E-Commerce Founders: What are the Best Books to Read?

Posted on January 11, 2018


Question: What books should you read to learn more about e-commerce operations and e-commerce business?

John James: Here’s an opportunity for Shameless clubs who are building … I’m actually writing a book on my last twenty-three years of e-commerce experience so it’s been a good ride and the reason why I’m writing is I just don’t see a lot of plain truths and case studies out there about successful e-commerce businesses. If you go to engineinsights.com/book you’ll see a sign-up page. We will let you know when it … yeah oh, you’re going to put that over and above my head though {[inaudible] professional Internet [inaudible] Oh well, engineinsights.com/book that will be out in the next three or four or five months who knows. There’s a lot of work going on and just really incredible interviews with some founders that I know personally I have worked with. Tell the story of how we raised a hundred million dollars in our last business that we did. How we bootstrapped the first several to success it’s really good. Start-up incubator sort of twelve e-commerce companies here in Arkansas sold one of them just recently for twenty-five million dollars eighteen-month-old company so all those stories. Until that comes out, I mean I think you look at everything store around Amazon you’ve read that as well. Yes it’s a great – it’s dated right I mean this is a twenty-year-old story but there’s a lot to learn from it. Another one I think you look at delivering happiness which is Zappo’s. Tony Shea, there’s a lot of you know there’s a lot of interesting ideas in that book,  from how you run a business I mean ignore those who are listening to him whatever but at its core it’s a great story of how to hack together a successful e-commerce business and how expensive it can be to scale one of those and why they’re sold for nine hundred million or one point two billion or something like that to Amazon back in the day still one of the two, three or four most successful e-commerce stories of all time.

John Max: And you know I’m not a big book reader I’ve … I skim through books {It shows. It shows.} Hurtful. Alright, so but you know what I would encourage you to do is you need to go and find you know the top fifty companies that you’re looking at and instead of reading about them watch what they do. The reason that I don’t read a ton is because I care much more about what people do not what they say and so when it comes to these companies when you’re reading a book especially a book after an acquisition a lot of times there are core guiding principles that you can get from an e-book right but the tactics and trips and tricks that they use to scale their company are not…. is what’s going to be viable for you to scale your company unless you’re doing it the exact same time as them in which case you’re not reading a book that they … { It wouldn’t be a book about it if they’re actively doing it} Exactly so we like go in and just audit companies I spent I mean to this day it’s been a daily practice I audit a company almost every night I mean the one that I sent you. I’ll write two pages worth of notes on what does their website look like? What are their offers? What is their e-mail sequence once I leave the page? What are they doing from a retarding perspective? What Ad Words are they bidding on? What are their referral links? I just research companies and it allows you have a finger on the pulse of what’s working and what’s not in the context when you’re actually building your company. I would really recommend that you find fifty competitors or fifty people that you admire from a marketing perspective and just see what they do and then recreate it.

John James: Well, I like how you just changed the question but let’s go back to it alright? Okay, so there’s only a couple e-com books. Of course, I’m writing one, engineinsights.com/book if it’s still there, it’s not then I’ll just look for [inaudible] and then. What I have often found is by reading books [inaudible] spaces it’s probably more valuable than reading actual you know case studies of what’s been built so in that line there are three really good business books I might recommend: Building the Fort or Building a Fort by Chris Heivly. He was the founder of MapQuest good buddy of mine. Trying to build the startup scene over in North Carolina. Great guy, great book. Super simple you can read it in an hour, I think we’ve all read it except for you because you don’t know how to read and then there was Rework by Jason Fried and founder of Basecamp 37 signals that’s another hour, hour and a half long book. {i have read parts of that one} That’s a really good book, super simple to read but then you look at, now I have told you e-commerce, I have told you a couple books in business I want to go a step further and start reading things outside of business. Scientific, nonfiction whatever and taking the principles that apply there. In fact, this is how I started my first business I read some book and I don’t remember the name of it on arbitrage back in the day and it was around financial arbitrage and basically I had figured out how to do that back before people were talking about search engine arbitrage and Facebook arbitrage and click arbitrage or whatever and you know basically discovered a fuel that there was not a lot written about so… Who knows what it is I mean I highly doubt they’re reading about the String Theory is going to help you, you’re not going to discover nuclear quantum physics here but that’s what I do I mean I read a book a week minimally. I can honestly say only about twenty, twenty-five percent of them are business books.