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Want to found a start-up? These are the books you should read first, a top VC says

Bill Gurley
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Bill Gurley

Bill Gurley's investment firm, Benchmark, has made some big bets that paid off. The firm was an early investor in Instagram, Quora, Snap, Uber, Grubhub and Glassdoor, just to name a few.

He also reads two books a month and writes prolifically, and might someday even pen a book of his own. The key to success is often information gathering, Gurley said on Thursday from the LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco.

Gurley's not alone: Another successful investor, Warren Buffett, has said he spends as much as 80 percent of his day reading. Gurley said that for any entrepreneur, storytelling is a big component of their job — so he has a set of books he recommended:

1. "Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors,"  by 

Michael Porter

"All entrepreneurs have been taught to vilify the MBA," Gurley said, speaking of the graduate business degree. "This is a strategic error — to think that understanding business is a bad idea. And so 'Competitive Strategy' is the most efficient short-form MBA that you can get."

2. "Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers," by Geoffrey Moore

It's especially good for enterprise companies, Gurley said.

3. "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail," by 

Clay Christensen

"It's fantastic," Gurley said. "It's really the core essence of why start-ups have an advantage. Products that are able to be disruptive get over-designed. They get feature-rich, they get complex, they get heavy.

He added that "if you can design a product that exploits a desire of a subset of the customer base that doesn't want that complexity, but wants this feature, you can bust in. I've seen that over, and over, and over."

4. "Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure," by 

Jerry Kaplan

The book is about "a massive failure in Silicon Valley," that had "all the best investors" and "all the best executives," Gurley said.

"And it's just spectacular, because on the way home from work every day he had a tape recorder and he left himself notes, so it's remarkably detailed," Gurley said. "We spend so much time analyzing success, and sometimes it's just good to read how hard it can be. And why it can be so hard. So that one's a real world account that I love."

5. "Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike,"  by 

Phil Knight

"[The book] is just fantastic," Gurley said. "It just shows how much grit matters, how much you just got to leave it out there on the field. How tough it is, even for the successful companies. You shouldn't head out into entrepreneurialism thinking it is a hay ride. It's hard."