BY NICK ZARZYCKI
Maybe the scariest thing I remember about university is sitting at my desk on the first day of class and thinking about how someone would soon be testing me on a subject I knew completely nothing about, like the cultural history of Imperial China or symbolic logic.
When my colleagues at WORST first started talking about founding a media company, I felt similarly anxious. I had never worked in media or journalism, I had never founded a startup, and we were claiming that WORST would be “required reading” for enterprising young individuals.
So I started looking for a course syllabus.
Googling “startup founder required reading list” and “entrepreneurship syllabus” brought up some interesting results, but most recommended reading lists seemed highly skewed towards tech startups. Many also referenced authors like Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss, who I’m not entirely uncomfortable putting into the “fluffy self-help book” category.
This convinced us to start building our own list of required readings, which you can find below. It begins with general readings that could be useful to startups in any industry, touches on Silicon Valley culture, and then focuses in on media and journalism, which is what we’re interested in. Let us know if you think we’re missing something.
Paul Graham is a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist who is also a great writer. In my mind, he’s certainly the best writer about startups today. His essays are concise, honest, and they transcend the tech startup category, mainly because Graham writes less about tech companies than he does about assembling a group of talented people and doing something with them.
If you read only five, I’d recommend the following:
Regardless of what you’re doing, you should be able to pitch your idea to someone else, whether they are a potential co-founder, new hires, or an investor. One way to do this is with a presentation or ‘deck.’ Most ‘decks’ are poorly assembled and boring. Here’s an example of how a familiar brand, Reddit, has pitched itself in a non-boring way.
3. These Steve Jobs-related things
Every business person and startup person has read about Steve Jobs, so it makes sense to read about him, if only to understand the mythos that surrounds him. These three accounts are fun to read because they both confirm and question what is often said about Jobs’ leadership style and personality.
4. “Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, the book that changed the world” – Carole Cadwalladr (Article)
5. From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner, Chapter 4
There is no better vector through which to understand the origins of tech startup culture and the way tech entrepreneurs see themselves today than through Stewart Brand, who is best known as the founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue. Whether it be 60s counterculture, LSD, the Merry Pranksters, the origins of personal computing and the internet, or Californian techno-utopianism, Brand has touched seemingly everything that defines the way Silicon Valley thinks today.
6. The Epicurean Dealmaker (Blog)
No-one writes more honestly and incisively about finance than the Epicurean Dealmaker, an M&A banker from New York who has been anonymously blogging about the follies of his profession since 2007. His florid posts often make for tedious reading, but they’re an excellent introduction to the way people in finance really think, which is useful if you ever plan on dealing with people in finance.
7. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (Book)
This book is one of my favourite things I’ve read this year. Gawande’s exploration of the value of checklists is a perfect example of clear, thoughtful writing, and it also changed the way I organize and approach work. I suppose this is the only book on this list that approaches the ‘business’/’self help’ category.
8. “The Directors of the East India Company” by Jan de Baen (Painting)
Look at this painting. Understand what is going on in this painting. It is the beginning of the 17th century and these men have just created the Dutch East India Company, the first modern, stock-issuing, multinational corporation. This Amsterdam startup will go on to do some very bad things.
9. Confusión de Confusiones by Joseph de la Vega (Book)
With the first stock-issuing company also came the first modern stock exchange. Here’s the second sentence of Hermann Kellenbenz’s introduction to Confusión de Confusiones, one of the first books ever written about the subject:
Here is a book written in Spanish by a Portuguese Jew, published in Amsterdam, cast in dialogue form, embellished from start to finish with biblical, historical, and mythological allusions, and yet concerned primarily with the business of the stock exchange and issued as early as 1688.
Every well-read investor has at least heard of Confusiones, and the person who recommended it to me said that it’s likely the only book I will ever need to read about stocks. I’m sold.
10. Strassburg, 1605: The Origins of the Newspaper in Europe – Johannes Weber (Boring Academic Paper Alert)
The beginning of the 17th century also saw the emergence of Europe’s first newspapers, which were made possible by innovations in mass-printing and transportation. After radio and television transformed journalism in the 20th century, the internet changed it again in the 21st, and now we’re back to written stories. Maybe we have something to learn from the early days of print.
11. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm
Jimmy recommended this to me when I asked whether there was something he had read in Journalism school that we should include in this list. According to Wikipedia, this is a thorough, well-written exploration of the ethics of modern journalism, perfect for someone like me who knows nothing about journalism.
12. The History of Gawker
WORST wants to replicate the success of other web publications like Gawker, so it makes sense that we should read about the rise of web publications like Gawker.
13. The History of VICE
The same thing goes for VICE, doubly so because it began in Canada.
If you think we should be reading something that isn’t on this list, let us know. ♦
Image: “Chemical Engineering lecture, Imperial College, 1957″ via Flickr user allhails