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The business book you need to read this month: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

The "bible for entrepreneurs"? TruRating's Georgina Nelson urges everyone involved in business to read Ben Horowitz's candid account of the start-up world

Name of business book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
As recommended by: Georgina Nelson, founder of TruRating

What is The Hard Thing About Hard Things about? Hard Thing About Hard Things

I consider this the book to be the bible for entrepreneurs. It’s written by Ben Horowitz, one of the Silicon Valley giants who was a founder of LoudCloud and then went on to build Andressen Horowitz, the incredibly successful West Coast VC.

Horowitz talks through the tough times, the challenges he went through, how he dealt with them face on and what he learnt in retrospect.

More specifically, he covers everything from managing disagreements with your board, having to let go of a friend who started the business with you, wanting to recruit an employee of a partner’s company or facing declining sales and a dodgy product.

But it's about more than simply citing the practical scenarios, he also addresses the psychology involved and the emotions which hit the hardest for a founder or CEO.

Horowitz covers the topics and issues that you don’t learn at, say, university or business school.

Target audience?

I’d recommend that everyone in business has a read of The Hard Thing About Hard Things – from university students to seasoned entrepreneurs.

You can always learn something new and based on the success that Horowitz has had, you’ll really grow from reading this and can refer back to it on numerous occasions.

What’s the best bit of The Hard Thing About Hard Things?

Being an entrepreneur can feel incredibly lonely but this book speaks to you and gives comfort in challenging times.

Let’s be honest; most entrepreneurs find ourselves leading teams, businesses, investors just off the back of simply having a good idea and running with it. We haven’t typically risen through the ranks of promotions etc. to become CEO, so we have less experience and training.

Before TruRating, I was a lawyer and hadn’t even managed a team. Suddenly I found myself responsible for so many people’s lives – from those who joined my company to those who put their money on the table based on what I’d told them. The toll this responsibility has on all aspects of your life is incredible and Horowitz completely gets this.

He talks about the demands in detail which in itself is rare; explains how you’re not alone, how he got through it, how others got through it, that you too will get through it AND this is how to do it. You put the book down after reading feeling stronger, more determined and optimistic.

Why should business owners read The Hard Thing About Hard Things?

Because you get great advice on actual issues you’ll come up against! The book also covers off key mistakes Horowitz made, alongside what went well, and I think that’s admirable.

We can all learn from that and use his experience to improve.

3 top takeaway points for start-ups?

  1. “The most important thing to do understand is that the job of a big company executive is very different from the job of a small company executive.When I was managing thousands of people at Hewlett-Packard after the sale of Opsware, there was an incredible number of incoming demands on my time. Everyone wanted a piece of me. Little companies wanted to partner with me or sell themselves to me, people in my organisation needed approvals, other business units needed my help, customers wanted my attention, and so forth. As a result I spent most of my time optimising and tuning the existing business. Most of the work that I did was “incoming”. In fact, most skilled big-company executives will tell you that if you have more than three new initiatives in a quarter, you are trying to do too much. As a result, big company executives tend to be interrupt-driven. In contrast, when you are a start-up executive, nothing happens unless you make it happen. In the early days of a company, you have to take eight to 10 new initiatives a day or the company will stand still. There is no inertia that’s putting the company in motion. Without massive input from you, the company will stay at rest.”
  2. “This is not checkers – this is motherfuckin' chess. Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on the Star Trek, there is always a move. You think you have no moves? How about taking your company public with $2m in trailing revenue and 340 employees, with a plan to do £75m in revenue the next year? I made that move, I made it in 2001, widely regarded as the worst time ever for a technology company to go public. I made it with six weeks of cash left. There is always a move.”
  3. “[Referring to the above] Remember that this is what separates the women from the girls. If you want to be great, this is the challenge. If you don’t want to be great, you never should have started a company.”

Excerpt business owners can learn from?

The chapter entitled ‘Take care of the people, products and profits in that order’ really resonated with me and that’s something we wholly embrace at TruRating.

We are nothing without our team. Our team get stock options, we celebrate their successes and special occasions, support their preferred charities and even have our own TruPups – rescue puppies who we have into the offices.

If your team are happy, the results will show in their efforts and output. This excerpt from the chapter sums it up:

“There are two key steps to avoiding disaster:

  • Screen for devastating mismatches in the interview process
  • Take integration as seriously as interviewing”
Book name: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Author: Ben Horowitz
Date published: April 2014
RRP: £20 (hardcover)
Synopsis: In this book, Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, draws on his story of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and investing in tech companies to offer essential advice and practical wisdom for navigating the toughest problems business schools don't cover. A brutally honest account of how hard it actually is to run a business, Horowitz covers everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, from cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.



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