‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ By Ben Horowitz
The Hard Thing About Hard Things By Ben Horowitz, A Must Read.
This week’s read is a must if you’re in the early stages of setting up your company or struggling at a large company.
Who is Ben Horowitz?
Ben Horowitz crafts an amazing story in the The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.
This book is a directory to help readers navigate if they happen to be in a stage of starting a new venture, or a scary project.
Horowitz eloquently explains all this by sharing awe-inspiring encounters about his journey in founding, running, selling, buying, managing, hiring, firing, and investing in some of the biggest technology companies in Silicon Valley.
Horowitz offers essential in-depth advice in building software or working with a team from scratch.
This book is one of the most real accounts out there behind building and scaling a company.
Ben Horowitz is the co-founder 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.
He’s advised and made investments that include Airbnb, GitHub, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Horowitz shares in this amazing book his stories and struggles with co-founding a company as the CEO of Opsware (formerly Loudcloud) which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in 2007.
Horowitz generously shares a lifetime of experiences in building companies and insights from his career as a computer science student, software engineer, cofounder, and CEO.
What is interesting in this book is that Horowitz is a lifelong rap fan and amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs.
Telling it straight as-it-is about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, from cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality, to knowing the right time to cash in/out, Horowitz has got solutions for his readers.
I quote some of the most interesting statements he made in the read and I hope you can apply these findings regardless of your team’s size or experience stage.
Book Review: Part One
Horowitz invites the readers on these intense short journeys that are filled with intervals of quick successes and down to free-fall-drop failed scenarios that seem excruciatingly intense and very time-critical.
At times in the book, we enjoy his success story of how he managed to save his company on the stock market, then, suddenly, the company goes under.
He shares stories of panic and stories of quick problem solving.
What keeps him sane, in my opinion, is his sense of grounding. He almost never loses hope or gives up easily.
Horowitz gets into details on how to manage a 200+ employee company, he gets into the nitty-gritty of using methods to think fast on his feet, as he generously shares tips on how to act when your company is drowning and you’re responsible for an entire staff, and in a way, their families’ fates.
In the beginning of the book, Ben Horowitz shares his journey on entrepreneurship then draws the readers into a logistical and methodical journey on how to build a public company.
I’m going to start from the second half of the book to get to the tangible advice Horowitz generously shares.
I am never afraid to ask, but finding the right person to ask on your team can be difficult. This book resonates with me and every designer who is unsure of the fate of a company.
Every work place has different settings, strategies, and management outcomes, but in the end, the similarities tend to be closer to each other than we expect.
The gist of it is that, managers want to hire the right people to get things done, and people who are valued and feel appreciated are willing to put in the hours and invest in the company as much as they will in themselves.
Here are some key takeaways I put together, with no spoilers so you can read if you haven’t checked out his book yet,
1 – On Training Employees
Enforcing management training should be taught by the manager herself.
Would you stand on the line of the untrained person at McDonald’s? Would you want to use the software written by the engineer who was never told how the rest of the code worked?
In the chapter Why Startups Should Train Their People, Horowitz draws a similarity between training your people at a startup and training people at McDonald’s for their positions.
Startups should train people, as companies think their employees do not require training.
Nevertheless, silos grow because of the lack of systematic on-boarding to fill in a new hire on the role, and to catch him or her up and build transparency, without allowing intimidation to be the core of work processes.
2 – On Accruing Technical Debts
Metrics, From the Chapter, Focusing Too Much on the Numbers.
At a basic level, metrics are incentives. By measuring quality, features, and schedule and discussing them at every staff meeting, my people focused intensely on those metrics to the exclusion of other goals. The metrics did not describe the real goals and I distracted the team as a result.
Interestingly, I see this same problem play out in many consumer internet startups. 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 enough on the actual user experience. This generally results in a frantic numbers chase that does not end in a great product. It’s important to supplement a great product vision with a strong discipline around the metrics, but if you substitute metrics for product vision, you will not get what you want.
3 – On Culture
Behavioral aspects are important investing in.
Culture does not make a company.
Horowitz gets into detail on company culture sharing some hard realities. Without a product or competitions, there is no culture.
You must “take the market” as he describes when companies should be putting all their energy towards making the number one product in the market.
As opposed to teams who intensely worry about their ping pong tables. Designing weird company culture is not related to the truth of a properly designed culture.
Be provocative enough to make people want change everyday, that is how you build culture.
Yoga being part of company culture is very interesting, but yoga is a perk not part of a company’s culture.
Startups today do all kinds of things to distinguish themselves. Many great, many original, many quirky, but most of them will not define the company’s culture.