"The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz

Review by Borodutch

I liked "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" because it is straightforward and discusses failure more than success. Unfortunately, too many "business" books praise wins and even give a "blueprint" for achieving one yourself. These pathways rarely work for various reasons, and Ben is on point in debunking the silver bullet myth.

Andreessen Horowitz needs no introduction, but Ben describes his journey in detail: from the first company he founded to one of the most successful venture capital funds. On a personal note, I think that a16z is one of the wildly differentiated funds on the market because of how they build relationships with founders and how high of a quality their hiring bar is. Whenever I talk to people from a16z, I get a sense that they understand what I'm talking about, no matter how technical my thinking is.

Ben accounts for both his executive experience and the journeys of the companies they've founded, which brings the quality of advice high. Overall, the author covers the following topics:

  • The struggle of the business: business is helluva hard, failing is normal, fail more to succeed, everybody fails, don't quit, don't deny issues, talk to people who've been there, and talk to your team.
  • Build a good workplace: priorities and metrics are clear, people's efforts matter, few frictions to get things done, and no politics.
  • Hiring: raise the bar, hire for strengths, not weaknesses, hire for the right ambition, focus on the long-term goals, and a few chapters on specifics of working with executives.
  • Training: investing some time upfront can save a lot of hours in the long term, training should be done with both the management and the doers, do not skim on training even if instincts are against it.
  • Managing: build good company culture (and a chapter on how to do this), do one-on-one meetings (and a chapter on how to do this), implement a simple and scalable behavior as a core value, and deliver concise and fair feedback.
  • Scaling with the process: define the ultimate goal, describe the steps to achieve it, measure each step while at it, and assign accountability.
  • How to be a good CEO: have the vision, know how to achieve it, evaluate decisions, get the team to work to achieve the vision, and achieve the vision!

If I understood correctly, the book is a collection of Ben's blog posts, making it easy to find the right piece of advice when you need it and share it with the right people. It's fascinating how each chapter applies to a different step in an entrepreneurial journey, making the book extremely re-readable. I read a few blog posts in the past, but they didn't apply to me back then. However, having finished the book, I found a few new relatable chapters that stroke the right nerve.

If you're a startup founder, read "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" (or even better — meet with a16z and get a signed copy for free, hehe). You might find that 95% of things from the book do not apply to you at the current stage, but when you need advice, you'll know where to find it!