One of the most effective ways to become a great entrepreneur is to learn from those who did it first. We all have our own strategies for securing wins and achieving results in our companies, and even if you don’t necessarily want to follow in the exact footsteps of other accomplished entrepreneurs, their stories are entertaining and inspiring at the very least.
Here’s a list of my 18 favorite entrepreneur biographies:
1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
This biography doesn’t just top the list of entrepreneurial stories – in many cases, it comes up as one of the best biographies of all time, period. We all know that Jobs revolutionized the world of technology, but it’s the behind-the-scenes look of Jobs’ thoughts and actions that makes him truly fascinating.
2. Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace
Like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates is a household name due to his incredible technological advances. Yet, few people know about his history, including the painstaking steps he took to develop Microsoft into the behemoth that it is today. If you’re going to read a biography, why not choose the story about how Gates went from embarrassing failure (OS/2) to becoming one of the richest individuals in the world?
3. Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business by Barbara Corcoran and Bruce Littlefield
It’s Corcoran’s meager beginnings that make her success story that much sweeter: she had nine siblings and went through an astonishing 22 jobs by the age of 23. Her story describes how that 23rd job opened the door for developing the $6 billion organization, the Corcoran Group, in combination with just a thousand dollars which she borrowed from a friend. Now, Corcoran is known as one of the sharks on the television show Shark Tank, a program in which many aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their own ideas in hopes of receiving funding.
4. Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out by Farrah Gray with Fran Harris
If you’ve never heard of Farrah Gray, you’re not alone. But you should get to know him. Why? Gray sold his first business for a sum of more than $1 million… at the age of 14. People magazine also credits him as being the first African American teen to rise to such a level of success from a beginning of public assistance, without entering the entertainment industry or having a family connection. Gray’s investment strategies are just one aspect of his well-rounded business approach: he offers nine pieces of advice for achieving success that virtually anyone can follow.
5. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
Like Farrah Gray (mentioned in #6), Tony Hsieh exhibited entrepreneurial ambitions at a young age. He started out with a worm farm at the age of nine, and by the age of 24, he had sold his online banner advertising business, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265 million dollars. Today, he’s known as Zappos’ visionary CEO. Zappos is often credited as having one of the healthiest and happiest corporate cultures, so this is certainly a book worth considering for any exec.
6. Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
Richard Branson has experienced success in an impressive number of business ventures: Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records, and Virgin Megastores are just a few examples. Perhaps the most entertaining biographies on the list, Branson’s story is definitely one worth reading. He composed a list of “rules” for success, which he balances with colorful adventures that simultaneously teach and amuse his readers.
7. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
This insider look at how Amazon exec Jeff Bezos grew the online bookseller into the “everything store” that it is today is a remarkable must-read. What makes it even more interesting is the recent scrutiny Amazon has received regarding its company culture. First, read the NYT article, then peruse Bezos’ bio and tell us what you think.
8. The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Shroeder
I’d be remiss to exclude Warren Buffett from any list of successful entrepreneurs. If you haven’t read his biography yet, make it a priority to do so. Like some of the other names mentioned on this list, Buffett took entrepreneurship into his own hands at a very young age: he was 11 when he purchased his first stock. Now one of the richest men in the world, Buffett shares his insights on both winning achievements and overcoming struggles.
9. Thrive by Arianna Huffington
If you’ve read a Huffington Post article recently, then you may take an interest in the story behind HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington. This biography is unlike any of the others on this list, as Huffington closely examines the workaholic mentality that many execs seem to embrace. She, too, was once a work-obsessed individual, until she experienced such an extreme bought of exhaustion that she actually broke her cheekbone on the side of her desk. Read about her new, healthier approach to balancing the demands of work and life.
10. Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie
You may have heard of TOMS shoes, the company whose motto is “One for One” (for every pair of shoes purchased, one pair is donated to a child in need). This biography encourages readers to do exactly what the title states: start something that matters and has a real purpose. It’s when the drive for profits is married with the goal of making a positive impact that a business truly has the potential to excel.
11. The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick
The story of Mark Zuckerberg has been told before, but never quite like this. Kirkpatrick details how the vision of a nineteen-year-old college student revolutionized social media in just a few short years. Zuckerberg continues to make headlines, both with his Forbes ranking (#16 in the world’s billionaires) and his immense charitable donations. Read about Zuckerberg’s incredible journey in his biography, and be sure to check out the Forbes story on how he’s transferring 99% of Facebook’s stock to the charity he created with his wife, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
12. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
As the billionaire behind PayPal, SpaceX, SolarCity, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk is known for his intensity. This biography gives us an inside view of how Musk uses that intensity to initiate change, both within his own business ventures and on a global scale. Through a series of interviews both with Musk and those closest to him, the author reveals how he overcame a series of struggles and eventually achieved massive, visionary-level triumph.
13. Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca
Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca was named the 18th-greatest American CEO of all time by Portfolio, and for good reason: despite parting ways with Ford, where he started his career, after clashing with Henry Ford II, Iacocca used his skills and talents to rebuild Chrysler, which was failing at the time. Iacocca’s principles are timeless and effective, making this autobiography a must-read.
14. Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz describes how he used distinct strategies to continuously keep both its employees and customers happy, in spite of its quick growth. This is an especially worthy biography for any exec of a startup.
15. Made in America by Sam Walton
Walmart stores are ubiquitous in the US, but that wasn’t always the case. Sam Walton, founder of the retail giant, took one store in Arkansas and multiplied that over his career into what is now more than 4,000 stores across the country. His autobiography examines the ways in which one simple business model can be expanded to achieve incredible accomplishments.
16. Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley
Few entrepreneurs have ever reached the levels of success that Oprah has. From entrepreneurs building startups to execs of fully established organizations, there are valuable lessons for everyone here about overcoming obstacles and achieving triumph even when the odds are against you.
17. The Power of Many by Meg Whitman with Joan O’C. Hamilton
Former eBay exec Meg Whitman is unique in the fact that she struck a hard-to-reach balance of achieving incredible success for her company, without ever compromising her morals. She explains how in this autobiography, along with the ten core values she says are indispensable both in business and in life.
18. The Martha Rules by Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart has impressive strategies for building a successful business. While her industry may not align with your company’s, her overarching business principles (emphasizing quality, growth, and smart risk-taking), transcend the gap.
What about you? Have you read any of these biographies? Did your favorite entrepreneur make the list?
Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!