When you are a tiny little startup (may be it's just you and no one else), it is important to understand that you are trying to do what is typically done by many different people (and sometimes departments) to get one product out in the market. But you can fake a large company, by putting out a good-looking website, for example.
Learning the basics of design, color theory and typography will easily put you in the 90th percentile. You must develop wide-ranging interests to make your products ring a bell with your users. All things you know add to your product in a subconscious way.
Before you get into the specifics of designing a website that will get across your message in the few seconds any visitor will usually give you before moving on, you need to understand basic communication itself. There are huge chasms between communicating, communicating well and communicating on the web or on apps.
In startups, communication is an ongoing process. It does not stop the moment you create your website. You will need to communicate continuously with your customers on your blog, via your social media accounts, while also creating great product documentation and knowledge-bases for your users.
Made to Stick taught me techniques to simplify the story I want to tell the world. It is important to tell that story consistently. It is important to tell that story well to your users as well as your teammates.
On Writing Well is a classic and you will often find that some fine writers swear by it. This book lists out the simple rules of non-fiction writing. Split into 4 parts, it talks about basic principles, methods, writing forms and attitudes. Taking advice in the book seriously should easily put you in the 90th percentile.
The code is easy. You'll most certainly get it done. What I’ve often seen lacking in most products is good design–or any design, for that matter. Things that are easy to use aren’t the way they are because someone just started making them without planning. Design is a very conscious, a very deliberate act.
The Design of Everyday Things is a solid primer on general design. This book will also let you become familiar with basic design parlance. If you won’t become a designer yourself, you’ll at least be able to decipher your designer’s gobbledygook. It should also set you on the path to Design Thinking.
Hooked explains the science of addiction that product companies so unabashedly apply these days. It explains the Trigger->Action->Variable reward->Investment loop, teaching you where you might find habit-forming opportunities in your own products.
This is a very powerful, yet silent influencer. Typography significantly affects the personality of your website or your app. You can learn the basics of typography in a few hours and enjoy the rest of the life identifying typefaces, pointing out common typographical mistakes to your baffled friends or just be in a better position to enjoy a finely designed poster.
Thinking with Type starts with the letter, goes on to describe the text and then finally describes the layout of text. As it progresses, it skillfully exposes the reader, step-by-step, to typographical concepts. Reading this, you’ll at least be careful to avoid any typographical faux pas.
The Elements of Typographic Style is a work that is a lot deeper and opinionated than Thinking with Type. Considered a classic of the field, it describes the general connection between typography and the outside world often in philosophical rhetoric. Although written supposedly for typesetting printed material, there is much to learn for the more serious typography enthusiast.
Validation of your ideas is a big deal. You’ll keep turning to trusted friends. Most ideas about what shall work and won’t work will only get ingrained in your thinking once you experience your first failure. Hopefully these failures will be features, not whole companies. There are some very nice books that explore the ideas behind great and sustainable businesses. Here are a few that have helped me.
The Innovator’s Dilemma is a much discussed book on the subject of disruption. It is very relevant for startups. Christensen explains disruption theory with a couple of case studies. The test for if you read this book right is simple: You should be fairly irritated when someone says their idea is “disruptive”.
Zero to One is a book that seems to love Google a lot. It doesn’t matter, though. The central idea it presents is a worth the read. The book argues that value generated by building technology that really creates something new and is not a rehash or extension of an existing idea is the real deal. And it actually is.
Running a company is mostly about creating a culture. By this I don’t mean doling out free snacks and strewing game consoles and ping-pong tables around the office space. Culture can be a lot more useful or even dangerous.
The best laid plans are those that are based on worst-case scenarios. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a book about those worst-case scenarios and how to keep your business going. Drawing from Horowitz’s experience, this book is a war-time reference manual you’ll need during good times and bad.
37 Signals (now Basecamp) is a company that made remote working cool. Luckily for remote working, they didn’t fail. Rework is a collection of their blog posts in a book form. Covering topics like productivity, hiring and culture, Rework should not be missed.