The Hard Thing About Hard Things must be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s Horowitz’s way of laying out everything he believes to be true in entrepreneurship. He’s not attempting to provide anyone with recipes for challenges. There’s no shit sandwiching! He’s simply uncovering the dark secrets of building a scaling company.
PS! Not recommended to be read by faint-hearted starting entrepreneurs that still have their pink-shaded glasses on. Otherwise, you’ll either miss the points he’s making. Or you’ll realize what the actual fuck you’re about to get yourself into, and will quit too soon.
If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble.
“Son, do you know what’s cheap?” – “No, what?” – “Flowers. Flowers are really cheap. But do you know what’s expensive?” – “No, what?” – “Divorce.”
At the start of the book, there’s two fantastic rollercoaster rides:
First, there’s Ben’s journey through Netscape – a company that had its IPO after they’d been alive for 16 months. Only to get killed killed killed by Microsoft’s free Internet Explorer a couple of months later.
“How might you run the business if capital were free?” is like asking: “What would you do if ice cream had the exact same nutritional value as broccoli?”
And then there’s the story of Opsware (founded as Loudcloud). Founded in 1999. Two months in, they raised $15 millions. Two months later, they raised another $45 millions in debt. Six months in, they had nearly two hundred employees. Nine months in, they’d booked $37 million worth of new contracts.
And then there was the great dot-com crash, where they raised another $120 millions, missed all their forecasts, had an IPO, and only kept on sinking. But managed to sell off the company to HP for $1.65 billion in cash in 2007.
“Do you know the best thing about startups?” – “What?” – “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”
Nobody cares, just fucking do it.
In all this, only one thing kept both of those companies alive. They didn’t punk out nor quit. They simply did whatever was necessary to survive.
- Sell the business that’s generating 100% of the revenue.
- Sell 150 employees and lay off another 140.
- Buy a random company your biggest customer’s manager loves for $10 millions.
- Ask everyone to cancel their personal lives for six months to build a winning product.
“I don’t give a fuck how well trained you are. If you don’t bring me $500’000 a quarter, I’m putting a bullet in your head.” – VP of Sales to 50 new hires.
When it’s the question of survival, then there’s no rules to follow. It’s simply doing things that help you go further. This is not checkers. This is motherfuckin’ chess. There’s always a move. Play long enough and you might get lucky.
And in all of that one must understand there are no silver bullets. Only lead bullets. One just has to make their company be better than the rest or go home now.
Peacetime CEO / Wartime CEO
Of course all of this is only true when the big, hairy, audacious goal is to win the gold medal.
But for most people, that’s not the case. They simply want a new revenue stream for themselves. And then they can simply copy a working business model. Add their touch to it. And be happy with the result. Knowing that there’s a fierce competition. But as long as they get food on their table, they’re happy.
In such case, one can be a peacetime CEO. Following most of the teachings written in various management books.
But for me it has never been the question of just doing something. Nor trying my best. But to win! And when you’re not the only one working on solving a big problem, then there’s no time to waste. And it’s time to put on the wartime CEO’s hat. Knowing there’s no rules. And simply get it done…
Other great points from the book:
- It’s good idea to ask “What we’re/I’m not doing?” – don’t only focus on what you do, but also what you don’t do yet, and why.
- Startup CEOs shouldn’t play the odds. When you’re building a company, you must believe there’s an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.
- Culture doesn’t make a company. World’s full of bankrupt companies with world-class cultures. But you still need to distinguish you from competitors and it helps you identify employees who fit your mission.
- Make sure everyone knows who’s in charge. And no, two people cannot be in charge. One or noone. Otherwise you make it more difficult for everyone get the work done.