Hard Lessons From Ben Horowitz, Silicon Valley's Unconventional Venture Capitalist
By Jay Jackson Founder of RYSE
I recently had the opportunity to read The Hard Thing About Hard Things written by Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder of Andreessen Horowitz, for potential inclusion in RYSE’s “Ink to Make You Think” book club. I was particularly intrigued with reading this book. Why? Well, for one, Horowitz is one of Silicon Valley’s most respected Venture Capitalists. He had the foresight to make early investments in companies that include Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and Airbnb. He’s also a seasoned entrepreneur, co-founding the pioneering cloud-computing company, LoudCloud (later Opsware), which he ultimately sold to Hewlett Packard for $1.6 Billion.
While I was intrigued, I must admit that I was, at first, a bit skeptical as well. I have read numerous business management books filled full of clichés disguised in fresh buzzwords that try to give the reader the impression that whatever the author is saying is both new and revolutionary, often employing vague principles that are not practical in today’s high growth business cycle. However as I started reading Horowitz’s book, it didn’t take long for my skepticism to dissipate. I found myself pleasantly engulfed in Horowitz’s story, seeing my own quiet experiences as an entrepreneur play-out on the pages. There are very few books I have read on the subject of business in which I felt the author was speaking directly to me and what I had experienced as the head of a start-up. The very short list includes cult-classic, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber and now The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
Horowitz transparently shares with readers the rollercoaster ride of emotions he experienced on his journey as the founding CEO of LoudCloud, while authentically weaving in practical lessons he learned (many times through trial and error) along the way. Known for his love of hip hop music, Horowitz begins each chapter with a lyric from a hip hop song by a notable artist, correlating how the message of hip hop and business go hand-in-hand.
With Chapters such as ‘The Struggle’ and ‘The Most Difficult CEO Skill’, Horowitz addresses issues almost every start-up CEO faces, but are too scared or prideful to admit aloud, as he unashamedly proclaims: “When your big dreams turn into nightmares…”, you are in The Struggle. “When you are surrounded by people, yet you feel all alone…”, you are in The Struggle. "When people ask you why you don't quit and you don't know the answer…", you are clearly in The Struggle.
Addressed repetitively throughout the book are lessons on fear. Horowitz acknowledges that fear is a reality that all CEO’s face. The great ones, however, embrace fear in order to develop their courage. Another message emphasized in the book, which is seldom seen in business literature, is the importance of family and priorities. Horowitz expresses the mental strain one can experience while trying to be a supportive spouse and keep your fledgling business afloat.
Horowitz ultimately covers a myriad of topics that include demoting (or firing) a loyal friend; whether you should incorporate titles and promotions, and how to handle them; how to manage your own emotional/mental health while the whole company is relying on you; what to do when smart people are bad employees; cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality; and other shared nuggets of wisdom he has gained from world-class mentors like Bill Campbell, Chairman of Intuit (who served as a trusted advisor along his journey).
As the headlines in media increasingly showcase companies that are raising millions of dollars at billion‑dollar evaluations (thus, glorifying life as a start-up), Horowitz is brutally honest about the wide range of emotions one will experience – from euphoria to anguish – when trying to actually run one. There are clearly a number of hard decisions you will face when building your business. But it’s clear to me that one of your easiest decisions should be to read The Hard Thing About Hard Things. If you are looking for a road map to increase your chances for success, then Horowitz’s book is definitely ink that will make you think.