Summary: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowtiz
Summary: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowtiz

Summary: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowtiz

As a leader, don’t put it all on your shoulders

You won’t be able to share every burden, but share very burden that you can. Get the maximum number of brains on the problems even if the problems represent existential threats.


Startup is not Checkers, startup is a Chess!

Tech business tend to be extremely complex. The underlying tech moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move.


Play long enough and you might get lucky.

In tech game, tomorrow looks nothing like today. If you survive long enough to see tomorrow, it may bring the answer that seems so impossible today.


Don’t take it personally

Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes. Evaluating yourself and giving yourself an F doesn’t help.


Remember that this is what separate women from girls.

If you want to be great, this is the challenge. If you don’t want to be great, you should never have started a company.


Nobody take bad news harder than you do.

Don’t think you would be best to handle bad news. It’s not your job only to worry about the company’s problems. Give the problem to people who could not only fix, but would also be personally excited and motivated to.


Make your company problems transparent.

Following are reasons:

Trust. If they trust you completely, you require no explanation or communication of your actions whatsoever because they know whatever I’m doing is in their best interests. But, if they don’t trust you at all, then no amount of talking, explaining or reasoning will have any effect on them.

As company grows, communication becomes biggest challenge. If employees fundamentally trust CEO, then communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don’t. Telling things as there is a critical part of building this trust.

More brains working on solution, the better. It’s a total waste to have lots of big brains but not to let them work on your biggest problems.

Bad news travel fast. Good news travel slow. Healthy company cutler encourages people to share bad news, so people can freely and openly solve them. A company that covers up frustrates everyone involved.

The famous Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution stops information from flowing freely.

If an engineer identifies a serious flaw in the marketing, would you really want him to bury that info?

Why we hire wrong leaders

We did a poor job defining the position in first place. Hiring based on abstract notion leads to executives not bringing the key, necessary qualities to the table.

We hired for lack of weakness rather than for strengths. If you don’t have world-class strengths where you need them, you won’t be a world-class company.

We hire for scale too soon. If you hire someone who will be great in 1 year but will be poor for 1 year, people will reject her before she even gets a chance to show her stuff.

We hired for generic position. There’s no such thing as great head of sales. There’s only a great head of sales for your company for next 1 – 2 years.

The recruit has wrong kind of ambition. It doesn’t matter how outstanding the recruit is, if her goals don’t align with that of your company, you shall reject her.

We failed to integrate the executive. Review your integration plan after you fire an executive.


Firing an Executive

Be clear on the reasons. No need to sugarcoat it. You owe it to them to be clear about what you think happened.

Use decisive language. This is not performance review. Use words like I have decided rather than I think. Don’t’ leave the discussion open-ended.

Have the severance package approved and ready. Be ready to provide specific details of the severance package.

Demoting a Loyal Friend. You should not take the sting out of it, but be honest, clear and effective. Your friend may not appreciate that in the moment, but he will appreciate it over time.


What is not enough, People need Why.

You have to be clear about why you wanted them to do the way we need.

Why do we do what we do?


Consider a Training Program for TBH

Withhold new employee requisitions from managers until they’ve developed a training program for TBH.


Hiring from Friends / Partners

If you would be shocked and horrified if company X hired several of your employees, then you should not hire any of theirs.


Mismatches of hiring Big Executives

Rhythm mismatch. Big executives has been conditioned to wait for emails to come in, wait for phone to ring, and wait for meetings to get scheduled. People will then become suspicious What does this guy do all day? Why did he get so many options

Skillset mismatch. Running large organization requires very different skills than creating an organization. When you run large organizations, you tend to become very good at tasks such as complex decision-making, prioritization, organizational design, process improvement and organizational communication.

When creating an organization, there is no organization to design, no process to improve and communication. But you have to be very adept at running a high-quality hiring process, terrific domain expertise and how to create process from scratch and be extremely creative about initiating new direction and tasks.


Screening for mismatches

What will you do in your first month on the job? Look for people who come in with more initiatives than you think is possible. This is a good sign.

How will your new job differ from your current job? Beware of candidates who think that too much of their expertise is immediately transferable.

Why do you want to join a small company? A desire to do more creating is the right reason.


Integrating the Candidate

Force them to create. Give them monthly, weekly, and even daily objectives to make sure they produce immediately.

Make sure that they get it. If you don’t have any questions from them, it’s a red flag. In 30 days, if you don’t feel they’re coming up to speed, consider firing them.

Put them in the group. Give them a list of people they need to know and learn from. Require a report from them on what they learned form each person.


Hiring Great HR

World-class poccess design skills. Much like head of QA, head of HR must be a masterful process designer.

True Diplomat. HR must help them improve rather than police them. If HR leader hoards knowledge, makes power plays, or plays politics, he will be useless.

Industry Knowledge. HR must be deeply networked in the industry and stay abreast of compensation benefits, best recruiting practices etc.

Intellectual heft to be CEO’s trusted adviser. He must possess integrity and credibility so his thinking and judgement can be trusted by CEO.

Understanding things unspoken. Perceptive people can tell company is slipping when nobody says anything about it.


How Big should the Titles be?

There are two schools of thought; one represented by Marc Andreessen and other by Mark Zuckerberg

People ask for many things, salary, bonus, stock options … Of those title is by far the cheapest so it makes sense to give highest titles possible. – Andreessen

Deploy titles that are significantly lower than industry standard, but guarantees to relevel as they’re permanent. In this way, you avoid accidentally giving new employees higher titles and positions than better-performing existing employees. – Zuckerberg

It’s true Facebook misses out on new hires due to its low titles. But they also miss out on people they don’t want.


Make One-to-One Great Again

Being good at one-to-one meeting is understanding that it’s employee’s meeting rather than manager’s.

Follow the employee’s agenda. Here’re are some key questions:

  • If we could improve in any way how would we do it?
  • What’s the number one problem with our organization? Why?
  • What’s not fun about working here?
  • Who’s really kicking ass in the company? Whom do you admire?
  • If you were me, what changes would you make?
  • What don’t you like about the product?
  • What’s the biggest opportunity we’re missing out on?
  • What are we not doing what we should be doing?
  • Are you happy working here?


Nuts and Bolts of Organizational Design

Figure out what needs to be communicated and who needs to be in loop. Start by listing the most important knowledge and who needs to have it. E.g. Knowledge of the product architecture must be understood by engineering, QA, product management, marketing and sales.

Figure out what needs to be decided. Consider types of decisions that must get made on frequent basis. Put maximum number of decisions under the domain of a designated manager.

Prioritize the most important communication and decision paths.

Decide who’s going to run each group. Don’t put individual ambitions of people at the top of organizations.

Identify the path that you did not optimize. Just because it’s not a priority doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. If you ignore them entirely, it will surely come back to bite me.

Nobody comes out of the womb knowing how to mange a thousand people. Evaluating people against future needs based one theoretical view of how they will perform is counterproductive. Everybody learns at some point. Was it obvious that Bill Gates would learn how to scale when he was a Harvard dropout? If you already make a judgement that someone is incapable of doing something, it doesn’t make sense to teach them anymore. In other words, hire for attitude and train for skill.

There’s only a great executive for a specific company at a specific point in time. Zuckerberg is a phenomenal CEO for Facebook, but he would not be a good CEO for Oracle. Make judgement on a relative rather than an absolute scale. Asking yourself if an executive is great can be extremely difficult to answer. A better question would be for this company, at exact point in time, does there exist an executive who you can hire who will be better? If your competitor hire him, how will that impact our ability to win?

Focus on what you need to get right. Stop worrying about all the things you did wrong or might do wrong. This is the most important thing Ben learned as an entrepreneur.


Techniques to Calm The Nerves

Make some friends and talk to them. It’s nearly impossible to get high-quality advice on the tough decisions you make. But it’s extremely useful from a psychological perspective to talk to people who have been through similar challenging situations.

Get out of your head and onto paper. Writing a document separates you from your own psychology and enabled to make the decision swiftly.

Focus on the road not the wall. If you focus on the wall, I’ll drive right into it. If you focus on the road, you will follow the road.


Fine Line between Fear and Courage

Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly.


Two core skills for running a  great organization

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Getting the company to do what you know


Measuring the quality of  a leader

The quantity, quality and diversity of people who want to follow her.


Attributes that make people want to follow a leader

  1. Ability to articulate the vision (Steve Job’s attribute)
  2. Right kind of ambition (Bill Campbell’s attribute)
  3. Ability to achieve the vision (Andy Grove’s attribute)


Giving Effective Feedbacks

To become elite at giving feedbacks, you must do better than negativity sandwich:

  1. Be authentic
  2. Come from the right place (your right intentions for them to succeed)
  3. Don’t get personal (criticize behaviors not the person)
  4. Don’t embarrass in front of peers.
  5. Recognize feedback isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some people have particularly thick skin and thick skulls while others are extremely sensitive to feedback.
  6. Be direct. But not mean.
  7. Encourage a dialogue. Not a monologue.


Negativity Sandwich

Works well with junior employees. But it has the following challenges:

  1. Tend to be over formal.
  2. Tend to lack authenticity. Oh boy she’s complimenting me again. I know what’s coming next shit!
  3. Senior executives recognize it immediately and it will have an instant negative effect.


Should you sell your company?

A good basic rule of thumb is do not sell if:

  1. You’re very early on in a very large market
  2. You have a good chance of being no.1 in that market

If one of the above is violated, consider selling.

When people ask Are you Selling the company? If you say at the right price, employee will wonder what that price is and may even ask. If the company reaches that price, he will assume you will sell the company. If you say the company is not for sale, and later you sell the company, the employee may feel betrayed. More importantly, you will feel like I’m betraying the employee and that in turn will influence my decisions.

So say, If the company achieves product-market fit in a very large market and has an excellent chance to be number one then the company will likely remain independent. If not, it will likely be sold.