- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperBusiness (March 4, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062273205
- ISBN-13: 978-0062273208
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 874 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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*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
“More than any other business book released this year, “Hard Things” gives an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to lead and scale a startup.” (--Business Insider's Best Business Books of 2014)
“This is easily one of the essential books every business leader should read if they’re looking for proven and honest management advice.” (--Entrepreneur's 25 Amazing Business Books from 2014)
“The most valuable book on startup management hands down” (PandoDaily)
“There is more than enough substance in Mr. Horowitz’s impressive tome to turn it into a leadership classic.” (The Economist)
Top customer reviews
All in all, I'd highly recommend this as an entertaining and insightful read.
My advice is to read this book, let it marinate in your brain and then come back and read it again. And if you are really a good leader, pay it forward and give it to someone you mentor.
Entrepreneurial Thinking Definition
Ben Horowitz is a great entrepreneur according to my definition. Throughout his book his demonstrates (1) self-awareness and (2) creativity, and (3) how he put these into action.
Firstly, self-awareness. In the first chapter, “From Communist to Venture Capitalist” he explains who he is, where he comes from, and what he knows. He explains that “being scared doesn’t mean [being] gutless.” Having enough confidence in yourself to be bold is a key aspect of entrepreneurship; he displayed a great deal of boldness when he bought tangram to secure business with EDS. Then, Ben continues to tell us about his communist background, and how that is an advantage: “I realized that embracing the unusual parts of my background would be the key to making it through. It would be those things that I would bring to the table that nobody else had.” Lastly, he explains his mindset in terms of the following four criteria, which helped him immensely throughout his career: (1) to separate facts from perspective, (2) to “turn your s*** in” which means to be responsible for yourself and your work, (3) to not rely on first impressions, especially those based on appearances, and (4) to “look at the world through priorities.” It is therefore clear from chapter 1 that Ben Horowitz knows himself very well, and because he does, he is both confident and prepared to push himself to the limit.
Secondly, creativity. There are many examples of creativity in the book, but I’ll point to one in particular that shows rigorous creativity. After LoudCloud achieved a period of stability, most CEOs would try to remain in that state, but Ben thought differently. He asked himself, “What are we [LoudCloud] not doing?” The answer was well fought, but it eventually came out: they are not being a software company. And so, Ben rigorously devised a plan to save his and his employee’s careers. After selling LoudCloud, he would start a software company called Opsware and focus on systems automatization. To come up with this decision shows how creativity may be the answer to a struggle. Sometimes it is better to think of alternative solutions than just going forward or backwards, and this is exactly what Ben demonstrates time after time in his book – of course, assuming that everything he says he did is true.
Lastly, action. At this point I am sure that you have noticed that Ben is a man of action – whenever he says something he immediate acts upon it – but I’ll elaborate to further prove this. To save LoudCloud from going bankrupt, he only had two months to resolve his company’s problems in order to save business with his biggest client, EDS. He did, and on top of that was also able to start a group of ten engineers on a project named “Oxide,” whose goal was to separate the opsware software from LoudCloud. Ben did all of this in the 2 months period he was given, meaning that he – and his company – did not wasting any time. Ben asked his employees to come at 8am and leave at 10pm everyday (of course he also stayed those hours). He made sure that everyone worked diligently when they had to “turn their s*** in.” They accumulated enough momentum during the beginning of the 2-month rally to carry them throughout. So when the time ran out, Ben had successfully saved his company and business with EDS. That is why action – and traction – should always be the result of self-awareness and creativity.
Effectual reasoning has three main principles: the (1) bird in the hand, which means understanding the resources that you have at your disposal, (2) crazy quilt, which means building from the bottom up with an end goal in mind, and (3) pilot in the plane, which means that you want to be in control but not always have all the information. In his book, Ben doesn’t talk explicitly about these principles, but he definitely demonstrates them.
(1) Bird in the Hand. Ben went to college during the computer boom in Silicon Valley. When and where he studied (the resources) provided him a key advantage over other competitors because he had the knowledge to tap into a market that was underdeveloped and growing exponentially. Moreover, he understood that that point in time would also produce people of likeminded prospective. And so, Ben was able to team up with exceptional individuals such as Marc Andreessen (smartest person, according to Ben), Scott Kupor (director of finance), Mark Cranney (head of sales), Shannon Callahan (head of recruiting and HR), Margit Wennmachers (sultan of networking), and Frank Chen (head of product management) to name a few. This is how Ben demonstrates using the resources available to him.
(2) Crazy quilt. Ben’s end goal was to become a successful CEO, but he didn’t know how to get there. And so, he did what any other person would do in his situation: take a step forward and see where that leads him. His first step was to quit his old job and work for Marc Andreessen at Netscape. Circumstances and other people’s involvement lead him to take another step: build Loudcloud with Marc Andreessen. Interesting to note here is that if Ben had not quit his first job, he would not have met Marc Andreeseen and therefore not been able to build LoudCloud. Also, had Marc Andresseen not employed Ben, he would not have recognized Ben’s potential. Again, involvement from other people and circumstances then lead to Ben’s third step: selling LoudCloud and creating Opsware. As you probably guessed, other involvement from other people and circumstances lead to the next step: selling Opsware to HP and creating a venture capital firm with Marc Andreessen. And so, understanding that there are infinite ways of reaching your end goal is important, because it enables you to be flexible with ideas that come along the way. Flexibility to allow other people’s input, and to take advantage of opportunities that you hadn't foreseen. Ben demonstrates this in his journey to become a CEO, and to be honest, he became quite proficient at it.
(3) Pilot in the plane. Suffice it to say that Ben delegated work to the executives of his companies, but he always partnered with Marc Andreessen because he knew that Marc Andreessen set of skills complemented his: Marc Andreessen was the public face of the company because he thrived in that environment; Ben stayed in the background managing the company. He then goes to explain that the most important asset of a company is its employees. In light of the-pilot-in-the-plane principle, it makes a lot of sense that you keep your employees motivated because you will distribute the workload to them. Specifically in chapters 5 and 6, Ben explains the importance of taking care of the people, and creating the right in of culture in your company. The reason why the first priority of a company should be to take care of its people according to him is because they are the most knowledgeable individuals of your company. They know what the problems and strengths are because they do the work; managers, executives and CEOs orchestrate from above and may lack on smaller details. In order to have awareness of those smaller details migrate from the employees to the managers and then executive a great company culture has to be created. A great company culture is one in which workers are encouraged to talk about problems and strengths equally. Where they are awarded and recognized based on merit and not on lobbying skills. Where workers are encouraged to “move fast and break things,” meaning that workers should innovate and strive to cause breakthroughs. In this environment, workers like to go to work because it is interesting and genuinely fun. And when a worker wants to work, he/she is the most valuable asset of a company. That is why Ben knows how to delegate work and responsibility among the different hierarchical levels of his company. In analogy, a plane not only needs a pilot to operate satisfactorily. It also needs a co-pilot, stewardesses, a control tower, engineers, an air marshal, and passengers or else flying a plane is: not possible, not profitable and not safe. Ben knows this.
This principle states that workers are individuals and for that reasons they must be encouraged to use their skills for the better of the company. Just like effectual reasoning has several components to it, so does the Stewardess Principle. Several of the key dimensions of the Stewardess Principle that I wish to discuss are: (1) culture, (2) motivation, and (3) power distance. Ben applies these dimensions to his company, and the result is obvious.
(1) Culture. Suffice it to say that Ben dedicates an entire chapter of his book to discuss how important it is to create the right culture in your company. Specifically, one has to minimize politics, encourage the right kind of ambition, and continuously have one-on-ones. By doing this, a company encourages and ensures that its workers have the right work ethics.
By minimizing politics (which means lobbying in order to achieve promotions or benefits) one reinforces the notion that if an employee works hard he/she will be rewarded accordingly. But most importantly, working hard becomes the only way to move up the ladder. No slacker will be able to lobby his/her way to the top. As a result, workers will not feel treated unjustly.
By encouraging the right kind of ambition, one avoids individual agendas or people trying to gain success at the expense of the company. The right kind of ambition is when a worker genuinely wants the company to succeed, and if the company succeeds he/she succeeds with it. The wrong kind of ambition, by contrast, is when a worker wants to succeed regardless of the company’s success. The way to encourage the right kind of ambition, according to Ben, is to seek out those employees with the wrong kind of ambition and fire them before they can rot others, and to screen possible employers while interviewing.
By establishing one-on-ones workers are able to voice any issues to their managers. According to Ben, during one-on-ones managers should do 10% talking and 90% listening. The main point of a one-on-one is for the worker to voice his thoughts and his concerns. This way if there are any problems in the company, the managers become aware of them and may pass the information along to executives and ultimately the CEO.
(2) Motivation. Motivation follows a well-established culture. If Ben had not established an excellent culture in his company he would not haven been able to ask his workers to come to work from 8am to 10pm for months at a time. As if that was not enough, Ben asked this of his workers on three consecutive occasions. This is evidence of what well-motivated stewards are capable of doing.
(3) Power distance. This dimension explains that because companies are hierarchical systems there is a potential for people to use power to abuse their subordinates. To prevent this from happening in his company, Ben placed top priority on one-on-ones. He almost fired one of his executives because he didn't do his one-on-ones. The point of one-on-ones is mentioned above, but they also an additional psychological effect. When managers listen to works, it shifts the power balance for the duration of the one-on-one. As a result, workers feel that the power distance is bridged, allowing them to work more closely with managers. And that is highly desirable.
And so, this is how Ben Horowitz exemplifies what a successful entrepreneur and CEO is. His self-awareness and creativity (and a few other personal traits) took him all the way to where he stands: co-founder of the Andreessen Horowitez venture capital firm valued at $4 billion.