Cover of book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

by: Ben Horowitz

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75 Highlights | 1 Note
  • That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.
  • It taught me that being scared didn’t mean I was gutless. What I did mattered and would determine whether I would be a hero or a coward.
    Note: Again and again, normal refrain about fear and courage
  • There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience.
  • Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity.
  • In particularly dire circumstances when the “facts” seemed to dictate a certain outcome, I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook. The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.
  • technology companies focused on creating a better way of doing things.
  • During this time I learned the most important rule of raising money privately: Look for a market of one.
  • Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?” Ben: “What?” Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”
  • No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends.
  • During the road show, as a way to break the tension, Marc would say, “Remember, Ben, things are always darkest before they go completely black.”
  • This was wartime. The company would live or die by the quality of my decisions, and there was no way to hedge or soften the responsibility.
  • Note to self: It’s a good idea to ask, “What am I not doing?”
  • There has been a powerful shift toward the idea that statistical ways of thinking are going to drive the future.” —PETER THIEL
  • odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.
  • I follow the first principle of the Bushido—the way of the warrior: keep death in mind at all times.
  •   Don’t put it all on your shoulders. It
  • move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is always a move.
  • Play long enough and you might get lucky.
  • Don’t take it personally. The predicament that you are in is probably all your fault. You hired the people. You made the decisions. But you knew the job was dangerous when you took it. Everybody makes mistakes. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes. Evaluating yourself and giving yourself an F doesn’t help.   Remember that this is what separates the women from the girls.
  • My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive.
  • In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust.
  • Telling things as they are is a critical part of building this trust.
  • 2. The more brains working on the hard problems, the better.
  • 3. A good culture is like the old RIP routing protocol: Bad news travels fast; good news travels slow.
  • A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news. A company that discusses its problems freely and openly can quickly solve them.
  • As a corollary, beware of management maxims that stop information from flowing freely in your company. For example, consider the old management standard: “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.” What if the employee cannot solve an important problem?
  • Once you decide that you will have to lay people off, the time elapsed between making that decision and executing that decision should be as short as possible.
  • Training starts with a golden rule: Managers must lay off their own people.
  • Keep in mind what former Intuit CEO Bill Campbell told me—The message is for the people who are staying.
  • Andy explained that humans, particularly those who build things, only listen to leading indicators of good news.
  • business than facing an existential threat. So scary that many in the organization will do anything to avoid facing it. They
  • There comes a time in every company’s life where it must fight for its life. If you find yourself running when you should be fighting, you need to ask yourself, “If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?”
  • That might be the best CEO advice ever. Because, you see, nobody cares. When things go wrong in your company, nobody cares.
  • And they are right not to care. A great reason for failing won’t preserve one dollar for your investors, won’t save one employee’s job, or get you one new customer.
  • All the mental energy you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one seemingly impossible way out of your current mess. Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do.
  • “I roll with the hardest niggas, make money with the smartest niggas I ain’t got time for you fuckin artist niggas Better shut your trap before you become a target nigga Y’all army brats I’m the motherfuckin sergeant nigga.” —THE GAME, “SCREAM ON ’EM”
  • I’d learned the hard way that when hiring executives, one should follow Colin Powell’s instructions and hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.
  • In times of peace, one has time to care about things like appropriateness, long-term cultural consequences, and people’s feelings. In times of war, killing the enemy and getting the troops safely home is all that counts.
  • My old boss Jim Barksdale was fond of saying, “We take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order.” It’s a simple saying, but it’s deep.
  • “Let me break it down for you. In good organizations, people can focus on their work and have confidence that if they get their work done, good things will happen for both the company and them personally. It is a true pleasure to work in an organization such as this. Every person can wake up knowing that the work they do will be efficient, effective, and make a difference for the organization and themselves. These things make their jobs both motivating and fulfilling.
  • “In a poor organization, on the other hand, people spend much of their time fighting organizational boundaries, infighting, and broken processes. They are not even clear on what their jobs are, so there is no way to know if they are getting the job done or not. In the miracle case that they work ridiculous hours and get the job done, they have no idea what it means for the company or their careers. To make it all much worse and rub salt in the wound, when they finally work up the courage to tell management how fucked-up their situation is, management denies there is a problem, then defends the status quo, then ignores the problem.”
  • Grove wrote, “Most managers seem to feel that training employees is a job that should be left to others. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that the manager should do it himself.”
  • Once you become aware of the conflict between hiring the superstar employee and double-crossing your valued friend, you should get the issue onto the table by informing the employee that you have an important business relationship with his existing company and you will have to complete a reference check with the CEO prior to extending the offer. Let him know that if he does not want that to happen, then you will stop the process now and keep the process to date confidential. By
  • Why do you want to join a small company?
  • It’s much better if they want to be more creative. The most important difference between big and small companies is the amount of time running versus creating. A desire to do more creating is the right reason to want to join your company.
  • As the great self-help coach Tony Robbins says, “If you don’t know what you want, the chances that you’ll get it are extremely low.
  • Valuing lack of weakness rather than strength The more experience you have, the more you realize that there is something seriously wrong with every employee in your company (including you). Nobody is perfect.
  • To get things right, you must recognize that anything you measure automatically creates a set of employee behaviors. Once you determine the result you want, you need to test the description of the result against the employee behaviors that the description will likely create.
  • the metaphor “technical debt” is now a well-understood concept. While you may be able to borrow time by writing quick and dirty code, you will eventually have to pay it back—with interest.
  • What do I mean by politics? I mean people advancing their careers or agendas by means other than merit and contribution.
  • 3. They attempt to copy the political behavior that generated the unwarranted promotion.
  • Nothing motivates a great employee more than a mission that’s so important that it supersedes everyone’s personal ambition. As a result, managers with the right kind of ambition tend to be radically more valuable than those with the wrong kind.
  • When interviewing candidates, it’s helpful to watch for small distinctions that indicate whether they view the world through the “me” prism or the “team” prism.
  • The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting.
  • A good practice is to have the employee send you the agenda in advance. This will give her a chance to cancel the meeting if nothing is pressing.
  • In his bestselling book Built to Last, Jim Collins wrote that one of the things that long-lasting companies he studied have in common is a “cult-like culture.”
  • When they think, they realize that if you move fast and innovate, you will break things. If you ask yourself, “Should I attempt this breakthrough? It will be awesome, but it may cause problems in the short term,” you have your answer. If you’d rather be right than innovative, you won’t fit in at Facebook.
  • The first rule of organizational design is that all organizational designs are bad.
  • A process is a formal, well-structured communication vehicle.
  • Perhaps the most important thing that I learned as an entrepreneur was to focus on what I needed to get right and stop worrying about all the things that I did wrong or might do wrong.
  • “I tell my kids, what is the difference between a hero and a coward? What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do.
  • In fact, I often felt scared to death. I never lost those feelings, but after much practice I learned to ignore them. That learning process might also be called the courage development process.
  • Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly.
  • Indeed, the enemy of competence is sometimes confidence. A CEO should never be so confident that she
  • Yet to be a good CEO, in order to be liked in the long run, you must do many things that will upset people in the short run. Unnatural things.
  • Doing so would be quite bizarre, but evaluating people’s performances and constantly giving feedback is precisely what a CEO must do.
  • To become elite at giving feedback, you must elevate yourself beyond a basic technique like the shit sandwich.
  •   Be authentic. It’s extremely important that you believe in the feedback that you give and not say anything to manipulate the recipient’s feelings. You can’t fake the funk.
  • Stylistically, your tone should match the employee’s personality, not your mood.
  • Be direct, but not mean.
  • As CEO, you should have an opinion on absolutely everything.
  • If you like someone’s comment, give her the feedback. If you disagree, give her the feedback. Say what you think. Express yourself.
  • The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.
  • 1. The CEO skill set Managing executives, organizational design, running sales organizations and the like were all important skills that technical founders lacked.
  • Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.