In this article, I would like to share a list of the best TV shows, movies, and books about startups. These are definitely not the only ones out there — just my favorite pieces of media that I personally appreciate.
Hopefully, they will provide you with inspiration and food for thought. Keep continuously learning and exploring other entrepreneurs’ case studies on your journey towards developing your own business!
This one is a golden classic that deserves to be placed in the Hall of Fame. The story unfolds over five seasons. It’s focused on a team of stereotypical garage startupers: a geek founder, a cynical digithead, a conscientious nerd, and an Asian coder. If you’ve never watched TV shows about startups before, Silicon Valley is a perfect one to get started with.
This story shows how investors’ money can ruin well-intended business ideas. Even though it sounds like a paradox, this story happened in real life with a co-working space network called WeWork. Apart from this TV show, it inspired a bunch of podcasts and documentaries.
The series reveals the absurd chain of events with great precision: enamored with the startup, SoftBank decides to invest in it. As the founder gets a fortune, he keeps on scaling his business and doesn’t bother to think about anything else.
The finale is just as tragic as the real story. The IPO is canceled. The CEO gets fired from the company that he founded. He feels devastated. Now that his experience is immortalized in a TV show, his legacy will serve as a cautionary tale for other entrepreneurs.
Halt & Catch a Fire
Halt & Catch a Fire is a highly underrated show. Even though it is based on a made-up story, its creators drew inspiration from real events of the 1980s when the technological world that surrounds us today was only beginning to shape.
At the start of each season, the main protagonist finds himself in a C-suite or managerial position in a company that is about to revolutionize its industry. It might be creating the Internet, a portable personal computer, or a multiplayer RPG.
It’s immensely funny to see IT companies at the time when their employees were wearing ties at work. Also, you will get a closer look at the beginnings of the global computer revolution.
It’s a film adaptation of the recent story of Elizabeth Holmes and her startup Theranos that promised to revolutionize diagnostics and medical testing.
It’s hard to say whether the showrunners are trying to justify Holmes or make her look as cynical as possible. On the one hand, according to the plot, she had good intentions. She began to tell lies about a new item under development to gain time and bring her MVP to a working condition. But then, her sweet little lie grew to such an extent that it became the only thing Theranos is known for.
Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates
This Netflix documentary consists of three parts. It receives mixed reviews for two reasons:
- It was released when mass media were heavily criticizing Gates.
- The movie depicts Melinda as Bill’s heaven-sent partner but the couple eventually divorced.
The term ‘uberization’ has become an integral part of our vocabulary, so Uber definitely stands out from other unicorns of recent history. Only Google can boast an identical contribution to the English language — after all, we constantly tell each other to “Google it!”
This show is not about Uber but about its founder, Travis Kalanick. Showrunners believe he bears full responsibility for the hardships that the startup had to face from time to time.
From the point of view of dramatic storytelling, it’s a strong piece of media. But entrepreneurs who have tried to launch at least one business will hardly be impressed. Indeed, Super Pumped can keep you entertained for a few hours, but it’s not a manual for aspiring startupers.
A big kudos goes to the showrunners who did not shy away from depicting Apple’s place in the modern world. In the last ten years, this company has become a monstrous monopolist. There is a creepy scene where Tim Cook and Eddy Cue call Kalanick, the founder and CEO of a billion-worth company, onto the carpet and rub his nose in the dirt, threatening to remove the Uber app from AppStore.
The Social Network
Watch this film to find out how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while studying at Harvard. Later on, the Winklevoss brothers accused him of stealing their business idea, and he had to pay a hefty compensation to them.
This movie will remind you that Facebook was not always a giant and had very humble beginnings. Also the cast is brilliant! Aaron Sorkin was responsible for the script and David Fincher was the director, so you can be sure you’ll enjoy every second of the movie.
Pirates of Silicon Valley
This movie saw light in 1999. It depicts the events that took place between 1981 and 1997. The plot is focused on the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The former used to work for Apple but then quit because of internal conflicts. Without Jobs, Apple conceded the leading position in the market to Microsoft. In 1999, Jobs came back to its employer and made the brand great again, but you won’t see it in the movie.
Pirates of Silicon Valley is based on the book Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. You can find many other films about Jobs on the Internet but this one stands out from the rest because it depicts Steve during the period when he seemed to be losing the war.
The decade-long rivalry between Compaq and IBM is another David-and-Goliath story worthy of a movie adaptation.
The former company — ‘David’ — was founded in the early 1980s by three friends. It achieved mainstream acceptance due to its Compaq Portable device. ‘Goliath’ released its own personal computer in response.
The documentary Silicon Cowboys saw light in 2016. It contains footage and interviews not only from IBM and Compaq but also from other players of the PC industry of that decade.
This movie was edited from over 400 hours of footage and was released in 2001. It’s a cautionary tale about the startup called GovWorks.
This business was conceived during the fabulous era of the dotcom bubble. You’ll get a chance to peek behind the scenes of a company that was launched by friends who evolved into fierce rivals.
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
This book was dubbed ‘The Bible of tech startups’. The Lean Startup methodology relies on five principles:
- Entrepreneurs are omnipresent
- Entrepreneurship is management
- Validated learning
- Build, measure, learn
- Innovative accounting
Good to Great. Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Сollins Jim
The author teamed up with professionals from various industries to carry out large-scale research. Their goal was to find out whether business success factors exist indeed.
They analyzed companies that met two criteria:
- They have been leaders in their niches for at least 15 years.
- Their profitability indicators were high and constantly growing.
This book is particularly helpful for entrepreneurs whose companies are in the slow growth stage. Thanks to the knowledge you’ll get, you’ll be able to introduce the necessary changes to the structure and regulations of your startup and accelerate most of the processes.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
Peter Thiel is primarily known as a PayPal founder, a Facebook investor, and a venture capitalist who has established several VC funds. In this book, he scrutinizes the most successful corporations from the position of both a startuper and a VC. He analyzes the early-stage development of these companies. His book is focused on the attempts of various startups to monopolize the market. It’s not a political monopoly that can be achieved thanks to personal connections but a client-oriented approach that suggests creating genuinely good and innovative products.
Zero to One is just as exciting and easy to read as a fiction book. Business-specific issues are approached from the point of view of simple people and not large corporations. You’ll discover many real-life examples and case studies in the text: the author investigates the solutions that speed up business growth.
Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley by Corey Pain
Every entrepreneur has heard the fact that only one startup out of ten survives. Today’s statistics, however, might be even more depressing.
This book explains how exactly the survivors manage to stay afloat. The author immersed himself in the very heart of the US technological boom and wasn’t happy at all with what he saw there.
It’s true that every waiter and every delivery courier in the Valley has their own startup. But their odds to take off are close to nil. These people are much more likely to spend all their modest savings on entry tickets to ‘investor parties’. Naturally, no real investors attend such events — only poor startupers, down on their luck.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Since 2020, the term ‘black swan’ has become a part of our everyday vocabulary. But in a startup industry, it’s a norm to expect that these extreme outliers might show up at any moment.
Readers who run their businesses will smile and nod, saying “Yes, that’s right.” All the others will enjoy exploring the author’s fascinating theory — and, hopefully, begin to perceive the news less emotionally.
The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank
This is a collection of how-to’s for startupers. Its author came up with the concept of the customer development interview that nearly all successful startups rely on today. He will teach you how to work with your already existing and new clients, collect and process information, and pivot if necessary. The book will provide you with all the advice required to grow a big business from modest beginnings.
Rules For Revolutionaries. The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services by Guy Kawasaki and Michele Moreno
Guy Kawasaki, an Apple evangelist, believes that it takes three components to build a unicorn startup:
- Strategic planning
- Cast-iron discipline
- Regular investigation of innovations
Compared to Lean Startup or The Startup Owner’s Manual, this book is less formal. Nevertheless, it can be perceived as a manual for launching and developing your own project. Plus, it will help you improve as a founder. The author doesn’t guarantee that you’ll avoid any mistakes after reading the book but it will be easier for you to survive them.
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by J.J. Sutherland
Sutherland’s method works wonders not only for startups but for big players too. Coherent interaction of different departments is an eternal headache for top managers. Several FAANG companies successfully use the Scrum methodology — according to various sources, this has boosted the efficiency of selected processes from 300% to 400%. The target audience of this book is not only startupers but also classic offline businesses.
Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo
Steve Jobs could impress any audience, be it Apple’s business partners or a presentation of a new product to a large audience. This professional knew how to grab his listeners’ attention and achieve the desired results.
The book is divided into three parts that will teach you to:
- Create a story. You’ll learn how to compose a compelling narrative about your brand.
- Evoke emotions. The author explains how to make your presentations visually appealing. Your audience won’t miss a word.
- Improve and rehearse. You’ll benefit from tips on enhancing your looks, timbre of speech, and body language.
High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People by Elad Gil
The author analyzes the success stories of Twitter, Google, Stripe, and Airbnb. The text reveals the behavioral patterns of entrepreneurs who never sacrifice their company culture or forget the core vision when growing their businesses.
Read this one if your startup is rapidly scaling and you’re in a panic thinking you might lose control. You’ll learn how to secure late-stage funding, handle IPOs, interact with board members, and work with your C-suite like a pro.
Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin
This book dispels the illusions of novice entrepreneurs who hope their startups can become an overnight success. The author emphasizes the importance of building a sustainable strategy and working hard for many years. That might sound dull but that’s the only realistic path to success.
With the help of this book, you’ll understand how to pick the opportune moments for product launches, scale your marketing efforts, and pivot. Plus, you’ll never be tempted again to raise funds from the wrong individuals or for the wrong reasons.
The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers & Learn If Your Business Is a Good Idea When Everyone Is Lying to You by Rob Fitzpatrick
To evaluate business ideas, entrepreneurs listen closely to opinions of their potential customers and professionals from their industries. Alas, the respondents flatter businessmen too often — just like moms praise everything their kids do. This book will help you to
- find audiences who will be honest with you,
- formulate your questions correctly,
- connect with your prospective clients more authentically,
- avoid data of poor quality.
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston
The author of this book is a co-founder of the Y Combinator startup accelerator. She interviewed founders of Yahoo, PayPal, Apple, Tripadvisor, and other well-known businesses. Her smart questions reveal the scope of her entrepreneurial expertise. The book provides superb insights on launching a startup, helping it survive, and promoting innovation.
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman
The author knows which mistakes you’ll be likely to make while growing your business. After reading the book, you will learn to determine equity splits and cash compensation, hire at the right time, and define roles within your team. You will also find it easier to develop relationships with partners, staffers, and investors.
The recommendations are based on the hands-on experience of hundreds of founders. Overall, Noam Wasserman teaches his readers to make decisions that their startups will benefit from in the long run.
Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It by Scott Kupor
Scott Kupor used to act both as an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist. In his book, he analyzes the startup world from a VC’s point of view, which makes the text twice as precious. You’ll get to know answers to these questions:
- What logic are VCs governed by? What investment strategy do they use?
- Why should VCs avoid helicoptering everyday operations of startups they fund?
- How can you persuade backers with the help of a good narrative?
- How can you prepare for the sale or acquisition of a startup?
Dear Female Founder: 66 Letters of Advice from Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Made $1 Billion in Revenue by Lu Li
It’s a must-read for women who launch startups. Lu Li speaks about the joys and challenges of running a business, shares hands-on experience and advice, and explains how female entrepreneurs should keep continuously learning.
The text features words of wisdom from female ecommerce entrepreneurs, media moguls, venture capitalists, and philanthropists.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
In the early 2000s, Derek Sivers began an online CD business and eventually sold it for $22 million dollars. He encourages others to follow their passion instead of copying the already existing success recipes. He promotes bootstrapping and explains to startupers how they can survive without borrowing or raising funds.
If you want to launch an unconventional business, then this book was written for you. It’s also indispensable for people who have side projects and dream of turning them into their primary sources of income. You’ll get to know how to build a small but loyal client base that will enable your startup to take off.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz masterfully handles the topics that most other authors don’t know how to approach. In this book, you’ll discover recommendations on how to make your staff members accountable while allowing them to remain creative. You’ll learn to fire an executive so that they don’t become your lifetime enemy. Also, Ben Horowitz describes a way to tell your staff members that you’re dissatisfied with their performance while softly encouraging them to improve.
The Tim Ferriss Show
Tim doesn’t limit himself to conversations only with startupers and investors. He invites to his studio athletes, artists, and anyone who can share their expertise on launching a successful business. Thanks to such an approach, this podcast became the first one in the business category to reach 100 million downloads.
Each episode tells the story of two companies fighting for their market share:
- McDonald vs Burger King
- RedBull vs Monster
- Coke vs Pepsi
- Nike vs Adidas
- eBay vs Paypal
Masters of Scale
This podcast teaches entrepreneurs to grow their startups. Reid Hoffman, the host, is best known as a Greylock investor and a Linkedin co-founder. He interviews the most prominent business people of our times:
- Michael Sebel from Y Combinator
- Brian Chesky from Airbnb
- Peter Thiel from Paypal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund
- Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook
This Week in Startups
This podcast stands out from the rest due to its unique blunk style and good humor. It familiarizes its audience with the news of the tech and business world. Plus, you can hear exciting startup stories as well as interviews with well-known entrepreneurs and investors.
How I Built This
This one traces back the history of such major brands as Mailchimp, Bobby Brown Cosmetics, or Coinbase. People who built these companies tell the listeners how they came up with disruptive ideas, which challenges they faced, and how they overcame them.