Notes from ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz

Prominent investor Ben Horowitz’s 2014 book ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’ is among the seminal business philosophy books from this era of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship.

Horowitz is half of the founding team of Andresson-Horowitz, an iconic Sand Hill Road software-focused venture capital firm. His work and perspective has influenced today’s funding and startup climate, and so I finally dug into the book.

I enjoyed it and took away several insights. As per my habit, find some of my notes below.

Also as is custom, I do encourage you to buy (

  • “When you eat shit don’t nibble.”
  • His concept of Peacetime CEO to wartime CEO (page 32)
  • “If you don’t treat the people who leave well the ones who stay won’t trust you.”
  • “Markets aren’t efficient at converging on the truth, markets are efficient at converging on a conclusion — which is sometimes the wrong one. That’s where opportunity lies.”
  • “Startup CEOs don’t play the odds.” They play their bets. “It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.” (59) This reminds me when a startup CEO said to me: “An entrepreneur must spend her time finding the reason to do something, rather than the thousand reasons not to.”
  • Sometimes there are silver bullets, but more often you just need to use lead bullets (battle, not solve) (89) If you’re always running away, rather than fighting, you have to ask yourself if your organization should exist at all.
  • Big company executives are “interior driven,” focused on three initiatives a quarter because there are so many inbound demands. A startup executive has 8-10 initiatives a day trying to move forward what is best
  • For hiring, use “Colin Powell’s instructions and hire for strength rather than lack of weakness;” Write down the strengths you must have and the weakness you will tolerate
  • “Sometimes an organization doesn’t need a solution, it just needs clarity” (145)
  • The Peter Principle and Ben’s Law of Crappy People, in which the talent level of the title at every org will converge over time to the weakest performer (161)
  • One-on-one meetings are for the direct report, not the supervisor: ask, what could we be doing better? What works or doesn’t about our product? (178)
  • Give ground grudgingly, like an offensive lineman to protect the quarterback against a coming defensive lineman: let your processes change as you grow for but do so slowly (187)
  • “Focus on the road, not the wall.” Race car drivers know at 200mph to watch and follow the road. That’s like running a company: don’t watch what could kill you. Focus on where you’re going (207)
  • “Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture” (227)

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