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The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz • leadership • dotcom bubble • biography

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz book cover CEO

The Hard Thing About Hard Things talks about being a CEO during peacetime and wartime. The book is written by Ben Horowitz, an American investor and a technology entrepreneur. Actually, the whole book is the journey through his founding of the company called Loudcloud which was the first major company offering cloud storage. Today all big companies, such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft are doing that, but the Loudcloud was really the first one which connected a cloud with computing. The company was founded in 1999 and soon after it quickly grew to hundreds of employees and millions in revenue along with other Internet-based companies which peaked in value until March 2000. Then the burst of the bubble happened, also known as the dot-com crash and many online shopping companies and communication companies have evaporated from the market. Cisco, for instance, declined by 86% from around $80 to $15. In order to survive, he went to IPO, transformed the company into Opsware, an enterprise software company and finally sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in cash.

Anyway, it is not a book about the dot-com bubble but, in my opinion, about the difference between being a leader and an CEO in the period of prosperity and during the financial crisis. It might be also comparable to being a CEO of the top company in your industry versus running the company which is 20th in everything. There are a lot of books talking about peacetime, about being nice to people, having great goals, credos etc. There are also some books about wartime, nevertheless, there are almost no studies which addresses the duality which might occur. So as the book says the methods are completely different, in peacetime you have to be idealistic, paying attention to every, to be super nice to your employees, never curse or anything like that. As a wartime CEO, you have to curse on purpose to emphasize your point. Of course, it doesn’t mean that during wartime you have to be a jerk. You always have to understand the importance of creating a good work environment in a company and taking care of the people to ensure the team works effectively and efficiently towards the company’s goals. In both cases, you have to be a great problem solver, as well as, a quality-oriented manager. Nevertheless, the delivery, the timing and your behaviour have to be different.

I really liked one of his stories when he, as an inexperienced wartime CEO, tried to pretend that everything is ok. He thought he had to be positive and suddenly, one day, he found out that his employees knew things were bad and a couple of them asked him why does he always have to keep pretending everything is perfect. They were not kids, they understood the situation. Here Horowitz wrote a lot about the most difficult skill for a CEO which is the ability to manage your own psychology.

Last but not least, the book also talks a bit about how difficult it is to set a company without a real business connections in your circle and without experience in running big organisations. You might have a great idea, but without the whole facility around you, it might be very hard to breakthrough.

To conclude, I can say that the book is really worth reading. It is an honest story of a man who co-founded a great company, successfully transformed into a public company and then sold it for billions of dollars. It is not an easy fairy tale because from the very beginning he had to struggle with a market crisis and a great public mistrust aimed at internet companies. It is also a story of the caseless learning process of being a CEO in different business cycles.   

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
by Ben Horowitz

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

Book details:

Size: 304 pages
Published: 2014


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
Adam Grant on Wikipedia:
The story of the dot-com bubble:
Other great books about being a CEO: The CEO Next Door by Elena BotelhoSteve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonRework by Jason Fried

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