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Learning Startup Strategy With Books and Online Courses

In this post I give you the books and courses that are helpful when you are in the process of defining the goals and plans building your startup strategy.

What is a strategy and why do I need it?

My goal is to give a helping hand to anyone who finds my experience useful. So I’ll start with the absolute basics. What the hell is strategy? Strategy covers various areas around business studies, game theory and even computer science. A business strategy is usually thought of as a sequence of steps that you wanna execute to reach your goals.

Strategy is a plan or roadmap to achieve your goal(s) under certain conditions.

In my vocabulary strategy has a little bit different meaning when we are talking about startups. In the startup sense, the startup strategy defines the DNA of a new corporation, a new kind of animal that is born to strive, succeed and survive.

I’ll show you online resources in this article that help you define the genetics, the culture, goals and plans of your own company.

Personal vs. corporate startup strategy

I had a pretty good idea of everyday strategic thinking used in the corporate world when I started my business. I had to quickly realize that I won’t get too far with enterprise practices or academic knowledge. Why is that? While these skills are obviously useful, there is something else you have to find out in the beginning.

You have to be able to build your own personal strategy focused on your own life, before strategizing for your business.

What do I mean? I learnt a good deal of competitive thinking and market analysis during my career. These techniques come as a reflex to me now. They are very rational and apply cold and rigorous logic.

Starting a business, however, comes from personal motivation, vision, passion and skills you already have. These factors are less rational, and seem to be much softer than a corporate decision.

On top of this, you have to live with your decision for long years to come and you’d better pick a domain for your startup that will keep you passionate and energetic even during hard times. Simply put, you really need to find something you love and will love in the long term.

How to learn strategy on the personal side?

Books and trainings on the personal side are not so hard to find, once you know what you should be looking for. Personal startup strategies are not yet a developed academic field and I could not find online courses that cover the topic. On the other hand, there are several good books you should read, because I’m sure they will help you a lot. The first and best (at least on my list) in this field is the following book.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Even though this book sounds like a bunch of development tips for established businesses, it has the best startupper personal strategizing framework I’ve seen so far. When I was reading the book, I realized that he depicted the few practices that I used all along my studies and career for 20 years. The clarity and simplicity of his model is fascinating. It’s called the Hedgehog principle, and it has been developed based on serious research. Let’s have Jim Collins explain what the Hedgehog concept is about.

Please click the link to watch the video on Youtube, it cannot be embedded.

The book itself is about those corporations that were built by passionate people. Corporations that were brought to life as a result of someone’s dreams and visions. The three circles of the model are the following:

  1. things that you are really passionate about
  2. things you can be the best in the world at
  3. what’s driving your economic engine?

Ideally, you should find the intersection of the three. Let me explain how I used the model with my own startup strategy.

  1. What I’m really passionate about? I want to use technology in whole new ways, connecting new developments to give new, positive life experiences to people. - this statement covers my passion for tech, complexity and people. So, I’m building a smart shop that gathers relevant products from various sources on-line and uses it’s own knowledge to present these products to customers.
  2. What can I be the best in the world at? Well, this may sound like mission impossible. I decided to ease this point a bit and I wanna be the best in my own small world only. I believe I can have the best smart socks shop for men in the world. With over 7000 socks and growing smart categorization, I’m not too far.
  3. What’s driving my economic engine? It was important for me to experiment with the non-linear economic models of the on-line world. As a corporate employee my compensation always depended on the amount of time I spent at work. This relation was linear (except for some bonuses). Online shopping is different and therefore exciting. My economic engine right now is driven by affiliate commissions. Which is the weak point of my strategy, because socks commissions are not too high. Thanks to the model it’s easy for me to spot the weak point and apply changes to my strategy to fix the issue. That’s why I’m in the process of starting new, more profitable domains with my smart shop.

Good to Great helped me find the right intersection of the above 3 points. I feel, the Hedgehog model keeps my company rolling, and I’m getting even more excited and passionate as I’m starting to see more and more positive results.

The books is built on real examples of well-known companies detailing their success and mistakes. It gives you additional personal coaching in the leadership section, plus, it gives you the FlyWheel model with examples and detailed steps that are really useful for someone starting a new business.

I’d strongly recommend reading Good to Great by Jim Collins as a first step of the journey.

Good to Great by Jim Collins cover

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

The full title, Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, explains it all. I hope you also had the experience in your life, when you’re in a field where you have no competition. You just happened to find or create a space where no-one can beat you. Like an unexplored ocean or a great field of untouched snow. Analyzing your market and your own skills and abilities with the right insight may bring you in the position to build your own blue ocean. The book is full of great examples, detailed case studies, in fact. It’ll give you a step by step methodology so that you can ask the right questions and find the right market and your place in that market. I was very happy to read how a fellow Hungarian bus company covered 20% of the North American bus market with their smart blue ocean strategy. Blue ocean strategy

If you wanna read a few books only, read the above two before you work out your startup strategy. Both are available on Kindle, so you can start reading straight away, just click the images.

Business strategy courses

Once you are clear about your passion, skills and economic drivers, you may wanna dive into strategy a bit more. Learning strategy online will take time. The reason for this is that there are no short, few hour courses available on places like Udemy or Lynda. My experience is that strategy is taught in academic courses provided by large universities. The good news is that you can access these courses for free. The bad news is that you’ll face long hours of learning every week. Well, rationally speaking, the longer the better when it comes to free courses. Still, we want everything immediately these days, and strategy is something that needs time. I found a great course that I would recommend for startuppers, because it covers competitive analysis and decision making, it explains the key considerations of entering a market, cooperation vs. competition, R&D and product design.

The course is called Competitive Strategy by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU). It’s from the University of Munich, in Germany, but the course is in English and it’s available on demand. If you’re not familiar with Coursera, please note that most courses are available via scheduled sessions. This course is different, you can join anytime, on demand, and take it in your own pace.

It has a second part called Advanced Competitive Strategy. This one focuses on your customer base, pricing, partners and organic growth.

You have the option to acquire a certificate of completion, if you wanna use that for your career. This will cost money, it’s usually $49 at it’s called the signature track of Coursera courses.

Advanced business strategy training plan

As I sad strategy courses come from large universities. If you are looking for expert level strategy knowledge you have a great option provided by Coursera. It’s the Business Strategy Specialization by the University of Virginia. It consist of 4 courses, a capstone project and a certificate. The course uses case studies of leading companies like Disney, Microsoft and Zappos, covers competitive strategy, organizational strategy and business strategies. The specialization costs money if you prefer to have a certificate. The full price for all courses and the capstone project if $465 (now $418). You can embed the certificate into your LinkedIn profile, by the way. A more casual approach is to enroll to the courses one by one without a certificate. This won’t cost you money and you can still enjoy all the videos, discussions and quizzes.


In this post I gave you the books and courses that are helpful when you are in the process of defining the goals and plans of your startup.

All books and courses feature several real life examples, I think examples give us the ultimate strategy learning. The books on the personal level are a great reading and the courses are also super knowledgeable and super fun. I have a couple of more ideas on the personal side, but they are more laid-back, so I’ll probably save them for another post.

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