Top Startup Books & Resources Recommended by Y Combinator Founders



Are you thinking about quitting your 9-5 office job to build your own startup but need that little push? Or are you already an entrepreneur looking for a dose of motivation? We asked three startup founders who have graduated from the prestigious Y Combinator Accelerator Program to give us some entrepreneurial advice and the books/resources that have shaped them during the early stages of their startup. As of 2017, Y Combinator has invested in ~1,450 companies including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, and more.

Alexander Girau

CEO & Co-Founder of Advano (YC S17)

Website Linkedin

Advano combines nanotechnology with fundamental chemical engineering principles to accelerate the renewable energy revolution. Advano engineered materials enable the practical increase of energy density for lithium-ion batteries by 30-40% without sacrificing battery life or increasing the battery cost. Better batteries for ioT, consumer electronics, and EVs.

What kind of challenges have you faced while building Advano & how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge is stress management. I’ve learned to manage it by going to Founder meetups, finding things to be thankful for, loving the process and realizing that this is the dream of so many and it should be taken with gratitude and care.

Alexander’s Notes on his recommendations:

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

It gives a look into the struggle of an individual in an extreme situation: how to think about morality, keep sanity and perspective in the most challenging time, and how to find purpose in even the most dire circumstances.

Hacker News

It helps one to stay educated and literate on a host of disparate topics from those that you have something to contribute to those that you never think of. It is also a place where founders post personal stories of success, or even failures like “How My Start-up Died, and What Did I Learn from It?”

The Great CEO Within by Matt Mochary

(Formerly: Founder to CEO) This is a book about how to build a category-killing company from the ground up. It’s an AWESOME guide on how to go from Founder to CEO, a transition many find incredibly hard to make. Unfortunately, it is only a Google doc, but is shared around the start-up community if you look hard enough.

How to build a category-killing company from the ground up! The buy button leads you to its google doc.

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Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished.

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Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ('meaning')-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

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Hacker News is a social news website focusing on computer science and entrepreneurship. It is run by Paul Graham's investment fund and startup incubator, Y Combinator. In general, content that can be submitted is defined as 'anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity'. (Wikipedia)

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Dylan Fox

Founder & CEO, AssemblyAI (YC S17)

Website Linkedin

AssemblyAI is a startup building a speech-to-text API that will help developers build customized chat interfaces quickly. They use the latest deep learning technology to build practical products that bring futuristic ideas to life. At AssemblyAI, they believe that cutting edge artificial intelligence technology should not be limited to only those with the funding or resources to invest in it. Their goal is to help make creative, new ideas possible by making AI technology accessible to everyone through easy to use products, whether you are an independent developer, startup, or global company.

What’s the best and/or worst piece of advice you’ve received while building AssemblyAI?

Best advice – focus on metrics! This seems obvious but is often easy to overlook when you’re moving so fast in a startup. What metrics are you going to hold yourself and your startup accountable to? For us (we are building a Speech to Text API), we track our accuracy and processing latency metrics very closely.

Dylan’s Notes on his books:

Not all of them are directly related to startups, but I think that’s good. It’s good to step out of the startup bubble and get some fresh air every now and then.

"Hacker News always has some good threads around startups and links to interesting articles." (Dylan's Notes)

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In this instant and tenacious New York Times bestseller, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight “offers a rare and revealing look at the notoriously media-shy man behind the swoosh” (Booklist, starred review), illuminating his company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.

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Bill Gates named Shoe Dog one of his five favorite books of 2016 and called it “an amazing tale, a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey, riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Phil Knight opens up in ways few CEOs are willing to do.” Fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car in 1963, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In this age of start-ups, Knight’s Nike is the gold standard, and its swoosh is one of the few icons instantly recognized in every corner of the world. But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always been a mystery. In Shoe Dog, he tells his story at last. At twenty-four, Knight decides that rather than work for a big corporation, he will create something all his own, new, dynamic, different. He details the many risks he encountered, the crushing setbacks, the ruthless competitors and hostile bankers—as well as his many thrilling triumphs. Above all, he recalls the relationships that formed the heart and soul of Nike, with his former track coach, the irascible and charismatic Bill Bowerman, and with his first employees, a ragtag group of misfits and savants who quickly became a band of swoosh-crazed brothers. Together, harnessing the electrifying power of a bold vision and a shared belief in the transformative power of sports, they created a brand—and a culture—that changed everything.

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In DAVID AND GOLIATH, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, suffer from a disability, lose a parent, attend a mediocre school, or endure any number of other apparent setbacks.

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Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a pebble and a sling-and ever since, the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David's victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn't have won. Or should he? In the tradition of Gladwell's previous bestsellers-The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and What the Dog Saw-DAVID AND GOLIATH draws upon history, psychology and powerful story-telling to reshape the way we think of the world around us.

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A New York Times bestseller, My Struggle: Book 1 introduces American readers to the audacious, addictive, and profoundly surprising international literary sensation that is the provocative and brilliant six-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

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It has already been anointed a Proustian masterpiece and is the rare work of dazzling literary originality that is intensely, irresistibly readable. Unafraid of the big issues―death, love, art, fear―and yet committed to the intimate details of life as it is lived, My Struggle is an essential work of contemporary literature.

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Lior Gotesman

Founder, Relationship Hero (YC S17)

Website Linkedin

Founded in 2016 and based in Cupertino, California, Relationship Hero has helped thousands of satisfied clients with their relationship issues - making them the #1 service for instant, affordable and professional relationship coaching. When you’re struggling with a relationship issue, such as a bad breakup, you need credible, actionable coaching and you need it now. You could turn to friends and family members for advice, but you may want to keep the issue private, or get an objective perspective from someone outside your situation. With Relationship Hero, you get instantly connected to a knowledgeable relationship coach in a private 1:1 chatroom or over the phone, and immediately get the help you need.

What kind of challenges have you faced while building Relationship Hero & how did you overcome them?

Most of the challenges I faced involved making Relationship Hero a service that people want, value and enjoy using. This service hasn’t existed before and there aren’t many similar ones like it. When I first started building our team of coaches, developing our training program, and designing the user experience, I’ve often relied on my intuition. But intuition alone wasn’t enough. By talking to clients, making data-driven decisions, running experiments, and quickly dropping what doesn’t work, I was able to bridge the gap between what I thought worked and what actually worked.

Co-Founder of Y-Combinator's essays on all things startup.

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Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs - in companies of all sizes - a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in a age when companies need to innovate more than ever.

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Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business. The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute.

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Jason Calacanis and a rotating group of guest experts bring you this weekly take on the best, worst, most outrageous and interesting stories from the world of entrepreneurship. Calacanis, a podcasting pioneer, gives you an insider’s look at what’s happening in the tech industry with his trademark blunt style and good humor. Looking to start your own company?

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Need strategies for improving your business of motivating your team? Just want to catch up on what’s happening in Silicon Valley and beyond? Your journey begins here.

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