The Hard thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz tells us about his experiences as a CEO during running Opsware (previously known as Loudcloud) , which was later acquired by HP for $1.6B in 2007. He talks straight about the difficulties/ challenges a CEO has to face while running a company. Majority of the management books talk about setting up of great business practices, culture and good things, however very few talk about what to do when that doesn’t happen. So Ben decided to share about various tough decisions that he had to make as a CEO to show the brutal side of businesses in his book ‘ The Hard thing about Hard Things ’.
Firstly, he clearly states that there aren’t any recipes for succeeding in business and doesn’t try to hand over 5-10 practices or things to do. Instead, he talks about his experiences at being an Entrepreneur, a CEO & finds those learnings still very applicable while working as a VC.
Some of the lessons he shares in the book are:
- As a college student, he played Football & was part of higher academic groups. So when a Rock band’s album would be released, it was a major talking point for the Football team, whereas the academic groups discussed work of other scientists. He learned to think from different point of views during this time by being in different social circles. It helped him later as a CEO to just consider possible different scenarios when facts clearly stated some thing.
- When Ben was appointed as the CEO of newly launched startup Loudcloud in 1999, they were termed as a hottest startup within 8 months as they had raised money at $66mn & signed up customers for $27mn in next quarter with over 200 Employees. Then the dotcom burst happened and majority of the customers being startups disappeared, raising money by private investors became almost impossible and suddenly they were facing situation of running out of cash & end of road for Loudcloud. That’s when Ben decided to raise money by IPO which seemed like a horror idea then, but kept them alive. Eventually, they were able to raise money by IPO and it proved to be the difference between shutting the company and keep on running it.
- When Ben was working at Netscape before running Loudcloud, Microsoft had declared they are about to start new Web server & it was 5 times faster than Netscape. So Ben tried to plan little product changes & pivots here & there, so they could have something to survive the attack. However, his Engineering counterpart Bill Turpin was clearly not impressed & stated clearly that those minor actions were not going to win them anything, they were trying to dodge the bullets & instead needed to have something substantial or would be out of business.
6 years later at Opsware, Ben was facing similar problems when a new competitor Bladelogic started to beat them at big deals. Everyone around him started to propose shortcuts or practical solutions. However, this time Ben stated clearly that this required some answering some tough questions. Modifying their product quickly would be hard work yet that was exactly what they needed to do. Ben told everyone about where exactly the company stood and asked his Engineers for personal sacrifice, working day in day out for 6 months to built up a better product. After that, he hired a Sales president who excelled in the do-or-die situation and made Opsware’s position in the market strong again.
There are many other incredible experiences shared by Ben during his stint as CEO at Loudcloud & later Opsware. He is now a VC and mentor for various Tech startups in the firm Andreessen Horowitz, whose investments include Facebook, Foursquare, GitHub, Pinterest, and Twitter. He shares his thoughts through his Blogs and his Book The Hard thing about Hard Things is highly recommended.
Also try – Amazon: The Everything Store