I opened up The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (on the list of my 24 books I’m reading this year) with great anticipation. I had heard much about it, and how it had great business wisdom. Ultimately, I have very mixed thought about this book.
First, what I didn’t like.
At the beginning of each chapter, he had rap lyrics I didn’t understand and didn’t even know how they applied to the chapter. Also, I have a strong distaste for the swearing and use of the N-word in rap lyrics. It was all lost on me.
Next, the author’s expertise in writing this book comes from founding and selling a billion dollar software company. However, I found him to be smug and cocksure when providing his advice. Maybe it’s my Midwest perspective, but I would have liked a little bit more humility.
Also, this book focuses on Horowitz’s experience building a software company. While tech might impact many parts of our economy, it actually makes up only 6% of U.S. GDP. I think many of the lessons from the book might only apply to tech, and to a greater extent, the Silicon Valley culture and environment. I’m not sure his perspective and ideas translate to the other 94% of the economy, and especially manufacturing companies or the Midwest.
Lastly, I think this book i really meant for the 1% of CEOs who manage $100,000,00+ companies. It’s not for the average entrepreneur trying to hit $5,000,000 in sales or even $1,000,000 in sales.
What did I like about the book?
After I reviewed my highlighted passages, I found a lot of advice to be thoughtful and precise. Many books simply focus on what you need to do to grow your business, but this book answers many of the questions you’ll confront on your journey. Interestingly, he often refers to conversations he has had with his mentors, some of whom are the top minds in Silicon Valley. These conversations are an added bonus to the text.
Horowitz focuses on the importance of establishing processes for everything (near and dear to my heart) so you can grow strategically and efficiently. He discusses how and when to hire, demote and lay off people, and even walks you through a process to do so while maintaining a strong corporate culture.
Other areas Horowitz examines include why you should train new employees, and the importance of explaining to employees, “why” instead of merely “what”. He discusses the importance of integrating new hires into company, and organizational and management structure, including motivating employees, how to compensate them, and how to conduct a performance review.
He addresses many other issues but I am not sure they apply to smaller companies. For instance, he spend a lot of time discussing the CEO’s true role in the company and how to hire one, and maintaining company culture. Also, communication, institutional knowledge, and decision making, all are difficult in larger companies. However, it’s not clear how these would apply to the businesses that make up 90% of the U.S. economy.
I’m not sure this ranks in at the top of list to read, but I do believe it can be valuable guide for entrepreneurs that they can continually refer to as they build their business.