Best Business Biographies for Entrepreneurs
1. ‘Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built’ by Duncan Clark
After Amazon, Jack Ma's Alibaba is probably the most famous success story in ecommerce history. In the biography “Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built” Duncan Clark tells Ma's story of humble beginnings as an English teacher which culminated in his creation of a company that forever changed the global economy.
This biography will be particularly beneficial to startup founders in countries where government policy can often be a stumbling point to success. Ma's home country of China was not always his ally in building Alibaba into a company that currently holds 80% market share, but this unlikely titan of business managed to outwit competitors from all over the world to achieve unimaginable success.
2. ‘Creativity, Inc.’ by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Any startup founder in a creative space will find the biography of Ed Catmull, founder of animation giant, Pixar, riveting. “Creativity, Inc.” is written by Catmull with the help of Amy Wallace and details how Catmull brought his college dream of creating the world's first computer-animated movie to fruition with the release of the smash hit, Toy Story in 1995. Of course, this was simply the first of many successes for Catmull and Pixar, and his unlikely journey from startup to entertainment glory is a must-read for anyone on a similar path. Catmull also now heads up Disney Animation. Additionally, the book provides a few excellent leadership insights, especially where managing creatives is concerned.
3. ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight
Although this business biography is based around the journey of the creator of sports brand Nike, it holds insights and valuable lessons for all startups and businesses. “Shoe Dog” is written by Phil Knight, the founder of the world-famous brand, and as far as business biographies go, this one, which is also a New York Times bestseller, carves out a new space for the genre.
Knight walks readers through Nike's journey from an intrepid startup to an iconic household name. If you're a startup founder struggling with funding, you'll definitely want to find out how Knight built Nike with an initial funding of $50 from his dad.
4. ‘Losing My Virginity’ by Richard Branson
Richard Branson's biography “Losing My Virginity” charts his journey from a young entrepreneur with a dream to create businesses that would make a positive difference in the world, to becoming one of the most well-known and revered business leaders in the world. Branson's businesses also cross numerous spaces and industries, which just goes to show that strong insights are translatable no matter the subject.
For startup founders, it can often feel that creating a successful business and having a well-balanced personal life are two completely irreconcilable goals, and this is perhaps one of the most important insights this business biography offers with Branson providing tips on how he learned to manage this aspect as he built Virgin.
5. ‘The Man Who Solved The Market’ by Gregory Zuckerman
Startup founders in the finance or fintech space will find Jim Simons' story of creating an algorithm-driven approach to investing which would go on to achieve unheard-of market returns, invaluable. The business biography, “The Man Who Solved The Market,” written by Gregory Zuckerman, details Simons' early years as a mathematician with a dream.
Simons would go on to found his company, Renaissance Technologies, and change the face of investments forever. Despite the very specific subject matter, the book also holds some valuable general insights into teamwork and collaboration for startup founders in any sector.
6. ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big’ by Scott Adams
Now, Dilbert (yes, the comic book series), is, of course, not technically a company or business, but this list would be incomplete without this contribution from Scott Adams. Adams, the creator of the highly successful comic strip, penned “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” in which he explains how he managed to take some of his biggest failures and turn them into successes. The book also presents a very interesting management idea called the Dilbert Principle which purports that businesses will systematically shift poorly performing team members to management, as this is the area in which they can do the least damage. If you're a startup founder building a team from the ground up, you'll definitely want to consider whether the Dilbert Principle might apply to your team.
7. ‘Sam Walton: Made In America’ by Sam Walton
“Sam Walton: Made In America” is a business biography that will undoubtedly inspire any startup founder in the retail space. In the book, Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, Walmart, shares his rags-to-riches tale of taking his dream from a single dime store to a massive international chain. Perhaps one of the most unique elements of the book is Walton's insights on how to pair your own personal values with your business journey and keep a hold on your identity throughout. Walton also shares leadership insights around recognizing and fostering great thinkers within your team. Despite being set in the retail space, Walton's insights are valuable for entrepreneurs in any industry, especially if they find themselves struggling to maintain their personal values while doing business.
8. ‘Believe It’ by Jamie Kern Lima
Female startup founders will be motivated and engaged by the business biography of Jamie Kern Lima, who went from serving tables for tips to owning a billion-dollar cosmetic startup. “Believe It” has been called part biography, part manifesto, and perfectly plots out how some defining moments in Lima's life contributed to her success despite those events seeming like stumbling blocks when they first occurred.
The book's subtitle, "How to Go From Underestimated to Unstoppable," perfectly sums up the type of motivational read startup founders can expect from this business biography.
9. ‘The Widow Clicquot’ by Tilar Mazzeo
The business biography about one of the world's most iconic food and beverage brands is a historical tale, but it proves the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and its insights are just as relevant to modern startup founders.
“The Widow Clicquot” is certainly a story of female empowerment in the startup space with writer Tillar Mazzeo relating how Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin managed to take control of her late husband's business and turn it into an empire. All this while living at a time in history when women were not seen as business leaders. This is another biography that will be appreciated by female startup owners who are pushing to smash through those glass ceilings.
10. ‘Elon Musk’ by Ashlee Vance
This business biography, written by Ashlee Vance, is about such an accomplished entrepreneur that it covers three of the most well-known brands in the world. “Elon Musk,” a book about the businessman of the same name, will inspire and motivate any startup founder who feels their idea is crazy.
Musk, after all, was told this on several occasions by many different people, from his beginnings in South Africa to his journey through Silicon Valley, but when suddenly, his ideas started to take shape and change the world, those people would eat their words. The book also provides a sneak peek into what we can expect from Musk's future plans for SpaceX and why he believes that company may just be his biggest yet.
Recommended: Read our list of the best startup books!