Getting from Zero to One: Must-Read Books for Building New Product Venturesby@scottmiddleton
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Getting from Zero to One: Must-Read Books for Building New Product Ventures

by Scott MiddletonFebruary 28th, 2021
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I’ve put together a list of books that contain the ideas that I’ve found most useful for a new product venture at this stage.

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We’re kicking off a new venture with an enterprise tech product at its core. I’m eager to see the founding team we’ve put together succeed, so I’ve put together a list of books that contain the ideas that I’ve found most useful for a new product venture at this stage (getting from 0.1 to 1).

Putting together the list was harder than I thought. I wanted to keep the list short and focused enough that it was digestible and usable as fast as possible, yet also broad enough to cover the key ideas the team needs to grasp to succeed.

I have purposefully not included books on psychology, personal development and motivation even though these topics are the foundation for achieving anything significant. This is a topic in its own right not specific to a new venture, and people usually have different tastes here.

Leadership and management books haven’t been included because when you’re just a small team, amping up leadership capability provides less leverage than solid execution of the topics that I will cover. This one might be a bit controversial (even in my own mind) and was the hardest to leave out. 

I haven’t included books on consumer-focused products and businesses, because this new venture is selling a software product into enterprise.

So, now for the list of books on ways of thinking – theories, frameworks and approaches – for building a new product venture, or, in this case, selling software to enterprise.

The books have been grouped by topic and rough reading order. I’ve added a quick summary of the key insights from each book. Each builds on the books before it.

Venture Building

1. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Startups That Win by Steve Blank

This book provides steps to build a new venture. The four steps are Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creation, and Customer Building. The stories Steve interweaves with the framework along with the reasoning behind the steps means you can’t just look at a diagram and understand it. You really need to read the book.

2. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel

Thiel breaks down founding and building companies to first principles and uses data, observations, and his experience to put forward a few key ideas.

Here are just a few:

  • The Power Law – some ideas and investments have outsized returns
  • Focus
  • Having a definite plan for the future
  • There is no formula
  • Last Mover advantage

3. The Profit Principle: Turn What You Know Into What You Do – Without Borrowing a Cent! by Peter Fritz and Jeanne-Vida Douglas

This book brings the fundamental focus of cash profitability into business-building with a key takeaway being getting cash (making sales) before you spend it. This sounds simple, but the book explores how to make this happen and challenges your thinking on what is essential to build a business (you probably don’t need business cards).


4. Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Build, Measure and Learn. The popular modern way product-led startups are built. This provides a step by step approach to iteratively building product ventures. The essence is rapidly building, putting it in front of customers and then, measuring how they respond to it. I love that it focuses on customer behaviour.

5. Inspired by Marty Cagan

A great run-through of the disciplines, processes and frameworks that will make your product more likely to be a breakout success.

6. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore – You need to recognise where in the product lifecycle you are and focus your product on this. Early on, you want to find and focus on the innovators and early adopters. This is an essential framing to ignore customer requests from.

7. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal – A framework for thinking about how to really engage your users and customers with your product.


8. Traction by Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg – Takes the view that you need to build and test your traction channels in conjunction with building and testing your product fit. Product/market fit needs the product and market to fit. Beyond the idea, traction puts forward every traction channel you would want to test and some ideas for how to test the channel.   

9. Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown – Provides a systematic approach to testing your traction channels. It’s also the book that gave rise to Growth Hacking. This ties growth more holistically with the product and the rest of the business as well.


10. How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins – Gives the foundations of selling. Some people think of selling as a dirty word, but it’s the most essential cog for the world of commerce. The book gives some examples and approaches that may seem dated, but the fundamentals it puts forward are timeless.

11. Selling 101: What Every Successful Sales Professional Needs to Know by Zig Ziglar – More on the foundations of selling. It’s hard to choose between this and Art of Selling, so just read both.

12. The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million by Mark Roberge – Builds the case for the inside sales team and inbound selling, then explains how to put it into practice.

13. Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of by Aaron Ross – Builds the case for outbound sales and provides an approach to put it into practice.


Once your brain is swimming with the books above’ topics and ideas, you’ll need to make some decisions. These books will help you with making decisions:

14. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke – A mathematical approach to making decisions from a world champion poker player turned decision scientist. This book looks at making decisions in the face of uncertainty.

15. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Taleb – A book on interpreting what is happening in the world and making decisions about what is probable to happen. I’ve found it useful in better understanding customer & market data and making decisions about how to move into the future.

16. Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr – Measurement will help you see what’s working, what’s not and where to focus. Just realise early on that some of the measures might be so small that there isn’t much you can read into it if you’re trying to be scientifically/statistically correct.

Previously published here.