The Hard Things About Hard Things is one of the most popular books illustrating some of raw intense experiences of being a startup founder — here are the key takeaways you can use to drive your startup to success.
Building a new business or launching a startup raises many questions — but there are few easy answers available to startup founders. Ben Horowitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, focuses on identifying what it takes to become a successful startup founder.
Launching a startup is a difficult process that can become significantly more difficult once a startup is up and running. Operating a successful startup as a founder or entrepreneur is far from an easy task. There are many books available today composed by entrepreneurs or startup founders — finding a book that doesn’t romanticize the act of operating a startup or deliver empty truisms, however, is a time-consuming process.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things pulls no punches when it comes to shining a light on the struggle of launching and operating a successful, thriving startup. Focused primarily on actionable guidance on how to create and launch a startup that doesn’t fail within the first year, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is no easy read for enterprising startup founders — there are no shortcuts, according to Horowitz.
Overcoming The Struggle
The core message delivered in The Hard Thing About Hard Things is overcoming the struggles presented by life — quoting Karl Marx, Horowitz highlights the myriad difficulties associated with operating a company. Any element of a business could go wrong at any time, predicts Horowitz.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things opens with a narrative that outlines Horowitz’s personal business journey. Horowitz’s career began at Silicone Graphics in the early 90’s, then moved to Netscape in 1995. Serving as the Vice President of AOL’s eCommerce division subsequent to the sale of Netscape to the 90’s internet giant, Horowitz developed a wide-ranging skill set that led to the founding of his first platform — LoudCloud, one of the first cloud computing platforms designed specifically for business.
LoudCloud was purchased by Hewlett-Packard, after which Horowitz shifted to operating as the Vice President and General Manager of HP software. In 2009, Horowitz made his first foray into the world of venture capital, launching VC from Andreessen Horowitz in partnership with Netscape founder Marc Andreessen.
Startup founders often operate with highly optimistic assumptions on how successful the idea that drives their venture will be. For some startups, this relentless optimism can function as a driving force — for others, however, Horowitz argues that the path to startup success is littered with obstacles and threats that must be overcome.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things highlights the fact that there is no single “one size fits all” process or recipe for launching a startup, nor is there a single method that can be used to overcome any of the obstacles encountered by startup founders. The title of the book itself succinctly reveals Horowitz’s stance on startup operation — there’s no formula that can be used to overcome struggle. Startup founders must remain adaptive.
Preparing for the Worst
Unlike other books written by entrepreneurs and startup founders, The Hard Thing About Hard Things doesn’t focus on positive thinking or hopeful planning. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Horowitz attempts to prepare prospective startup founders to deal with the many problems that can occur throughout the startup launch and operation process.
During Horowitz’s lengthy tenure within the VC industry he has encountered a broad spectrum of different issues, problems, and failure points — The Hard Thing About Hard Things identifies these challenges for startup founders and focuses on providing them with the tools they need to learn from their mistakes.
Highlighting times in which bad news, business difficulties, and significant obstacles personally, Horowitz provides deep insight into the mindset of CEOs and startup founders facing serious challenges. Operating as a CEO, argues Horowitz, doesn’t insulate a business leader from the challenges created during the day-to-day operation of a business — instead, high level leadership within an organization is far more acutely aware of business struggles.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things argues that the role of a CEO is not to overcome, solve, or predict the problems and issues faced by companies, but instead should focus on assembling a team of capable, autonomous, and efficient individuals that are able to work together in a collaborative manner in order to solve problems.
Focus on Employees
Quoting former Netscape boss Jim Barksdale, Horowitz delineates the order in which problems should be overcome in a startup or organization of any time — “take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order.”
Placing a higher importance on managing the employees that comprise a successful startup team, argues Horowitz, means focusing on training, working with, and providing insight into the vision of a company to employees. Establishing and maintaining an appropriate and healthy business culture is the key to ensuring that team members work together without friction.
Peacetime Leadership Versus Wartime Leadership
A critical takeaway from The Hard Thing About Hard Things is the concept of the peacetime CEO versus the wartime CEO. A peacetime CEO, posits Horowitz, operates when a business is operating smoothly, during the early stages of establishing a company, or when all key indicators are green.
A wartime CEO, however, is necessary when a company or startup faces significant challenges. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Horowitz highlights the importance of the radically different management styles presented by each type of CEO — during his career, Horowitz states that he acted as a peacetime CEO for three days and a wartime CEO for eight years.
Many books written by entrepreneurs are limited in scope and audience, providing actionable insights only to a small pool of CEOs of successful or large-scale enterprises. Scaling down the concepts that drive these leaders to succeed in order to make them accessible and valuable to startup founders at any level, however, is exactly what Horowitz provides via The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
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