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  • Anne Kong

Why Your Startup Needs a Book Club

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

This article was originally published to Medium n October 1st, 2020.

“Wait, but why is your team starting a book club? How does everyone have time to read?” a friend who also happens to work at another startup asked me. Fair question. When I picture a book club, the first thing that comes to mind is a scene from a Nancy Meyers movie. It wasn’t that I don’t see the value in books. I’m an avid reader of “how to improve you and various aspects of your company” type books. I just typically read them on my own and relay any relevant, helpful pieces of information to our team afterwards.

When our CTO suggested we start a book club, I was immediately excited. Did I think it was going to actually produce actual outcomes and even influence various teams’ roadmaps? Honestly, the thought didn’t even cross my mind — I just envisioned it as a fun, educational way to build our team culture.

I was quickly shown otherwise. At a startup, yes, the days can be long and the list of things to do never fails to grow longer, but the challenges startups face across different industries are extremely similar. You’re doing a million things at once, but you don’t have a million people. Countless others have been in this situation. How do you have difficult conversations? Grow a healthy organization as you scale? Position your product for success?

One of our CEO’s favorite sayings is, “let’s not reinvent the wheel.” Whenever we’re facing a large question that would otherwise require us to spend many hours googling and guessing, we look to those who have done it, and done it well, before. We apply this philosophy to the books we read as well. They’re directly applicable to the challenges and growing pains one step ahead of us, so we’re well-equipped beforehand.

We’ve grown quite a bit since our book club was first started, but it is a beloved tradition of ours that isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s functioned as both a vessel for the prioritization of learning, as well as a space for us to have honest, vulnerable conversations. With such an unpredictable year, I’m incredibly grateful we have this.

Of course, unless you do want a book club out of a Nancy Meyers movie — trust me, I don’t blame you. Those kitchens! — adding a little structure helps make the best use of the time, especially if you like your books with beers like our team does. Here are some strategies we’ve employed:

  • Get buy-in. Participation is key to a successful book club, so get everyone excited! Another great way to get buy-in is to get group input on what to read so everyone feels a sense of ownership over the process.

  • Vary the topics. We tend to alternate between books focused on advice for our company’s stage, a specific topic of personal and professional improvement, or a particular leader or company. Switch it up! Book club should be fun, not monotonous.

  • Manage the reading load. We read one book over the course of one month, every other month. It’s frequently enough that we’re always learning something new, but not so intensive that it takes over our lives.

  • Designate a discussion leader. Over the course of that month, we meet every week to discuss the section of the book everyone read. We designate a different person each week to prepare questions and lead the discussion. Once we’ve finished the book, we have a separate session to discuss how we’re actually going to apply the learnings to our company.

At a startup, it can be hard to justify spending time on anything that isn’t directly related to moving the product forward. For us, our book club is part of the long game. It gives us a common vocabulary to talk through challenges, helps us prepare for problems before they’re problems, and reinforces our values as a company that is always trying to learn more and do better. Investing in employee growth and culture is never a waste of time in our book.

Want to learn more about the books we’ve read? Check out our list on Bookshop.

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