The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Ben Horowitz co-founded Opsware in 1999, which Hewlett-Packard acquired for $1.6 billion in cash in July 2007. Later, he and Marc Andreessen co-founded a venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz, which invests in several tech companies. 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 offers advice on building and running a startup through his book. This post is about my favorite parts from his book.

@bhorowitz's Tweet in May 2014 – best book party ever

The hard thing.
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.

I will survive.
If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble.

When things fall apart.
People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?” Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO.

Life is struggle.
Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through the Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is the Struggle. The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

Zero To One

Peter Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal, early investor of Facebook, and co-founder of Founders Fund, which invests in several startups, including Palantir, SpaceX, Airbnb, and Spotify. In spring 2012 Peter taught Stanford class CS 183: Startup. Notes essays for the course, taken by student Blake Masters, led to a book titled Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, published in September 2014. This post is my favorite parts from the book – it could be a kind of summary.

The PayPal Mafia – Silicon Valley's richest group of men

The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.

Today’s “best practices” lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried.

The Challenge of the Future
That is what a startup has to do: question received ideas and rethink business from scratch.

Party Like It's 1999
The entrepreneurs who stuck with Silicon Valley learned four big lessons from the dot-com crash that still guide business thinking today:
  1. Make incremental advances.
  2. Stay lean and flexible.
  3. Improve on the competition.
  4. Focus on product, not sales.

And yet the opposite principles are probably more correct:
  1. It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
  2. A bad plan is better than no plan.
  3. Competitive markets destroy profits.
  4. Sales matters just as much as product.

How much of what you know about business is shaped by mistaken reactions to past mistakes? The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.

The Expert

Can I ask one more question, please? When you inflate the balloon, could you do it in the form of a kitten?

Of course I can! I can do anything, I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert!

"There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."
– Sam Walton, founder of Walmart