The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.
If the price of books was determined by the amount of valuable advice they contained, Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers would be very expensive.
Funny, straight talking, and brutally honest, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is full of wisdom for anyone working in a startup, founding a startup, or running a startup. Oh and it’s also got swear words and rap lyrics.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things tells many real tales from the battlefield Horowitz’s experiences at LoudCloud, Opsware, and more recently Andreessen Horowitz. He is admirably honest about the mistakes he made, the hard things he’s had to do, and the failures and close calls that he encountered along the way.
The person who will get the most out of this book is the current (or aspiring) CEO. The second half of the book gives CEOs and leaders advice on how to recruit, motivate, train, and even fire employees.
It also gives a lot of advice on how to make decisions, including the necessity for the startup CEO to have an unshakeable belief in their ability to find the answers:
Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it.
One of my favorite chapters gives advice on hiring the right people. Horowitz notes that the prism through which a person views the world is very important for how well they will fit into your organization:
When interviewing candidates, it’s helpful to watch for small distinctions that indicate whether they view the world through the “me” prism or the “team” prism.
People who view the world through the “me” prism will optimize for their own personal career (he refers to this as local optimization). On the other hand, people who look at the world through a “team” prism will optimize for the success of the company (global optimization).
Another great section of the book discusses the courage required to to make the tough calls. Horowitz argues that the cowardice or courage that lies behind the decisions of the CEO will flow through the organization as a whole.
Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a great blueprint for anyone involved in building a startup from the ground up. It’ll also leave you feeling full of empathy for your CEO. (We <3 you Heather!)
We’re giving away a copy of The Hard Thing About Hard Things! Simply leave a comment in the section below to go into the draw. Comments must be made by midnight on Wednesday May 14th and we’ll draw the winner the following day.