The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is a great read. Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs offers essential advice on building and running a startup. The ’Hard Thing About Hard Things’ is not an autobiography and as the title suggests, hard things are hard. Ben talks about persistence and trusting your gut instincts.
He offers insights into hiring his ace salesman Marc Cranney when the board thought he was not the right choice. This paid great dividends. Successful sales is a result of everyone’s work. CEOs should spend a lot of time on hiring and ensure the hiring process set forth by the company constantly brings in the best people. Great CEO’s constantly assessed if they continue to bring in the best people and team on board.
Ben also talks about
- having regular one on one meetings with the employees.
- Being transparent with things.
- Not just painting the good picture, however also being transparent with the problems and encouraging teams to come up with ideas to solve them.
- Not keeping setbacks to oneself. The more brains that are working on hard problems, the better.
Culture will be the biggest differentiator. However, great culture with no viable or a thriving business does not make sense. You need to get the product and the business right. This is where culture will help to expand and grow. Employees should be asking questions. If they don’t, you have a problem.
It is important to make your product 10 times better / offer more value than what is being offered in the market. Otherwise, there is not enough motivation for the customer to switch. Gain market shares fast on what you are selling.
Job of a CEO
CEO‘s job is knowing what to do and getting the company to do what you want. Here is another interesting observation from the book. “Don’t clown people in front of their peers. While it’s okay to give certain kinds of feedback in a group setting, you should strive never to embarrass someone in front of their peers”. Once the company is off the ground and stable enough it makes sense to pay the CEO at market salary. You should spend a lot of time on training your staff. This is the best investment one can make for his team. If you have more than 3 new initiatives in a quarter, you are trying too much.
The company should be a place where employees believe that as long as they keep doing their job well, the company will take very good care of them in all aspects. CEO cares more about the employees than she cares about herself. Ben recommends not being too positive. “ My Single biggest personal improvement as a CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive”
Ben talks about a Good Product Manager and a Bad Product Manager. This is widely referenced on the internet. Here are some key qualities he outlines.
Good Product Manager
- A good Product Managers is the CEO of a product. He lists the qualities of a good product manager.
- Good Product managers take full responsibility and measure themselves in terms of the success of the product.
- Good Product managers are marketing counterparts to the Engineering Manager
- Good Product Managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions
- Good Product Managers focus the team on revenue and customers
Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers. Running a company is always a roller coaster ride. Ben’s company Opsware stock plummeted below $1 and was close to being delisted from the stock exchange. The kind of strategies he deployed, people he met and to turn around the company, persistence paid off. He ended up selling Opsware for over $1B.
Not only Ben shares his learnings and experiences in this book, one thing I found interesting was his reference to other books he read. One such mention (multiple times) was High Output Management by Andy Grove. This is my next read.