Otis Chandler's Reviews > The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
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it was amazing
bookshelves: readathon-day-2015, business, nonfiction, leadership, autobiography, biography

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 figure it out - and don’t give up.

"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.”

My second favorite quote from the book speaks to one of the greatest challenges all entrepreneurs face: work/life balance. I like to say "work hard, play hard". But sometimes it's easy to forget the play part. Or to buy flowers once in a while. But the cost of those on your health or relationships can cost much more.



"As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, then communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don’t."

Ben had a lot of great advice on how to hire well, especially executives. Looking to avoid reactionary big company execs when you need someone who will come in and get stuff done proactively. Looking for people who can think on their feet and not make everything a nail for the hammer of their prior experience by asking “How will your new job differ from your current one?” Looking for people who are mission driven and use the “team” prism instead of the “me” prism. He also had advice about onboarding, and training.

Hiring for strength instead of lack of weakness. I’ve definitely seen instances of this - where a candidate is great in some areas that we really need but isn’t great at everything. Knowing what you value most is critical here - and I fully admit - not easy to do.

"I’d learned the hard way that when hiring executives, one should follow Colin Powell’s instructions and hire for strength rather than lack of weakness."

On hiring internally vs externally. Internal candidates across often do better, which is a great thing to think about when building a team.

"when it comes to CEO succession, internal candidates dramatically outperform external candidates . The core reason is knowledge. Knowledge of technology, prior decisions, culture, personnel, and more tends to be far more difficult to acquire than the skills required to manage a larger organization."

One of my favorite sections was "Managing strictly by numbers is like painting by numbers". No matter how well you instrument your metrics and goals, you can ever perfectly encapsulate everything you need your company to be doing. Innovation is often like this - with many big innovations the team will often struggle to find how it drives value as it doesn’t seem to hit the core metric. But they can all agree it will improve things. I think a big part of the CEO’s job is to have a strong product vision, and to not compromise on it.

"I often see teams that maniacally focus on their metrics around customer acquisition and retention. This usually works well for customer acquisition, but not so well for retention. Why? For many products, metrics often describe the customer acquisition goal in enough detail to provide sufficient management guidance. In contrast, the metrics for customer retention do not provide enough color to be a complete management tool. As a result, many young companies overemphasize retention metrics and do not spend enough time going deep enough on the actual user experience. This generally results in a frantic numbers chase that does not end in a great product."

Ben talked about the difference between CEO’s who can set direction for a company (often founding CEO’s) and those can can operationally run it as it grows. How great CEOs need to be good at both, and founding CEOs who don’t scale are those who don’t learn the operational side. And conversely, operational CEOs who don’t get good at making decisions about direction will fail.

Ben talked about how "Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions." The strength of those decisions is built upon having data. Data about what customers think. Data about what employees think. Data about the metrics. A CEO has to be a constant data accumulating machine. Another nuance was that a CEO can make a decision at any point in time with the data they have now, identify what data would change their mind, and seek it out.

"Great CEOs build exceptional strategies for gathering the required information continuously. They embed their quest for intelligence into all of their daily actions from staff meetings to customer meetings to one-on-ones. Winning strategies are built on comprehensive knowledge gathered in every interaction the CEO has with an employee, a customer, a partner, or an investor."

Ben’s stories about Loudcloud and Opsware and the Hard Things he dealt with were impressive. I do think they spread too much throughout the book and would have been better concentrated in one part of the book and supplemented by more examples from other companies. But that doesn’t detract from one can learn from them. It was strange that he opens each chapter with rap lyrics - that often seem very disconnected to the chapter. I guess he likes rap - but still…

Pretty cool Ben had Michael Ovitz as an advisor. And that he modeled A16Z after CAA - where instead of independent agents/VCs, have a shared network - and invest in strategic networks that will help the companies.

Michael Ovitz on dealmaking: “Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done."


One interesting tendency Ben points out is that “When a company starts to lose its major battles, the truth often becomes the first casualty.”. You have to be vigilant in looking for the truth, and have backbone spot it. The reason for this, is that "humans, particularly those who build things, only listen to leading indicators of good news." Which is so true! We can always find reasons to excuse away bad news, and reasons to believe good news means more than it should.

Ben closes with a quote I really believe in - life is about the journey, not the destination. So you have to embrace the journey. Be so mission driven that the struggles you inevitably face are worth it. "Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle."
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Quotes Otis Liked

Ben Horowitz
“Jim Collins, in his bestselling book Good to Great, demonstrates through massive research and comprehensive analysis that when it comes to CEO succession, internal candidates dramatically outperform external candidates. The core reason is knowledge. Knowledge of technology, prior decisions, culture, personnel, and more tends to be far more difficult to acquire than the skills required to manage a larger organization.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“During this time I learned the most important rule of raising money privately: Look for a market of one. You only need one investor to say yes, so it’s best to ignore the other thirty who say”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“In my weekly staff meeting, I inserted an agenda item titled “What Are We Not Doing?”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“One of the most important management lessons for a founder/CEO is totally unintuitive. My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“We have a very high churn rate, but as soon as we turn on email marketing to our user base, people will come back.” Yes, of course. The reason that people leave our service and don’t come back is that we have not been sending them enough spam. That makes total sense to me, too.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“I often see teams that maniacally focus on their metrics around customer acquisition and retention. This usually works well for customer acquisition, but not so well for retention. Why? For many products, metrics often describe the customer acquisition goal in enough detail to provide sufficient management guidance. In contrast, the metrics for customer retention do not provide enough color to be a complete management tool. As a result, many young companies overemphasize retention metrics and do not spend enough time going deep enough on the actual user experience. This generally results in a frantic numbers chase that does not end in a great product.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Consensus decisions about executives almost always sway the process away from strength and toward lack of weakness.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“How will your new job differ from your current job?”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Consider scheduling a daily meeting with your new executive. Require them to bring a comprehensive set of questions about everything they heard that day but did not completely understand.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Son, do you know what’s cheap?” Since I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, I replied, “No, what?” “Flowers. Flowers are really cheap. But do you know what’s expensive?” he asked. Again, I replied, “No, what?” He said,”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“humans, particularly those who build things, only listen to leading indicators of good news.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“You should evaluate your organizational design on a regular basis and gather the information that you need to decide without tipping people off to what you plan to do. Once you decide, you should immediately execute the reorg: Don’t leave time for leaks and lobbying.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“People with the right kind of ambition would not likely use the word play to describe their effort to work as a team to build something substantial. Finally, people who use the “me” prism find it natural and obvious to speak in terms of “building out my résumé” while people who use the “team” prism find such phrases to be somewhat uncomfortable and awkward, because they clearly indicate an individual goal that is separate from the team goal.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“a company will be most successful if the senior managers optimize for the company’s success (think of this as a global optimization) as opposed to their own personal success (local optimization).”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“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.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“The great football coach John Madden was once asked whether he would tolerate a player like Terrell Owens on his team. Owens was both one of the most talented players in the game and one of the biggest jerks. Madden answered, “If you hold the bus for everyone on the team, then you’ll be so late you’ll miss the game, so you can’t do that. The bus must leave on time. However, sometimes you’ll have a player that’s so good that you hold the bus for him, but only him.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Bill Campbell developed an excellent methodology for measuring executives in a balanced way that will help you achieve this. He breaks performance down into four distinct areas:”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email, and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“A good practice is to have the employee send you the agenda in advance. This will give her a chance to cancel the meeting if nothing is pressing.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Perks are good, but they are not culture.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“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 Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“When my partners and I meet with entrepreneurs, the two key characteristics that we look for are brilliance and courage. In my experience as CEO, I found that the most important decisions tested my courage far more than my intelligence.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions. Therefore, a CEO can most accurately be measured by the speed and quality of those decisions.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Great CEOs build exceptional strategies for gathering the required information continuously. They embed their quest for intelligence into all of their daily actions from staff meetings to customer meetings to one-on-ones. Winning strategies are built on comprehensive knowledge gathered in every interaction the CEO has with an employee, a customer, a partner, or an investor.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Unrelenting confidence was necessary.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, then communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don’t.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Ben Horowitz
“I’d learned the hard way that when hiring executives, one should follow Colin Powell’s instructions and hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.”
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers


Reading Progress

October 7, 2014 – Shelved
October 7, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
January 21, 2015 – Shelved as: readathon-day-2015
January 24, 2015 – Started Reading
February 11, 2015 –
40.0%
February 18, 2015 –
58.0%
February 19, 2015 –
62.0%
February 26, 2015 –
88.0%
March 2, 2015 –
93.0%
March 2, 2015 –
100.0%
March 2, 2015 – Shelved as: business
March 2, 2015 – Finished Reading
March 3, 2015 – Shelved as: nonfiction
March 3, 2015 – Shelved as: leadership
March 3, 2015 – Shelved as: autobiography
March 3, 2015 – Shelved as: biography

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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message 1: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Maas Mr. Horowitz - now THIS is how you make an enticing title! Decent cover design too - the words bring you in!


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