What India’s startup bosses read in 2019 and how it helped them

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Children’s author Dr Seuss describes reading as a gateway to learning. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” he wrote in 1978.

Even as adults today, Indian entrepreneurs and investors couldn’t agree more. Quartz asked a bunch of Indian startup folks about the books they read in 2019. The replies varied from books about life, management, to the wider economy:

Trillion-Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle

As a founder, I am constantly trying to build a better purpose-driven company. There are tons of management books by “management gurus” but this one is about the coach who actually guided founders to build great companies. An easy to read and implement book. A big mindset change pushed in the book is to see ourselves as coaches who guide a winning team. Must read for founders who want to create an atmosphere of fun and building together.

Farooq Adam, co-founder of fashion e-commerce site Fynd

AI Superpowers by Kai-Fu Lee

I highly recommend you stop reading whatever you are reading and start this…now. Recent advances in deep learning are as fundamental as the discovery of electricity. This is a powerful thought and one that opens up a world of new opportunities.

This book provides a practical understanding of how artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to evolve and what sectors and jobs will get impacted. Disruptions caused by AI can be a catalyst for transforming society and Lee envisions a future where AI tech and human compassion are integrated to create societies characterised by love. He provides a compelling argument on the ascent of the Chinese juggernaut that may outpace America in the race for AI implementation. China is not only sitting on a goldmine of personalised data on their fingertips, but also has cultural acceptance of benefits of tech ahead of concerns for privacy and a techno-utilitarian policy from the government. It’s a must read for anyone who intends to have a job in the next 20 years and make informed choices about the direction they should take.

Sandeep Murthy, partner at Lightbox VC

Everything is F*cked—A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

The book is written so beautifully—sarcasm and humour are this man’s forte—and it compels you to be honest with yourself.

Arpita Ganesh, CEO & founder of lingerie brand Buttercups

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

As the title suggests, the book talks about all the things that can go wrong in a business and how one has to be headstrong and make things happen. It talks about all the practices that one has to proactively introduce in a young company to ensure longevity of the company. One such practice I remember is to ask yourself and the team “What are we not doing?” in order to better at customer service.

Chirag Jain, CEO of Ashika Capital

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

It is a sequel to his previous books Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, which recount the course of human history and attempt to predict what the 21st century would look like. The books delve into subjects of ethics, values and the human relationship with technology.

This book focusses on present day social, economical and political issues, with a pointed lens on the effect of technology on our lives. I wouldn’t say I agree with everything in the book, and found it inconclusive in a way, justified as it is a collection of essays by the author. Nevertheless, it is a bold and provocative read that expands one’s frame of mind on the present-day world as we know it with the author’s unique perceptions. It doesn’t give definite answers, but raises a lot of questions, and any book that can make you think and get the gears in your brain moving is worth a read.

Rajan Navani, vice-chairman & managing director, JetSynthesys

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty

The most fun I had reading (actually, listening, on Audible). The book is written (and narrated) by Doughty in a What If? format and answers questions around common misconceptions.

The questions have been asked by a young group of people and some of these are truly hilarious. Some left me totally relating. For example, what happens if I died on a plane? (Yeah, weird. But I travel a lot). While others left me wondering how smart the kids asking the questions are. For example, what will happen to an astronaut’s body if its pushed out of the space shuttle?

The author has used a smart blend of scientific facts and history to tackle some long-held beliefs. Undoubtedly, superstitions and omens were permeated by our forefathers so we stay away from trouble. For example, walking under a ladder brings bad luck. It surely keeps one away from an impending accident. Time and again, we should and do question these seemingly illogical conjectures. I now keenly await an essay that answers questions like: Why does a company have to be a unicorn, why is scaling a business at any cost all-important, why would a seemingly smart bunch of guys value an interior decoration business that leases out office spaces at $50 billion? One Mr. Buffett would make a great author for this piece.

Upmanyu Misra, CEO & co-founder, Cianna Capital

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

My favourite book for 2019 is the one I’m still reading, and hope to complete before the year ends. I was a little wary due to the sheer size of the book. I read a lot of history and economics, and this is one classic that get referenced a lot and I wanted to understand what it’s all about. I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised.

While parts of it are laborious, the book isn’t as difficult to read as you’d expect. I had to keep reminding myself while reading that it was written a couple of centuries ago. Everything in it seems so apt and relevant even in today’s fast changing world. The book covers a lot of stuff around jobs and wages, trade and politics, and even around topics like ethics. Reading it is enlightening, like getting a degree by itself.

Akash Gehani, COO & co-founder, Instamojo

Poor Economics by Abhijit V Banerjee and Esther Duflo

I read this book before the Nobel was announced and found it well balanced—a complete myth buster and a great read for anyone who intends to understand the economics beyond urban consumers.

The scientific approach taken to analysing different possible solutions to the various aspects of poverty is very enlightening. Especially the focus on sustainable development with the context of poverty trap helps to develop long term thinking, for entrepreneurs like myself or anyone in business. The cultural and social human behavioural aspects viewed within the cause effect methodology of A/B testing helps explain many otherwise complex underlying phenomenons at play.

The book not only allows preemptive thinking but also delves on multiple touch points that are commonly misunderstood from a global perspective. In education for example, schooling is not to be equalised with learning and I was intrigued by  the data-driven proof that each additional year of education results in significantly better financial income. It has a huge relatability and application in nations like India and other countries fighting developmental challenges.

Divyam Goel, CEO & co-founder, AttainU