moore (Harper Business, 1991; revised edition, 2014)

This book is probably the grandfather of all books that deal with how to sell new or cutting-edge products to large markets.

Mr. Moore basically argues that the market – the people to whom you are trying to sell – is divided into several cohorts, ranging from early adopters to skeptics.

The “chasm” is the gap between the early adopters and the mass market.

What I learned from this book – and have seen first-hand – is that early success when you launch a product may not be an indication of your future ability to sell to a mass market.

The people you sell to at the start are those who thrive on being on the cutting edge. The mass market has other considerations and you need to understand them if you are going to “cross the chasm” and sell to them.

Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, by Spencer Johnson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998)

This is a short, fun book published in the late 1990s about how to deal with change. My big takeaway from this book is that you not only have to adapt to change, you have to expect change to happen. It’s an easy read – you can get through it in a day or two.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins (Harper Business, 2001)

Jim Collins looks at what it took for some companies to make the transition to greatness and examines why some others failed at the task. Until I read this book, I never imagined I could run a company; I figured I didn’t have the right personality. The big lesson for me from this book is that you don’t have to be a pushy, extroverted “rock star” to be a successful CEO. What’s interesting here is that Mr. Collins took a very research-based approach as opposed to just relying on first-hand accounts of running a business. Know that and you’ll get the most out of this book.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield (Random House Canada, 2013)

This is the story of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s life. What really resonated with me was his advice about planning for success: he talks at length about the importance of setting goals, working through problems and just getting things done. He describes people’s contributions in life and in business as being a “minus one” – harmful; “zero” – neutral; or “plus one” – adding value. The book is simple, aspirational, and well worth the time.

A few other works are also worth mentioning, such as Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Crown Business, 2014) or the musings that come from the guys at 37signals. They make you think.

Another book that is on my list and which seems to be reaching a fever pitch with readers is The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz (Harper Business, 2014). I’m looking forward to reading that one, but I have to finish the heavy book I’m reading now first!

Allan Wille is a co-founder of Klipfolio, and its president and CEO. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.