Breakroom Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things chronicles the challenges that author Ben Horowitz encountered during his career from founder CEO to venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz. The book provides pragmatic advice to run, grow, and sustain a successful start-up. It begins by providing Ben’s backstory which he uses to teach the lesson on the importance of embracing one’s background and using it to their advantage. Then the story transitions to his experiences as a founder with valuable insights to anyone who is or wants to be a leader at a company.

What stood out was the focus on the emotional aspect of becoming a CEO. While Ben can sometimes come off as self-congratulatory, many business books simply do not provide the unfiltered reality of the emotional toll it takes to be a CEO. In his words, “The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare. The problem with these (business) books is that they attempt to provide a recipe for challenges that have no recipes.” Whether you are the CEO or leader in any functional role, there inevitably comes a time when you feel like you are having a nervous breakdown, and ask you yourself “Is it just me”? Ben Horowitz is here to assure that you are not alone, and I find comfort in that.

Below are a few interesting snippets that I enjoyed:

• Statistics versus calculus to explain problem solving as a founder: Statistics assesses probability of outcomes. Calculus provides the means of achieving an outcome. In business if you need to find an answer, you got to find it irrespective of the odds of finding it. Founders prefer calculus.

• The importance of training your people and integrating them: As a consultant, we see many organizations who do not sufficiently invest in training. The result is high turn-over, lower quality products and services, and reduced customer satisfaction. For anyone reading this, train your people and make it an integral part of your organization’s culture.

• Lead bullets versus silver bullets to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges: There comes a time in every organization where they are at a cross-roads and survival depends on hitting the proverbial bullseye. There are no more simple solutions, and the organization must focus all its effort on sustainable products and services innovations to survive.

In conclusion, this book is made for CEO’s or those who aspire to be CEO’s. Like most positions of power, the skills required to achieve power and those required to maintain it are very different. Ben’s practical advice may be repetitive for business school graduates or industry professionals. However, his candid assessment of the emotional toll of leading multiple companies through IPO’s and successful exits is a breath of fresh air.