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

by: Ben Horowitz (0)

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup—practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular ben’s blog.

While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.

Filled with his trademark humor and straight talk, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures, drawing from Horowitz's personal and often humbling experiences.

The Quotes

Note to self: It’s a good idea to ask, “What am I not doing?”

An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.

Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity.

The Reviews

This is a book for CEOs of venture capital backed or public companies with 10+ employees. Unless this you are this CEO, this book will not be useful nor give you good advice; it will merely be interesting or a “what if” book.It is probably even more narrow: CEOs of venture capital or public TECH companies IN THE SILICON VALLEY IN CALIFORNIA. The advice is very specific to Silicon Valley culture and a specific job in that culture. I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for 20+ years as an engineer and founded my own tech startup 2 years ago, yet this book still does not apply to me because I do not have the exact job described in this book.That being said, the book made a lot sense, seemed to cover new ground (especially CEO psychology and emotions) and was a quick read. It’s a must-read for the 500 CEOs or so that it’s intended for. My one doubt is that “Is It Okay To Hire From Your Friend’s Company?” is probably illegal in California.I got this book on the recommendation from Jumpcut Viral Academy and they should not have recommended it nor do I recommend that others read it. It’s simply not applicable nor useful to non-CEOs. But it’s easy to be star-struck by the author and inappropriately recommend this book as something that it is not. It’s an “already CEO” guide, not about self motivation, not about how to get promoted to CEO, not how to help your CEO, not how to be a VP, not how to network, not how to get funding, not how to start a business and on and on.

The only reason I didn’t return this book is that he promised he would donate 100% of the profit for a good cause. This book is good in the first few chapters. However, the quality of content plummets. The author, as impressive as a famous venture capitalist, lacks self-awareness.  It’s not that he doesn’t have good lessons for us. It’s just the way he tells his stories.   It’s hard to take his points seriously. And oh, I dislike the profanity. I forced myself to read the whole book so I’d be qualified to write this review. Don’t read it. Bill Gates wrote a synopsis of what you need to know about this book. That’s all you need.

If you want to know why The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers is worth buying, here’s the money quote.“Almost all management books focus on how to do things correctly, so you don’t screw up, these lessons provide insight into what you must do after you have screwed up.”If you’re planning to start a company, whether it’s a high-tech company or the kinds of companies that I started and ran, read this book. If you’re going to be someone in charge of anything in any kind of a company, read this book.If all you want are the big ideas, or Horowitz’ philosophy, you can get them from his blog and articles. You don’t need to buy this book. But if you want a handy advisor for that 3 AM moment when you’re thinking about firing someone you like, buy the book. Keep it handy. I’ve had those moments and I wish I’d had it.The Hard Thing About Hard Things has a whole lot of information packed inside it. You can read it from cover to cover and get a lot of value. Or, you can think of it as a series of conversations with bosses and mentors. Horowitz had a lot of those. And his mentors included people like Andy Grove and Jim Barksdale.The wisdom that he shares and credits to them, reminds me of the wisdom that I received from bosses and mentors and which I later shared with protégés. It’s real, it’s practical, and it will help. I think that the discussion of things like firing and laying people off are more than worth the price of the book by themselves. And they’re only a small part of what’s in The Hard Thing About Hard Things.Here are a few quotes from the book to give you an idea of what you’re in for. You don’t have to be a CEO to use what’s here, even though Horowitz aims the book at CEOs. Substitute “leader” for “CEO” in most quotes and use the wisdom.Quotes from The Hard Thing About Hard Things “That’s the hard thing about hard things— there is no formula for dealing with them.”“People always ask me, ‘What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?’ Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO.”“Don’t take it personally. The predicament that you are in is probably all your fault. You hired the people. You made the decisions. But you knew the job was dangerous when you took it. Everybody makes mistakes. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes. Evaluating yourself and giving yourself an F doesn’t help.”“One of the most important management lessons for a founder/ CEO is totally unintuitive. My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive.”“Management purely by numbers is sort of like painting by numbers— it’s strictly for amateurs.”“The first rule of organizational design is that all organizational designs are bad.”“Embrace the struggle.”There are plenty more in The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.

As Andy Groves say, Ben Horowitz is one of the most insightful business authors in the business. Written by a {very} successful entrepreneur and VC for other entrepreneurs and investors in start-ups. This book is not a management How-To some of the reviews I've seen claim. But it IS one of the best management books ever written. Horowitz pedigree is amazing and not easily emulated: Silicon Graphics {in the exciting years or the emergence of high performance graphic workstations as seen in Jurassic Park}, AOL, Netscape, Loudcloud. Few of us are ever going to do what Horowitz has done; so read the book. Just do it!

I thoroughly enjoyed the book! Ben’s “war time CEO” experience at Loud Cloud and Opsware are both gripping and insightful. What makes this book more impactful is Ben’s generous advice on a variety of critical corporate issues - org design, how to give feedback, what makes a good product manager, and so on. Highly recommended!PS: if you are a hip hop fan, you will enjoy this book even more. Listen to the audio version - the impact is more!

Ben posits that the "hard thing about hard things" is that there really is no answer or formula, that you need to rely on the situation and your experience. An example given is that the difficult decision is not how to start a company, plenty has been written on this, the hard decision was deciding what to do when Ben had 3 weeks of cash and needed to meet for an IPO at the trough of the tech bubble and the night before getting a call that his wife was in the hospital and stopped breathing.The book is refreshing as the terms and concepts are not dumbed down and rely on background in finance and tech. Throughout the book a number of situations are explained which provide fantastic advice for building relationships and dealing with others in undesirable situations.

I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK. A must read for those that are want to start their own company. Ben Horowitz does a great job of talking about what goes down in startups and the difficult decisions (the hard things) CEO and management make. Skip the MBA just read this lol. Definitely would have helped knowing alot of this stuff before started working at a startup. This is also great for startup employees.

I am founder and ceo of a bootstrap startup developing patient compliance automation. After 4 years it is still hard but the lessons are being learned . I worked at intel for 7 years and its notable a number of core ideas like time mgmt draw from intel culture. If you are not running a startup this book will seem theoretical like learning quarterbacking from tom brady but never being on the field. If you go out there you will get killed.If you are a founder get yourself a mentor and get on the field and play. After a year or 2 go back and read this book. It is practical and dives into detail when needed. And he tells the story.

The author, Ben Horowitz, has a ton of experience and therefore a ton of wisdom.He has not only worked alongside successful leaders and entrepreneurs, but has established himself to be one as well. It was no easy ride; the trial and tribulations he has endured but overcome has played a big part in strengthening his wits and reserve in the toughest of business environments. How do you face it when your business is struggling and on it's last legs, and being the owner and leader you have to be open and forthcoming to your employees? How do you muster up the gall to demote or even fire somebody you consider a good friend or family? This text will answer those questions. Another review had mentioned that this book wouldn't be for the ordinary folk and rather for high level CEOs of public companies. I don't believe this is to be the truth because even though not all situations are created equal, internal misgivings and motivations are. I always say that even though the exact experiences of another individual might be different, reading and learning about it can do nothing less than broaden your scope.

First a few disclaimers: I've hated nearly every "management book" I've ever read. While studying for my MBA I had to plough through all the "classics" in the genre. Afterwards, working for a high-end management consulting firm I had to read every HBR article until I wanted to reach out and strangle someone - ideally the authors of the vacuous nonsense promulgated therein. Most management books, with the notable exception of those by the late great Peter Drucker, are nothing but snake-oil and unadulterated BS.This book is different.This book is written from the perspective of a CEO who's been to hell and back. You may not always agree with his ideas but they are always grounded in reality, as opposed to the abstract theory of most other management books. As a four-time CEO myself I found myself thinking repeatedly "I wish I'd learned this lesson earlier in my career..." and agreeing with most of Horowitz's conclusions. While some of the language and nearly all of the sports analogies passed me by, I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity of the text itself.Some reviewers seem to think that this book only makes sense for venture-backed CEOs in high-growth situations but I've been involved with so many smaller companies that aren't venture-backed that I believe strongly any CEO in any situation can benefit from reading this book. The ideas and guidelines aren't specific to tech companies, although that's what the author knows about. The fact is, the basic principles and actions are applicable to any company, whether it's a three-person creative design firm or a fifty-person machine shop. Things may move faster in venture-backed tech companies because the external market dynamics are extremely volatile, but in management the same problems keep coming up over and over again regardless of context. And that makes this book valuable for all CEOs and aspiring CEOs.If you are a CEO and you only have time to read one book this year (probably while in transit or while in the restroom) then make this the one - and act on the advice therein. It will either save your company or, in the best case, dramatically improve its future. Most small companies end up being rate-limited by the CEO; this book can help you out of that trap.

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