Black Rifle Founder Evan Hafer’s 5 Essential Books for Succeeding in Business

April 4, 2023Mac Caltrider
Evan Hafer books

Black Rifle Coffee Company's CEO Evan Hafer shared his recommendations for the best books help your business. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.

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Not long ago, Evan Hafer was selling Black Rifle Coffee Company out of his garage. In just nine years, he grew the business from a $1,800 start-up into a publicly traded company that is changing the landscape of the American coffee industry. As a CEO, Hafer employs an aggressive, no-bullshit management style that was largely shaped by his time serving in Special Forces. But the former Green Beret also attributes his success to his love of reading. 

Recently, Hafer compiled a list of books that he says helped him build BRCC into the multimillion-dollar enterprise it is today. We sat down with him to discuss some of the books at the top of that list and why he finds them so useful.

Extreme Ownership books

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

By Jocko Willink

Jocko Willink is a former Navy SEAL and currently the host of the Jocko Podcast. In 2006, he commanded Task Unit Bruiser through the Battle of Ramadi. Since then, he has authored 11 books. His first book, Extreme Ownership, which made waves when it was published in 2015, takes key lessons Willink learned while leading SEALs and applies them to the world of business. In many ways, Willink’s advice goes against the grain of contemporary management practices. 

Hafer: “This book bucks the trend. There's a common victim narrative these days. Everybody wants to point their fingers and blame somebody else for their mistakes. Being a business owner or manager or leader — it's all about accountability. I think in today's business world you have to put that sense of ownership back into management because everybody's looking for somebody else to blame. It's something that has been lost, and business owners have to reinject that into their leadership practices.”

good to great books

Good to Great by Jim Collins. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

By Jim Collins

Author Jim Collins spent six years researching why some companies are more resilient than others. The result was a breakthrough book, Built to Last. Published in 1994, the book was an immediate and major success, leading Collins to follow it up with Good to Great, which further analyzes what distinguishes those companies that succeed from those that fail. According to Hafer, the two books should be considered a pair and are essential reading for leaders in business.

Hafer: “If you could read one author to single-handedly improve your business acumen through books, it's Jim Collins, period. There's nobody better. I could delete every other business book I've ever read and just read Good to Great and Built to Last, and I would have learned 80% of what I truly needed to succeed. I go back to them every other year and keep pulling new things out of them.”

Outliers books

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.

Outliers: The Story of Success

By Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers is the third book from acclaimed author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell. It took the No. 1 spot on The New York Times bestseller list when it debuted in 2008 and remained there for 11 weeks. In the book, Gladwell attempts to identify the common qualities of highly successful people. The book has been widely praised for explaining complicated phenomena in simple, straightforward language. Notably, the book popularized the notion that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of detail-oriented practice to achieve true mastery of a trade or profession. 

Hafer: “I used to always tell the guys in my team that the devil is in the details. Little things can snowball into big things at the most inopportune moments. If you focus on the details, you can scale that up to think about the big picture. That attention to the small things is still the general approach to how I do business.”

The Devil's Cup

The Devil's Cup by Stewart Lee Allen. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.

The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee 

By Stewart Lee Allen

It’s no surprise that Hafer, a self-proclaimed coffee nerd, likes books about coffee. The Devil’s Cup explores surprising ways in which the bitter beverage has transformed the world. Allen goes into great detail tracing coffee’s monumental impact throughout history, from helping armies win wars to making European workers less reliant on alcohol and more productive. As Hafer sees it, that same caffeine-induced productivity is also apparent in BRCC’s success.

Hafer: “It’s like that Army saying from back in the day: ‘We do more before 9am than most people do all day.’ It’s the same here at Black Rifle. We do more by noon than most companies do all week.”

Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

by Matthew Walker

Why We Sleep is a 2017 popular science book about how sleep — or lack thereof — directly impacts a person’s ability to think critically and logically. Among other things, it explains that even minimal sleep loss can diminish memory. It might come as a surprise that a former Green Beret and avid coffee drinker prioritizes rest, but, indeed, for Hafer, a good night’s sleep is essential to success.

Hafer: “I've learned how important sleep is the hard way. When I started Black Rifle, I didn't sleep more than about five hours a night for the first couple of years, and it started catching up with me. I always felt like shit. The thing I've learned is that just because you can work doesn't mean you should work. Being disciplined in the way that you work really matters, and sleep is quite literally the cornerstone of cognitive function and performance. In Special Forces, sleep is considered a crutch. The culture is all about being hard and not needing sleep. That's just stupid. It goes against all the proven data and science about how sleep impacts your mental and physical performance. If you approach sleep as your ability to recharge, then you can have an exceptional day. If you want every day to be exceptional, then you need sleep. I try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. You’ve got to rest, man. It's a long race.”

More of Hafer’s Recommended Reads:

How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In  by Jim Collins

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action  by Simon Sinek

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

Fake “Work”: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem by Brent Peterson and Gaylan Nielson

The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance by Steven Rogelberg

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Summary of the AntiFragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacs

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick

Risk: A User's Guide by Stanley McChrystal and Anna Butrico

Fulfillment:Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

The World Atlas of Coffee: From Beans to Brewing — Coffees Explored, Explained and Enjoyed by James Hoffman

Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergast

Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug by Augustine Sedgewick

How To Make The Best Coffee At Home by James Hoffman

Coffee Roaster’s Handbook: A How-To Guide for Home and Professional Roasters by Len Brault

It’s Not About The Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks by Howard Behar and Janet Goldstein

Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain’s Potential by Richard Restak

Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The High 5 Habit: Take Control of Your Life with One Simple Habit by Mel Robbins

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendan Burchard

Read Next: Nolan Peterson: Lessons From Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Mac Caltrider
Mac Caltrider

Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.

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