The 5 Best Marketing Books read by the Founders of Airbnb, Stripe and Dropbox

The best books on Marketing for (technical) founders recommended by Drew Houston (Dropbox), Joe Gebbia (Airbnb) and Patrick Collison (Stripe).
A Purple Cow on a field of grass

Featuring

If you’re currently starting or advising people that are starting a company you might have come across the chapter “If you build it, will they come?” from Peter Thiel’s famous book Zero to One, where he claims:

“In Silicon Valley, nerds are skeptical of advertising, marketing, and sales because they seem superficial and irrational. But advertising matters because it works. It works on nerds, and it works on you. You may think that you’re an exception; that your preferences are authentic, and advertising only works on other people. It’s easy to resist the most obvious sales pitches, so we entertain a false confidence in our own independence of mind. But advertising doesn’t exist to make you buy a product right away; it exists to embed subtle impressions that will drive sales later. Anyone who can’t acknowledge its likely effect on himself is doubly deceived.”

That’s great advice, especially for technical co-founders. But how do you select the marketing books that are actually worth reading?

Because, assuming you’re a founder or business leader in your respective field you probably want more of a high level, 80/20 overview of the field rather than becoming a subject matter expert.

Drew Houston, the Founder and CEO of Dropbox followed this approach: “I had the highly scientific method of just going on Amazon, type in sales, buy the top three or four books, and just do that for every category.
And then I had a couple book recommendations from one of the founders of one of the companies where I worked as well.
(mentioned at minute 10:35 during his appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show)

Thanks, Drew. We’ll follow the second approach of reading the books recommended by other successful founders in the field.

Hence, here are the Top 5 Books on Marketing recommended by the leaders of the most renowned tech brands of the last decade:

#1 All Marketers Are Liars (Tell Stories)

The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works — and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All

Joe Gebbia, Co-Founder and CPO at Airbnb recommended this book during his appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show, saying: “I have to give credit to Seth Godin because I remember during CritBuns I read his book “All Marketers are Liars.” I remember something that he says in there which I never forgot, which is to make something people want to talk about. It’s like purple cow — make something that’s distinct enough that people want to talk about it, that’s differentiated enough.
I feel like that concept was imbued into the early days of the company, certainly into CritBuns, into Ecolect, and definitely into AirBed and Breakfast at the time. Certainly, I watched it happen in front of me, making something people want to talk about, go from a local Denver blogger story to international press.” (exact time 2:25:51, check out the exact part in the recording here).

Read more about All Marketers Are Liars. (also available as an audio book)


#2 Purple Cow

Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

Even though, Joe Gebbia didn’t explicitly mention this book during his appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show, he did mention reading “All Marketers Are Liars” and said: “… It’s like purple cow — make something that’s distinct enough that people want to talk about it, that’s differentiated enough…”. The concept of the Purple Cow is rarely mentioned in this book so one can assume that Joe also read, or at least studied the principle of “Purple Cow”.
(exact time: 2:25:51, check out the exact part in the recording here).

Seth Godin also has a TED talk on this topic.

Read more about The Purple Cow. (also available as an audio book)


#3 Guerrilla Marketing

Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business

Drew Houston, Co-Founder and CEO of Dropbox recommended this book during his appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show, saying: “There’s a concept from a book that I had read on that roof called Guerilla Marketing, which is like how do you get attention and users for your product if you have no […] money? The tactic of putting a video on Hacker News or creating a viral video, that was a seed that was planted by reading Guerilla Marketing.”
(exact time: 1:00:10).

Read more about Guerrilla Marketing. (also available as an audio book)


#4 Crossing the Chasm

Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

Drew Houston, Co-Founder and CEO of Dropbox recommended this book during his appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show, saying: “And then there’s a book called Crossing the Chasm, which is another classic. It’s a book on marketing, technology marketing. It’s like how do technology products make their way from early adopters to the mainstream.”
(exact time: 0:16:40).

Read more about Crossing the Chasm. (also available as an audio book)

#5 Positioning

The Battle for Your Mind

Patrick Collison, the Co-Founder and CEO of Stripe recommended this book in the book section on his website.

Read more about Positioning. (also available as an audio book)

BONUS: Influence

The Psychology of Persuasion

Tobi Lutke, the Founder and CEO of Shopify recommended this book during his appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show, saying: “Influence was just the most mind-bending book you can imagine, because it essentially taught you always humans are flawed and influential and how, yes, computers are predictable. And you can deal with it. But once you make things for people, you need to go into storytelling — and framing matters — which were also news to me, frankly. I spent my teens with computers, not with people.”
(exact time: 0:26:08).

Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and the partner of Warren Buffett recommended this book in the appendix of the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

Patrick Collison, the Co-Founder and CEO of Stripe recommended this book in the book section on his website.

Read more about Influence. (also available as an audio book)


If you liked this list and want more quality recommendations check out our other books.

Until then, happy reading!

If you’re someone who’s always on the go, here’s our list of audio books.

more books recommended by the people featured in this post

podcasts featuring the people mentioned in this post

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