The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

30 Second Summary

This book is on a lot of “best business book” lists. I thought it was a really fun read.

Ben Horowitz is an entrepreneur, former tech CEO, and current venture capitalist and blogger. He was the founder and CEO of Loudcloud and Opsware, two silicon valley companies from the late 90s early 2000s, and his current VC firm is very well-respected.

This book combines his war stories with insights and lessons. It’s oriented mostly toward CEOs, but there are great lessons on leadership, decision-making and management that are applicable to anyone in your organization.

The hard thing about hard things is that there are no shortcuts or recipes for making the right move. Hard things – building something for the first time, making decisions in the face of horrible options, and managing the pain and pressure of being in charge of a company that’s running out of cash – are inherently complex. They cannot be solved by referencing a business textbook. Horowitz has the experience to back up this claim; his tales from running two companies are highly entertaining and insightful.

Key Concepts

  1. Deal with your people first. You must take care of people (i.e. manage them) in order to lead.
  2. The CEO’s job is to know what to do and to get people to do it. Same could probably be said about the role of managers.
  3. The CEO’s skill set: articulate the vision, get people to follow you, and executing.
  4. Other critical CEO/leadership skills: the ability to focus and make a decision when there are no good options, and the ability to focus on what to get right, not what not to get wrong.
  5. Everyone is scared and anxious in the face of challenges; actions (not feelings) are what separate leaders.
  6. The measure of a leader is how many high quality people want to follow her.
  7. A lot of content in this book about hiring, firing, promoting, and how to communicate these things to the team. Having a well-organized and thoughtful approach to the org-chart and career development is vital and is time well spent for leaders.
  8. Employee training is an extremely good investment.
  9. 1-on-1’s are the lifeblood of management. Ben Horowitz will fire you if you don’t have 1-on-1’s with your employees.
  10. Good product managers versus bad product managers article, which is required reading.
  11. A lot of management books are written by management consultants who have never run shit and who worked with mature companies who could afford consultants. As a result, some of the standard management insights are fucking useless for many companies.
  12. Leaders should communicate and err on the side of being transparent.

Who Should Read This Book and Why

Most relevant for more senior positions in a company, but stil useful for managers of all types.

Horowitz definitely focused most of this book on leadership on a wide-scale, but you’ll still get lessons about what makes a leader effective at any level.

The posts below walk through the book’s key concepts