Book Review : The Hard Thing About Hard Things [Don’t Read This If You Romanticize Entrepreneurship]

Entrepreneurship is a journey filled with rejections, failure and a whole lot of personal trauma (note : if you aren’t facing any of these as an entrepreneur, you aren’t just pushing the envelope enough).

The Hard Thing About Hard Things
The Hard Thing About Hard Things

And while most of the talks about startups and entrepreneurship are about successes and tend to celebrate all-that-went-well, very few talk about startup failures.

No, it’s not just about talking failure. It’s about talking the shit that goes inside building a company – be it about firing your team to taking tough decisions.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of Kevin Rose, Digg founder – who decided not to sell Digg at its peak. And later got peanuts. Imagine yourself laying off your team just because the ship is about to sink and you want to hold on that for as long as possible. Sometimes startups are like that only. And all of the times, the founder/CEO is responsible for all the (bad) decisions.

And once you make a bad decision, you are fucked. By employees / investors / media –  everybody writes you off. It’s tough sticking your neck and deciding on anything.

Review : The Hard Thing About Hard Things

If you thought starting up was all about getting media attention and raising funding, you need to read ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things‘, probably the most amazing book I have ever read on startup space.

Written by Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz VC firm and software company Loudcloud (Ops-ware), Ben offers an UnPluggd/ blunt/ straight piece of advice on working through the startup life.

Ben nicely shares a lot of anecdotes on hiring/firing/sales and how a founder needs to follow his/her guts than go by general advice. And ofcourse, a lot of practical advice – for e.g. how much of using rough language (like fuck) is allowed in a corporate setup? How do you differentiate between a genuinely fucked up feeling vs. somebody passing a sexist remark? Where and how do you draw the line?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things : What It Is Not

For sure, the book does NOT offer any gassy advice on ‘how to run a business’.  Or ‘success tips’ from a successful entrepreneur. The book is NOT meant for a bedtime reading.

The book is something you will probably read when you are wide awake and in a deep shit mode! In fact, read it when you are in a never-ending-roller-coaster-ride because you will atleast have something to relate to (I have!).

For instance, Ben nicely describes the two types of CEOs – Peacetime CEO and Wartime CEO. That is, Eric Schmidt who Vs Larry Page.

Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.

Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.

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

Peacetime CEO does not raise her voice. Wartime CEO rarely speaks in a normal tone.

Peacetime CEO has rules like “we’re going to exit all businesses where we’re not number 1 or 2.”  Wartime CEO often has no businesses that are number 1 or 2 and therefore does not have the luxury of following that rule. [Ben’s blog]

Most of the startup founders (including myself) tend to be the wartime CEO (just that we don’t know the right term to describe that emotion). And till date, nobody has written any book on wartime CEOs, maybe because most of the wartime CEOs lose the battle and in general, aren’t considered a darling.

But for most of the wartime CEOs, the focus needs to be on the road and not the wall – and that’s one BIG perspective Ben Horowitz leaves you with.

Grab a copy and read it. Skip, if you are in the romantic phase of your startup life and everything around you looks beautiful.