The Hard Thing About Hard Things, written by Ben Horowitz, is a tale about his personal career and lessons learnt. For those that haven’t heard of him, Ben Horowitz is a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was somewhat ahead of his time and is much revered within the community. He now spends most of his time working and investing in tech companies. The book guides you through how he started his career, setup and sold Opsware and went on to become a venture capitalist.
A Tale of Two Books
For me, the book is actually split into two sections each of which are interesting in and of themselves. The first part is really a mini-autobiography of Ben, and he spends a good time detailing not just his resume but personal circumstances which helped form his decision-making. We learn why and how he loves R&B, how he juggled starting a company with home life and which people he would turn to for advice when times were hard.
The second part of the book is, whilst not intended, a management manual. Ben goes into quite lengthy detail around the nuances of startup life and various stages of growth. He spends time detailing matters as large as how to hire and fire a CEO right through to how to conduct a 1:1 meeting. Whilst a lot of these lessons were useful, some were very niche and I found it hard to see how I could apply the theory to my everyday job. The book is most certainly aimed at people in a startup CEO role, but there is enough there to cover most other management positions.
Got a highlighter?
Whilst working your way through the 300 pages, I would highly recommend keeping a highlighter close by. The book is filled with lots of little gems that you will often find yourself coming back to refer to. In fact so numerous are the gems that the appendix even lists interview questions you may want to ask when recruiting.
You hired for a lack of weakness rather than for strengths
One particular lesson I learned is regarding hiring. Whilst looking for candidates to fill roles, it’s very easy to dismiss those with obvious weaknesses. Whilst this in of itself is no issue, there is often little weight put on searching for candidates with the specific strengths you actually desire. In the market for a skilled AWS developer? Then ensure they have those skills rather than accepting a mediocre Azure developer who fits with the team and you hope can pick up the AWS part later.
Something for everyone
Overall, I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in self-improvement as a leader or how to run a startup. Having never been to that part of the world, I also found it offers great insight into how Silicon Valley works. The story zips along at a nice pace and whilst can get a bit bogged down in bullet points, is generally easy to read.