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The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

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4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,254 Ratings  ·  709 Reviews
A lot of people talk about how great it is to start a business, but only Ben Horowitz is brutally honest about how hard it is to run one.

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, draws on his own story of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and inve
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by HarperBusiness (first published January 1st 2014)
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Bryan Rahija Here are a few things from my notes:

It's important to get 3 key processes in place:
-1 on 1s: possibly the single best way to make your organization…more
Here are a few things from my notes:

It's important to get 3 key processes in place:
-1 on 1s: possibly the single best way to make your organization a Good Place to Work, encourage employees to deliver important bad news, and clear obstacles to their work, these should occur very regularly
-Promotions: clarity on this front discourages political maneuvering
-Feedback: it's just really important for raising the bar

2 really good questions to ask:
-What would I do if my company went bankrupt? (This led Horowitz to conclude that he needed to spin off 80% of LoudCloud and bet the whole business on a product called Opsware, ultimately leading to a $1.6 billion acquisition by HP)
-What are we NOT doing? (Horowitz had this as an agenda item at staff meetings; once it helped surface a critical unmet need in the market)

An interesting way to structure account management for key accounts:
-Have one person in charge of delivering every last thing that the client asks for
-Have a second person in charge of worming their way in the organization and identifying hidden value -- i.e., things you could build and sell them

An insights Horowitz attributes to Andy Grove:
-Training is one of the single "highest leverage" activities that a manager do (http://www.bhorowitz.com/why_startups...)(less)
Zero to One by Peter ThielEquating the Equations of Insanity by Durgesh SatpathyThe Art of Startup Fundraising by Alejandro CremadesThe Lean Startup by Eric RiesSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Recommended Books for Startups
6th out of 112 books — 124 voters
Flash Boys by Michael LewisThe Art of Startup Fundraising by Alejandro CremadesSmall Move, Big Change by Caroline L. ArnoldThink Like a Freak by Steven D. LevittLeaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
Business Books 2014
9th out of 32 books — 68 voters


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Community Reviews

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Brad Feld
Mar 10, 2014 Brad Feld rated it it was amazing
Shelves: entrepreneurship
This is one of the best books you’ll ever read on entrepreneurship and being a CEO.

If you are a CEO, read this book.

If you aspire to be a CEO read this book.

If you are on a management team and want to understand what a CEO goes through, read this book.

If you are interested in entrepreneurship and want to understand it better, read this book.

On Friday, I spent the entire day with about 50 of the CEOs of companies we are investors in. Rand Fishkin of Moz put together a full day Foundry Group CEO S
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Arjun Narayan
Mar 21, 2014 Arjun Narayan rated it liked it
Shelves: econ-finance
Executive Summary: This is a book about Ben Horowitz's war stories. Ben Horowitz has good war stories, if you care about the narrow space of Venture Backed fast growth technology startups. I'm not so sure that they generalize to the point of making a good management guide. You might be better off reading some Drucker.

First: the absolute preliminaries: Ben Horowitz co-founded LoudCloud with Marc Andreessen in 1999, with a plan to do enterprise managed services (what has now grown to the SaaS and
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Otis Chandler
I haven’t read many (any?) books that are written by CEO’s for CEO’s. If you are a CEO, aspire to be a CEO, or really, manage anyone - you need to read this book.

This quote is perhaps my favorite one from the book. At the top, nobody is there to tell you what to do. It’s easy to look at some leaders and wonder how they knew what to do to become so successful. Are they just really smart? The truth is that they likely did what everyone else in that situation has to do - get scrappy and just figur
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Chris Johnson
Apr 19, 2014 Chris Johnson rated it it was amazing
This is the very best business book I have ever read.

I would estimate that I've read roughly 1,000. I've loved maybe 100. This one is in it's own category, a book that both documents the times about 12-15 years ago and paints a picture of what we can do today.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I cannot say more strongly: read it. If you know me - email me at my personal address and I'll buy it for you.

There are a few things that happen to an entrepreneur. I've faced down the belly of the
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Patrick Brown
Jan 26, 2015 Patrick Brown rated it really liked it
It's hard for me give this a rating, as I haven't really read many other how-to business books. I liked the narrative section at the beginning of the book a bit better than the tactical advice section, but I think that's probably just how I prefer to get information. There are some great lessons in here for non-CEOs, but I suspect it's even more valuable for those who have founded and/or run a company.

I think most relevant and/or interesting to me were:

* Hiring for strength rather than lack of
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Lena
Jul 15, 2014 Lena rated it liked it
Shelves: business
Ben Horowitz joined Netscape in the very early days and proceeded to ride the internet wave all the way up, all the way down, and everywhere in between over the course of his career. In this memoir/business advice book, he recounts choice moments from his extensive career and shares information he found important along the way.

In a world filled with Rah-Rah You Can Do It! business books, I found the tone of this book incredibly refreshing. The opening paragraph gets right to the point that it do
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Ethan
Mar 27, 2014 Ethan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Superb and unique book for its target reader - the founding CEO of a software company. Real, practical guidance that no one else has covered in a business book.

Becomes rapidly less applicable the farther the reader is from the target. A few useful nuggets for non-founding CEOs, executives of non-software firms, and non-CEO founders, but this is by no means a generalist book on entrepreneurship or "business".

Largely collected from Horowitz' blog, so regular readers there will not find too much ne
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Angie
May 02, 2014 Angie rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
This is not a book that I think many general readers would enjoy. The first part is about the author's experiences building and running various tech companies and is fairly interesting. Most of it, though, is a huge compendium of short bits of management advice that gets very tedious. It might be of interest if I were looking for a how-to book, but, even so, it seems to be based pretty heavily on the author's own experience, i.e., "I did this. I was successful. Ergo, this is the right thing to d ...more
Bulent Duagi
May 21, 2015 Bulent Duagi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
It's a must read if you're into management + tech.
The hard thing about hard things is that nobody and nothing really prepares you for them.
Ashley
Mar 13, 2014 Ashley rated it it was amazing
This was possibly the most useful management book I have ever read. Ben's personal stories along with key lessons and advice on how to handle those difficult decisions was amazing.

I'm not sure it would be of value to anyone who's not a founder CEO. However I think it's a must read for all founder CEOs who are in the process of building a big company, or trying to.

I should also throw in that's its a bit scary. Sometimes while in the grind you hold hope that someday everything will just get easie
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Jon Fish
Jan 19, 2015 Jon Fish rated it it was amazing
Most business books talk in the abstract: "empower your employees", "give good and frequent feedback", "don't sweat the small stuff". This is all well and good, but, as Ben Horowitz correctly points out, is more about the "What" than the "How". The hard part of building an A+ team is not realizing that you need to find people who have complementary strengths and can work together, but is rather that sometimes the right person doesn't look the part, works for a friend, or is not as smart as the u ...more
Sergei_kalinin
Nov 01, 2014 Sergei_kalinin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: management, start-up
Если характеризовать книгу двумя словами: "учебник прикладного менеджмента". Два важных уточнения: 1) именно "прикладного", а не теоретического; 2) по сути это такая "настольная книга CEO", включающая в себя рекомендации и по оперативному, и по стратегическому управлению.

Книга - это один большой кейс; где в роли кейса выступает карьера самого автора. Бен Хоровиц начинал как рядовой программист в компании SGI, потом работал в Netscape, потом в AOL и далее ещё в десятке-другом известнейших IT-ком
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Josh Steimle
Mar 15, 2015 Josh Steimle rated it really liked it
I rarely read the same book twice, but I'm going to do just that with this book. In fact, I'm considering reading it once a month for the next year until everything in it is ingrained in my consciousness. Why? Because this book has the lessons I need in my business, right now. I'm in the midst of hiring my core team that is going to help us grow. I've gone through, and continue to go through, many of the challenges faced by Horowitz, albeit with fewer zeros on the ends of all the numbers. This b ...more
Kihong Bae
Dec 26, 2014 Kihong Bae rated it liked it
Maybe my expectations were too high, being a big fan of a16z and Ben, but the book only wins 3 stars from me. Great contents are loosely connected, scattered all over the book and because of this, it was a bit hard to concentrate on the book.

However, the core of the book is excellent - I have to admire the experiences and tough decisions that Ben had to make, and a lot of the stuff actually sent me digging up memories and reflecting upon many (too many) mistakes and bad decisions that I had pers
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Robert
Dec 20, 2014 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Horowitz has assembled a great collection of hard fought knowledge for future founding CEOs. I took away a lot from this book, despite neither being a CEO nor planning to be one. Anyone who intends to take a leadership role in a company, especially in high tech, should read it. The advice on hiring and firing is clear, succinct and valuable. I also got a lot of great insights on what to look for in product managers. While not entirely discouraging to would be entrepreneurs, Horowitz's vividly re ...more
Silvia
Feb 09, 2015 Silvia rated it really liked it
Shelves: editing-work
This was an editing job for me and also I was not in the target audience, not one bit. However, the book flowed nicely and it had some very interesting points. I guess that if you are interested in these kinds of books, it is worth a read :) I will star it only based on the two points above.
Benjamin
2014 may be the year of reading books that I never thought I'd read. Like the Brene Brown book, this came to me through a recommendation from a friend; but whereas the Brown came from my humanities friend (Alex) from MakerSquare, this came from my business friend (Kelsey).

And it is very businessy. (Hence the new shelf I just created: "businessy.") If you, like me, never heard of Ben Horowitz before, the short version of his story is that he's a technology entrepreneur; he worked at Silicon Graph
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Lech Kaniuk
Jan 17, 2016 Lech Kaniuk rated it it was amazing
Every founding CEO should read this book!
Rute Silva Brito
Jan 20, 2016 Rute Silva Brito rated it it was amazing
The best business books I've read in years!
It's full of practical advice drawn from his own experience in the trenches.
Deals with the up and downs and the hard decisions tech startup CEOs face but no one talks about.

My favorite chapter was Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO: a very useful distinction since most management books only portray Peacetime CEOs and management techniques.

Kushal
Jun 06, 2014 Kushal rated it it was amazing
This book should be compulsory reading for all founders/CEOs. Ben very articulately takes you through the entire gamut of emotions you go through and the range of challenges you face as a founder and suggests very sensible ways to deal with them. By the end you will figure out why A16Z is supposed to be the best VC to have on board.
Louis
Jan 10, 2015 Louis rated it liked it
Some interesting insights, but nothing life-changing. I often felt like he was trying too hard to draw generalizations based on his experience at one particular company (Loudcloud/Opsware). And it's bizarre that he introduces each chapter with rap lyrics, often without any obvious connection to the chapter's topic.
Heidi
Apr 04, 2015 Heidi rated it really liked it
This is absolutely about managing a tech business - and a large one. I guess that should have been obvious by who it is by and what the title is, but.. I guess I was expecting something more widely applicable. I thought it had some very good thoughts, and some of the advice is probably good for anyone looking to start a business, but this is more for people who already have the business. A lot of anecdotes about the businesses he ran, and tech and business stories to illustrate the points which ...more
Jacquelyn
Apr 06, 2014 Jacquelyn rated it really liked it
Started off feeling super pandered to with use of feminine pronouns. By the end I felt like it was kind of effective. On the other hand, complete lack of women in the book was pretty disheartening.

Better than your average business book.
Jan Kolář
Apr 28, 2015 Jan Kolář rated it it was amazing
No bullshit book about firing people you love and a surviving guide for the worst possible scenario in a company.
Charlene
Apr 22, 2015 Charlene rated it really liked it
Refreshing, honest, easy to understand and insightful; even if you are not a Silcon Valley venture capitalist, high tech-high powered entrepreneur. This CEO is dedicated to providing practical leadership advice: how to hire, fire and scale and when to sell and when to spurn offers. Some of the advice is counterintuitive. He dismisses the "don't bring me a problem without bringing me a solution" management maxim by asking: If an employee can't solve the problem he encounters, do you really want h ...more
Way
May 22, 2015 Way rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating and entertaining read from a grizzled CEO (now VC) who saved his company from bankruptcy (multiple times) by swinging it between million dollar deals like a sparkler on 4th of July. Horowitz offers a lot of interesting stories with some pretty hilarious quotes (like Marc Andreessen - "It's always darkest before it goes completely black") and fascinating large plays that sandwich fundamentals on how to hire and fire key employees, deal with performance issues, and scale a te ...more
Ahmad Moshrif
May 06, 2014 Ahmad Moshrif rated it it was amazing
Briefly, this is the best business book that I've read in 2014 so far.

Thinkg seriously to read it again.

باختصار ... أفضل كتاب قرأته هذا العام في عالم المال والأعمال.
عنذما يتكلم بين هوروتيز، بالتأكيد يجب على كل قيادي وشاب أعمال أن يسمع ماذا سيقول.

نقلاته الناجحة (بشكل مفجع) في عالم الأعمال تستحق التوثيق بكل شكل وهذا ما نجح به فعلاً من خلال هذا الكتاب، وأجمل ما في الكتاب تطرقه بشكل كبير على التفاصيل الصغيرة التي تهم القارئ (رجل الأعمال/القيادي).
يعلمك بين كيف توظف وكيف تفصل، كيف تتحدث مع المستثمري
...more
Fabio Modolo
Jan 06, 2016 Fabio Modolo rated it it was amazing
Ben Horowitz went thru hell with his businesses and made a wonderful portrait of how's to be there.

His description of the challenges, suffering, self-reflection, frustration, excitement,... are exactly what I felt when I had my entrepreneurial experience, but was unable to articulate and understand what was going on in my mind...

Different from other bizz books with "recipes for success", the reflections he creates are wonderful for anyone planning to have an entrepreneurial experience. More than
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Ngiste
May 13, 2015 Ngiste rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Hard Thing about Hard Things is meant for start up founder CEOs. It is still an amazing source of advice for all the rest of us. For young professionals, it provides reminders of the habits to start building today to be able to lead tomorrow.

The most valuable part of the book is not a single recommendation but the entire style. Horowitz never says what to do. He outlines how to do it and illustrates one application with his own experience. This makes the book a timeless resource to inspire
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Fernando Rodriguez-Villa
The Loudcloud/Opsware story is fascinating and this is a good quick read in general. It goes a bit off the rails maybe as it transitions into management lessons. Ben uses quite a lot of the first person singular to describe his companies' accomplishments...
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Ben Horowitz is the cofounder 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. The firm's investments include Airbnb, GitHub, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Previously, he was cofounder and CEO of Opsware, formerly Loudcloud, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard fo ...more
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“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” 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.” 19 likes
“Until you make the effort to get to know someone or something, you don’t know anything.” 14 likes
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