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2021 Venture Capital Reading List

I’m pleased to share Valor’s 2021 Venture Capital reading list. There are several updates to our 2020 list, and they mostly revolve around the exciting shift in the United States population and shifts in paradigms for healthcare. Before we dive in, let’s first discuss–

Why a venture capital reading list?

At first glance, a humble reading list seems a little retro for a venture capital firm. In practice, we find that much of the dialogue around VC and startups is on social media. Thus, it’s sliced, diced, and derivative. It’s hard to develop your own point of view as an investor in that type of banter. There is significant value in focused perspectives especially from expert voices. Thus, the old-fashioned reading list . . .

Ours began a few years ago as a way of distilling perspective for our venture capital interns. We started sharing it publicly after many asked about it. On this latest version of the venture capital reading list, a number of our visionary investors also contributed books that shape their perspective.

Will Power: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

This book was recommended by one of our founders as an important read that helped him create more freedom and focus for his life and his startup.

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

Written by Jennifer Doudna, the Nobel Prize winning scientist, this book is fascinating. It goes into detail so you get a layperson’s grasp of gene editing, and can begin to project for yourself what is possible with CRISPR, the cheapest, simplest, most effective way of manipulating DNA ever known. CRISPR is on the front line of ways to eliminate HIV, genetic diseases, and some cancers, and will help address the world’s hunger crisis. Yet even the tiniest changes to DNA could have myriad unforeseeable consequences – to say nothing of the ethical and societal repercussions of intentionally mutating embryos to create “better” humans. A must-read for anyone investing in healthcare.

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win

This book is ostensibly about poker, and as I read it, I had to get some cards as well as go online and play relentlessly. It’s that kind of inspiring. Yet the game is just the surface. What author and poker champion Maria Konnikova does so well is take you into the master of self that is a part of any mastery. For an investor, this is an almost perfect read to learn more about understanding your own context and emotional reactions, managing your focus, and taking market (and personal) reactions as inputs not triggers. It’s a master work on better decision making in real time.

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory

Written by running champion Deena Kastor, this book also has a profound message for investors. Like most athletes at the top, Kastor is known for her wins–but this book reveals her process. Mastering running, mastering investing, and mastering anything have stages in the process, set backs, and ways to get back on track. Any investor who also loves sport stands to get several great insights from this book.

Punished By Rewards 

Recommended by a Valor founder, this book by author Alfie Kohn questions the way we create incentive plans. For an investor, this is an invaluable grounding in the consequences of poorly designed incentive plans. As one of an investor’s core skills is supporting founders as the scale, learning some of the pitfalls can help avoid common traps.

The Startup Owner’s Manual

Recommended by Valor founder George Azih at Leasequery, this book also is recommended by The National Science Foundation, which pays hundreds of startup teams each year to follow the process outlined in the book, and Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia where it is a textbook. For founders and wise investors, why you’d want to read it and take notes in every margin is obvious.

Learn how to take a punch

Recommended by a Valor LP who is a former CEO, this book by serial venture-backed founder Brett Fox shares how he overcomes challenges and learned to create several $100M+ businesses.

The Great CEO Within – A Practical Guide to Company Building

Recommended by a Valor LP and serial founder. This legendary piece by Matt Mochary, widely circulated especially in Silicon Valley circles, shares a no-nonsense take on how a leader scales a business. The attention paid to coaching is especially helpful for investors.

Never Split the Difference

Chris Voss was a hostage negotiator, and he never liked to come back with 50% of a hostage. In this guide to high stakes negotiation, Chris takes you through several tactical, practical ways to come out ahead. Super useful for big enterprise contracts, big executive contracts, etc.–the every day life of a startup leader.

SuperForecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction

This book is one of my personal top 10, because it shares a process for getting better and better at unknowable things–predicting the future. It’s also easy to read and has a fun energy in exploring how to improve your forecasting skills. If you’re investing in companies that “could be big in 10 years” this is your jam. By Philip Tetlock.

The 1% Rule

Tommy Baker explains how if you want to get 300% better at something, it’s most likely to happen if you get 1% better at it every day. Lots of practical application for startup teams, code sprints, and team development in this easy, fun, inspiring read.

Alpha Girls

Recommended by a Valor LP and founder, this book by Julian Guthrie takes you into the early days of Silicon Valley and how its culture was born.

Reset: My Fight for Inclusion

The sequel to Alpha Girls in many ways, this book by Ellen Pao shares a critical perspective for all investors on the culture of our industry and ways it holds us back.

Principles: Life & Work

Another of my favorites, Ray Dalio takes us on his own personal quest to be a “super-forecaster” and how he built one of the world’s highest-regarded hedge fund firms around it.

Elon Musk

Author Ashlee Vance does an impressive job taking us into the childhood, young adulthood, and early career of one of the most important founders in the last 100 years. For investors looking to spot genius, there are no patterns, but this book is a great read at helping you see the signal in the noise.

Bad Blood

Best read next to the book about Elon, this is another work of unauthorized investigative journalism into a founder–this time. Journalist John Carreyrou takes us back stage at Theranos, one of the largest alleged frauds in startup history.

Good to Great

Jim Collins, Ph.D, did a study of companies and CEOs, applying statistics to tease out not winners and losers, but what separated GREAT companies from just good ones. What he found is timeless, and well worth a read for founders and investors alike.


**Most of these books can be checked out for free digitally at your local major city library. Use the free Libby app and your free library card to do it.

See something you like? Let us know.

Always open to suggestions too. Which books are inspiring or shaping you as an investor?