About The Best Business #Book Ever. Bravo @bhorowitz + 50 Quotes

The Hard Things About Hard ThingsHello SCG and everyone else who happens to land here.

The highlight (the professional one as there is certainly no lack of personal joys these days) of my first quarter of 2014 was without doubt a new book by Ben Horowitz, The Hard Things About Hard Things. It hit me to the core. I loved it to bits. It is filled with real stories, of a real doer, of a real CEO and now a highly respected VC. He has earned it. He is a master of the art of struggle, the entrepreneur. Let me share with your why am I so high from this book (Having Nas and Kanye West jamming from my headphones helps to prolong this ‘dopy’ feeling.)  It was like reading a 21st century thriller. I’ve never before had my heart beating fast when reading a business book. Ben’s lessons from decades long struggle are for me like the holy book of running a business, being a good manager and being a good human being. Do yourself a favour – read his book. Here is why:

Hard Things Are Going To Be There Along The Way. Count On It!

Making decisions is hard, because it divides people. Articulating visions is hard, but it connects people. Asking for help is hard, but it can save the livelihood of many. Hiring is hard, but having sharp capable professionals around you is inspiring. Firing people is hard, but if you are really serious about your work, you cannot afford to waste your time on excuses, politics or incompetence.

50 Handpicked Quotes from The Hard Things About Hard Things

Note: The whole book is full of gems after gem. I have underlined plenty of thoughts in it (and I will re-read it again when the hardback arrives). What you will find below is just a taster, so you can get an idea of how awesome, insightful and helpful Ben’s work is. Read it yourself and see what more is in it for you, but in my opinion you are just about to read the next management/business book classic.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if out of curiosity.

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In particularly dire circumstances … the simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.

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Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?” Ben: “What?” Marc: “You only experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”

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The things you are not doing are the things you should actually be focused on.

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All decisions were objective until the first line of code was written. After that, all decisions were emotional.

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Conventional wisdom had nothing to do with the truth and efficient market hypothesis was deceptive.

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A start up CEO should not play the 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.

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People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?” Sadly there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO.

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Your company did not unfold like the Jack Dorsey keynote that you listened to when you started.

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Everybody makes mistakes. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes. Evaluating yourself and giving yourself an F doesn’t help.

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My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive.

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Create a culture that rewards, not punishes people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.

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Managers must lay off their own people. They cannot pass the task to HR or to a more sadistic peer.

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Bill Campbell once gave me a critical bit of advice, when I was preparing to fire an executive. He said, “Ben, you cannot let him keep his job, but you can absolutely can let him keep his respect.”

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The key to an emotional discussion is to take the emotion out of it.

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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 current mess. Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do. Because in the end, nobody cares; just run your company.

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There were to primary reasons why people quit:

1. They hated their manager; generally the employees were appalled by the lack of guidance, career, development, and feedback they were receiving.

2. They weren’t learning anything: The company wasn’t investing resources in helping employees develop new skills.

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Being too busy to train is a moral equivalent of being too hungry to eat.

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Often candidates who do well in interviews turn out to be bad employees.  Look for candidates who come in with more new initiatives  than you think are possible. This is a good sign.

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When you are a startup executive, nothing happens unless you make it happen.

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Look and feel are the top criteria for most executive searches. Write down the strengths you want and the weaknesses you are willing to tolerate.

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Many young companies overemphasise retention metrics and do not spend enough time going deep on the actual user experience.

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The ultimate price you pay for not giving feedback: systemically crappy company performance.

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Do your benefits makes sense for your company demographics?

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While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of organisation and then regain it.

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Bunch of high IQ people with the wrong kind of ambition will not work.

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World class PR people can turn chicken shit into a chicken salad. Turning chicken shit into chicken salad requires long-term trusted relationships, deep know-how, and the confidence to make use of both appropriately. PR kids don’t have any of the three.

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The key to good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is employee’s meeting rather that the manager’s meeting.

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The world is full of bankrupt companies with world class cultures. Culture does not make company.

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Dogs at work and yoga are not culture. Perks are good, but they are not culture.

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Managing at scale is a learned skill rather than a natural ability. Nobody comes out of the womb knowing how to manage a thousand people. Everybody learns at some point.

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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.

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Tip to aspiring entrepreneurs. If you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO.

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The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.”

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In life, everybody faces choices between doing what’s popular, easy and wrong versus doing what’s lonely, difficult and right.

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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.

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If a CEO ignores the dimension of management she doesn’t like, she generally fails.

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The enemy of competence is sometimes confidence. A CEO should never be so confident that she stops improving her skills.

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The peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. The wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.

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The peacetime CEO sets big, hairy, audacious goals. The wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.

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From an evolutionary standpoint, it is natural to do things that make people like you. It enhances your chances for survival. 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.

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In good companies, the story and the strategy are the same thing.

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Great decisions come from CEOs who display an elite mixture of intelligence, logic and courage.

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There are two kinds of cultures in this world: cultures where what you do matters and cultures where all that matters is who you are. You can be the former or you can suck.

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The more I thought about my future, the more I thought about my past.

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…most venture capital firms were better designed to replace the founder than to help the founder grow and succeed.

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We have a saying around the firm: Show it, sell it; hide it, keep it.

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We decided that the firm’s nickname would be “a16z”, as a followed by sixteen letters by z.

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…hard things are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.

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…even with all the advice and hindsight in the world, hard things will continue to be hard things. So, in closing, I just say peace to all those engaged in the struggle to fulfil their dreams.

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The Bottom Line About Hard Things

I have made many hard decisions in my life: I quit things which I deeply loved and lived for: Pro basketball career at the top of my fitness and form. A high paying sales job. Posh jobs in banking and consulting. Parted with my best business partner. I moved countries. Why did I do it? Was I insane? Maybe, but in every cases I had simply outgrown the ambitions and visions of my superiors. I had stopped learning. Quitting was hard and it still hurts. Starting new things was hard and it left its scars on me, too. The journey I picked almost 5 years ago is not anymore lonely one  but it is well worthy one.

One day when I grow up, I want to work with people like Ben and his crew. Till then let us enjoy parenting, fermenting process of ideas whirling in our heads and not knowing of what’s next.

SCG,

what was the greatest struggle you have lived through in your life? What challenges do you face in your business? Relationships? Which quote from Ben’s book will your remember?

Best wishes,

– is

Note: The Hard Things About Hard Things will be available in UK on 24th April 2014.

P.S.: Thanks to Ben’s recommendations in the book I will do my homework and read these during next quarter.

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