My startup canon

December 30, 2021

A first-time startup founder friend who’s been an engineering leader but largely stayed away from watering holes like Twitter and HN asked if he should join startup Twitter.

My first response was 🤷.

My second response was there’s a ton of useful information and an order of magnitude more BS, and it’s difficult to value sources of information. I like Twitter because I’m a textually oriented person and an information sponge. But everyone consumes information differently.

My third response was, I’m happy to share everything that I’ve found useful as a blog post for others, and it’s on you to filter for personal usefulness.

Company histories

My general principle when reading startup-related books is find companies whose success path looks similar to the one you hope yours will be, obsessively learn everything you can about these companies, and pay a lot less attention to everything else.

Since there are fifteen to twenty types of successful tech companies, you’ll need to understand the outlines of 50-60 successful companies in order to really dig in on 3-4.

My #1 book recommendation is How The Internet Happened, because McCullough gives you an incredibly rare God’s-eye view of the web’s first decade and a half, letting you see how industry trends and dynamics played out over time. The equivalent book for the 80s, worth reading, is Accidental Empires.

Early employee memoirs. As Byrne Hobart has noted, the best mix of context and objectivity comes from books written by early executives who later found themselves sidelined and left. Top three are probably Idea Man by Paul Allen (Microsoft), That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph (Netflix) and To Pixar And Beyond by Lawrence Levy.

Mercurial inventor/founder bios. Edison by Edmund Morris. The History of The Future (Oculus) on Palmer Luckey. Masters of Doom on John Carmack. Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schendler (much better than the Isaacson bio). Ashlee Vance’s Musk bio.

Functional guides

A good place to start for all GTM-related things is browsing titles of Jason Lemkin’s top 100 SaaStr posts.

On non-SaaStr content: almost everything depends on ACV, so probably start with 5 Ways To Buid A $100 Million Business. The Tools of Today Aren’t The Tools Of Tomorrow on marketing analytics. Chaos Monkeys on adtech. Amy Hoy on copywriting and landing page optimization.


Ribbonfarm. I’ve been part of the Ribbonfarm community for almost a decade; Venkat’s written some timeless posts. These include: Coloring the Whole Egg — difference between marketing, sales and PR I’ve ever read. Ancient Rivers of Money — product idea filters. The Turpentine Effect — developer tools and startup tools. Breaking Smart is a series-long outline of the startup/hacker ethic.

Business Strategy. 7 Powers. Parker Conrad deal memo.. Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s VR/AR ambitions. Steve Yegge platform rant.

Company Building. The Hard Thing About Hard Things (sorry, cliche, still good).

The PayPal Mafia. Peter Thiel Class 18 Notes: “Founder as Victim, Founder as God”. Also good: Chapter 5: The Mechanics of Mafia, Class 11: Secrets, Class 4: The Last Mover Advantage.

Keith Rabois on “How To Operate”. His formula for startup success. Delian Asparouhav’s Lessons From Keith.

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Written by Sam Bhagwat, cofounder & chief strategy officer at Gatsby; programmer, analyst, writer; follow me on Twitter!