Starting the business from the ground up can be a stressful, lonely, and all-consuming experience. Sometimes it’s nice to speak to someone who is going through the same process or pain points as you, but when it comes to starting a company, that isn’t always possible.
Instead of waiting for the next conference or community event in your area, take a break from your busy schedule and read the advice from successful entrepreneurs. The following memoirs and biographies feature leaders who’ve mastered fields of retail, fashion, real estate, and more.
What Makes a Great Memoir?
Are you already a successful entrepreneur who’s just looking for reading material?
Several entrepreneurs want to hear from your trials and tribulations, especially if you’re in a specific or often unexplored niche. Writing a memoir based on your own experience requires a good overarching story, which may be difficult to do without previous experience.
Entrepreneurs can choose to learn these skills for themselves or hire a memoir ghostwriting service that includes a comprehensive interview, proofreading, editing, and book cover.
Whether you’re creating your own, hiring a ghostwriter/freelance, or reading a biography from a different author, the best, most compelling memoirs will include the 3 following features:
1. An attention-grabbing first paragraph
All great memoirs start with a sentence that makes the reader wonder, smile, relate, worry, or sympathize. For example, the following sentence emphasizes the author’s dire situation:
The first time Daddy found out about me, it was from behind glass during a routine visit to prison, when Ma lifted her shirt, teary-eyed, exposing her pregnant belly for emphasis.
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey From Homelessness to Harvard, by Liz Murray (May 24, 2011)
This opening invites others to sympathize with her, which invites them to turn the page. A memoir isn’t a newspaper, where all the most important facts are at the beginning of an article. You need to learn to wait and keep the most inspiring details in the middle and end of the book.
When you sit down to write, the perfect opening may be elusive. You don’t have to write in chronological order, so start with the parts that inspire you the most and leave the rest for later.
2. A story built on trust, honesty, and emotion
In most novels, fiction or nonfiction, the reader will place their trust in you. They assume that what the narrator is telling them is true, but it can take one sentence to ruin that impression.
To build trust, authors will use various literary techniques, such as:
- Telling the story as if they’re sharing with the reader a previously untold secret
- Being honest. Avoid contradicting yourself during the book unless it serves a purpose.
- Show that you’re regretful (or non-regretful) of a mistake and why you feel that way.
- Develop authority on your subject. People are reading to learn from you.
- Make it personal. Inject personality in your writing, even if it’s grammatically incorrect.
- Know your target demographic and speak to them directly without talking down.
Inject dramatic and funny moments in your memoir, but leave the details for a later time. The more you set up the topic, the less likely your readers are to resonate with you emotionally.
3. A structure that mimics fiction novels
A memoir is the true story of your life, but it should incorporate structural elements that make for a compelling story. A poor setup could ruin any interesting experience or narrative.
Think of yourself as the main character and build a setting that includes conflict, resolution, and a central theme. Create a story structure that includes a beginning, middle, and end, so your readers know how to follow your adventure through life without feeling bored or misled.
You must keep your story relevant. Although a biography captures your entire life story, it can’t explain everything. Narrowing down your scope and focusing on the more intimate details will make what you have you say more compelling and worth reading.
The Top 12 Incredible Memoirs or Biographies for Entrepreneurs
There’s an undeniable fun in business memoirs because they focus on the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of starting a company. It’s hard not to love the eureka moments that happen during a late-night board meeting or a blow-by-blow account of a high-stakes investor convo.
To help any budding business executives or scaling leaders out there, we created a list of the top 12 best autobiographies that feature tales that were worth telling and worth learning from.
1. Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport
By Yvon Chouinard (April 23, 2019)
Since 1950, Yvon Chouinard has pursued business excellence, sports adventures, and environmental activism with equal vigor. In Some Stories, Chouinard captured everything he learned from books, articles, letters, and poetry and put it on display for everyone to enjoy.
“We are in business to save our home planet,” says Chouinard as he emphasizes the urgency of the climate crisis and how businesses can help create a better world in the future.
2. My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company
By Cal Turner, Jr. with Rob Simbeck (April 09, 2019)
Dollar General CEO Cal Turner, Jr. shares his life as heir to the company founded by his father, Cal Turner, Sr., and his grandfather, an entrepreneur during the Depression. This father-son story describes the relationship struggles he faced while becoming a Fortune 300 company.
Cal Turner takes you on an intimate journey by explaining his family’s different leadership styles and how they all made it work regardless because of their drive, values, and people-oriented model.
3. Million Dollar Women: The Essential Guide for Female Entrepreneurs Who Want to Go Big
By Julia Pimsleur (October 06, 2015)
Becoming an entrepreneur is difficult, but becoming a female entrepreneur is even harder because of the unique challenges they face. In Million Dollar Women, Julia Pimsleur introduces 7 women who developed multimillion-dollar companies from scratch across all industries from one idea.
Pimsleur will teach both men and women the lexicon, concepts, and the steps for taking a business into the stratosphere by delegating, networking, and coaching appropriately.
4. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
By Ashlee Vance (January 24, 2017)
Without a doubt, Elon Musk is one of Silicon Valley’s most unpredictable, exciting, and ambitious entrepreneurs on the planet. Often compared to Tony Stark, Musk is a modern-day inventor who’s created Tesla Motors, SpaceX, PayPal, Zip2, Hyperloop, and SolarCity.
Written by Ashlee Vance, this memoir explores Musk’s inventions, how he created them, and whether inventors have a place in our fast-paced world. Spoiler alert, the answer is yes!
5. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
By Phil Knight (May 01, 2018)
Nike founder and chairperson Phil Knight offer readers a rare and revealing book that explains his early start-up days in great detail. Knight, who is notoriously media-shy, offers readers a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success looks like, and it isn’t pretty.
Still, no one can deny that Knight’s hard work was worth the reward. What started as a $50 investment from his father turned into an over $30 billion corporation and a household name.
6. Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey
By Carly Fiorina (May 05, 2015)
Carly Fiorina became the first woman ever to lead a company listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average after she became the president and CEO of Hewlett Packard in 1999. As a follow-up to her first memoir, Tough Choices, Rising to the Challenge, shares what she learned as a CEO.
Instead of general advice, Fiorina focuses on women who are aiming to reach their fullest potential. She also looks at her life as a political activist, philanthropist, and advocate.
7. Iacocca: An Autobiography
By Lee A. Iacocca, with William Novak and Lee Iacocca (November 01, 1984)
Lee Iacocca is the former president of Ford Motor Company and Chrysler. In the 1980s, he swept in an era of innovation and saved the auto giant, Chrysler, seemingly at the last moment. Iacocca is also credited for rebuilding Ellis Island, a historical site filled with history.
As one of the best, most successful executives of the 20th century, this memoir touches on his life as an activist and philanthropist. They still used his lessons and strategies by millions today.
8. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
By Ed Catmull, with Amy Wallace (April 08, 2014)
At its heart, Creativity, Inc. is a manual for anyone who strives for originality, creativity, and success in any media-focused business. For over 12 years, Pixar, the star of Creativity, Inc., has dominated the world of animation, demolished box office records, and garnered several awards.
Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, gives us a sneak peek at the process of how a few of their movies are made. Catmull proves that a mediocre idea can turn into millions with a great team.
9. Dear Female Founder: 66 Letters of Advice from Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Made $1 Billion in Revenue
By Lu Li (September 09, 2016)
Dear Female Founder is a collaborative effort between 66 female entrepreneurs who’ve made over $1 billion in revenue. This book is a unique blend of practical insights, wisdom, and encouragement shared by remarkable leaders who want to inspire others with their rich advice.
Lu Li couldn’t be more honest with her picks because you won’t find a journey that isn’t met with hardship and sexism. Still, Li lets you learn from the experience gained by successful women.
10. Alibaba–The House That Jack Ma Built
By Duncan Clark (April 12, 2016)
Nowadays, the thought of competing with giants like Amazon and Walmart is seen as a foolish effort, but Jack Ma proves that anything is possible. In just a decade and a half, Ma found and built the $25 billion IPO company, Alibaba, which millions of Chinese consumers depend on.
Author Duncan Clark knew Ma in 1999 when he was still an English teacher living in a small apartment. As a former advisor to Alibaba, Clark chronicles the site’s impact on consumers.
11. Steve Jobs: The Memoir
By Walter Isaacson (September 15, 2015)
Based on over forty interviews with Steve Jobs and accounts from over 100 family members, friends, adversaries, colleagues, and competitors — Walter Isaacson wrote Steve Jobs, a memoir of the late Macintosh CEOs’ life and how he revolutionized media, phones, and computers.
From the beginning, Jobs knew that connecting technology with creativity would lead to something great. His legacy proves he was right, as all of his inventions changed lives.
12. Girl On Fire: How to Choose Yourself, Burn the Rule Book, and Blaze Your Own Trail in Life and Business
By Cara Alwill Leyba (November 08, 2019)
From the bestselling author of Girl Code, Cara Alwill Leyba gives her readers Girl on Fire, which builds on the concept that women don’t need anyone’s permission to live their dreams. Leyba encourages women to trust their intuition and create their own opportunities in their own space.
As an early voice in the female-driven movement, Leyba liberates women and empowers readers to find their own big break, whether it’s publishing their own books or clothing lines.
The Rise to the Top is Hard, but worth it!
No one said that creating, scaling, or maintaining a business was easy, and traversing the entrepreneurial sphere without direction or mentorship will inevitably lead to failure.
The memoirs in this article touch upon successes and failures in their industries, so you can avoid or navigate them when or if they occur. Many entrepreneurs should learn from the people that came before them as it’s the best way to bypass common pitfalls, like a lack of motivation.