Books I Read In 2015

This year, I made a decision to change the direction of my life.

I saw the world was changing at a rapid rate and I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to help build the future.

To do that, I realized I needed to expand my business skills and get much better with computers.
This is a list of some of the books I read in 2015. I say some because I only included the books I finished, cover to cover. I felt like listing the others I didn't finish would be cheating, so I've left them out.

All in all I was really proud of myself for all the reading and learning I did over the past year.



I've listed them below and what I learned from each one:




Startup Land-Mikkel Svane

Persistence pays off. Mikkel worked on his idea part time only for over two years. He had confidence in his vision even though existing help desk software existed. In the end, Zendesk was a huge success as a direct result of his ongoing commitment and confidence. He wasn't gambling, he was committed.



Delivering Happiness-Tony Hsieh

Tony put in almost $1BB into his failing online shoe store until he focussed on one thing: his company culture. By changing his culture, he created new value for his customers in the form of the world's best customer service. It was no easy task but this book gave me a lot of great ideas on small ways to change the way people feel about the companies they work for.



Rails Crash Course-Anthony Lewis

If you are learning Ruby on Rails, I would highly recommend this book  combined with Mackenzie Child's youtube screencast on "how to build a blog" along with Chris Pine's Ruby book. As well I'd highly recommend learning HTML and CSS first. Onemonth.com is a great way to sink your teeth into that. I loved this book because it also included info about building RESTFUL APIs and it was fairly easy to understand.



10% Happier-Dan Harris

This was a great non-business book that I read before bed for a while on my GF, Steph's suggestion. He explores many religions and is basically a total dude about it. He calls BS on many of the modern gurus in meditation and holistic medicine, but in the end, he finds tremendous power in sitting still for just 10 minutes, twice a day. It was surprising to me that just when I finished this book, one of the most successful people I know told me he meditates twice a day as well. I am lucky if I get 5 minutes a day in right now, but I am pretty sold on the power of meditation to calm your mind down and aid in your decision making skills.



The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding-Al Ries

This book was recommended to me personally by Brian Scudamore, the founder of 1-800 GOT JUNK after I chatted with him over Linkedin messaging for a while about some good books on brand building. I think 1-800 GOT JUNK is one of the best brands ever because he took the business of junk removal and made it extraordinary. This book is definitely the best book on how to build a brand I've ever read and I highly recommend it. As someone who has never been to business school, I feel this is the best way to learn makes a brand stand the test of time and why, without paying to go to business school for 8 years. They also offer pretty detailed instructions on how to build a brand. Im reading it for a second time right now.



Agile Web Development With Rails 4-Sam Ruby

I didn't like this book, but I got through it. It was recommended to me as a beginner that wanted to brush up on a few things, but I have to say, if you are just learning Rails you probably shouldn't start with this book. I'd instead recommend One Month Rails, then Chris Pine, then Mackenzie Child, then maybe this (but still probably not). It's got some advanced concepts in it, but really, I can't say I loved it, (although Im sure it made me a better programmer).



Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle-Tom Venuto

This book started to help me change the way I eat. I had no idea how bad sugar, starch-based carbohydrates and things like that are for you until I read this. As well, I really didn't know how to eat healthy, I just thought I did. To sum up Tom's advice, get 10 hours of physical activity a week, lift weights for 3 days a week intensely, do interval training, eat 300-500 calories under your daily maintenance level, drink tons of water, walk every day and maintain a 50-30-20 macronutrient count of carbs, protein and fat. Easier said than done, but at least I know this stuff now.



An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth-Chris Hadfield

I was surprised when one of the best pieces of business advice I got all year was from reading Chris' story. Essentially in life there is often a less than 1% chance you will even get the opportunity to try out for something. He wanted to be an astronaut but the odds were so low that the other people around him didn't even try. Yet Chris did the opposite. Even though his chances were slim, he studied anyways. His entire life became about doing the little things that probably wouldn't matter, but maybe, just maybe would make a difference. Over the years, those tiny little things became a huge list of skills and talents that nobody else in the world had. When NASA finally announced unexpectedly that they were looking for astronauts, there was nobody better than Chris for the job and he got to go to space. Had he simply accepted the world as it was at the time and not built those skills just in case, he never would have become the man he is today. If you want something, go for it, even if the road ahead seems horribly far away or potentially non-existant. Every step you take separates you from the crowd until finally, you are the ONLY good option left.



Early Exits-Basil Peters

Over 5000 businesses a year in North America sell for about $30MM. Most of these are tech-based startups. Venture capitalists will put a of pressure on you to exit for $100MM or more but many businesses simply cannot grow to that size. What you really want is a $30MM exit, which is often more lucrative for entrepreneurs since they are able to maintain more equity with angel investors than VCs. Get an angel investor and sell for $30MM is the main message in this book. Then, keep 30-70% equity and you're golden. It was pretty obvious that Basil wants you to hire him to help sell your business when the time comes, but aside from the continual subliminal sales-pitches to hire Basil throughout the book, it was a pretty good read and really eye opening. I had no idea that the founders of many billion dollar companies often only retain less than 1% ownership after they exit (sell their company)! It would be MUCH better for them to exit at $30MM and retain a larger stake in the company.




Elon Musk-Ashlee Vance

Elon Musk is changing the world more than anyone else on Earth right now in my opinion. That's a bold statement but this book will give you a really cool look into his life's story and how he is transforming the future of business and technology. Dinosaur businesses in the auto, space and fuel industries should fear him. He's going to be the Henry Ford of our generation, except WAY cooler and more impactful. Read this book. It was my favourite book of the year by far.




Founders At Work-Jessica Livingston

In the cult of San Francisco start-ups, this is one of their bibles. Jessica Livingston is married to Paul Graham and the two of them are co-founders at Y Combinator. It's the most successful startup accelerator in the world, worth billions of dollars for helping business to grow and eventually exit or go public. It's a really cool read because it outlines how multiple startups were founded, grew and then eventually sold for millions or billions of dollars. What I found they all had in common was a Hustler and a Hacker. One very smart software engineer and one very committed visionary. Together those 2-3 person teams committed to their ideas and didn't stop until they became successful. 



Happy-Lonely Planet 

This book was short so Im not sure if it counts but damn was it good. It outlines different ways cultures around the world celebrate various aspects of life. I feel that in our society we are hyper focussed on success (just look at this reading list) and we forget the pure happiness that comes from community, sports and time in nature. Reading this book made me envious of the generations before us who lived together, hunting and farming the land far before cities and large societies existed.



The Hard Thing About Hard Things-Ben Horowitz

I loved this book because Ben talks about how hard running a company really is. It's quite refreshing because I find most entrepreneur's sugar-coat their success. For Ben, running a company was hell on earth and the stress of it all most likely sucked years off of his life. He had to man up, and with militaristic style strategy and discipline he was able to turn his company around and turn it into a Billion Dollar sale. Some success is luck, but most big successes are a combination of luck,  hard work and intelligence. This book is a great example of a man who has all 3 and then some.



Hells Angels, Into The Abyss-Yves Lavigne

I read this book because I'm interested in gangs and tribes. I have to admit I didn't know much about them before I read it and still probably don't. More than the group themselves, Im interested in their leadership and how they maintain order, support and belief in their organization. It's crazy to think that just 40 years ago, there were only 8 chapters of the Hells Angels and now they are world wide. Sonny Barger grew the gang internationally and even licensed the use of his trademark logo, just like a business. People have a lot of different opinions on motorcycle gangs but whether you love them or hate them you have to agree that their use of rank, patches, chapters, branding and organizational structure is similar to a big business. It's quite interesting that this outlaw gang uses the same fundamental principles as GE to succeed.



Learn To Program-Chris Pine

This was my favourite programming book I read. If you are learning Ruby on Rails and you start here, you will be frustrated because this book is NOT Ruby on Rails. It's just Ruby. But Rails is basically just the framework that you use to write your Ruby programs, so once you have a basic understanding of how Rails works from watching some Mackenzie Child videos or taking One Month Rails, come back and read this book. You'll learn what the code you are writing inside Rails actually means and how to write more complex programs. I highly recommend this.



Mastering The Rockefeller Habits-Verne Harnish

Verne Harnish started the Entrepreneur's Organization, the largest group of business founders in the world with chapters in nearly every country on Earth. He also is a well known business consultant and is particularly famous for writing this book. Verne studied the Rockefeller family's oil business in the mid-late 1800s and found that the reason for their success was based on their ability to turn repetitive tasks into processes that allowed them to systemize their business. The Rockefeller family created an organizational structure with clear goals and accountabilities for each person involved in the company. These skills then enabled them to build an oil monopoly in what was a heavily fragmented industry and country.

This book took me 4 full days to teach to another entrepreneur during a consulting job I was hired for this year, but if you can understand and utilize the principles in it, it will change your business and your life. I don't believe in the 4 Hour Work Week or in a fully automated service-based business. I do however believe you can achieve freedom within your business if you study this book and come to fully understand it.



Napoleon CEO-Alan Axelrod

This book inspired me to read all of the other books on this list. For some reason, Napoleon has always reminded me of one of my first business mentors, Gord. Im not sure why but I feel they share the same leadership style and general outlook towards life. I never told Gord that but one time he brought it up to me even though I had only thought it to myself and never said it out loud to anyone.... Kind of a strange coincidence... Anyways, Napoleon taught me that to succeed in this world you can't be afraid. You have to have balls and you have to illustrate clearly to the world that you have guts and will continue to act courageously and decisively in the face of fear. Napoleon was also a big believer in the continual pursuit of knowledge through reading and he often won battles just because he was more studied than his enemies. That in turn influenced me to want to read much more than I did in the past. 




No Way Down-Graham Bowley

I bought this book in Pokharra, Nepal at a small bookstore at the foot of the Annapurna mountain range in the Himilayas. It was quite fitting to gaze up to see the peaks of the mountains far above the cloudline and then to read about the hikers who died trying to summit K2. All in all, it made me think twice about mountain climbing. There are wild places in this world where we don't belong but that makes us want to go there even more. The risks are often more than we anticipate when we embark on some of these adventures. All in all, a pretty cool and interesting book. I'd recommend it. Will I ever climb K2? I'll have to think about that...



Running Lean-Ash Maurya

I spent the past year buying into the lean startup philosophy and reading a bunch about it and I came to a conclusion. Most successful businesses aren't built by people coding minimally viable products as if they are lottery tickets. You cannot build a business, send it out to the world for a few days and a few hundred bucks and expect to be successful. A great business must be thought out and it should add value to the world. It must be polished and perform far better than your competitors. It must make people's lives significantly better and you will be successful relative to the level that it does. Now that I've said that I will say I did learn a fair bit from Ash. I learned the importance of keeping a 1 page business plan up to date, writing down hypothesis about what is going to happen and then measuring the actual result against it and finally the power of paper prototyping with real potential customers and involving them heavily in the development process. While doing this, be true to yourself and have the guts to follow through on your vision. That is, at least, the way I plan to live my life.



The Startup Owners Manual-Steve Blank

I forced myself to read this entire textbook. It took me nearly 2 weeks at 4 hours a day to finish it.
I did learn quite a bit though. Steve is one of the leading customer development experts in the world and spends a lot of time proving why his "get out of the office" philosophy works. I will say though, that there is a time when you should talk to customers and there is a time you should get to work. I personally found that line a little bit blurry. How many customers should you interview before you "know"? If you are looking for a guarantee before you build, you will probably not find it. However, if you get a clear signal that your idea sucks, you can probably trust that the idea does in fact suck and that is the main benefit of doing customer development. There comes a time to be confident and have the guts to execute but Steve's customer development process is proven and powerful. I would watch his youtube videos instead of reading this book though. I found it quite repetitive and very academic to the point of being redundant.




The Dip-Seth Godin

This is a short little book that I read once, then gave it away to a friend. It had one simple, powerful lesson and then the rest of the book was basically stories to illustrate that his point was valid. Essentially when things get hard, most people give up. Instead, we should look at that struggle as a huge opportunity in disguise. The rest of the world is looking for something easy too and most of the people on this planet give up when things get moderately hard. If the dip happens to be very difficult however, and you can find a way to make it through, then the mountain you just climbed is now your first line of defence against copy-cats and competitors. If you found it hard, they will too.
If you find the concept of 'competitive advantage' ambiguous like I did, you should read this book. It took me just one day to read and it was fantastic.




The Four Agreements-Don Miguel Ruiz

I was listening to a Frank Giustra video on youtube (the founder of Lions Gate Films) and he mentioned this book and Think and Grow Rich as his two favourite business books that changed his life. I don't think you need to read this book. I think you just need to remember the four agreements. They are:
1) Don't take it personally.
2) Never assume.
3) Be impeccable with your word.
4) Do your best.
If you want to elaborate on what he means by each of these agreements, I'd google a book summary. I think the lessons are quite good but reading the entire book might have been slightly overkill.



The Google Guys-Richard Brandt 

I always wondered how google became so huge, despite all the other search engines that existed at the time. My friend Dustin way back in the day told me that Google was so successful because their product was so simple. It just did one thing really, really well: Search the internet. This book lends credibility to that argument but the other missing piece is that these guys had balls of steel and a vision stronger than most of us will ever have. They saw Google as a billion dollar company far before it even really existed as a formal corporation. Their first fundraise was over $50MM. They believed themselves to be geniuses and had far more confidence in what they were building than most people would. They thought big and had the educational backgrounds to make investors listen. I believe those two things alone are the only reason Google as a company actually existed in the first place. How they continued to grow it after that initial start is the real story, but less applicable to my life at the moment. I'll have to read this book again after I raise my first millions!



The Lean Startup-Eric Ries

At first, I thought this book was amazing. I read it twice, gave it to my investor and discussed it with our CTO. I even did a blog post on it. While most of the tactics in this book are rock solid, I think it misses a big point. Vision. As Peter Thiel says, you are not a lottery ticket and this Lean thinking is often misinterpreted by Software Engineers and Startup Founders to mean just that. Build a landing page, send some ads to it, if you get a lot of sign ups, build it, if it keeps growing, keep building, etc. If it doesn't, give up and try a new idea. Rinse and repeat until you're rich. I don't think life works that way. Again, I think many of the tactics in this book are amazing and I still recommend reading it but honestly, if you don't have a vision and a strong sense of purpose behind why you want to create a business, I strongly doubt that you will be successful in the long run. If this book had started with a chapter outlying the importance of vision, then I think I would be more partial to it. But instead, Eric says basically to build anything if people want it and will pay for it. I'd rather build something with a sense of purpose. This is after 2 reads and a lot of thinking so don't take my word for it, try it for yourself. Again, the tactics in it are pretty damn good so it's definitely worth a read.



The Ruby on Rails Tutorial-Michael Hartl

I would say this book is great if you are an intermediate Rails programmer who wants to take your skills to the next level. He jumps around a lot (for example, in Chapter 8 tells you to refer back to Chapter 2 and 4 and does this every 5 paragraphs or so). He also uses strange language you wouldn't normally encounter in your regular life. It's hard enough to get better at programming as it is, but it becomes even more difficult when you add on learning new words from the English language at the same time. I'd recommend Mackenzie Child, Chris Pine's Ruby and then Agile Rails 4, in that order. You can probably skip this book altogether and be fine. I will say that Michael Hartl seems like a nice guy. I think he's just too much smarter than me probably and I needed a more "normal dude" approach.



The Virgin Way-Richard Branson

Anyone who knows me knows Im a Richard Branson fan. I really do love the Virgin Way too. It was a fantastic book about Branson's leadership style. My most important learning from this book was to treat your employees great and they in turn will treat your customers great. I always thought the customer was first but this book really made me stop and think about the importance of treating your team members amazingly well. Again, the focus on culture is strong, just like in Delivering Happiness. In my opinion, Branson is one of the best in the world at culture building. I would recommend this book but if you haven't read a book on Branson before, try reading "Losing My Virginity" instead.



The Everything Store-Brad Stone

How did Jeff Bezos start Amazon and why did he do it in Seattle? Why did his e-commerce business become so successful, even though there were many other online book stores at the time? I had so many questions and this book answered them all. I did leave though with the feeling that Bezos is a bit harsh to his employees and really doesn't think very much about his company culture. He's a Wallstreet dude in Startup land and Im not sure that is a good thing. Having said that, his story is one of the great entrepreneurial success stories of our time. I recommend reading the Black Swan before reading this book though as I do think Bezos' success involved much more luck than many other entrepreneurs on this list. 




Think and Grow Rich-Napoleon Hill

This was my sixth time reading this book. If I had one thing that I could tell any entrepreneur it would be to read this book and to keep reading it over time. It is by far, my favourite business book of all time. I was once watching a billionaire talk about the one book that changed his life and it was this one. I attribute most of my own personal success as well to reading this book. I know thats' a very strong vouch but I really can't recommend it enough. Fear is what holds us back from success. It creates doubt, which leads to indecision, which leads to inaction. Action is the only thing that can move you forward in life and this book teaches you how to act confidently toward getting what you want. To say it changed my life would be an understatement. I love this book and everything in it.




Topgrading-Brad and Geoff Smart

When should you hire someone? How do you know they'll do a good job? When should you fire someone? What are the reasons you should fire someone for? What if someone is doing an okay, but not a great job? This book answers these questions and many others. The wisdom in this book is simple and straightforward but often hard to put to use in real life. For example, the book says you should fire someone the very first time you think of it. That's much harder to do in real life than it is to read in a book but nevertheless this was a great read. If you have a business where you work with people, I'd say this is a MUST READ.




Traction-Gabriel Weinberg

I love this book. Its essentially a marketing how-to-guide. Gabriel says there are 19 traction channels. When you try these channels, you should first fire bullets, then cannonballs. Instead of trying them all at once, pick the 3 channels you think are most likely to succeed in achieving your short-term goal and then try one. For example, your long term goal might be to sign up 10K users a month but your short term might be to get 100 users next month. You would then choose a traction channel that you really believe can get you those 100 users. You try the channel in a short, timed test and see how it performs. If it goes well, you put your resources into it until it no longer works. Then, you repeat the original process from the beginning, this time looking for a new channel. This book really changed the way I thought of marketing and is probably the simplest approach to marketing I have ever read. Having said that, just because it is simple, doesn't mean it doesn't work. If you struggle with marketing or just want to grow your business faster, check out Traction.




Tribal Leadership-Dave Logan

Earlier this year I was pretty obsessed with leadership principles. Leaders have the ability to transform the world we live in and I wanted to know how they do it. This book is a bit academic and they make up their own linguistic framework for describing the various levels of leadership. In the end, I learned a few things but I can't really remember too much from it. Needless to say, it didn't really hit me too hard as a great book on leadership. Having said that, others I know talk about this book all the time and tell me how great it is, so I guess read it for yourself and let me know what you think.



Tribes-Seth Godin

This little book was AWESOME. Seth talks about how tribes are formed and the tools that we use to create and strengthen tribes. First, for a tribe to form, our basic human needs must be met. We must have food, water, shelter and safety at the base of our needs. Next, we must have love, belonging and friendships. Next we want to feel secure, wise and proud. Finally, we begin to look to spirituality, community and deeper levels of belonging. When a leader is able to satisfy the most basic of these needs, the tribe begins to form around that leader. Together, they identify a shared sense of purpose and begin to dress similarly, participate in similar rituals and live in close proximity to each other. Seth illustrates how large companies, organizations and sports teams in modern times have formed tribes and relates it to these fundamental principles from how we behaved thousands of years ago. It's pretty cool to realize we are still essentially cavemen (and women) at heart.



Zero to One-Peter Thiel

This was my second favourite book of the year after "Elon Musk". Peter is an investor in Tesla and Space X and before that, Paypal. He also is one of the VCs at Founders Fund, a venture capital firm in San Francisco that funds business that are out to radically change the world for the betterment of mankind. He is famous for saying "we wanted flying cars, but instead we got 140 characters" in reference to our current technological evolution (140 characters is a reference to Twitter). 

I like Peter's book because he talks about the power of normal people to change the world. He discounts formal education, job titles and many of the traditional "trust indicators" we setup and attach to people in society. How many great ideas were lost because it hadn't been done before, or because the person proposing it wasn't rich or educated? Probably a lot. Peter wants to fund ideas that are unconventional and that might appear crazy because only crazy ideas have the power to actually change the world. 

In many ways his thinking is similar to Elon Musk in that he uses first principles. The only thing I can say in argument with this book is that if you look at someone like Musk, even he isn't going from Zero to One in the true sense. Electric cars were already built and Elon made them faster. Rockets were already built but Elon made them reusable. He is iterating on existing technologies, not making things from scratch. Perhaps that's what Peter meant but its' not clear in the book. Either way, his statement "you are not a lottery ticket" really resonated with me as you can probably tell from this blog post and I love his comments about the power of a strong vision and sense of purpose. 
Zero to One is an awesome book and I highly recommend it.




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