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The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers Hardcover – March 4, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062273205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062273208
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (363 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s fairly evident that this is a collection of blogs, loosely strung together, united in their varied perspectives on start-ups, CEO-dom, and business in general. Though Horowitz is a cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and his credentials reside mainly in Silicon Valley, he’s imparted some valuable insight on hard lessons learned that apply to any manager, whether in the executive suite or not. As with most experiential books, it is all about him—but it’s written in such an engaging and universally acceptable manner that no one could object. Leave aside his background, for the moment. Who would realize, for instance, that executives worry about things like initiating layoffs, hiring the right people, training, and minimizing politics, among others? It’s a refreshingly honest take, and his colorful (and, yes, profanity-laced) language breaks down any other misperceptions about the role and the person. Plus, his imagination is compelling, such as the comparisons between peacetime and wartime CEOs: Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six. After all, the success equation is easy: the hard thing is getting it done. --Barbara Jacobs

Review

“The most valuable book on startup management hands down” (PandoDaily)

“Horowitz tends to dispense management advice in a kind of one-two punch. First comes the self-deprecating quip about mismanagement and misery, delivered with a knowing grin and capped with a two-beat chuckle. But soon the smile will vanish, and he’ll turn dead serious. His brow will furrow slightly, his eyes will widen and focus with an intensity that borders on scary, and he’ll speak slowly, deliberately. It’s almost as if you can’t afford not to listen.” (Fortune)

“There is more than enough substance in Mr. Horowitz’s impressive tome to turn it into a leadership classic.” (The Economist)

More About the Author

Ben Horowitz is the cofounder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs building the next generation of leading technology companies. The firm's investments include Airbnb, GitHub, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Previously, he was cofounder and CEO of Opsware, formerly Loudcloud, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in 2007. Horowitz writes about his experiences and insights from his career as a computer science student, software engineer, cofounder, CEO, and investor in a blog that is read by nearly 10 million people. He has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Fortune, the Economist, and Bloomberg Businessweek, among others. Horowitz lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Felicia.


Follow him on Twitter @bhorowitz and his blog, www.bhorowitz.com.

Customer Reviews

The book is very straightforward and the concepts are easy to understand.
John Chancellor
It is very rare to find a book that talks about the difficult times and how hard things really are.
Andrew Allen
Ben Horowitz has plenty of entertaining and educational stories about his start as a CEO.
Jack

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

187 of 229 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I knew this hybrid memoir and advice manual was different on page 20, when Horowitz writes: "We finished the third quarter of 2000 with $37 million in bookings--not the $100 million that we had forecast." These numbers are so huge, they sound fictional. His massive inter-business contracts and repeated fiscal brinksmanship resemble Jack Ryan adventures. I wondered how they'd reach neighborhood entrepreneurs seeking $30,000 for rent and payroll.

Then I realized: this business book sounds different because it is different. Some books aim for middle managers, people with limited authority but little power, and others offer moral framework without strategic guidance. Horowitz writes for CEOs, division heads, and other top-rank executives who make powerful decisions in essential isolation. Horowitz' intended audience has probably read innumerable books about how business should work; he illustrates how business really works.

That's good and bad. CEOs, venture capital entrepreneurs, and other soaring-eagle outliers are probably an underserved market. Middle managers generally have in-house mentors and have so many books written for them, they could get bulk-buying discounts at Books-A-Million. CEOs frequently have to re-invent the wheel, because only a handful ever exist at Horowitz's level. Horowitz steps into the mentor role, dispensing hard-won advice when every decision costs millions of dollars.

But CEOs at Horowitz's level remain rare for good reason. When he describes selling his corporation to a competitor, but retaining intellectual property rights, which he leases out for $30 million annually, he clearly operates a business model that only functions among the One Percent. Could you sell anything you made, but still own it, and license it back to your buyer?
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As someone who spent 20+ years in Silicon Valley, including both the dotcom boom and bust eras, I felt Ben's pain when I read this book. When the valley was flying high, it was really high. Spending was ridiculous. There was nothing "Lean" going on in start-ups. Money flowed like tap water...and went down the drain in much the same way. And then the bubble burst. Chaos and calamity was rampant.

Ben Horowitz not only weathered the storm, but he went public instead of going bankrupt. He turned a low of $0.37 a share into a $1.6B sale to HP. His stories of what he and the team went through, the excruciating decisions he had to make, and how he ended up winning (buying a company in order to keep a $20M deal with EDS)...an exceptional story.

So, the question is, how does his experience apply to those of us who are struggling with our own tech start-ups? While some of the advice was a bit preachy, what I like about Ben's advice is the brilliance of thought behind it. For instance, the Freaky Friday strategy. His Sales Engineering and Customer Service teams were at war. His flash of brilliance came from watching a movie on TV. He decided to permanently swap the responsibilities of the leads of the two organizations. What resulted was a fast understanding of the OTHER guy's issues...and a quick path to a mutually designed, collaborative solution. Brilliant.

Other pieces of advice flow to the heart of leadership. He has defined the job of the CEO and distilled it down to the essence of the job--for instance, making decisions in absence of all the data, having the courage to stand behind and in front of your decision, and being able to sell others on your decisions.
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214 of 274 people found the following review helpful By Whippet on March 9, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Horowitz writes for startup CEOs who raise $20 or $40 million from top VCs. His own history, recounted in the book, shows just how irrelevant his own experience is to 99.9% of entrepreneurs.

This is a book for CEOs of VC-controlled startups. Its lessons are unlikely to apply to real businesses owned by--funded by--real entrepreneurs.

What makes sense for High Finance Entrepreneurship is usually suicidal for 99% of real businesses. VCs make their money by funding and promoting aggressively, and they don't care about losses. That's a luxury Main Street entrepreneurs cannot afford.

Finally, I would urge readers to be cautious of any advice given by a VC. It's typically self-serving and cannot be trusted.

I highly recommend spending time reading Michael Church's essays on VCs and VC-backed startups.
__________________________________

We're in Bubble 2.0. Guys like Horowitz become celebs so long as the bubble lasts.

In five years I cannot imagine this flimsy book being bought by anyone.

My background: I've been a VC and led two VC-backed software companies. Multiple exits, high IRRs.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Williams on May 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Ben is a smart guy. Ben has a lot of good things to say about what it means to be a CEO. Ben has worked in the whirlwind that is/was Silicon Valley on products you probably never heard of at the height of the silliness. Ben grew a lot as a leader and made a ton of money doing that. Unfortunately Ben is a mediocre author, and his editor needs to find another line of work.

This book is like countless "how to be a leader" books on the market, and says a lot of the same things. Only this time you get it from the perspective of a guy flailing to build a silicon valley startup to a point where he can unload it on some unsuspecting buyer and walk away with enough money to retire at 35, on the backs of the poor schlubs who wrote the code that got him there in the faint hope they'd get rich too. That's an interesting perspective, and one that says a lot about silicon valley, the venture capital culture, and the business world in general.

The problems with this book are many, however. First, most of the advice is retread, stuff you can find in a lot of other books on leadership. More importantly, however is the seemingly random organization. It doesn't adhere to a chronological flow, or a logical structured flow -- either would have been a fine choice. It seems to be mostly stream-of-consciousness -- like someone just transcribed their notes from their beside table notepad. It never seems to go from point A to point B. And it rehashes the same stories over and over. I get it, you managed to dump part of your losing business on EDS, a miracle coup, and then build up what was left into something you managed to stick HP with.
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