Do you know the best thing about startups?
You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.
– Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing About Hard Things
To put the book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” into context it’s important to know a little bit about the author, Ben Horowitz. Personally I knew about him from his arguably industry leading VC firm Andressen Horowtiz firm which he founded along with Netscape cofounder Marc Andressen. Previous to that venture he founded the cloud infrastructure company Loudcloud and took it through a rollercoaster existence seeing it swing from success to failure and finally to a $1.6 billion cash exit to Hewlett Packard. Basically he’s a guy that’s done some real things.
Alright, so now that we know who the author is, what is the book? What is atypical about it and sets it apart from other literature in the space (Lean Startup for example), is it is a highly tactical book that deals with a set of specific situations and the direct actions and tactics that should be employed to deal with them.
To look at an example, (one that’s particularly pertinent to the quickly growing startup community in Edmonton where I live) Horowitz spends a chapter discussing the debate over whether to hire employees from a friends company. The context of this topic has changed in recent months due to the employee antitrust class action suit currently involving many of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley, but his observations are still relevant, especially for smaller companies in smaller startup communities. In the chapter Horowitz talks through the context in which such a situation typically occurs, and then goes on to discuss where the long term road will take you if you do decide to steal someone from a friend’s company. It’s a perspective that can only be provided by someone who has been down that path before and learned his lessons the hard way by making the mistakes.
This is where this book really shines for me. For each topic that Horowitz discusses there is a plethora of content in books and blog posts already in the space. The difference is that the majority of that content only discusses the ideas in the abstract, either because the authors have never actually been through it themselves, or because they can’t discuss specifics around confidential matters in their current position. Horowitz has the unique position of having been there, still being engaged in the community of tech startups, and knowing that the more content he creates that discusses the real blood and tears of entrepreneurship the more attractive his VC firm’s branding is for recruiting companies.
This books subject matter has a pretty specific target audience, being less valuable to general entrepreneurs and corporate CEO’s, but it really shines when read through the lens of a tech startup founder or executive. If you’re in that situation or planning to be, this book is a definite must read. If you’re just involved in working with startups I’d still recommend you give this book a read as it’ll give you a unique view into the stresses and challenges of being a startup CEO that I don’t believe you’ll find in many other places.