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

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A lot of people talk about how great it is to start a business, but only Ben Horowitz is brutally honest about how hard it is to run one. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, draws on his own story of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and A lot of people talk about how great it is to start a business, but only Ben Horowitz is brutally honest about how hard it is to run one. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, draws on his own story of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and investing in technology companies to offer essential advice and practical wisdom for navigating the toughest problems business schools don't cover. His blog has garnered a devoted following of millions of readers who have come to rely on him to help them run their businesses. A lifelong rap fan, Horowitz amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs and tells it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, from cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in. His advice is grounded in anecdotes from his own hard-earned rise—from cofounding the early cloud service provider Loudcloud to building the phenomenally successful Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm, both with fellow tech superstar Marc Andreessen (inventor of Mosaic, the Internet's first popular Web browser). This is no polished victory lap; he analyzes issues with no easy answers through his trials, including demoting (or firing) a loyal friend; whether you should incorporate titles and promotions, and how to handle them; if it's OK to hire people from your friend's company; how to manage your own psychology, while the whole company is relying on you; what to do when smart people are bad employees; why Andreessen Horowitz prefers founder CEOs, and how to become one; whether you should sell your company, and how to do it. Filled with Horowitz's trademark humor and straight talk, and drawing from his personal and often humbling experiences, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures.


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A lot of people talk about how great it is to start a business, but only Ben Horowitz is brutally honest about how hard it is to run one. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, draws on his own story of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and A lot of people talk about how great it is to start a business, but only Ben Horowitz is brutally honest about how hard it is to run one. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, draws on his own story of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and investing in technology companies to offer essential advice and practical wisdom for navigating the toughest problems business schools don't cover. His blog has garnered a devoted following of millions of readers who have come to rely on him to help them run their businesses. A lifelong rap fan, Horowitz amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs and tells it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, from cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in. His advice is grounded in anecdotes from his own hard-earned rise—from cofounding the early cloud service provider Loudcloud to building the phenomenally successful Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm, both with fellow tech superstar Marc Andreessen (inventor of Mosaic, the Internet's first popular Web browser). This is no polished victory lap; he analyzes issues with no easy answers through his trials, including demoting (or firing) a loyal friend; whether you should incorporate titles and promotions, and how to handle them; if it's OK to hire people from your friend's company; how to manage your own psychology, while the whole company is relying on you; what to do when smart people are bad employees; why Andreessen Horowitz prefers founder CEOs, and how to become one; whether you should sell your company, and how to do it. Filled with Horowitz's trademark humor and straight talk, and drawing from his personal and often humbling experiences, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures.

30 review for The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Arjun Narayan

    Executive Summary: This is a book about Ben Horowitz's war stories. Ben Horowitz has good war stories, if you care about the narrow space of Venture Backed fast growth technology startups. I'm not so sure that they generalize to the point of making a good management guide. You might be better off reading some Drucker. First: the absolute preliminaries: Ben Horowitz co-founded LoudCloud with Marc Andreessen in 1999, with a plan to do enterprise managed services (what has now grown to t Executive Summary: This is a book about Ben Horowitz's war stories. Ben Horowitz has good war stories, if you care about the narrow space of Venture Backed fast growth technology startups. I'm not so sure that they generalize to the point of making a good management guide. You might be better off reading some Drucker. First: the absolute preliminaries: Ben Horowitz co-founded LoudCloud with Marc Andreessen in 1999, with a plan to do enterprise managed services (what has now grown to the SaaS and IaaS space). They were technological pioneers in that space. They weathered the dot com bubble burst, but it was touch and go (since most of their clients were other tech firms going bankrupt). They IPOd in a post-bubble environment with a declining market. They pivoted to become Opsware, a tech services firm (i.e. further up in the backend of the managed services stack). They pivoted as a public corporation close to bankruptcy which is a nightmare I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies. They weathered NASDAQ delisting threats, mass employee revolts, ..., the whole Mad Max scenario. So he offers the prospect of excellent data from the inside. Ben also has a reputation in the valley as a no-bullshit guy, so this is valuable Second: some initial thoughts. To the extent that Ben's stories will generalize, they only apply to fast growth venture backed tech startups that plan to IPO. It bears repeating that this is but one subset of the technology space - the subset that gets a disproportionately large amount of press coverage and fanfare. So much of the lessons are the kind that you've probably already osmosed from the Paul Graham/Peter Thiel/A360Z/AVC crowd. And if you haven't, then you should probably start with Paul Graham and Peter Thiel rather than jumping into this book, which has a narrower scope and doesn't make much effort to make clear the context. That's okay, since it's aimed at the specific crowd, but just be aware if you're not of that crowd and thinking of reading this book. Ben tells the story from the technical CEO perspective, which is a fairly rare perspective to get, given the depth of Ben's experience: Note that Paul Graham only walked the walk through a ~50 million dollar acquisition, and never faced the challenges of being the CEO of a publicly traded corporation. Peter Thiel did, but is ultimately a non-technical founder. Besides, the PayPal mafia is fairly cagey about the war stories around PayPal given the extent of the internal fights (e.g. the ouster of Elon Musk from CEO) that they want to cover up. Much of the other available writings are from the V.C. perspective, and lack founder experience. Thus, this book does give us an opportunity to read the thoughts of a founder CEO all the way through and beyond the IPO stage. But it is by no means a masterpiece that stands alone. It does offer an incremental view if you are primarily interested in the narrow niche of venture backed startups, and serves as a 4 star or 5 star book of anecdotes that have potentially generalizable lessons, if read critically, while fully aware of the appropriate broader context. That's a big asterisk though. So I will attempt to summarize the core lessons that I personally got out of the books, given that I am not solely interested in this space: 1. Being CEO in a fast growth venture startup requires learning at an incredible pace. The job description changes almost completely within 6 months given the growth rate. There isn't any way to get that experience except networking with founders who have previous lived experience as founder CEOs of large companies. This is why, for example, Zuckerberg had long walks with Jobs. A top notch VC firm will definitely help you get that, which is why they are so valuable. The rotating board circuit in the top Silicon Valley firms will provide this, if you can get them to sit on your board (Horowitz, for example, holds Bill Campbell's advice in particularly high esteem). You probably can't, unless Sequioa, Founders Fund, Andreessen-Horowitz, or KPCB is backing you. 2. At the end of the day, you have to make incredibly complex strategic decisions with extremely limited information, which creates crazy stressful environments. 3. To Ben's credit, he does focus on good management, but mostly doesn't add anything new to the corpus. It's mostly the usual good stuff: don't do arbitrary things, don't publicly shame people, don't let people get away with enriching themselves at the company's expense through strong arming, don't do short term things that jeopardize the long term, and if you do, it will rapidly become the culture and will remain permanently broken. Again, a decent coverage of the standard MBA literature covers this space better. 4. Being CEO is a lonely job. You cannot expect your executive team to understand all your decisions given their limited scope. You also cannot spend the time to give them the broader scope all the time, since that takes away from doing their own jobs. But if you don't, they might stop trusting you. It's Catch-22s all the way down. 5. In addition, while the CEO mentor network can help with your emotions, they can't help you with the decisions, since it will take them weeks to get up to speed on the context. You're really on your own on these decisions. 6. It's also emotionally harder when your final decision is 55/45, and you're facing opposition from underlings/your board that is 90/10 the other way, but lack the appropriate context. So you're on the fence leaning one way, but others are convinced that you're wrong. At this point, you should just learn to trust yourself, since you're the only one with the appropriate context. Your board should be more experienced than you, so they should be aware of this information asymmetry. Consequentially, they'll usually just rubberstamp what you decide anyway. This doesn't make the decisions any easier to make. 7. You absolutely need to develop decision making processes that are insulated from your own emotional rollercoaster/insecurity. Ben likes writing things down until the words are convincing on their own. I do too. Whatever your methods are, you will absolutely need to rely on them since you're going to be alone in the decision making processes, and need some check to make sure you're operating logically with no emotional biases. So develop those early. (I personally recommend the LessWrong corpus, but you might find that too kooky. Your choice.) 8. Ben Horowitz really likes rap and hiphop. That's not my thing, but whatever, I can respect his artistic side. Anyone who criticizes him for that aspect of his personality is really missing the point. Context that Ben Horowitz did not mention that I think would have greatly improved the book: 1. The tides are turning, and the days when Venture Capitalists could oust founder CEOs and replace them with "adults" are permanently gone. Zuckerberg, and the fact that founders (like Horowitz and Thiel) now lead top Valley VC firms has permanently changed the landscape. So a lot of the fighting that Ben had to do, and the perpetual underconfidence that he did it with, won't apply to future founder CEOs. This book adds to the growing corpus that helps make your case to not be ousted, which partially obsoletes that aspect of lessons in the book. Ironic, I know. 2. Fast growth tech startups that have a distinctive tech advantage can win despite terribly dysfunctional management. When you're in a greenfield technology space, you can do whatever you want, and still win just from the tech advantage. For example, Valve gets cited a lot for it's "no management" structure, but they sit on a giant money spigot called Steam that just prints money. If I also owned such an oil derrick, I could probably get away with mandatory sex parties every Thursday. This doesn't make the case for workplace orgies. 3. There is great talk about how Ben rescued OpsWare from near disaster through their final acquisition by HP for 1.65 billion dollars. But there is not a single mention of how OpsWare fared post-acquisition. For all I know (and given the next point, I suspect) this was a shitty deal for HP. 4. It doesn't help that Ben Horowitz heavily raided the OpsWare executive team to form the core team at his next venture (the VC firm Andreessen-Horowitz). That can't have been good for OpsWare at all. 5. Ben talks about how you really need your executive team to hit the ground running. You can cover for one executive to get them up to speed, but you can't cover for every executive. Thus, you need to hire top tier talent, often from outside. This is great. But this also forms a good explanation for why top executives often seem to be from a different planet, move in completely different circles, and get paid orders of magnitude more. But Ben doesn't cover any of these pathologies, or how it really is a necessary side-effect of the realities of the executive responsibilities. 6. From Ben's raiding of his previous form for top executive talent, I get an increasing suspicion that the top talent moves in tight-knit teams that gel well together. Your management priority should be to network and form these connections from an early stage (definitely before you found your own VC-backed fast growth startup). If you don't have this focus, you have to develop it at a late stage in the game, and for that you _really_ need top VCs, otherwise you will not be plugged in at all and have no access to these folk.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brad Feld

    This is one of the best books you’ll ever read on entrepreneurship and being a CEO. If you are a CEO, read this book. If you aspire to be a CEO read this book. If you are on a management team and want to understand what a CEO goes through, read this book. If you are interested in entrepreneurship and want to understand it better, read this book. On Friday, I spent the entire day with about 50 of the CEOs of companies we are investors in. Ran This is one of the best books you’ll ever read on entrepreneurship and being a CEO. If you are a CEO, read this book. If you aspire to be a CEO read this book. If you are on a management team and want to understand what a CEO goes through, read this book. If you are interested in entrepreneurship and want to understand it better, read this book. On Friday, I spent the entire day with about 50 of the CEOs of companies we are investors in. Rand Fishkin of Moz put together a full day Foundry Group CEO Summit. It used a format Rand has used before. We broke up into five different groups and has sessions on about ten total topics throughout the day. The groups were fluid – people were organized by category (alpha and beta) but then went to the topic they were interested in. There was a moderator for each session – the first five minutes was each CEO putting up one “top of mind” issue in the topic, and the then balance of the session (75 minutes) was the entire group spending between 5 and 15 minutes on each topic. It was awesome. We finished with a fun dinner at Pizzeria Locale. I drove home with my mind buzzing and arrived around 8pm to see Amy laying on the coach reading a book. So I grabbed by iPad and looked to see what was new on it. I’d pre-ordered Ben’s book so it was in slot number one. It felt fitting to start reading it. At 10:30 I was finished with it. The Hard Thing About Hard Things was the perfect way to cap off a day with the CEOs of the companies we invest in. Trust me on this one. Go buy The Hard Thing About Hard Things right now. Ben – thanks for writing this and putting 100% of your heart into it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Otis Chandler

    I haven’t read many (any?) books that are written by CEO’s for CEO’s. If you are a CEO, aspire to be a CEO, or really, manage anyone - you need to read this book. This quote is perhaps my favorite one from the book. At the top, nobody is there to tell you what to do. It’s easy to look at some leaders and wonder how they knew what to do to become so successful. Are they just really smart? The truth is that they likely did what everyone else in that situation has to do - get scrappy and just figur I haven’t read many (any?) books that are written by CEO’s for CEO’s. If you are a CEO, aspire to be a CEO, or really, manage anyone - you need to read this book. This quote is perhaps my favorite one from the book. At the top, nobody is there to tell you what to do. It’s easy to look at some leaders and wonder how they knew what to do to become so successful. Are they just really smart? The truth is that they likely did what everyone else in that situation has to do - get scrappy and just figure it out - and don’t give up. "Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary cofounder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.” My second favorite quote from the book speaks to one of the greatest challenges all entrepreneurs face: work/life balance. I like to say "work hard, play hard". But sometimes it's easy to forget the play part. Or to buy flowers once in a while. But the cost of those on your health or relationships can cost much more. "As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, then communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don’t." Ben had a lot of great advice on how to hire well, especially executives. Looking to avoid reactionary big company execs when you need someone who will come in and get stuff done proactively. Looking for people who can think on their feet and not make everything a nail for the hammer of their prior experience by asking “How will your new job differ from your current one?” Looking for people who are mission driven and use the “team” prism instead of the “me” prism. He also had advice about onboarding, and training. Hiring for strength instead of lack of weakness. I’ve definitely seen instances of this - where a candidate is great in some areas that we really need but isn’t great at everything. Knowing what you value most is critical here - and I fully admit - not easy to do. "I’d learned the hard way that when hiring executives, one should follow Colin Powell’s instructions and hire for strength rather than lack of weakness." On hiring internally vs externally. Internal candidates across often do better, which is a great thing to think about when building a team. "when it comes to CEO succession, internal candidates dramatically outperform external candidates . The core reason is knowledge. Knowledge of technology, prior decisions, culture, personnel, and more tends to be far more difficult to acquire than the skills required to manage a larger organization." One of my favorite sections was "Managing strictly by numbers is like painting by numbers". No matter how well you instrument your metrics and goals, you can ever perfectly encapsulate everything you need your company to be doing. Innovation is often like this - with many big innovations the team will often struggle to find how it drives value as it doesn’t seem to hit the core metric. But they can all agree it will improve things. I think a big part of the CEO’s job is to have a strong product vision, and to not compromise on it. "I often see teams that maniacally focus on their metrics around customer acquisition and retention. This usually works well for customer acquisition, but not so well for retention. Why? For many products, metrics often describe the customer acquisition goal in enough detail to provide sufficient management guidance. In contrast, the metrics for customer retention do not provide enough color to be a complete management tool. As a result, many young companies overemphasize retention metrics and do not spend enough time going deep enough on the actual user experience. This generally results in a frantic numbers chase that does not end in a great product." Ben talked about the difference between CEO’s who can set direction for a company (often founding CEO’s) and those can can operationally run it as it grows. How great CEOs need to be good at both, and founding CEOs who don’t scale are those who don’t learn the operational side. And conversely, operational CEOs who don’t get good at making decisions about direction will fail. Ben talked about how "Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions." The strength of those decisions is built upon having data. Data about what customers think. Data about what employees think. Data about the metrics. A CEO has to be a constant data accumulating machine. Another nuance was that a CEO can make a decision at any point in time with the data they have now, identify what data would change their mind, and seek it out. "Great CEOs build exceptional strategies for gathering the required information continuously. They embed their quest for intelligence into all of their daily actions from staff meetings to customer meetings to one-on-ones. Winning strategies are built on comprehensive knowledge gathered in every interaction the CEO has with an employee, a customer, a partner, or an investor." Ben’s stories about Loudcloud and Opsware and the Hard Things he dealt with were impressive. I do think they spread too much throughout the book and would have been better concentrated in one part of the book and supplemented by more examples from other companies. But that doesn’t detract from one can learn from them. It was strange that he opens each chapter with rap lyrics - that often seem very disconnected to the chapter. I guess he likes rap - but still… Pretty cool Ben had Michael Ovitz as an advisor. And that he modeled A16Z after CAA - where instead of independent agents/VCs, have a shared network - and invest in strategic networks that will help the companies. Michael Ovitz on dealmaking: “Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done." One interesting tendency Ben points out is that “When a company starts to lose its major battles, the truth often becomes the first casualty.”. You have to be vigilant in looking for the truth, and have backbone spot it. The reason for this, is that "humans, particularly those who build things, only listen to leading indicators of good news." Which is so true! We can always find reasons to excuse away bad news, and reasons to believe good news means more than it should. Ben closes with a quote I really believe in - life is about the journey, not the destination. So you have to embrace the journey. Be so mission driven that the struggles you inevitably face are worth it. "Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric Lin

    If you got advice from someone you found really annoying - even if it was good advice from an interesting perspective - would you be able to get over how annoying the person talking your ear off is? That's basically where I am with this book. I think his advice is really interesting, and it's clear that a lot of the lessons he's learned throughout the course of his career were earned with blood and sweat, but ultimately, I'm not sure I can get past how annoying I found the voice he was w If you got advice from someone you found really annoying - even if it was good advice from an interesting perspective - would you be able to get over how annoying the person talking your ear off is? That's basically where I am with this book. I think his advice is really interesting, and it's clear that a lot of the lessons he's learned throughout the course of his career were earned with blood and sweat, but ultimately, I'm not sure I can get past how annoying I found the voice he was writing in. - He sets up the most epic humblebrag ever, first by talking about this Bill Campbell guy and how awesome he is, and what a great mentor Bill Campbell is to people like Jeff Bezos. Then at the end of the book he introduces one of the chapters by sharing that Bill Campbell told him he (Ben) was the best CEO he's ever worked with. Nice. - He uses rap lyrics from the Trinidad James "All Gold Everything" song to make a really relevant tie-in to the topic he's discussing because he likes the lyrics I guess? But I really want to take advice from someone who will take a break from bragging about shit to drop some Trinidad James. That really makes me feel like this guy's not just any CEO. He's a cool CEO. - He is one of those people who reads The Art of War and tries too hard to apply it to business situations. - Isn't it cool that he curses at work? Btw profanity can be great when used on purpose by a CEO to make a point. Btw profanity can be great when used on purpose by a CEO to make a point. Btw profanity can be great when used on purpose by a CEO to make a point. (Fuck. Sorry. That's about how many times in the book he makes this point.) - Even though he's supposedly a Kingkiller and done all this other cool shit, by the end of the first book, Kvothe has done basically nothing. Okay, I'm drinking too much haterade and all the books I don't like are blurring together. I'm cutting myself off.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chris Johnson

    This is the very best business book I have ever read. I would estimate that I've read roughly 1,000. I've loved maybe 100. This one is in it's own category, a book that both documents the times about 12-15 years ago and paints a picture of what we can do today. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I cannot say more strongly: read it. If you know me - email me at my personal address and I'll buy it for you. There are a few things that happen to an entrepreneur. I've face This is the very best business book I have ever read. I would estimate that I've read roughly 1,000. I've loved maybe 100. This one is in it's own category, a book that both documents the times about 12-15 years ago and paints a picture of what we can do today. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I cannot say more strongly: read it. If you know me - email me at my personal address and I'll buy it for you. There are a few things that happen to an entrepreneur. I've faced down the belly of the 'no cash, people might find out that we are phonies' thing a few times, but this adds a vocabulary to the emotions that I've felt off and on all my life. These are my people, this is what I aspire to be, how I aspire to live, and the journey I aspire to take. Some will say that the book is for funded startups - and I'm a 'hustler for life'. I say nonsense: the struggle scales. It is just as scary fighting for your own personal livelihood as it is fighting for the jobs of 300 people. There is practical information: how to conduct a review, how to live your life how move forward. I can't say more strongly: if anything I've said has ever moved you over the years go out and buy this book. A couple things: I missed my spot on the standby list because I was so engrossed in this book. I *literally* cried during a story of how they dealt with an employe's cancer during a merger.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

    It's hard for me give this a rating, as I haven't really read many other how-to business books. I liked the narrative section at the beginning of the book a bit better than the tactical advice section, but I think that's probably just how I prefer to get information. There are some great lessons in here for non-CEOs, but I suspect it's even more valuable for those who have founded and/or run a company. I think most relevant and/or interesting to me were: * Hiring for strength rather t It's hard for me give this a rating, as I haven't really read many other how-to business books. I liked the narrative section at the beginning of the book a bit better than the tactical advice section, but I think that's probably just how I prefer to get information. There are some great lessons in here for non-CEOs, but I suspect it's even more valuable for those who have founded and/or run a company. I think most relevant and/or interesting to me were: * Hiring for strength rather than lack of weakness. If you're bringing someone new onto the team, really think hard about what strengths are most important for the job and find someone who is world class at those things. If that person isn't as strong at everything else on your check-list, don't sweat it. * Importance of one-on-ones as a management technique. It's sort of incredible that people can manage without one-on-one meetings, but I guess it happens. The big breakthrough (or at least, the one that I hadn't put into words before) is that it's the employee's meeting, rather than the manager's. I mean, duh, but still a good framework for thinking about the meeting. * As a CEO, you don't have time to develop your direct reports. I suspect this is really difficult for many CEOs to deal with at first. I know it would be tough for me. But it makes sense -- at that level, you just have to be able to do the job with minimal-to-no developmental runway. Anyway, for my first management book, this one was fun and readable and very honest. Also lots of hip-hop quotes, for those who roll that way.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    This is not a book that I think many general readers would enjoy. The first part is about the author's experiences building and running various tech companies and is fairly interesting. Most of it, though, is a huge compendium of short bits of management advice that gets very tedious. It might be of interest if I were looking for a how-to book, but, even so, it seems to be based pretty heavily on the author's own experience, i.e., "I did this. I was successful. Ergo, this is the right thing to d This is not a book that I think many general readers would enjoy. The first part is about the author's experiences building and running various tech companies and is fairly interesting. Most of it, though, is a huge compendium of short bits of management advice that gets very tedious. It might be of interest if I were looking for a how-to book, but, even so, it seems to be based pretty heavily on the author's own experience, i.e., "I did this. I was successful. Ergo, this is the right thing to do." I suppose that is better than taking advice from a failure, but I would prefer more than one sample point. I read it based on a positive mention in The Economist. I guess they are better at commentary than book recommendations.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Laurel (The Trusty Bookmark)

    If one of your executives becomes a big jerk dog, you have to send her to the pound Woof. (Pun intended.) This was nothing like I expected, and not in a particularly good way. The subtitle “Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” led me to believe this would be a useful book for a budding entrepreneur, but the term “building” is rather misleading. This covers a great deal of “already very established business” issues in great detail, such as hiring and firing executives, designing an org If one of your executives becomes a big jerk dog, you have to send her to the pound Woof. (Pun intended.) This was nothing like I expected, and not in a particularly good way. The subtitle “Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” led me to believe this would be a useful book for a budding entrepreneur, but the term “building” is rather misleading. This covers a great deal of “already very established business” issues in great detail, such as hiring and firing executives, designing an organization’s hierarchy, and conducting layoffs. I probably should’ve DNFd it after the first half, but every now and then a useful little tidbit would pop up and I would keep listening (audiobooks for nonfiction, always). I think essentially this book was neither my style (I mean...serious eye roll at that quote above) nor provided information I found useful. Coupled with my issues with the overall structure, I had to go with 1 star. The structure started out well and I was hopeful. Horowitz provided a solid chronological background of his life and business experience through the first three chapters. And the next few chapters did in fact provide advice for entrepreneurs of startup-level companies; bits like his advice to “look for a market of one” and “ignore the thirty guaranteed rejections” were very engaging. But soon after, it became a lost cause. “Advanced business” advice was intermixed with stories from his own career, and the constant timeline jumping (between years and companies) was ridiculously confusing. From there, the structure felt completely abandoned in favor of a rambling stream of consciousness about any business-related topic that came to mind. All-in-all, it was incredibly difficult to find the motivation to finish this book (and I was passively listening to an audiobook...there was very little effort required). There was a great deal of profanity and casual usage of terms like depression that left a sour taste in my mouth. On top of that, Horowitz came across as a rather aggressive, abrasive person with little regard for how his words and actions might affect those around him. I understand that he’s facing pressures and challenges of running gigantic businesses that I will never understand (particularly during his “war periods”), and he certainly provided examples of when he was thoughtful towards other people (like paying for the medical treatments of the ex-CEO of a company he purchased). However, his approach to other people and evident lack of empathy is just not my style, nor something I enjoyed listening to for an entire audiobook. Too much of this book was spent in excruciating detail on his own companies and deals rather than providing advice and information transferable or usable by other entrepreneurs. Perhaps with better structure his intentions would have been clearer (e.g. lesson topic, story, reiterate lesson), but for the majority of this book, I felt like I was listening to stories with no concept of their relevancy or why I should care. There was also just a level of toxic masculinity (show no weakness, display unrelenting confidence) and aggressiveness displayed in this book that soured most of the messages for me. While some of the advice was useful (his emphasis on hiring for strengths rather than weaknesses), I just didn’t click with this book. The Trusty Bookmark | Instagram | Pinterest

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    Ben Horowitz joined Netscape in the very early days and proceeded to ride the internet wave all the way up, all the way down, and everywhere in between over the course of his career. In this memoir/business advice book, he recounts choice moments from his extensive career and shares information he found important along the way. In a world filled with Rah-Rah You Can Do It! business books, I found the tone of this book incredibly refreshing. The opening paragraph gets right to the poin Ben Horowitz joined Netscape in the very early days and proceeded to ride the internet wave all the way up, all the way down, and everywhere in between over the course of his career. In this memoir/business advice book, he recounts choice moments from his extensive career and shares information he found important along the way. In a world filled with Rah-Rah You Can Do It! business books, I found the tone of this book incredibly refreshing. The opening paragraph gets right to the point that it doesn't matter how much you believe in your company when your market has crashed, your funding is disappearing and your employees are revolting. The key to really being a successful entrepreneur has less to do with your vision and more to do with your ability to make good decisions when there are nothing but bad and worse options to choose from. Horowitz' personal stories were the most interesting part of the book; particularly gripping was his tale about desperately trying to raise money right after the NASDAQ crash when his company was on the verge of bankruptcy and his wife was undergoing a major health crisis. He is incredibly honest as he talks about the sheer terror, the sleepless nights, the nausea and the incredible emotional toll trying to right a failing ship takes on the entrepreneurial soul. In the middle section of the book, he offers more specific advice drawn from things he has learned over the years, including an interesting discussion on the difference between hiring for strength instead of for lack of weakness. Much of this section won't be useful for people outside the tech industry, however, as I don't think issues like how to handle job applications from people who work for your other CEO friends are likely to apply outside the small world of Silicon Valley. A lot of his advice also applies to people who are running companies with hundreds if not thousands of employees. Despite not being in that world, however, I still found this book a useful read. Given how grueling starting and running a company is, it's helpful to get signposts from someone who has been through as much as Horowitz has.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Summer

    I can't take insights from someone who has so little insight about himself. Cases in point: As a white boy, you do not have to call yourself the "Jackie Robinson of barbecue". You can just say you are good at barbecuing. Or say nothing, really because it's irrelevant. That fact that your grandfather once WENT to a black neighborhood is not a story. Seriously you should not tell people that, because IT'S NOT A STORY. The fact that you bullied your wife into going on her first date with you, is ki I can't take insights from someone who has so little insight about himself. Cases in point: As a white boy, you do not have to call yourself the "Jackie Robinson of barbecue". You can just say you are good at barbecuing. Or say nothing, really because it's irrelevant. That fact that your grandfather once WENT to a black neighborhood is not a story. Seriously you should not tell people that, because IT'S NOT A STORY. The fact that you bullied your wife into going on her first date with you, is kind of a story... but it doesn't reflect well on you. I wish I could get past these things because Horowitz undoubtedly know much more about business than I do. But no. I'm out.

  11. 4 out of 5

    WhatIReallyRead

    This is the kind of book I put on my "to re-read" shelf while I'm reading it. A great way to wrap up my 2018 reading year. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is probably the best business/management book I've read to date. Ben Horowitz doesn't feed you feel-good bullshit which is abundant in business/leadership books. He's not a consultant/trainer selling his leadership knowledge. He was the founder & CEO of a company that was close to bankruptcy multiple times, which he ultimately sold for This is the kind of book I put on my "to re-read" shelf while I'm reading it. A great way to wrap up my 2018 reading year. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is probably the best business/management book I've read to date. Ben Horowitz doesn't feed you feel-good bullshit which is abundant in business/leadership books. He's not a consultant/trainer selling his leadership knowledge. He was the founder & CEO of a company that was close to bankruptcy multiple times, which he ultimately sold for over a billion dollars. He knows what it's like. He names and addresses the really tough questions which most of the books ignore. How do you demote a friend? How do you lay off great people because money is scarce without making all the other employees run? How do you promote and give raises in a way that inspires people rather than motivates politics? What do you do with a genius expert who is a bad employee? Etc. etc. etc. He doesn't sugar-coat the fact that you'll probably have incomplete information, may lack competency and feel terrified while making difficult and important decisions. But you still have to make them. There are no easy answers - that's the hard thing about hard things. But Horowitz offers the best he can - his own experience, things to consider, some techniques and their consequences. Some of these issues hit close to home and made me emotional while reading. He is honest. It felt very refreshing to read an author who tells is it like it is, without pretending he knows everything and can sell you a pill for every maladie. The book has some great advice and things to think about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josh Steimle

    I rarely read the same book twice, but I'm going to do just that with this book. In fact, I'm considering reading it once a month for the next year until everything in it is ingrained in my consciousness. Why? Because this book has the lessons I need in my business, right now. I'm in the midst of hiring my core team that is going to help us grow. I've gone through, and continue to go through, many of the challenges faced by Horowitz, albeit with fewer zeros on the ends of all the numbers. This b I rarely read the same book twice, but I'm going to do just that with this book. In fact, I'm considering reading it once a month for the next year until everything in it is ingrained in my consciousness. Why? Because this book has the lessons I need in my business, right now. I'm in the midst of hiring my core team that is going to help us grow. I've gone through, and continue to go through, many of the challenges faced by Horowitz, albeit with fewer zeros on the ends of all the numbers. This book has definitely made it into my "top 10 books all entrepreneurs must read" list. I only give five stars to books I believe everyone should read. This book isn't a must-read for everyone, but if you're an entrepreneur it has five stars for you. Update March, 2015. I've read it three times. Starting on the fourth time. Yes, it's that good and useful. Update March, 2015. Four times. Every time I read it I learn several new things that are directly applicable to my business, right now.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Lewis Kozoriz

    "Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don't know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness." (Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Page 274) Written by Billionaire Ben Horowtiz, founder and former CEO of Opsware. A silicone valley company, which he later sold to HP for 1.65 billion dollars. And he now is a venture capitalist, who funds mainly up and "Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don't know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness." (Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Page 274) Written by Billionaire Ben Horowtiz, founder and former CEO of Opsware. A silicone valley company, which he later sold to HP for 1.65 billion dollars. And he now is a venture capitalist, who funds mainly up and coming technology companies. Previously, he was a project manager at Netscape and has been in the silicone valley landscape his whole life. This book shares his struggles and successes as CEO of Opsware, and how he founded his venture capital firm with his partner Marc Andreessen, who is also a billionaire. There were instructions on how to hire the right CEO, how to find the right employees, if you should keep or sell your company, how to handle performance management, dealing with shareholders... Basically, he built a technology company and sold it for a billion dollars and now does venture capitalism. The trend I am seeing in reading billionaire books is that they build a company of value, take it public, generate millions and sometimes billions of dollars, sell it for millions or billions and then take life a little more easy and become an authority on business. This is the same story repeated here.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    Superb and unique book for its target reader - the founding CEO of a software company. Real, practical guidance that no one else has covered in a business book. Becomes rapidly less applicable the farther the reader is from the target. A few useful nuggets for non-founding CEOs, executives of non-software firms, and non-CEO founders, but this is by no means a generalist book on entrepreneurship or "business". Largely collected from Horowitz' blog, so regular readers there w Superb and unique book for its target reader - the founding CEO of a software company. Real, practical guidance that no one else has covered in a business book. Becomes rapidly less applicable the farther the reader is from the target. A few useful nuggets for non-founding CEOs, executives of non-software firms, and non-CEO founders, but this is by no means a generalist book on entrepreneurship or "business". Largely collected from Horowitz' blog, so regular readers there will not find too much new. It also suffers from blog collection syndrome, meaning the structure of discrete essays precludes much of a continuous line and results in some distracting repetition. Also some unintended cut-and-paste ephemera (e.g., a reference to "the commenter above"). Still, downright excellent overall and I suspect massively helpful to any founding CEO of a software company.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a book set firmly, despite desperately trying to appear otherwise, in the "entrepreneur as hero" genre. This guy really believes that he, and he alone, could make or break a company. Breathlessly he tells of how he faced "total destruction" and personal bankruptcy in one company he was involved with. Really? Not smart enough to invest any of your cash in your wife's name? He talks of putting "first things first", with his family firmly at the top of the value tree, and then blithely expl This is a book set firmly, despite desperately trying to appear otherwise, in the "entrepreneur as hero" genre. This guy really believes that he, and he alone, could make or break a company. Breathlessly he tells of how he faced "total destruction" and personal bankruptcy in one company he was involved with. Really? Not smart enough to invest any of your cash in your wife's name? He talks of putting "first things first", with his family firmly at the top of the value tree, and then blithely explains about twenty pages later how he left his (admittedly gorgeous, sexy, life and soul of any party, but level headed too) wife ill and near to death at home while he continued with an IPO roadshow. Of course, first he got his seriously ill (still sexy) wife on the 'phone to tell him she was alright with the decision. Sorted, eh? No doubt who was the "first thing first" in that situation then. But, when you have balls the size of Jupiter, there is no doubt who wears the trousers and a man has to do what a man has to do. After all, there are some of his - HIS - employees, people who rely on HIM to buy their kids shoes, who will be facing ruin if he can't pull off this IPO. (We know this, because two pages previously he has told us how he had to fire some of them. To preserve the bottom line,) A cross between Indiana Jones and, possibly, Jesus, this man has it all. And that's just in the first thirty pages. Reading it, if you can suffer it, you are left in no doubt how these Silicon Valley swashbucklers changed the world. These guys could borrow a hundred million from the massively smart and credible bankers at Deutsche Bank just by the way they stood. (These are the same bankers, remember, who changed the world too in 2008, with their massive brains and intellect. And clearly the bankers knew a fellow Big Swinging Dick when they saw one. Or at least they recognised part of that phrase.) Reading on, trying to ignore each chapter that begins with a quote from a rapper (bro') - I mean is this guy down with the street, or what? - I really began to genuinely giggle at the absurdity of it all. With a dawning sense of horror, you realise that maybe Donald "The Art of the Deal" Trump is actually quite humble. Nevertheless, the anecdotes keep coming. Did you realise that innovation requires combination of knowledge, skill and courage? But that sometimes it takes the founder to ignore the data and take the courage to innovate? Empires have been ruined over twaddle like this, but, you know what? F*** what you think, loser. History, and business books, are written by winners. As I write this, I am just about to read a chapter on how to demote a good friend. Hmmm. How about not employing good friends in the first place, like anyone with any sense would do? Sensitively, he lets us know how to fire someone and preserve their dignity. Remember that they will feel some shame and embarrassment. Really? That would never have occurred to me. About halfway through and running out of sick bags, I threw in the towel with this book. My cojones clearly weren't big enough to take the tough talking and I went back to Enid Blyton who, surprisingly, has more to say about human behaviour than this balloon does.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt Kurleto

    This book was a game changer for me. I started reading it in the middle of my biggest struggle as a founder and CEO of Neoteric (#32 on Deloitte Technology Fast 50 CE). It was recommended by my co-founder, Mateusz Paprocki. Ben shares tough stories here. He says what he fucked up and how did he manage to make it up. It helped me to trust my instincts and bet my decisions during company transformation on the values I live by. It's only 1 month since I started implementing the changes and I a This book was a game changer for me. I started reading it in the middle of my biggest struggle as a founder and CEO of Neoteric (#32 on Deloitte Technology Fast 50 CE). It was recommended by my co-founder, Mateusz Paprocki. Ben shares tough stories here. He says what he fucked up and how did he manage to make it up. It helped me to trust my instincts and bet my decisions during company transformation on the values I live by. It's only 1 month since I started implementing the changes and I already see a huge improvement of both business and personal life. I wish I had read this book 2 years earlier. I recommend it to anyone who has entered fast growth. I hit the glass roof before adopting - you don't have to and this book can help you prepare.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anshu

    Horowitz is the most prominent VC firm in the valley. This book depicts great stories about the struggle from Horowitz. Initial few chapters are good and the reader gets more curious especially how his business was transformed from selling cloud solutions to pure software based. How they pivot on initial phase. However, after 2-3 chapters, I got lost since this book turned into management/leadership lessons. That's the point I got lost. I was hoping that Horowitz will talk more about personal jo Horowitz is the most prominent VC firm in the valley. This book depicts great stories about the struggle from Horowitz. Initial few chapters are good and the reader gets more curious especially how his business was transformed from selling cloud solutions to pure software based. How they pivot on initial phase. However, after 2-3 chapters, I got lost since this book turned into management/leadership lessons. That's the point I got lost. I was hoping that Horowitz will talk more about personal journies, his investment journies and the struggle that the funded startups faced. Good learnings though. I had to skip few pages just after glancing those.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bülent Duagi

    It's a must read if you're into management + tech. The hard thing about hard things is that nobody and nothing really prepares you for them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrii Moscovchuk

    Great book about business, Struggle, friends and persistence What I really liked about this book is that it's very personal. Ben Horowitz just shares his own experience, including mistakes and painful moments. It's a book about running a company, about managing, giving feedback, hiring and firing people, creating process, deciding when to pivot or when to go public. But it's even more a book about forming your character, dealing with fear and doing what matters. Recommend it to/> Great book about business, Struggle, friends and persistence What I really liked about this book is that it's very personal. Ben Horowitz just shares his own experience, including mistakes and painful moments. It's a book about running a company, about managing, giving feedback, hiring and firing people, creating process, deciding when to pivot or when to go public. But it's even more a book about forming your character, dealing with fear and doing what matters. Recommend it to people who are interested in creating their own business. Also a good read for people who are working on forming their character" Some quotes: "By far the most difficult skill I learned as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring, and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared with keeping my mind in check. I thought I was tough going into it, but I wasn’t tough. I was soft." "I tell my kids, what is the difference between a hero and a coward? What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do. But they both feel the same, the hero and the coward. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel" - CUS D'AMATO, LEGENDARY BOXING TRAINER "COURAGE, LIKE CHARACTER, CAN BE DEVELOPED In all the difficult decisions that I made through the course of running Loudcloud and Opsware, I never once felt brave. In fact, I often felt scared to death. I never lost those feelings, but after much practice I learned to ignore them. That learning process might also be called the courage development process. In life, everybody faces choices between doing what’s popular, easy, and wrong versus doing what’s lonely, difficult, and right. ... Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly" "Until you make the effort to get to know someone or something, you don’t know anything. There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all" "My old boss Jim Barksdale was fond of saying, “We take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order.” It’s a simple saying, but it’s deep. “Taking care of the people” is the most difficult of the three by far and if you don’t do it, the other two won’t matter. Taking care of the people means that your company is a good place to work." "Now that we’d improved our competitive position, we went on the offensive. In my weekly staff meeting, I inserted an agenda item titled “What Are We Not Doing?” Ordinarily in a staff meeting, you spend lots of time reviewing, evaluating, and improving all of the things that you do: build products, sell products, support customers, hire employees, and the like. Sometimes, however, the things you’re not doing are the things you should actually be focused on." "Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same." "Every really good, really experienced CEO I know shares one important characteristic: They tend to opt for the hard answer to organizational issues. If faced with giving everyone the same bonus to make things easy or with sharply rewarding performance and ruffling many feathers, they’ll ruffle the feathers. If given the choice of cutting a popular project today, because it’s not in the long-term plans or you’re keeping it around for morale purposes and to appear consistent, they'll cut it today. Why? Because they've paid the price of management debt, and they would rather not do that again" "To make matters more complicated, my second daughter, Mariah, had been diagnosed with autism, which made working at a startup a terrible burden for our family, as I needed to spend more time at home. One very hot day my father came over for a visit. We could not afford air-conditioning, and all three children were crying as my father and I sat there sweating in the 105-degree heat. My father turned to me and said, “Son, do you know what’s cheap?” Since I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, I replied, “No, what?” “Flowers. Flowers are really cheap. But do you know what’s expensive?” he asked. Again, I replied, “No, what?” He said, “Divorce.” Something about that joke, which was not really a joke, made me realize that I had run out of time. Up until that point, I had not really made any serious choices. I felt like I had unlimited bandwidth and could do everything in life that I wanted to do simultaneously. But his joke made it suddenly clear that by continuing on the course I was on, I might lose my family. By doing everything, I would fail at the most important thing. It was the first time that I forced myself to look at the world through priorities that were not purely my own. I thought that I could pursue my career, all my interests, and build my family. More important, I always thought about myself first. When you are part of a family or part of a group, that kind of thinking can get you into trouble, and I was in deep trouble. In my mind, I was confident that I was a good person and not selfish, but my actions said otherwise. I had to stop being a boy and become a man. I had to put first things first. I had to consider the people who I cared about most before considering myself." "During acquisition talks, both sides had agreed that Tangram’s CFO, John Nelli, would not become part of Opsware. But during the time between signing and close, John began to get severe headaches. His doctors discovered that he had brain cancer. Because he would not be an Opsware employee and it was a preexisting condition, he would not be eligible for health insurance under our plan. The cost of the treatment without health insurance would likely bankrupt his family. I asked my head of HR what it would cost to keep him on the payroll long enough to qualify for COBRA and what COBRA would cost. It wasn’t cheap—about $200,000. This was a significant amount of money for a company in our situation. On top of that, we barely knew John and technically we didn’t “owe” him anything. This wasn’t our problem. We were fighting for our lives. We were fighting for our lives, but he was about to lose his. I decided to pay for his health costs and find the money elsewhere in the budget. I never expected to hear anything else about that decision, but fifteen months later I received a handwritten letter from John’s wife letting me know that John had died. She wrote that she was absolutely shocked that I would help a total stranger and his family and that I had saved her from total despair. She went on for several paragraphs saying that she didn’t know why I did it, but it enabled her to continue living and she was eternally grateful. I guess I did it because I knew what desperation felt like."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Louis

    Some interesting insights, but nothing life-changing. I often felt like he was trying too hard to draw generalizations based on his experience at one particular company (Loudcloud/Opsware). And it's bizarre that he introduces each chapter with rap lyrics, often without any obvious connection to the chapter's topic.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jan Antonin Kolar

    No bullshit book about firing people you love and a surviving guide for the worst possible scenario in a company.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eugene

    great lessons about running startups, hiring people, managing people, being ceo in good and bad times. I liked the direct style of the writing with almost zero self advertisements.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ali Sattari

    AKA: bullshit-free insights on management and leadership.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Herve

    “Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing “Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare. The problem with these books is that they attempt to provide a recipe for challenges that have no recipes. There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations. There’s no recipe for building a high-tech company; there’s no recipe for making a series of hit songs; there’s no recipe for playing NFL quarterback; there’s no recipe for running for president; and there’s no recipe for motivating teams when your business has gone to crap. That’s the hard thing about hard things— there is no formula for dealing with them.” This is how begins The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz [see page ix]. After a first chapter about his experience in start-ups (Netscape, LoudCloud), Horowitz gives advice to entrepreneurs. And it is not business school-like advice indeed. Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups? Ben: “What? Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria, and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both. [Page 21] Marc is Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, with whom he co-founded VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z.com) in 2009. “People often ask me how we’ve managed to work efficiently across three companies over eighteen years. Most business relationships either become too tense to tolerate or not tense enough to be productive after a while. Either people challenge each other to the point where they don’t like each other or they become complacent about each other’s feedback and not longer benefit from the relationship. With Marc and me, even after eighteen years, he upsets me almost every day by finding something wrong with my thinking, and I do the same for hi. It works.” [Page 14] I began my review by quoting the first page. I will quote here with his final page: “Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness. When I first became a CEO, I genuinely thought that I was the only one struggling. Whenever I spoke to other CEOs, they all seemed like they had everything under control. Their businesses were always going “fantastic” and their experience was inevitably “amazing”. But as I watched my peers’ fantastic, amazing businesses go bankrupt and sell for cheap, I realized I was probably not the only one struggling.” […] “Embrace your weirdness, your background, your instinct. If the keys are not there, they do not exist.”[Page 275] Again the book is not an easy read. It is more advice about processes than anything else, so you may not enjoy the book if you do not need to apply it now. If you are not an ambitious entrepreneur who needs to scale his venture, reading the book may not be useful. Still it is a great book. Let me give you a couple of examples. “Figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage. Sometimes only the founder has the courage to ignore the data.” [Page 50] Funnily enough, Horowitz quotes Thiel. (By the way, quotes on the back page supporting Horowitz’s book are from Page, Zuckerberg, Costolo and Thiel…) “I don’t believe in statistics, I believe in calculus”. And his advice “when things fall apart” are - Don’t put it all on your shoulders. - This is not checkers, this is motherfuckin’ chess. - Play long enough and you might get lucky. - Don’t take it personally. - Remember that this is what separates the women from the girls. I summarize his advice from pages 64 to 93 as when things fall apart, face the truth and tell the truth. Tell the truth to your employees, tell the truth to your future ex-colleagues, tell the truth to your friends and more importantly, tell the truth to yourself. I understand now why Andreessen-Horowitz is seen as a firm which has put in place tons of processes. Horowitz describes many tasks founders should be utmost careful about. Taking care of people, first. He also describes how you can do mistakes by trying to do good. Just one example: “our hockey stick [the shape of the revenue graph over the quarter] was so bad that one quarter we booked 90% of our new bookings on the last day of the quarter. […] I designed an incentive to closed deals in the first two months. […] As a result, the next quarter was more linear and slightly smaller… deals just moved from the third month to the first two months of the following quarter.” Other interesting examples are about smart people and bad employees. “Sometimes, you will have a player that’s so good that you hold the bus for him, but only him.” And senior (old) people: “When the head of engineering gets promoted from within, she often succeeds. When the head of sales gets promoted from within, she almost always fails”. [Page 172] Horowitz explains also there is not one rule, it is company-dependent. Andreessen favors giving titles easily, Zuckerberg has opposite views. “Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt as an entrepreneur was to focus on what I needed to get right and stop worrying about all the things that I did wrong or might go wrong.” [Page 200] Again focus on the strengths, not the weaknesses. Ones and Twos Horowitz quotes Collins’ “Good to Great”. “Internal candidates dramatically outperform external candidates.” And then adds that “Collins does not explain why internal candidates sometimes fail as well”. There are “two core skills for running an organization: First, knowing what to do. Second, getting the company to do what you know. While being a great CEO requires both skills, most CEOs tend to be more comfortable with one or the other. I call managers who are happier setting the direction of the company Ones and those who more enjoy making the company perform at the highest level Twos.” When they are not competent at both, “Ones end up in chaos and Twos fail to pivot when necessary.” [Pages 214, 216] Horowitz shows that great CEOs need vision like Steve Jobs had, competence in implementing like Andy Grove had, and ambition like Bill Campbell. One of Horowitz favorites references is indeed Andy Grove and his “High output Management.” Horowitz shows how much respect is has for Jobs and Campbell, but the systematic processes remain his favorite, therefore Grove. Wartime/peacetime Horowitz also strongly believes that “life is struggle” (quoting Karl Marx) and that CEOs have to be ready to be both peacetime CEOs (when a company has a large advantage over competition in a growing market – Eric Schmid at Google until Page took over) and wartime CEOs (companies facing existential threats – Grove at Intel when they switched from memories to microprocessors or Jobs at Apple when he came back). “Be aware that management books tend to be written by management consultants who study successful companies during their times of peace. As a result, the books describe the methods of peacetime CEOs. In fact, other than the books written by Andy Grove, I don’t know of any management books that teach you how to manage in wartime like Steve Jobs or Andy Grove.” [Page 228] Horowitz hates the idea that founders should be replaced, that companies need professional CEOs who know how to scale companies or who “should be the number-one salesperson.” CEOs define the Strategy (“The story and the strategy are the same thing.”) and do Decision making (“with speed and quality”). You may like the “Freaky Friday Management Technique” [Page 252] and “Should You Sell Your Company?” [Page 257] but let me finish with some of his final thoughts: “First technical founders are the best people to run technology companies”. […] “Second, it is incredibly difficult for technical founders to learn to become CEOs while building companies.” [Page 268] Which is why VCs should help these founders becoming CEOs, by helping them acquire the skill set as well as building a network. Finally if you wonder why Andreessen-Horowitz web-site is www.a16z.com, you just have to count the number of letters in the name between the a and the z…

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zora

    6 stars. Even 10 stars. This is the best business book I've ever read. Hands down. Just like building a company, its gritty. It's a book about the hard things. I think part of the reason I loved this book so much is because it struck an emotional cord. I've been through those sleepless nights, lived through months of those pit in the gut, sick, 'I think I might vomit' feelings. During certain chapters I got chills. For a moment, the hair on my back and arms raised. I felt that humbling, pit in m 6 stars. Even 10 stars. This is the best business book I've ever read. Hands down. Just like building a company, its gritty. It's a book about the hard things. I think part of the reason I loved this book so much is because it struck an emotional cord. I've been through those sleepless nights, lived through months of those pit in the gut, sick, 'I think I might vomit' feelings. During certain chapters I got chills. For a moment, the hair on my back and arms raised. I felt that humbling, pit in my stomach feeling creep in. I've never before read a business book like this one. This book is refreshing because it's real. It's not like the typical "build your business... effective leadership... 7 steps to..." books that help you build your company when it's still yet a dream, or in the very beginning stage of its life. Anyone who has built a company or runs a company (or companies) knows that it's HARD. This book is about those hard things. Absolutely brilliant.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    This was possibly the most useful management book I have ever read. Ben's personal stories along with key lessons and advice on how to handle those difficult decisions was amazing. I'm not sure it would be of value to anyone who's not a founder CEO. However I think it's a must read for all founder CEOs who are in the process of building a big company, or trying to. I should also throw in that's its a bit scary. Sometimes while in the grind you hold hope that someday everything will ju This was possibly the most useful management book I have ever read. Ben's personal stories along with key lessons and advice on how to handle those difficult decisions was amazing. I'm not sure it would be of value to anyone who's not a founder CEO. However I think it's a must read for all founder CEOs who are in the process of building a big company, or trying to. I should also throw in that's its a bit scary. Sometimes while in the grind you hold hope that someday everything will just get easier. I know that's not the case but it's easy to hold onto. This is a splash of cold water. Ben's advice at the end is a deep truth we, founder CEOs must buy into: "embrace the struggle".

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jon Fish

    Most business books talk in the abstract: "empower your employees", "give good and frequent feedback", "don't sweat the small stuff". This is all well and good, but, as Ben Horowitz correctly points out, is more about the "What" than the "How". The hard part of building an A+ team is not realizing that you need to find people who have complementary strengths and can work together, but is rather that sometimes the right person doesn't look the part, works for a friend, or is not as smart as the u Most business books talk in the abstract: "empower your employees", "give good and frequent feedback", "don't sweat the small stuff". This is all well and good, but, as Ben Horowitz correctly points out, is more about the "What" than the "How". The hard part of building an A+ team is not realizing that you need to find people who have complementary strengths and can work together, but is rather that sometimes the right person doesn't look the part, works for a friend, or is not as smart as the unreliable genius. The Hard Thing About Hard Thing give pragmatic, to-the-point advice for CEOs and managers- the things you wish someone had told you.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Horowitz has assembled a great collection of hard fought knowledge for future founding CEOs. I took away a lot from this book, despite neither being a CEO nor planning to be one. Anyone who intends to take a leadership role in a company, especially in high tech, should read it. The advice on hiring and firing is clear, succinct and valuable. I also got a lot of great insights on what to look for in product managers. While not entirely discouraging to would be entrepreneurs, Horowitz's vividly re Horowitz has assembled a great collection of hard fought knowledge for future founding CEOs. I took away a lot from this book, despite neither being a CEO nor planning to be one. Anyone who intends to take a leadership role in a company, especially in high tech, should read it. The advice on hiring and firing is clear, succinct and valuable. I also got a lot of great insights on what to look for in product managers. While not entirely discouraging to would be entrepreneurs, Horowitz's vividly retold experiences make it clear that running a startup consists a lot more of stomach churning decisions and shit sandwiches than unicorns and ponies.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trung

    This book is 5☆ in the knowledge that we could get. the writing style would be less because the author talked and praised himself too much. however I think it's fair because it's about his personal experiences and how he got over the hard things. 1 observation is that at the beginning of the book, there are lots of highlights but it drops near the end. Probably readers feel less engaged gradually with the book. Will need to summarize the lesson-learnt and apply. Overall it's This book is 5☆ in the knowledge that we could get. the writing style would be less because the author talked and praised himself too much. however I think it's fair because it's about his personal experiences and how he got over the hard things. 1 observation is that at the beginning of the book, there are lots of highlights but it drops near the end. Probably readers feel less engaged gradually with the book. Will need to summarize the lesson-learnt and apply. Overall it's still a 5☆. Thanks Ben!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex Palcuie

    One of the best books about startups and life in Silicon Valley. Every chapter is full of insightful stories. "I just say peace to all those engaged in the struggle to fulfill their dreams."

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