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9 of the MENA's Most Successful Entrepreneurs Share The Books that Completely Changed Their Paths

From the founder of Jordan's massive platform Ekeif, to the Lebanese mastermind behind Zoomaal, to Fetchr's co-founder Joy Ajlouny, we asked some of the Middle East's groundbreaking entrepreneurs about the most transformational entrepreneurship-related books.

As children, Dr. Suess always taught us, "the more you read, the more things you know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go." Today, the statement remains just as true, especially when it comes to entrepreneurs with the vision to build massively successful startups. When LinkedIn chairman, PayPal co-founder and Apple's marketeer each write a book highlighting techniques on building a pioneering startup or on the entrepreneurial lifestyle, you know these are definitely must reads. But who inspires the Arab world's most trailblazing founders? We asked nine entrepreneurs about the books that left a mark in their journey, from famously renowned The Lean Startup to psychology-driven The Power of Now.

1. The Lean Startup, by Eric Reis

Not one but two entrepreneurs recommended The Lean Startup; educational Egyptian gamechanger and founder of iSpark, Mostafa Hashisha and Joy Ajlouny, co-founder of Dubai-basedon-demand delivery startup Fetchr“It shows you the full process of building your startup while being cost and time-efficient. It's the best book one can ever read!” Hashisha exclaims. The book is divided into three parts: vision, steer, and accelerate. The first one introduces entrepreneurial management, while the second one digs into the Lean Startup method - that is, the build-measure-learn feedback loop, minimal viable product and learning when to pivot or persevere. The last chapter explores scalability techniques, organisational design and product growth.

Hashisha explains that what struck him out most was the fact that the Minimal Viable Product of Dropbox was a video, which is what helped them build a product worth billions of dollars. “It taught me that one should let go of perfectionism and start small, launch MVPs faster and with minimum cost.”

On the other hand, what captured Ajlouny’s attention was that “it gives you real insight on what is expected when raising funds.” She adds, “the book helped me to really think about what my value proposition was and to start by releasing an MVP and seeing how and when to persevere the original idea and when to pivot into another approach based on the the lack of traction.” Ajlouny believes that “if you're going to fail, fail fast. See what your customers wants, talk to them and hear them, there you will find your answers.”

The Lean Startup covers topics starting from defining a startup to the most powerful scalability techniques. 

2. Invisible Influence, by Jonah Berger

Simaa Najjar, founder of Jordan's Ekeif (the E-How of the Middle East), chooses The Lean Startup, once again. Then she claims, "it has been already chosen by many entrepreneurs (expected for sure, it is a must read!), so I will share my thoughts on the second best; The Invisible Influence." Najjar explains that the book is exceptionally inspiring for those working in media, as it shows you how things actually start trending. Giggling about how the fidget spinners are so in these days, she exclaims: "really what happened to the world last year with that? I have five at home and don't even know why."

Najjar explains that noticing these trends can benefit or change your startup entirely, which is why "you have to be aware of what is influencing people and know how to use it properly to make your business grows". Najjar says that the book also illustrates the reality of human nature and the things and people that impact our decisions; "this made me realise that my kids are influenced by whoever is around them, which is why I try to be the perfect role model for them, so they can imitate the positive actions, such as the habit of reading. Remember, every decision in life we take, is surely influenced by someone or something, so make sure you surround yourself with great people that influence you or else you're doomed," she concludes.

Invisible Influence sheds light on how to identify and use what influences people to grow your business.

3. Zero to One, by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
Amr El Sawy, founder of premium bus transportation Buseet, says he can summarise what he learnt from this book in one sentence: "the most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete." The book sheds light on how information technology is rapidly growing; however, progress should not be limited to computers and Silicon Valley. On the contrary, progress is achievable in any industry or area of business, but every leader must master "learning to think for yourself." Explaining the inception of the title, the book explains that "by copying each other, the world will go from 1 to n - adding more of something familiar - but when you create something new, you go from 0 to 1."
"It's inspiring and truthful," comments Peter Abualzolof, co-founder of analytics-based real estate platform Mashvisor, based in Ramallah, Palestine. "The things that I always try to remind myself are the four principles in the book: always stay humble, stay lean but keep experimenting, be realistic about your goals and lastly, focus on product, not sales. I half agree with the last one - don't forget sales. You need a good product, but sales always conquer." Written by PayPal co-founder, venture capitalist and early Facebook investor, Peter Thiel, this book is highly recommended by members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem as it provides advice from a credible, diversified and kickass entrepreneur. 

  Written by PayPal co-founder, Zero to One emphasizes on the importance of creating something new.

4. The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
Founder of Rakna App - an on-demand valet - Ahmed Zaki starts by telling us, how as a startup founder, you're always overwhelmed by a million different things. Since the book features enlightenment and its natural enemy, the mind, the author describes individuals as "creators of pain," which is why the book focuses on transforming into a pain-free identity by living fully in the present.
"This book helped me understand the importance of being 100 percent focused on the present and the task at hand. "Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future would only make things worse," Zaki asserts. He believes the journey of an entrepreneur is tough and thrilling, many decisions are involved and focusing on anything other than the present is a setback. Recommended by Oprah Winfrey, with millions of copies sold and translated into more than 30 languages, this book inspires entrepreneurs to find their true and deepest self to be able to each the ultimate in personal growth and spirituality.

"Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future would only make things worse," Ahmed Zaki, cofounder of Rakna App tells us.  

Lebanese entrepreneur Abdallah Absi, founder of Zoomaal, the Arab world's crowdfunding platform, believes entrepreneurship is difficult, and is often about making tough decisions. He explains the book inspired him "because it's real, it talks about the real-life challenges of an entrepreneur beyond all the hype and the fun culture." Absi highly recommends the book for new riders in the entrepreneurial journey, specifically those with a team and who are at seed stage. The author, a cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, sheds light on a realistic and wise approach to managing the toughest problems, which business schools don't usually cover.

Beyond all the hype and the fun culture of entrepreneurship, this book approaches the toughest challenges faced in starting your own business.

6. The Art of The Start, by Guy Kawasaki
Basil Fateen, cofounder of gamified hiring platform HireHunt, recommends this book because it contains "much less inspirational bullshit than other books about entrepreneurship." Fateen explains that "it puts you in the right mindset to get started on the entrepreneurial warpath," adding that it has amazing insights about business models, pitching strategies, team formation and both product creation and launch.
The author is Apple's former marketing maven, and Founder and CEO of Garage Technology Ventures; where he uses his experience to feature techniques on bootstrapping, branding, networking, recruiting, pitching, and tips on "building buzz."

 Ex-Apple Marketeer illustrates his insights on starting a business through The Art of the Start.

7. The Start-up of You, by Reif Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
"I read this book in four days; I would recommend it to any living being," Alain El Hajj, founder of leading Egyptian FinTech startup PayMob, says. "For many people, twenty-years of experience is really one year of experience repeated twenty times," says El Hajj, quoting the phrase that struck him the most because of its resemblance to his journey. The author, LinkedIn cofounder and chairman Reid Hoffman, guides readers on how to accelerate their career in today’s competitive world and how to apply practices by Silicon Valley startups on your own career. The writers emphasise on the importance of adapting to change, developing a competitive advantage, taking proactive risks and strengthening your professional network.

Using his expertise in cofounding LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman guides readers on how to accelerate their career in today’s competitive world.

8. The Mom Test, by Rob Fitzpatrick

Angela Solomon, CEO of trusted child care on demand in Lebanon Jaleesa, recommended this book because "it helped us get better at talking with people who use our service - instead of seeking positive feedback, we try to understand our customer better so we can really learn," she says. Solomon explains that two of her mentors recommended this book in the same week, and it lived up to their feedback. She continues, "the book is really short and easy to put into practice straight away," adding that Jaleesa is a child care startup, which is why the book was extremely relevant to launching her startup. The book explains that you shouldn't ask your mom or anyone really whether your business is a good idea, because everyone will lie to you at least a little. It's not their responsibility to tell the truth; it's actually yours to find it and assess whether it's worth doing.

Focusing on customer experience and lean startup, The Mom Test teaches entrepreneurs the way to build, measure and learn based on your customers. 

Main photo credit: @MO4Network.

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