The E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber (HarperCollins, 1995)
For anyone considering starting his or her own business, this classic is an absolute must; read it before you do anything. It lays out in explicitly stark terms the difference between small business ownership and entrepreneurship. After you finish this, you should have a pretty good feel for whether you have what it takes to create a high-growth business.
The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries (Crown Business, 2011)
This book, based on the experiences of Eric Ries (my successor as entrepreneurship chair at Singularity University), and Steve Blank (originator of the Customer Development approach) has sparked the most significant revolution in the startup world since the rise of venture capital funding in the 1950s. Its premise is simple and stark: Build, measure, learn . . . and then keep repeating. As Eric describes, the first steps in the lean approach are figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a startup can work on tuning the engine by continually measuring, learning from the measurements, and then changing the product in response to what you have learned. I discuss the lean methodology ...