Wondering what are the best books for starting a business successfully in 2021?
If you’re smart, you know that having your own vault containing the best books for starting a business is a secret weapon. You get direct access to literally hundreds of years worth of the best business advice ever published from the best business minds who ever lived. It’s like being mentored without having to pay hundreds of thousands worth in fees.
At the same time, there are also millions of books that provide close to 0 value.
So in this list, I’m going to lay out my 30 best books for starting a business successfully. The ones where once you have an ecommerce business idea to go after, you can read them and then launch your brand successfully within a few months.
With that said, let’s get started…
- 1 Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy
- 2 The Luxury Strategy by Jean-Noel Kapferer
- 3 Kapferer On Luxury by Jean-Noel Kapferer
- 4 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout
- 5 Content Inc. by Joe Pulizzi
- 6 This Is Marketing by Seth Godin
- 7 Traction by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares
- 8 Crushing It! By Gary Vaynerchuck
- 9 Blue Ocean Strategy by Renee Mauborgne & W. Chan Kim
- 10 How To Get Rich by Felix Dennis
- 11 How To Be A Capitalist Without Any Capital by Nathan Latka
- 12 Zero To One by Peter Thiel
- 13 Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson
- 14 Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose
- 15 The Origin Of Brands by Al Ries & Laura Ries
- 16 Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham
- 17 Shortcut Your Startup by Carter Reum & Courtney Reum
- 18 Built To Sell by John Warrillow
- 19 The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
- 20 Lost And Founder by Rand Fishkin
- 21 Playing To Win by Lafley Martin
- 22 Overdeliver by Brian Kurtz
- 23 Hello My Name Is Awesome by Alexandra Watkins
- 24 Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
- 25 Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Advertising is one of the most important skills to learn if you want to start a business. So why not learn it from one of the best in history? David Ogilvy is the guy behind Ogilvy & Mather, which is one of the most successful advertising agencies ever. And this book lays out his most important advertising concepts to sell almost anything you want.
You won’t find any examples from today’s direct to consumer brands. However, if you’re starting an Amazon FBA business, Etsy store, or Shopify store, everything still applies to you. In fact, if you execute on Ogilvy’s principles like they were meant to be executed, you will see better results faster than most of today’s ecommerce brands.
Interested in the luxury market? Then you need to know the rules because luxury marketing is nothing like traditional marketing. Luckily Jean-Noel Kapferer lays it all out in this book. It’s so thorough and complete, it’s known as the bible of luxury marketing.
Today, most DTC brands are not luxury brands. However, almost all of the successful ones still follow many of the concepts inside of The Luxury Strategy. This means this book is critical to your success today as an ecommerce business owner. So if you want to attract customers who are ready to spend a lot of money on your products, then read this book.
So you have a luxury brand and want to grow it. The problem is that growth actually goes against many of the principles of luxury. So what do you do? Jean-Noel Kapferer follows up on The Luxury Strategy with a book that specifically goes after how to grow a luxury brand without losing the mystique and pricing power of one.
This book solves one of the biggest problems today’s DTC brands face. In a world where everyone is looking to build the next unicorn, you end up with businesses built on sand. Worst yet is when discounts take over the brand’s marketing strategy, leading to a horrible Walmart effect. If you follow the strategies inside this book though, you’ll be able to avoid that and more.
Al Ries and Jack Trout are the legends behind positioning. After decades of helping big brands with their marketing strategy, they decided to lay out their most important marketing advice in one short, simple-to-read book. It’s quite possibly one of the most important books in this list. Why? Because human behavior doesn’t change.
This is why these 22 immutable laws of marketing still apply today, if not more so to DTC brands. They cover everything from category creation to marketing strategy and more inside. You’d be hard pressed to find a book as useful as this one for ecommerce brands.
Most of the best books for starting a business successfully revolve around advertising. But what if there was a better way? Joe Pulizzi answers this question with the best book I’ve ever found on building a business with content marketing. He tells exactly how to start a brand new blog and email newsletter from scratch so you can sell products and services to that audience.
Some of the examples in this book are directly related to ecommerce, such as how Chili Klaus built a Youtube channel where he taste tests different chili and now sells his own chili brand. In my opinion, this is the framework that every new ecommerce brand should follow because it’s the cheapest, most sustainable, and most likely to work in the long-term.
Seth Godin is a legend. It doesn’t matter what category you’re in, you’ve probably read one of his many best selling books. If you liked any of them though, you’ll definitely like This Is Marketing. Why? Because This Is Marketing is essentially an anthology where he covers all of his best advice in tactical ways. In my opinion, it’s the best book he’s ever published.
There are tons of examples in this book that can be used to directly build an ecommerce brand. It’s also filled to the rim with marketing advice that typically goes against what most people consider to be right. In fact, he even goes directly against the old school marketers we revere today, which was an awesome read. It’s a must read for DTC brands.
The #1 biggest reason most brands fail today is due to lack of traction. However, it’s not lack of traction due to having a bad product. It’s lack of traction due to not enough efficient marketing tests. In this book, Gabriel and Justin teach you the best traction-building activities you can do to build any business you want.
This means whether you’re a brand new online business or you’re a 7 figure Shopify store looking to scale, this book will have something for you to try. It also comes with a neat framework created by Noah Kagan that allows you to test different growth tactics. I can say it’s worth its weight in gold.
Gary Vaynerchuk is the king of social media marketing. He also has personal experience of using social media in the early days to build his dad’s wine business from $3MM to $60MM in just a few short years. Today, he’s done it again by building his personal brand to one of the biggest and most well known in the world.
Yes, there are plenty of platform specific tactics. However, what I love about this book is the framework behind his growth, which involves taking 1 long form piece of content and then turning that into 10 pieces of content that can supercharge your organic growth. If you’re an ecommerce brand, this is a neat little skill to have.
Blue Ocean Strategy by Renee Mauborgne & W. Chan Kim
Most digital marketing books teach you how to compete against competitors. Some marketing books teach you how to get a “marketing edge”. But this book is specifically how to manipulate your business model and marketing strategies in a way that completely avoids competing with anyone so you can grow faster with less money.
As you can probably tell from the concept alone, it’s an important read for any ecommerce business. It’s a little more catered for bigger businesses, but the frameworks inside will help dissect new business ideas you have before you spend resources on them. If you like this book though, make sure to get Blue Ocean Shift for the more tactical stuff.
This is my favorite book on the list. It’s sort of a hybrid between a “how to” book and a biography behind the founder of Maxim Magazine and Dennis Publishing. Felix Dennis goes over his entire story of how he built such a massive publishing empire from scratch along with advice on along the way. If you want to be rich, this is a must read.
Just because it’s focused on his publishing empire though, don’t think it doesn’t apply for ecommerce businesses. In fact, it’s probably one of the most helpful, especially if you decided to start your brand with social media or content marketing as one of your biggest growth tactics.
Nathan Latka is a well known SaaS entrepreneur with multiple successful businesses. What I love about this book is that it’s not necessarily about how to build a business. It’s about making money through the lens of an entrepreneur. Just his first section alone will significantly increase your chances of building a successful business in 2021.
I agree with so many things in this book that I had to include it on this list. For example, you should straight up copy successful businesses. I also am in love of the idea of his “3 project” framework that lowers your risk as a solo entrepreneur, while building in tons of upside into your future. Plus, there are even some ecommerce examples in here for you to read too.
Peter Thiel is a legend in the startup space. Ever since he wrote Zero to One, the book itself has also become legendary. It’s a book that completely flies in the face with some of the best business advice today. It’s also a book you should read if you don’t just want to build a lifestyle business. So if you’re going for that moonshot, then this is the guide for you.
With that said, even if you’re a brand new Amazon business, Etsy store, or Shopify business, it’s still a great read. The entire book is focused on growing fast growing startups by asking the right questions and focusing on the same marketing tactics that helped businesses like Tesla go from 0 to billions almost overnight.
Ready, Fire, Aim is not a book you’ll see on many “best books for starting a business” lists, much less one that’s catered to ecommerce business owners. And for good reason. This book is focused on how to go from $0 to $100MM within the context of an information business. However, it’s for that very reason why it’s so great for ecommerce.
This is a no BS book that cuts through exactly what you need to focus on. If you know anything about direct response marketing, then you know this is how it all works. So while the examples may be focused on newsletters, all the lessons still apply whether you sell makeup or supplements. It’s definitely one of the most underrated books on this list.
So you’re committed to building an audience. Great! You decide you want to use that audience to sell ecommerce products. Perfect! But what if I told you that you can and should do more with that audience? This is what Killing Marketing is all about. It’s focused on all the ways you can monetize an audience to diversify your business.
This is a critical book every ecommerce business should read because it will get you thinking about all the possibilities outside of your comfort zone. Ecommerce is great, but it has some downsides that can be shored up with other sources of revenue. When all put together though, it’ll help you launch the next billion dollar DTC brand.
Did you know Papa Johns actually sold way more than just pizza when they started? And did you know they really hit their stride when they decided to go all in on pizza? There are plenty of stories like this and more inside Origin of Brands. It’s the only book I’ve seen to go this in-depth and detailed about how positioning looks like in the real world.
This is probably the 3rd book I’ve posted on this list having to do with positioning and that’s because it’s so important. This book in particular has entire sections specifically catered to retail products, which is obviously directly related to ecommerce. So if you ever need tons of ecommerce examples that worked, this is your book.
Jay Abraham is a direct response legend. Unfortunately, this means he probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Luckily, this means the few who do will have a groundbreaking edge that can lead to explosive growth. In this book, Jay lays out some of the biggest breakthroughs he ever came across during his making billions in sales as a consultant.
If this book was published this year, it would probably be considered one of the best growth hacking books today. Because his background is in direct response, you’ll find lots of hardcore old school tactics that have completely been forgotten, but work just as well, if not better than it did years ago.
Most books on this list have lessons that apply to ecommerce. Shortcut Your Startup is one of the few that was published recently and was written by actual retail entrepreneurs. Inside this book, Carter and Courtney Reum talk about all the counterintuitive advice to building a physical product business.
When they say Shortcut Your Startup, they really mean it. If you’re an ecommerce business, this book will help you avoid some of the biggest mistakes retail businesses make. It’ll also tell you exactly what to focus on that can accelerate your growth. It’s a book that will help both new and experience business owners.
Normally, a book about how to sell your business won’t be on a “best books for starting a business” list. However, this is the exception. Built To Sell is about modifying your business model so you can get the highest valuation possible. It’s written in a fictional story, which makes it fun to read.
Fair warning, the book is completely focused on the agency business. However, the same principles apply to ecommerce. That’s because people who buy businesses all look for the same thing. Business models that are defensible and can scale. So don’t be put off by the story. Instead, embrace it.
This is a must read for any list curating the best books for starting a business. As a business owner, you have so many freaking things to do, it’s insane. This book by Peter F. Drucker solves this problem by giving you his personal rules to productivity.
My favorite lesson in this book was about focusing on the right things instead of all the things. In fact, it’s the one of the few lessons I’ve learned in any book that I’ve applied to my entire life. So if you’re exhausted as a founder, I highly recommend you read this book.
Rand Fishkin is the founder of Moz, a SaaS business for SEOs. Inside, he goes into his story about how he built Moz from the ground up. What I didn’t think he would do though is talk about all of the frameworks to growing a business like he did. All of which also apply to ecommerce.
Probably the most important lesson in his book is that of the flywheel. Most of everyone in ecommerce is looking for the next big hack that will turn them into a millionaire. But Rand discovered it’s much better to focus on the flywheel that brings in results like clockwork.
Strategy is what drives business. Without strategy, you’re just wandering aimlessly, getting nowhere. With strategy, you can turn even micro wins into industry shattering results. This is where Playing To Win comes in. It’s probably one of the best business books for starting a business successfully.
In fact, I would say it’s one of the best books for starting a business, period. Particularly if you’re starting a physical product brand. Why? Because Lafley Martin worked for P&G, which is obviously an absolute behemoth in the retail space. Suffice to say, there is no better person to learn business strategy than from him.
Brian Kurtz was a leader inside Boardroom, which is a direct response business that sold health-related newsletters back in the day. And like most successful direct response businesses, Brian Kurtz reveals marketing strategies that most people don’t talk about today. Yet, they still work today, if not even better.
For example, Brain Kurtz goes into RFM. This concept alone can bring in millions to any ecommerce business by optimizing their email marketing and SMS operation. Best of all, there is plenty more of where that came from.
Most business owners say the way you name your business doesn’t matter. However, in ecommerce, it does. A great name can move the needle in terms of word of mouth and category creation. Enter Hello My Name Is Awesome. It’s a book written by a former Ogilvy & Mather copywriter that teaches you how to name a brand like a copywriter would.
It’s a no-fluff guide that will help you come up with tons of brand names for any concept you may have. And unlike other books that will give you weird formulas and tactics to naming, Alexandra’s method comes off as much easier, simpler, and more effective.
One of the biggest problems in ecommerce is cash flow. You’re constantly juggling between making money and immediately spending it for future growth. This leaves most founders in absolutely horrible shape financially since they’re spending their salary on building the business instead of themselves. Profit First fixes this problem.
It’s one of the highest recommended “financial” books for ecommerce businesses for this reason. Like the name says, it’s about putting you as priority. Of course, there’s a certain way to do this. But if you’re an ecommerce business owner, I can’t recommend this book enough to you.
Phil Knight is founder of Nike. And if there was ever a book that caused a ruckus in the business space, it was this one. It’s essentially a biography of how Phil first started and grew Nike. The lessons inside of this book are absolutely next level, which is why I consider it to be one of the best books for starting a business successfully.
Normally, I don’t like biographies because they’re too long winded and it’s hard to get specific advice unless you study them really closely. But because Shoe Dog is so relevant to ecommerce business owners, it’s actually one of the most helpful biographies out there today.