The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Narrated by: Kevin Kenerly
Length: 7 hrs and 57 mins
Categories: Business, Leadership
4.5 out of 5 stars (10,934 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Exciting and insightful view of a "wartime CEO"

Any additional comments?

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.

44 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Book for Entrepreneuers

The book is a combination of an autobiography and entrepreneurial advice. The first three chapters are about the author's start in the business (as if he's a recognizable name in the tech industry). Few people probably even heard of the companies that he co-founded, Loudcloud and Opsware. Also, it was self-indulgent of the author to start each chapter with a quotation from rap music (reciting lyrics from Kanye West as if they were words of wisdom to a businessperson).

When the author finally gets to recounting the struggles of running a company and giving advice on how to avoid the mistakes he made, the book then starts to fulfill its intent of "Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers." The author described the actions he had taken and explained his thought process. He gave the "what", "how", and "why" for his actions. Many of the suggestions are specific to entrepreneurs (like hiring an executive team, how to run a startup company, and when to sell the company). There is some business management advice (like having regular 1-on-1 meetings with direct reports and giving clear, honest feedback), but you'll have to prod through a lot of the entrepreneurial content.

9 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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For large company managers, not startups

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.

219 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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This book aint what I thought

aint what i bought
i got sold but what
i wanted aint what i got
Sounds like a description of the hardest thing about hard things and how to deal with the hardest things in your business
But it's not
its some guy telling a lot of stories about his experiences as a ceo from one narrow point of view. Very little fresh perspective.

7 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Strong, insightful, and a bit vulgar

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.

17 people found this helpful

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Great book - surprised by all the vitriol

Any additional comments?

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.

21 people found this helpful

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Hard truths no fluff, a gut check for founding CEO

If you need to know how paranoid you needed to be before considering being the CEO of a startup, then this is a must read. Not too long, great insight into the dread, critical, life altering decisions that you must make as a forms prime leader.

3 people found this helpful

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Sound advice, amateur writing and narration

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.

26 people found this helpful

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Hard to listen to

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.

13 people found this helpful

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  • L
  • 08-17-15

Once you learn to deal with Horowitz narcissism, it finally gets to the meat

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.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Simon
  • 11-01-16

best management book I've ever read

great book with real world advice and anecdotes from someone who has lived through the hard stuff. Much better than the over simplicity of most management texts. a must read for all managers our business owners.

2 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Julia Bonner
  • 08-22-19

Disappointing

I found this book to be low on substance. It is well padded with few practical take aways. Egotistical. I had hoped for much from this book.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Omar
  • 06-12-17

Feels like they didn't edited the book for audio

The book is at best average.
There are some good tipps, but it's more like a biography.

Also the narrator are literally reading conversation protocols, or emails. (including header, cc,...)

Maybe it's a good read as a book, but not the best buy as an audio book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • FahimS
  • 11-16-16

Must-read

One of the best business books I've ever read. It talks about taboos, the struggle that you rarely hear or read in biographies.

1 person found this helpful

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  • kev
  • 10-04-16

Kevin made Ben's story come alive

Ben has a wealth of honest real life sharings of struggles and strategies that make sense for any senior role. I see the CEO role as any senior leader that is accountable for P&L as well as people.

1 person found this helpful

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  • d024912
  • 02-04-16

Not for me! I've listened to a couple of chapters

Is there anything you would change about this book?

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.

Would you recommend The Hard Thing About Hard Things to your friends? Why or why not?

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.

What aspect of Kevin Kenerly’s performance might you have changed?

Maybe Kevin's voice isn't the right match for the book content. Particularly when he reads to words from the rap songs.

Did The Hard Thing About Hard Things inspire you to do anything?

Not really.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Mark
  • 07-20-15

Pretty dull read, almost obnoxious self-promotion

Would you try another book written by Ben Horowitz or narrated by Kevin Kenerly?

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

What was most disappointing about Ben Horowitz’s story?

It was a story more than a tool

Would you be willing to try another one of Kevin Kenerly’s performances?

Maybe

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Hard Thing About Hard Things?

Cut it at least in half

Any additional comments?

nope

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Bournesurfer
  • 02-14-20

Ok... not as good as I was expecting

This book gets rave reviews from lots of ‘influences’ within digital marketing. I think it is a good book for the big corporate manager types but for small starting out entrepreneurs it’s not particularly relevant. A bit self indulgent but I made it to the end so it obviously had enough to keep me going.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-14-20

Gripping listening for any business enthusiast

This book is tremendously well written and most importantly for this medium very well narrated. It’s a brilliant story of how determination , passion and self belief and awareness can help drag a company from the perceived doldrums to ultimate success.
I found myself extending my drives intentionally to continue listening to the book.

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  • Mr Ben Bland
  • 12-20-19

The real story for entrepreneurs

I haven't yet found a book that can provide a paint-by-numbers guide to running a successful venture, because none exist and never will. But this is one of the best. It's the personal story of a veteran tech CEO, and a cold, candid guide to many of the things they don't tell you about when you start the job.

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  • Stew Glynn
  • 11-28-17

The truth about building a business

Amazing story of the trials and tribulations of growing a company rapidly! Great stories shared by Ben that highlight the intensity, loneliness and challenges of entrepreneurship. Thanks Ben Horowitz

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-14-19

a very high 3 stars

really enjoyed it but struggled to extract lessons that could be applied to my own life.
really enjoyed that this was a story with lessons baked in rather than the other way round.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Adam
  • 01-13-20

Excellent resource

I really liked this book. It helped me see that being a CEO is being more like a drill sergeant than my employees best friend.

Thanks Ben!

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Carl F Watson
  • 12-19-19

80’s porn voice intolerable (x1.5 speed makes it bearable)

Having listened to the author speak on the Tim Ferris podcast, I was drawn to this audio book. The narration however isn’t by the expert/author himself but an 80’s porn style voice over toss-pot!
Determined to get through it, I had to listen to it at 1.5 times the speed.
I have no gripes with the content itself as it’s insightful and relevant to those drawn to the subject matter.
Why the hip hop references though? Proceed with caution if u want to endure this audio book.

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  • Tom
  • 12-11-19

Best startup book I've ever read.

I could listen to his hard earned wisdom each and every day. Thank you so much!

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-11-19

Got some good takeaways

Generally a good book and performed well. Mostly applies to corporate businesses, but had good takeaways that can be used elsewhere.

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  • Michael
  • 10-31-19

Deserves 6 stars.

if there is one business book to read by someone who has been there and done that it's this one.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-08-19

Inspirational

Very motivating content for those interested in what it's like to play with the big boys in business.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Felipe
  • 08-17-19

great read

An amazing book. Full of real life experiences that can be related to. Totally recommend

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-11-19

Great book

Real insights into the emotional issues entrepreneurs face. Reader was a bit soft spoken. I had to turn up the volume to clearly understand everything.