Three Ideas From “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”

I finished Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Things About Hard Things” a few weeks ago, and I’m just now getting around to sharing my thoughts.

The book is a fun, useful read for any entrepreneur, CEO or manager.  I found the book to be entertaining with lots of helpful stories.  (Stories are always more entertaining than theory.)

Here are three ideas I took away from the book:

  1. Good managers define the responsibilities and expectations of every role on their team.  Horowitz’s Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager is the most memorable position description I’ve ever read. It does a great job at specifically describing how the outcomes of a great performer.
    1. A good product manager is the CEO of the product. Good product managers … measure themselves in terms of the success of the product.
    2. Bad product managers have lots of excuses.
    3. Good product managers crisply define the target … and manage the delivery of the “what.”
    4. Good product managers focus the team on revenue and customers.
  2. Peacetime / Wartime CEOs. Horowitz describes “peacetime” as being a time when a company is a clear leader in the market and is growing rapidly. Think Tesla. “Wartime” is when a company faces imminent threats. Think the various assaults on Apple’s mobile phone business via Android devices. Much of the stories in the book come from when Horowitz was functioning as a wartime CEO, and he provides good juxtaposition for how a wartime CEO acts.
    1. A peacetime CEO tolerates deviations from the plan. Wartime CEO is completely intolerant.
    2. Peacetime CEO minimizes conflict. Wartime CEO heightens contradictions.
    3. Peacetime CEO strives for buy-in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus building nor tolerates disagreements.
  3. Hiring big-company executives to fill startup roles is dangerous. Sure, the hope is that you can bring in an experienced executive to help you scale quickly. But, most experienced executives are used to having 90% of their time filled with requests from other departments. Startups should only hire experienced executives that want to join a startup so that they can be more creative and productive.