The Builder’s Book List: Lessons in Go-to-Market, Leadership, and Strategy

When I was at FiscalNote, I often spent nights and weekends reading about go-to-market strategy. Our CEO, Tim Hwang, used to tell me that part of our jobs as entrepreneurs is to personally learn and improve as fast, or faster than the company is growing. If you can do that successfully, it’s possible to distill years of professional growth into a much shorter timeframe. I think of this as linear vs. exponential professional growth, where one has the opportunity to grow exponentially as an entrepreneur. Although, when the company is growing revenue by more than 300% each year and shipping new features weekly, it might feel more like you’re running around with your hair on fire!

A lot of this knowledge comes from the sheer volume and variety of experiences you face as an entrepreneur. But to get ahead of the curve I believe it’s important to read about the experiences, lessons, failures, and successes of those who have walked that path before you. Founders often ask me what books I recommend on various topics related to building, and that’s when I realized how easy it is to get lost in the sea of business books that exist out there. So, I started compiling and distilling a list of my absolute favorite reads; the ones that really helped me figure some things out when I was trying to hit that exponential professional growth curve.

Go-to-Market Strategy, Process, and Execution

  • The Enterprise Sales Learning Curve — Foundational paper from Stanford professors Mark Leslie and Charles Holloway. It’s a quick 11-page read but has stood the test of time as a fundamental building block for building a B2B company.
  • The Challenger Sale / The Challenger Customer – Two must-read sales methodology books. Stepping back from the sales process, these books teach a specific “Challenger” philosophy for enterprise sales. This philosophy can be used to help inform the growth process for your company, and I’ve found it particularly helpful for selling category-creating products.
  • Blueprints for a SaaS Sales Organization – If you want to learn about sales, marketing, and customer success processes, look no further. This book includes functional, best-in-class process flow diagrams for every revenue-generating aspect of a SaaS business (sales/marketing/customer success).
  • Revenue Engine – Great for early-to-mid stage co’s, helps you think about evolving your go-to-market teams to be more sophisticated and data-driven.
  • Predictable Revenue – Best for early-stage companies setting up their first sales process. Really basic, tactical instructions on how to think about implementing demand generation strategies. Useful for founder sales, individual contributors, and early sales managers.
  • The Sales Acceleration Formula – Love the scientific approach in this book. Everything is from the perspective of the former CRO of Hubspot, Mark Roberge, who has an engineering background. Really helpful for ensuring every process within your growth organization is objective and data-driven.
  • Just F*ing Demo – As the title implies, this is a no-BS guide on how to run the best product demos possible. A very quick read, but a must for anyone who’s selling/pitching a product with demos.

Business Leadership & Culture

  • The Effective Executive – An absolute classic executive productivity book. Peter Drucker highlights five key skills to master so you get the right things done.
  • 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – A fable about leadership, culture, and executive team cohesion. I recommend reading this prior to setting up an ‘official’ executive team at your startup.
  • Extreme Ownership – Includes several fascinating case studies of leadership tactics used in real Navy SEAL combat missions, and how those tactics have been used to help businesses overcome obstacles. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, both fmr. Navy SEALs, now run their own management consulting business using these tactics. Very cool read.
  • Trillion Dollar Coach – Unpacks the leadership playbook of legendary Silicon Valley advisor Bill Campbell. He influenced some of the largest companies in the world and coached tech visionaries like Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt.
  • How Google Works – This is essentially a case study in how Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg implemented Bill Campbell’s playbook at Google. A great read that further illustrates the key topics brought up in Trillion Dollar Coach.

Business Strategy

  • Competitive Strategy – Michael Porter basically wrote the go-to book for thinking through competitive markets. Very dry textbook feel, but it’s gospel for thinking through business strategy.
  • forEntrepreneurs – David Skok of Matrix Partners has built an amazing library of resources about SaaS business strategy, Sales & Marketing, growth comps, etc. Also, each year he coordinates a SaaS metrics survey with KeyBanc Capital Markets that I highly recommend reading if you’re running a SaaS business. 
  • NFX Frameworks Collection for Founders – NFX has some great content, and they’ve recently aggregated it all together into their Frameworks collection. Covers everything related to startup business strategy, from defensibility to network effects to raising your seed round.

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