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Most new businesses fail within a decade. The actual rate depends on your data source — there are lots of small businesses, which means there are lots of small business data sets — and your time horizon.
Many more businesses stagger on, neither thriving nor failing. If we’re being generous, we might call them “boring.” If we’re feeling punchy, we might call them “zombie companies.”
No entrepreneur sets out to run a zombie company. Or a failed business, for that matter. While doing things differently than your peers isn’t a guarantee against either fate, it’s more likely to get your enterprise noticed and to achieve escape velocity before it runs out of capital, talent or both.
Read these four new books to gain the confidence and capability to chart your own course as an entrepreneur.
1. Build the Fort: The Startup Community Builder’s Field Guide by Chris Heivly
Every city wants to be the next breeding ground for unicorn startups. But even at this late stage of the tech revolution, we can count America’s true startup meccas on both hands: Seattle, the Bay Area, Boston, Austin, New York, North Carolina’s Research Triangle and maybe Denver-Boulder, if we’re feeling generous.
What gives? Time and again, it’s not geography that’s the problem. It’s entrepreneurs getting in their own way as they try to build the next big thing.
Chris Heivly’s latest book asks entrepreneurs looking to find (or build) a thriving startup community to stop being so adult about it. He implores them to get back to basics, literally, by channeling their inner child and building a “fort” that attracts talented, ambitious neighbors — and just maybe turns their corner of the world into the next Silicon Valley.
Heivly knows what he’s talking about. Back in 2009, he started Raleigh-Durham’s Triangle Startup Factory. The following year, he launched a long-running accelerator program where he met Brad Feld and David Cohen, one-half of Techstars’ founding team. Inspired by their work, he spent the next decade creating “numerous founder-oriented activities,” which he writes “helped propel the region into one of the fastest-growing startup communities in the world.” (He’s not wrong: Venture capital has flooded the Triangle since 2018, and local startups raised over $3 billion in 2022 alone.)
Building a world-class startup ecosystem is complicated, and Build the Fort won’t guarantee rocket-ship growth for your hometown. But it offers an actionable, easy-to-understand and, most importantly, fun toolkit for entrepreneurs eager to build dynamic early-stage communities.
2. Your Multimillion-Dollar Exit: The Entrepreneur’s Business Success(ion) Exit Planner by Wayne Zell
The typical founder is reluctant to contemplate their exit strategy.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Tourag Parang identifies five behavioral root causes of “exit avoidance,” including: optimism bias (believing they’ll succeed where most founders fail), present bias (prioritizing short-term gain at the expense of longer-term growth), signaling problems (assuming investors don’t want to work with entrepreneurs eyeing the exits), risk-taking mythology (believing risk mitigation is a sign of weakness) and acquisition failure mythology (overinterpreting rare but high-profile stories of post-acquisition implosions).
For some, exit avoidance is almost pathological. The longer it continues, the greater the threat it poses to the business.
Wayne Zell’s new book tackles exit avoidance head-on. Zell’s blunt, powerful prose loops founders and growth-minded executives in on the dangers of waiting too long to develop an exit plan, then walks them through the pillars of a successful strategy.
Your Multimillion-Dollar Exit covers preparing for “unexpected” exits (death and disability), leveraging a high-quality team to advance your exit strategy, reducing the tax hit from a sale or transfer, avoiding common pitfalls that erode business value, negotiating like an investment banker and more. By the end, you’ll understand your business’ potential value and have the tools to unlock it.
3. We Are All Stakeholders: Culture, Politics, and Radical Accountability in the Boardroom by Shireen Muhiudeen
The political backlash to environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is growing, but the problems that gave rise to it in the first place aren’t going away. On the environmental front, at least, they’re steadily worsening, and no amount of political wish-casting can change that.
The political dynamics around ESG are a sort of funhouse mirror of the dynamics inside many boardrooms, both at early-stage startups wondering whether ESG detracts from growth and at mature companies used to doing things a certain way. The “old guard” eagerly minimizes the risks of business as usual. And it retains tremendous power in boardrooms across America.
Shireen Muhiudeen’s newest book offers an optimistic vision and an actionable blueprint for entrepreneurs and corporate leaders ready to push back on the old guard and build more transparent, sustainable and diverse organizations. It focuses not just on implementing an ESG lens but on transforming corporate culture with an eye to radical transparency and globally-minded decision-making. It’s a must-read for leaders tired enough of the status quo to break the mold as they reinvent it.
4. Find Your Clear Vision: A New Mindset to Create a Vibrant Personal or Professional Brand with Purpose by Lisa Guillot
It’s a heavy lift to change the dynamics of a fossilized boardroom. So is changing your personal mindset and its impact on the world. But at least you don’t have to get buy-in from anyone else to reinvent yourself.
That’s the gist of Lisa Guillot’s new book. She writes Find Your Clear Vision for entrepreneurs and executives who are more than ready to make fundamental changes to their professional and personal lives but have no idea how to implement those changes. Or even where to start.
Guillot’s Clear Vision Framework argues for a holistic approach to personal reinvention, one that weaves spirituality, creativity, brand strategy and professional development. She states that we’re more than the sum of our professional credentials and past roles and that focusing too narrowly on traditional measures of success can actually prevent us from reaching our full potential. Sometimes, the easiest path forward is not the best — and that’s okay.
No business leader or entrepreneur starts their journey thinking that their business will go stale or fail. But, if leaders are willing to adopt practices that help their business stand out and break the mold of predictability, they have a better chance of prevailing. If you are looking to step out of the more conventional patterns of practice in your given industry, these new books can help be your guide.