Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup - practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular ben’s blog.
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.
Filled with his trademark humor and straight talk, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures, drawing from Horowitz’s personal and often humbling experiences.
©2014 Ben Horowitz (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers
First of all, I have to warn you that the author, Ben Horowitz, apparently likes gangster rap, and there are quotes at the beginning of chapters and sections that are relevant, yet have foul language and try to be offensive. Ben Horowitz interestingly, uses swear words, but only for great impact.
Second, Kevin Kenerly, the narrator, has a great style. It's hard to explain, but it's like he's speaking directly to you, and only to you. Some people might be annoyed by it, but I thought it was very appropriate for this book.
Third, there was a lot of really interesting and dramatic insight into how Horowitz handled an almost impossible to believe string of disasters by seeking good advice from his mentors, from experts, and by making hard decisions. Although I don't agree with some of the ways he treated people, his methods did get results.
Horowitz's formula for "building a business" is to get hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capitalists, then take your the company public and get hundreds of millions more dollars. Then buy companies that have products you need. The author has lots of advice about laying off employees, firing executives, and giving bad news to investors. There's a good chapter about the importance of training your employees.
This book is not for startups. "The Lean Startup," by Eric Ries, is a better book for entrepreneurs. Horowitz's book is for executives managing large companies.
The voice was miserable. It might have been a low soothing voice, ideal for radio, but the person didn't keep it interesting in inflection. Like a lazy professor a couple years after being tenured.
Horowitz takes a while to get to the real information of his book. When he does get there it great. Before that it is too slow.
The narrator enunciates so aggressively and with such over-animation it made me flinch. And the excessive use of rap lyrics and other extensive references to pop culture gave the book and story a very amateurish feel. The excessive use of the pronoun "she" when referring to hypothetical CEOs also presented an odd juxtaposition with the fact that every single reference to living CEOs was to male ones (Jobs, Bezos, Schmidt, Campbell, Gates...)
However, when the actual advice of the book came out (not until the last half or maybe even quarter) it was clear, concise and to the point. Definitely got me thinking. Wish the whole book had been as such.
Ben Horowitz has been there and done that--that being starting a tech firm and leading it through chaos and surprise and heartbreak to success. He isn't sharing leadership theory, he's sharing his life lessons.
As such, he offers specific examples and actual numbers for each of his principles. And his principles are insightful and practical. A few are powerful, like the idea of management debt: you can delay making a hard decision but you incur "debt". The problem didn't go away, you will have to pay it later--with interest. So pay now and reduce the cost. Also, don't hire a stereotypical executive, hire the one that fits the exact situation of your company. For example, there's a big difference between running a large company and building a large company. The first is more about managing lots of pressure--reacting well. The second is about creating growth through aggressive action--without anyone pressuring you to do it.
I give 4 rather than 5 stars to this strong leadership book because of the large amount of foul language. Not only is there a section where he decided as CEO to allow a tech culture norm of expletives (that was strategic at least), but he cusses every couple of pages. I guess he's being authentic but it is distracting.
Those who focus their review on the fact that there's hip hop references or the fact that the author is so raw in his language are clearly missing the f*cking point (since the book is full of expletives). This book explained the agony and euphoria I saw on many of my own CEOs, going from tiny companies to being acquired for millions of dollars. Of course, a good counter part to this book is Lean Start Up by Eric Ries (and that book is dry, boring, methodical, lean on interest yet good since it's the strategy to being a lean, agile start up). Horowitz doesn't mince his words and speaks sincerely about the realities of tech start ups. As Mitch Joel says so eloquently in CTRL-ALT-DELETE - the business world is in a state of purgatory. I'll add that technology is the extreme game of survival of the fittest. A must read for anyone working in tech. And leave your pearls at home. Business is cutthroat, it won't say please and thank you.
The narrator is awful
There are several examples given in the book where the author gives numbered examples, "one...(long pause, explanation)......two ..."
I listened to on 2X speed and it was very dry.
I couldn't take listening to the narrator. I thought it was an awful choice for this book. Crazy how much the narrator's voice can influence whether I like a book...but it does.
The voice of the narrator in no way sounds like, or gives an impression of Horowitz. The constant us of "she" when referring to a universal or fictitious CEO or manager is odd, since when he mentions real people, they're all men, ie; Andy Grove, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs.
The use of hip hop quotes was childish, and does not project an image of wisdom I need from a successful person. Why not quote Sponge Bob Square Pants while you're at it? I kept wondering how many rappers Horowitz was quoting while negotiating with HP.
Once I got past the amateurish nature of the delivery of the book, there were some good stories and advice. The author did seem to brag a bit about how smart he was, perhaps listening to all that hip hop influenced his delivery.
If you get the impression I'm not a big fan of hip hop, you'd be correct. But I'm not impressed by authors or speakers quoting any pop culture references like music or TV. It's lazy, and shows they don't read or revere serious thinkers or those who strive to advance or society. While some entertainers do contribute, they're not at the top of the list of those we can learn the most from.
I am a young-executive with a voracious appetite for great stories. I read and listen constantly, and am very proud of my book collection.
Mr. Horowitz masterfully delivers the truth and insight of those long and sleepless nights of trying to think your way through the chaos of a startup.
This book is not the work of a man gloating of his success and using the lens of hindsight to casually relay a few helpful hints. Rather this is an in depth and insightful guide to successfully navigating the major "fork in the road" types decisions that have the potential to define your outcomes.
This is money well spent! It does matter if you are a running the world's largest startup right now or just opened a one person carwash this book will help you. It is lively and entertaining, yet full of helpful information all clearly learned by Mr. Horowitz at the height of entrepreneurial battle.
"Pretty dull read, almost obnoxious self-promotion"
Was interesting and definitely written differently from most of these kinda books (lots of swearing, hip-hop references, unambiguous opinions and sometimes almost obnoxious self-promotion) which gave it some character. A few interesting lessons in there particularly on the difficulties of moving from Founder - CEO but on the whole, fairly dull. I'd give it 2 stars
It was a story more than a tool
Cut it at least in half
If you're not a middle class American privileged enough to go to an ivy league school and working in corporate America, this book has zero relevance to you. Even if you fit that description it still probably bears no relevance to you other than some light reading of anecdotal wars stories and subjective viewpoints on dealing with multi-million dollar sales and acquisitions of companies. It contains very little information of use to your average business or startup and should probably have the tagline "navigating a corporate snake pit when there are no easy answers"!
I found this at exactly the time I needed it. To any new CEO or MD - read this...
"Insightful, funny, true, excellent"
This book is great because it's a book about reality. Sometimes it's totally ridiculous what you have to go through as the CEO of a large or small company. But this book makes you realise you're not alone. You're not the only one who doesn't know what your doing :)
"should be mandatory listen for any startup founder"
great insight, will recommend it it to the CTOs, CEOs and startup founders I know. up there with zero to one and lean startup.
"Not for me! I've listened to a couple of chapters"
Better information in the review and I probably wouldn't buy this one. There's nothing essentially wrong with this book. But the business that I am planning to start doesn't match the authors information and experience and this isn't the right book for me.
If there are lessons they might be later in the book. I just found the early chapters slow going and I'm not learning much. Ben Horowitz comes across hard working and funny and he manages to work for top silicon valley companies in the 90s and I've just reached the bit when he has founded an cloud company with three others but I felt that this isn't going to help me on my journey. I will not be working for top software companies but if you are going to set up a software firm than this might be the book for you.
Maybe Kevin's voice isn't the right match for the book content. Particularly when he reads to words from the rap songs.
"very practical and useful book"
an honest practical book by a CEO of a high tech company, sharing lessons learned from his many years of experience. plus it is an inspirational story too.
"No nonsense story of someone who has been there &"
Really great account, telling you how it is. No corporate nonsense.
I also loved the references to rap lyrics which you don't often get in business books
Thanks to my friend Riaan for recommending this to me.
Really hard edged when compared to 7 habits but equally insightful
Yes if I had the time
"Great but awkward at times"
Best when Horowitz discussed his own personal experiences at OpsWare rather than me abstract anecdotes. Hip hop references are awkward. Hypothetical people are spoken about with specific genders as if they're real and you just missed something, which is distracting.
"Fantastic book to read for aspiring operators or investors"
I work in investing and don't really come from an operating background. This book was absolutely packed with insights and practical advice about hiring, firing, managing, and motivating people. I have way too many bookmarks on pages with simple but clear insights on the day to day realities of running a company. Definitely the best management book I've read bar none (although I'm going to start on Andy Grove's after the number of props Ben gives Andy in this book.). I know for a fact that I will be coming back to this book time and time again in the future
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