It’s book review time!

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I recently read “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz and it totally blew my mind. When I read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” by Robert Kiyosaki, all I wanted was to become an entrepreneur. Now having read this book, I have a hundred reasons to NOT start a business! Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a startup. But having read this book provided me with quite a different perspective that I had not thought of before. Let’s explore that in my book review.

A Little About the Book

The Hard Thing About Hard Things was written by Ben Horowitz and published in 2014. Horowitz is a leading technology entrepreneur, venture capitalist and co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz. In this book, he shares his journey of running multiple startups and managing his company when everything seemed to go wrong.

While most books related to entrepreneurship only talk about the rosy details of running a business, Horowitz openly discusses how difficult things can actually get during a CEO’s journey. He emphasizes the complexities of running a tech startup and talks about being overwhelmed by a range of problems. What makes this book extremely helpful and relatable is its honest and sincere perspective. There are several major themes and concepts that are spread throughout the book. It takes the reader inside the mind of a struggling entrepreneur, who despite his best efforts, still faces adversity and failures.

Taking responsibility for Making Hard Decisions

The book discovers a wide range of difficulties that Horowitz faced while making major decisions. From recruitment to laying people off, the ultimate pressure was always faced by the CEO of the company. Horowitz mentions how, for an entrepreneur, handling a startup is a lot like taking care of a baby. Business owners are the most attached to their company and at the end of the day, the losses and obstacles hit them the hardest. Horowitz paints a comprehensive picture of the wonderful highs and disastrous lows he faced while running multiple startups.

Ben Horowitz also discusses whether good leaders are born or made. He mentions three attributes that contribute into making a good leader. The first thing a leader needs to do is articulating a distinct vision. The vision of the company must be conveyed by the leader in such a way that the employees integrate it in their work culture. The second attribute is the alignment of interests of employees and their seniors. The last quality that makes a leader great is their ability to achieve their vision. Even after a leader achieves their goals, they need to constantly upgrade their skills and not become overconfident in their abilities.

Becoming a Good CEO

Horowitz goes into detail about how CEOs are not born but made. The book goes into detail about how entrepreneurship has no rules. It is a never-ending process and takes years for a leader to develop the skills of a great CEO. Every company requires a different type of management style, so it is not advisable to just copy the behaviors of other good leaders. But there are certain key traits a CEO must develop according to his or her values and personality.

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Authenticity in their intentions is the first thing a good CEO must have. Some executives tend to become manipulative while approaching their employees and coworkers. It does not work effectively as feedback should come from the right place. A leader should want their employees to succeed, and this intention must reflect through their feedback. Ben Horowitz mentions how feedback is a dialogue and not a monologue. It is also important to be direct but not rude while providing feedback. In the end, all employees are different and the CEO must be able to perceive in what way they must be dealt with.

When I read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” by Robert Kiyosaki, all I wanted was to become an entrepreneur. Now having read this book, I have a hundred reasons to NOT start a business!

Management Debt

He talks about the concept of ‘management debt,’ in which executives take appropriate, short term management decisions that lead to catastrophic, long term consequences. A distinguishable quality of very good CEOs is that they always choose the hardest solution when faced with management issues. This is because they have experienced the case of paying management debt and they know how damaging it could be to the organization. Horowitz talks about the importance of providing regular feedback to employees so that they can constantly improve so that everyone is on the same page.

The Significance of HR Managers

Ben Horowitz talks about how HR managers play a consequential role while managing people in the workplace. Qualities like process design skills, diplomacy, industry knowledge and a trustworthy relationship with the CEO are valued in HR managers. Horowitz also mentions that a good HR manager understands the unspoken things in the office environment, thus making them highly perceptive. A good HR manager also does not get involved in power plays or office politics. They are trusted in terms of their judgment and perceptions by the CEO.

Creating an Organizational Design
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Horowitz writes about how all kinds of organizational designs lack in some way. The best way to create a decent organizational design is by deciding what needs to be communicated. The next thing one needs to do is figuring out what kind of information needs to be communicated. CEOs need to prioritize their communication and decision paths.  

Managing Office Politics

An organization’s culture is an essential part of the workspace. It distinguishes one company from another in terms of their values and missions. The book addresses many difficult situations that may come up in working spaces. One of the things Horowitz had to handle was the regulation of profanity in his office. He used profanity in his everyday life himself, so he had to be extremely careful dealing with this concern. Some of his employees had a problem with high profanity usage in the workplace. It would be both wrong to encourage profanity or completely prohibit it. To tackle this problem, he carefully crafted his statement that using profanity is okay, but using it to intimidate or sexually harass someone will not be tolerated. Fortunately, the situation was then rectified.

Why do Office Politics Happen in the First Place?
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Another lesson that the book teaches is that office politics are mainly a result of the CEO’s behavior. It may be unintentional, but the CEO needs to be careful about not encouraging political behavior. When employees approach a leader for compensations or favors, the situation needs to be evaluated before performing any actions. In order to deal with experienced and ambitious employees, only the right kinds of techniques will be able to work. Horowitz talks about two major aspects where CEOs can try to minimize politics.

  1. The first one is to hire people with the right kind of ambition. People with the right type of ambition care more about their personal successes regardless of where the company is going. It is natural to have personal ambitions, but they should be a by-product of the company’s success.
  2. The second aspect is to build certain processes for issues that might turn political. Such activities include performance evaluation, compensation, organizational design and promotions. Horowitz also adds that CEOs need to be careful with “he said, she said” situations. Gossip spreads extremely fast in the workplace and it’s not easy to put a stop to it, especially if the matter is controversial.
Hiring Experienced Professionals
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There always comes a point when CEOs need to hire older, experienced professionals. Ben Horowitz talks about how tech startups are short-lived and hiring senior professionals can speed up the process of achieving your company’s goals. The major reason for hiring senior officials is acquiring necessary knowledge and expertise in a particular area that the company is lacking. However, experienced people have got their own expectations while joining a new company. They come with their own work culture and understanding of the industry. Despite that, a CEO needs to make it clear that even senior professionals need to adhere to a certain code of conduct. They need to set a high standard for senior professionals to achieve and not be intimidated by their experience. This ensures high performance and efficient work culture.

Final Thoughts

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is incredibly insightful and provides a realistic view of the startup world. Most business books tend to be overly optimistic so reading this one was quite refreshing. I would recommend this book to all budding entrepreneurs, especially the ones who want to make it in the tech industry.

Thank you so much for reading!

Categories: Reviews


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