Jessica Mah, the CEO of inDinero, a San Francisco-based accounting software startup, sees reading as so important to the growth of her company that she reads two books a week. Mah, one of Fast Company's Most Creative People, explains:
I love reading about how the most successful and creative business leaders built their businesses and how I can take that idea and run with it or modify their strategies for inDinero. My routine is to take advantage of and fill my weekends and after-hours and travel time with reading. I also suggest books to my executive team, some I have not read, so they can learn different things and bring the best ideas up for discussion. It’s a team effort.
In the tradition of executives being avid exercisers and meditators—because it’s both good for them personally and as business leaders—founders who have a reading habit find that it helps their cognition and, by extension, grows their companies.
Manish Chandra is the founder and CEO of Poshmark, an interactive resale fashion marketplace for members to buy and sell their own clothes and accessories. He spends time reading before heading to the office: "Reading early allows me to process information much faster throughout the day," he contends, "and helps with both decision making and overall time spent on any task."
Alexandra Cavoulacos, cofounder and COO of The Muse, echoes that sentiment. "Reading books has definitely boosted my productivity," she says. Cavoulacos asserts that books offer both wisdom and a new perspective. "I've also found that reading is one of the rare times that my mind is focused 100% on one thing," she asserts, "a hard thing to find in a world of distraction and secondary screens." She believes reading has "strengthened her focusing muscle," which, in turn, improves her ability to lead and innovate.
When executive leaders take the time to read, they create an opportunity to expand their knowledge or sharpen their skills that allows them to contribute more significantly to the growth of their companies.
Under Cavoulacos’s informed leadership, the company’s revenue grew four times between 2014 and 2015. They had 25 people on staff in January 2015 and now have a team of approximately 120.
Manish Chandra has presided over Poshmark's expansion as well. Now, one in 50 American women are selling in its marketplace. "Reading is an engine for personal growth, and I truly believe that the business growth is in so many ways tied to the leader's personal growth," he says. "So the net-net is that my reading equals business growth. That's just simple math!"
A graduate of Y-Combinator's class of 2010, Mah initially had inDinero on a hypergrowth track. That soon turned into a collision course with the reality of generating revenue on a freemium model. Several years later, the company is on a more healthy, sustainable trajectory. In 2014, InDinero had a growth rate of 2,685.6% and a revenue of $2.9 million. The company doubled in size in 2015, and expects to do so again by the end of 2016.
"Honestly, I’m not sure how you could maximize your potential if you are not reading regularly and considering alternative ways of thinking and approaches to solving your company’s problems," Mah maintains. "There’s so many answers out there, you just need to read them and relate them to your goals as a business leader."
Says Cavoulacos: "Whatever is keeping you up at night from a business perspective, read one or two books that help tackle that issue. The external perspective can really help generate new ideas, pose questions differently, and drive to an answer."
Cavoulacos specifically recommends the book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. The book is a business book written as a fable.
Cavoulacos says, "Lencioni goes through the five areas in which a leadership team can be dysfunctional, and how to address them. Even for teams that work well together, Cavoulacos says, "It's a great foundation and gives you a lot to think about—we read it as a leadership team at The Muse, and incorporated it into our executive team offsite."
Mah has been public about how a previous iteration of her company struggled with a cash burn rate that resulted in mass layoffs. As she made plans to pivot the company’s mission, Mah turned to books. "There’s no doubt that reading for me was key to inDinero’s comeback," she states. "I’m sincerely thankful for all these past business builders to draw from and learning from others’ mistakes or successes."
Not to mention, reading is a proven method to reduce stress. According to a 2009 study by University of Sussex researchers, reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. The study found that reading was faster at reducing signs of stress than listening to music or taking a walk; the lead researcher of the study cited the engrossing nature of reading as the reason behind its stress-busting merits.
As Mah says, "Making [reading] a successful habit will show up next quarter and next year, that you can bank on."