If not for a book written by a coffee salesman, the mega-successful startup Stitch Fix might never have been born.
Stitch Fix founder and CEO Katrina Lake says before she started her company – valued at $1.2 billion after going public in 2017 – she read It’s Not about the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks by Howard Behar.
“It had a big impact on me and how I approached company culture,” says the youngest woman to lead an initial public offering in technology. “In Howard’s book, he talks about how the company culture of Starbucks is one where he felt like he could be the same person at home and be the same person at work and that the values were consistent in both worlds. That really resonated with me. I wanted to create a workplace where people feel like they can be themselves – and their best selves.”
It might surprise you to learn how many top entrepreneurs credit their success to a single book or a certain author. For example, Lyft founder John Zimmer gives a shout-out to environmental writer and activist Paul Hawken, while Gusto guru Josh Reeves cites The Monk and the Riddle.
Here then, in celebration of Book Lovers Day on August 9 and courtesy of Entrepreneur, are eight books that sparked big ideas in business.
- The advantage of being an introvert. The book: Quiet by Susan Cain. The reader: Angie Hicks of Angie's List: “I’m an introvert, and I just really related to it. I think a lot of times introverts – myself included – sometimes view it as kind of an impediment. Even though I started a company, I didn’t picture myself like that. I wasn’t a big idea person; I’m not really charismatic. You have to learn how to be successful in your own skin.”
- Doing great by doing good. The books: Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken. The reader: John Zimmer of Lyft. “I was interested in the environment and doing good, and I was also really interested in business. I struggled growing up thinking about how you can combine those two pieces. I think I considered them separate. I thought you either do good or you do business. Those books showed me that there are opportunities to do both, and that business can be used to create a positive solution in the world.”
- Work-life balance. The book: Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. The reader: Julia Hartz of Eventbrite.
“It outlines the current issues around self-worth and approach to time but also gender roles and pursuit of work-life balance.”
- Finding beauty in unexpected places. The book: The Tower and the Bridge by David P. Billington. The reader: Jeff Chapin of Casper.
“When I started college, I was headed down the path of becoming a chemist. I’d always wanted to wear a lab coat and work in a lab. But when I read this book in my first year of college for a class about structural art - essentially, the beauty found in architecture and engineering - it was so captivating I switched majors and pursued a civil engineering degree focused on structures.”
- Living your best life. The book: The Monk and The Riddle by Randy Komisar. The reader: Josh Reeves of Gusto. “The book is about the purpose of life. [The author] brings up the idea of an extended life plan – the concept that somehow people think we’re going to do something now that might not be good but will enable us to do what we want in the future. But that mindset replicated over time means you never get to living the life you want.”
- The value of community. The book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The reader: Whitney Wolfe of Bumble. “What it made me realize was no matter who you are in life, where you come from or where you live, everyone is fighting their own battle, and everyone’s battle is equally [as] important as the next.”
- Some things never change. The book: Merchant Princes by Leon Harris. The reader: Shan-Lyn Ma of Zola. “It’s about the families that built the great department stores. It reinforced for me that retail and ecommerce always come back to the same principles: selection, convenience and price.”
- The power of creativity. The book: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. The reader: Jen Rubio of Away. “It is a collection of Rilke’s correspondence to a young, aspiring artist and offers candid thoughts on what it means to be a creative. It’s a little overwrought but full of sage advice. Every time I’ve read it, new pieces of advice jump out at me depending on what’s going on in my life and career.”