Some billionaire business success stories got where they are on personal charm, salesmanship, and communication chops. Others were quiet, reserved “nerds” who just managed to build a product so awesome it took off like a rocket ship, forcing them to figure out the people side of business on the fly.
Shopify founder Tobias Lütke is solidly in the second camp. A programmer by trade, Lütke had no intention of having anything to do with the business side of Shopify, the Canadian startup he founded and which has since become an e-commerce juggernaut. But then, as he explained on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, circumstance intervened and he found himself needing to grow into a leader capable of scaling his startup, and fast.
He decided to source some reading that would arm him with the skills he needed. As he shares with Ferriss (hat tip to this excellent post by Alan Trapulionis), that process of soliciting recommendations ended up yielding two titles. Lütke credits them with teaching him the skills to build a billion-dollar business (as well as a multibillion-dollar net worth).
1. Influence by Robert Cialdini
“Influence was just the most mind-bending book you can imagine because it essentially taught you all the ways humans are flawed and influenceable and how yes, computers are predictable but once you make things for people you need to go into storytelling,” says Lütke.
“Which was news to me frankly. I spent my teens with computers. Not with people,” he adds to laughs from Ferriss.
An international bestseller when it was first published in 1984, Influence remains a foundational work on the science of persuasion, so Lütke is far from the only brilliant-but-awkward young striver Cialdini has helped. If you’re looking for a quick summary of the books’s basic ideas, Trapulionis’ post has a useful rundown.
2. High Output Management by Andrew Grove
“One of the best books ever,” raves Lütke of this second classic by the former CEO of Intel, describing High Output Management as “a how-to manual that deconstructs the world of business into first principles. It’s like, here’s what matters. Here’s how to think about it.” By laying out building a business like an engineering exercise, Grove’s book made the whole challenge far less daunting, Lütke claims.
He’s not the only nerdy young entrepreneur riding a startup rocket ship to benefit from the legendary title. Mark Zuckerberg also claims the “book played a big role in shaping my management style.”
If you too are intimidated by the less technical aspects of building a business, it might be worth picking up these books. Who knows, they might even help you create a billion dollar company too.