The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz @bhorowitz is a cofounder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. a16z aims to connect entrepreneurs, investors, executives, engineers, academics, industry experts, and others in the technology ecosystem. Prior to a16z, Ben co-founded and ran Opsware (formerly Loudcloud), which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 2007 for $1.6 billion. His past experience includes managing several product divisions at Netscape Communications, including the Directory and Security business unit.

This book is about business, struggle, friends and persistence.

Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.

I haven’t read many (any?) books that are written by CEO’s for CEO’s. Taking on the role of CEO is not a glamorous endeavor, and I enjoyed Ben’s stories about Loudcloud and Opsware. This quote is perhaps my favourite one from the book.

Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary cofounder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.”

Ben have a lot of great advice on how to hire well, especially executives. Whenever you hire someone, you need to look for someone who is mission-driven and who uses the team prism instead of the me prism. " … hire for strength rather than lack of weakness". As you build your team, consider hiring internal candidates as they often perform better. He also had advice about onboarding and training.

On leadership and management: Leadership is the art of getting people to follow you. And as Colin Powell said, “if only out of curiosity”. That involves having a vision, being able to articulate it, being inspiring, and creating a sense that you care about people, their goals and objectives. People like following people who possess some combination of these characteristics. Leadership is knowing what to do and getting people to follow you. Management involves getting people to do what you know, and that requires a different part of your brain. There is more creativity in leadership, and more discipline and systematisation in management.

I really agree with Ben’s closing quote - life is about the journey, not the destination. Therefore, it is important to embrace the journey. If you have a mission-driven mindset, the struggles you will face will be worth it.

“Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.

Being my second book on management, it was interesting, readable, and very honest.

Leyla Nunez
Leyla Nunez
Senior Biostatistician