on 12 August 2014
The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a page-turning combination of memoir and management advice from a CEO who has overcome seriously daunting adversity to successfully build a valuable software business and subsequently built an even more lovely VC firm that seems to be doing brilliantly. This book is designed to raise his profile with potential entrepreneurs so that they bring their new businesses to him. It's great for the rest of us that this is the case since we get a book packed with insights that otherwise wouldn't have been written.
I founded and run a (much less successful) business myself and found the advice to be hugely insightful and the story to be revealing and uplifting. A challenge that very successful people face is that they ascribe their success too narrowly around the circumstances in which they became rich, or worse around their own innate brilliance . Ben Horowitz meets these challenges brilliantly and often explains the underlying dynamics that allow you to apply his insights to your situation. He's also humble about his mistakes and the amount of world class support he got from other people which makes his subsequent success seem much sweeter to this reader.
While some of the advice could be read elsewhere (e.g. A CEO should be able to focus on making the best move possible among many unpalatable alternatives) I can't recall reading them so energetically explained. However many of his concepts seem really new and useful - like the difference between a peace-time and war-time CEO or type one or type two executives.
I read this book when it came out and returned to it over the weekend. I've bought a few of my colleagues copy's and pressed it into the hands of others I do business with. If you've got something complicated to run and you *really* want it to succeed then I'd press it into your hands too.
on 16 May 2014
The world is awash with business management books, but this one is in a league of its own. If you own or run a very small business, then you may find that much of this book is not for you. However, if you run a business of 25+ people you will undoubtedly find this book a fantastic resource. Rather than cover all the pure, pristine ways that we would like to run a company, it goes into great detail about what to do when one of the wheels comes off. Not only does he advise on what to do, but also why. I wish I had read it years ago. It would have saved me a lot of headaches, heartaches and money
on 8 March 2014
`The Hard Thing About Hard Things' written by Ben Horowitz is a book that will be of use to anyone who is in charge of company, or thinks about starting own business. Inside its covers the author generously share his own experience giving many examples about proven business practices that will certainly be helpful for entrepreneur beginner, but also people who already has some experience.
Ben Horowitz, a known man and experienced Silicon Valley's businessman, with `The Hard Thing About Hard Things' gave a generous portion of advices how to build own startup and run it successfully with special emphasis on the people satisfaction. This is the doctrine that marked last years in business operations when was finally recognized and understood the importance of this business aspect that was previously less valued and often taken for granted.
His tips are given together with numerous anecdotes that occurred during his journey through the difficulties of business managing which started with his engagement in the early cloud service provider Loudcloud, all up to the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz which he cofounded with Marc Andreessen, inventor of the Internet's first browser Mosaic.
Horowitz's book is not too long, about 300 pages, and the author has intuitively split into several meaningful units that include his family background, tips about what to do when things are falling part around you, how to take care of people, tips and hazards associated with the leading, ending with golden business rule that there are no rules in business.
At one point he said nicely "...I do not attempt to present a formula in this book. Instead, I present my story and the difficulties that I have faced. As an entrepreneur, a CEO, and now as a venture capitalist, I still find these lessons useful... building a company inevitable leads to tough times, I've been there; I've done that. Circumstances may differ, but the deeper patterns and the lessons keep resonating..." and this is actually the key phrase, however some things are different in various businesses, some patterns are always the same.
Horowitz published his business lessons for past years in a blog that was very widely read and as he said he was asked by many people about the background of his lessons, about the things which inspired him to particular thinking. In this sense, `The Hard Thing About Hard Things' is book both for those who have read and enjoyed his blog - in group of those people I belong, but also for those who are first confronted with his thoughts. Both groups of people will learn lot of new and useful things that will help them in their own work.
Therefore, Ben Horowitz book is a kind of manual for the managers of a new era, a work that can certainly be recommended for business people who see leading as pleasure and the obligation.
on 14 January 2015
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.
on 5 March 2014
I was initially drawn to this book by a Tweet by Bill Gates, and drawn further in when I read the reasons why he is giving all the royalties to charity ([...]). Having read it I can say it is one of the best business books I have read.
The book begins with a long description of the author's journey in the business world, a true roller-coaster ride through the worst of the dot com boom and bust to a final $1.65 billion exit via a sale to Hewlett Packard.
The rest of the book is concerned with analysing the strategies and behaviours that helped to guide them through the maelstrom and how he dealt with the pressure that the constant threat of bankruptcy and failure placed on him and his key executives.
A great read with some great insights.
on 18 April 2014
The most useful advice book that I have ever read. You learn how to get past situations much worse than your own. Your fragile organisation is a lot like Ben's was. He has a story about how to fix the situation in this book.
This very personal book is a detailed manual on how to be the CEO of a technology company with 300 employees. It is unashamedly based on the author’s experiences and it’s “straight from the heart,” as they say.
I once owned and ran a tech startup that never got to more than 35, so I’m poorly qualified to comment on the quality of most of the advice.
• I never had to demote a loyal friend. I tried to give my loyal friend Tassos fewer shares than my co-founder Marko, but he did not accept and I backed off and I’m very pleased I backed off.
• I did not lay people off except at the very start and the very end, neither of which really counts.
• In the total absence of silver bullets I had no choice other than to fire “lead bullets” (though mine were probably more like plastic bullets)
• [...] (my company) never hired a big-company executive and had unbelievable luck with the small-company executive, Martin, we got on board
• The 360 review I instituted was a disaster, as all employees thought Orange (our investor) had requested it. I did it, and Orange never found out. Oh, and I got some very harsh reviews. Signed, and all.
• We never got around to giving people titles.
• Yes, we had politics, but none of them were caused by the de facto managers. I basically made a mistake when I had one floor full of men and one full of women. I should have mixed things up. By the time I put Misha among the girls it was already too late.
• I never had to work on a succession plan: to get around a quirk of UK law, I fired Phil, Phil fired Dave and Dave fired me. This (sadly) does not predate Reservoir Dogs, we cannot claim the credit.
• We did not have a recruitment process. We hired each other. Diomidis is the preeminent computer scientist in Greece, and he's a friend. Susana was Sara’s friend. Eva used to sell clothes to Susana at Joseph’s. Sam was Tassos’ girlfriend. Katerina was his sister. Our web designer Tunde was Katerina’s classmate in arts school. Carryn used to work at Ove Arup with Sam. Diomidis recommended Ellie. Nadia worked in Ellie’s local Blockbuster. Damiano worked at Blockbuster illegally after falsifying his age (and went on to manage the Clapham Grand, probably before he got to vote for the first time). Tassos’ friend Misha used to tend bar at Quaglino’s. Ziad used to run the counter at Tassos’ local Maroush. Our customer Alex told us we’re hiring his nephew Ahmad. Who hired Toby? Michael? I never found out. Phil used to run Arbitrage Support when I was at Salomon. Andreas used to sell bonds there. Maria-Lisa and I went to summer school together when we were kids. Jackie’s married to Serkan, my friend Dimitris’ former boss at Booz Allen. Davey boy used to do analyst work for my friend Inma at BNP. Thomas and I met Circuit Le Luc in the south of France, at the AGS driving school. Vicky explained to me she’s joining. My mom explained to me Marilisa is joining. Everybody turned out awesome. Seriously. AWESOME. I could not have wished for better. Pretty much everybody is now either immensely successful or very happy or both, much as I stole a couple years from everyone’s life… Come to think of it, there’s Alex. We actually got him through a proper recruitment process. Small confession, everybody: Alex was on 30k. Just him. It’s what you had to pay for a developer of his experience, Phil and Elias would not settle for less. Oh, and Tunde! He sat me down and blackmailed me one day. And, of course, I backed off and gave him the raise; he’s such a creative genius.
So the book did not really bring me any flashbacks and did not really point out any of the (surely tons of) things I did wrong. And I don’t think I’ll ever get to use the advice in the future, much as I’m running a startup again. If this stuff does not all come naturally to you, I think you’re hosed. If people doubt your honesty, you’re hosed. If people don’t realize you’ll always put the company first, they’re hosed.
The references to “terror” did resonate with me, actually. Mine manifested itself via cataclysmic weight loss, from which I was thankfully delivered by the discovery of Wagamama on Lexington St, though the salesforce did peel apple for me and laid it on my desk on a daily basis, just to make sure. And I got these very clearly psychosomatic pains around my diaphragm. But I think it was the shame I felt toward my loyal investors that caused me the terror, rather than the actual fear we might fail. Who knows? He’s totally right about the terror bit, at any rate. Haven’t had any pains before or since and you would not call me thin if you saw me now.
I’d give the book a 5 regardless, but I must dock it a point for doing an Alt-Edit-Find-Replace that ticked me off: 99% of all CEOs and all managers who are referred to in this book by their name are male. All their counterparts who are referred to in the abstract, on the other hand are referred to as “she.”
So go ahead, be a cynic / a hypocrite / a panderer / a wuss, but if you’re going to do it, do it right! Page 254 I found myself reading the following lines: “Every CEO sets out to hire the very best person in the world and then recruits aggressively to get HIM. If HE says yes, she inevitably thinks she’s hit the jackpot.” (the capitals are mine) Dunno, maybe it’s deliberate. Perhaps after 250 pages of “she” this and “she” that the author does feel compelled to concede that the very best person in the world is male, after all.
And there you have it.
Finally, if you want my one piece of advice for when you run a company (and I don’t have the success of Ben Horowitz to back me up, but I’ll say it anyway) I’ll sum it up in one word: delegate.
on 7 September 2014
There are almost as many Management books as there are Diet books, and they divide between ‘My story: How I saved the World” and ‘the Fifteen Point Plan to Market Domination”. Both make company leadership seem straightforward, if only you have the right leader or the right consultant/plan. Ben Horowitz’s books draws on an appalling time he had as CEO of Loudcloud and Opsware starting in the dot com crash and ending in a ($1.7 billion) trade sale to HP. There are lots of anecdotes, not all of the ego-enhancing for Horowitz ( one VC asks Horowitz, as CEO, when the company intends to get a ‘real CEO’), but they are used to set up a spine of theory for the book.
There’s a view of the loneliness of CO decision-making, having called in favours in time, effort and money from friends, family, employees , the CEO has to take decisions based on the cold logic of return to investors, customer perceptions of the product relative to the competition. I think he describes very well the emotional pressure not to take harsh decisions, to deny the ultimate problem, which befalls many chief executives and many companies. In a start up situation, this can mean the company goes to the wall, and everyone loses. Sometimes the CEO’s choices are about how to minimize the bad outcomes and how to stay in the game, not matter how damaging to various participants.
I loved his anecdote about the characteristic of a CEO – if you are the kind of person who, when a friend tells you a joke, you hear the joke out, tell your friend the three things that need to be improved with it, and offer to hear the joke again within a defined timeframe, at which point you are prepared to be amused – then you are a natural CEO. His point being that developing skills to be a CEO are not natural for most people, but are necessary.
He is kind (too kind?) about the differences between being an executive in a large multinational company (being reactive, watching your back, careful-formal communication, risk-strategies for development) and a small company (doing what it takes within the law).
There’s a great story about getting their Opsware product sold into EDS, about finding the people within EDS who could delay the potential sale (and sink Opsware) and finding out how to give them what they wanted. Its so unbelievable , it can only be true. Its worth the price of the book alone. Its used to illustrate a couple of points about how to make a sale, and how to make a make a transformative deal. You really have to read it.
I bought into the book’s advice in full. However as I read on, one key thing not mentioned was the deep pool of help/advice that Horowitz had. He was about to get advice (and sometimes) investment from Herb Allen, Michael Ovitz and Bill Campbell among others. Its not clear how these heavy-hitters came onto Horowitz’s radar (perhaps via Netscape?), but they are surely crucial in terms of advice and connections. I guess its hard to right a business book that says ‘First start with major players on your board….”. As you read through the book, it becomes clear on a sales levels that making major sales requires a deep-pool of connections to give you knowledge about your customers organizations, their own internal influence networks and how you know that good feedback will translate to committed dollars. I liked Horowitzs summary that some of your employees are making product and some are making sales. I have worked in places where one or other skill set was over-emphasized.
A couple of niggles: Pronouns: lots of the pro-nouns are female, e.g. Your operations executive will need space to put her team together ….” . That seems fine, a bit ‘right-on’, but, I’m pretty sure, that when Horowitz name checked non-family people in the book, as having helped in key-ways, all were male. It emphasized for me the male- orientated nature of the tech. industry. There are some female names mentioned in the acknowledgements
Marc Andreessen: Horowitz mentions that Andreessen hired him into Netscape, was chairman of Loudcloud, is a founding partner is their VC company. He acknowledges Andreessen’s technical foresight, his analytical abilities and that they have a very fruitful working relationship. However in the body of the text, I could not see where Andreessen had contributed at all. I counted one mention, when Loudcloud was encountering product troubles, that Andreessen had started working with another startup. Nothing else. It neither contributes to nor detracts from the story, but I was puzzled by this
on 24 October 2015
Everyone raved about this book but was disappointed. Author comes across as an egotistical capitalist. Some good insights but tone put me off - got halfway.
on 11 January 2015
Ben Horowitz shares his experience as CEO of a startup that goes through the dot com bubble, the September 11 tumultuous events, major company restructuring and market/product change to end with a final exit of 1.7 billion $.
This book is a great read and is nothing like your average business book, full of real situations involving people who are part of the history of the silicon valley
The author describes a number of difficult situations (e.g. dealing with his board during crises, taking radical business decisions, making critical hires ...) he had to manage and he succeeds in combining a crisp engaging narrative together with some more structured analysis and advice.
While the book is a must read for anybody considering founding a startup is also a read that I recommend to anybody who's involved with a startup at any level as it describes so well what are the trade offs and the dynamics of a startup and this is material that is not only interesting for executives but also for anybody who's on the startup journey.