Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is an businessman, investor, blogger, and author. He is a high technology entrepreneur and co-founder and general partner along with Marc Andreessen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He co-founded and served as president and chief executive officer of the enterprise software company Opsware, which Hewlett-Packard acquired for $1.6 billion in cash in July 2007. Horowitz is the author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. In the book, published on March 4, 2014 by HarperCollins, Horowitz offers advice on building and running a startup.

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* Curated from tech crunch, new york times, and quartz
What was the most surprising thing that you learned after writing the book?
The most surprising thing to me about the book has been that kind of people who are not ceos and not even in business have really liked it.
It sounds like you are pretty hard on yourself, too.
You beat yourself up. well, because you do — and if you are a husband, you don’t know how to be a ceo, like you just don’t know how to do it, there is no way you can walk into that job and know how to do it. and so as a result you screw up an incredible number of things. and when you screw them up, the people who work for you pay the price, and it’s a disturbing kind of thing. it freaks you out. and then you can bury your head in the sand and say, oh, well, this is just how companies go. but that’s not actually a good answer because you do need to still fix them, or you are going to completely melt down and that’s not a good answer, either. so you have to be on the brink of melting down I guess.
You talk a lot about the ceos you respect: bill campbell, you talk about marc andreessen, many, many others. is there anyone in this current generation of entrepreneurs and founders who you see as being able to be a really good ceo and founder?
Yeah, there are some really good young ceos out there. and there are some good getting-older ceos who are, as well– I think what larry page has done at Google has been phenomenal. he has really, really been good on these issues. and mark zuckerber...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How often do you share these stories and lessons from your personal experience with the entrepreneurs and founders you have worked with?
Well, it’s tricky because I always am a little bit sensitive to, “when I was a boy we walked 12 miles in the snow.” so i’ve tried to only share them when like there was time to tell the whole story with all the trauma so it could make them feel be...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Did you do this to help founders?
I would have never wanted to write another management book. there are so many of them and everybody says the same thing about them, and they are all the same — they give the exact same advice. it’s like a diet book. they all say eat less calories,...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
That you were facing an acquisition of well over a billion dollars?
Well, it was so certain in silicon valley that we were not going to make it. I could tell by the way my board was looking at me. and then I can never forget I had this funny meeting with [sequoia partner] doug leone years later and he was like, ho...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
If you were to go back and give yourself some advice now on those tough days, what would you have told yourself?
Well, the thing that would have made me feel a lot better if I would have known how it was going to turn out–
You also write about taking the hard path as a ceo and deriving courage, and a lot of what you do requires courage versus fear. where do you get your courage from and where would you advise people to get their courage from?
It’s scary. I still get scared. I mean, to me the quote I think about is what I heard from cus d’amato from mike tyson. he said the difference between a hero and a coward is not what they feel. because for me, I feel the scariness, the fear, but t...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
One of the chapters was titled “take care of the people, products and profits in that order,” and that’s not the traditional wall street way of thought, but it is more of a silicon valley way of thought. do you feel like you could potentially be able to convince an entire industry like wall street or more to change their methodology of thinking?
I think it’s a time horizon issue. and actually chris dixon had some funny tweets about this where he said, the time horizon of a tech company is like 10 or 20 years. wall street’s horizon is one quarter. so if your time horizon is short, it’s ver...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Was there one segment or chapter in the book that was harder to write than others? was there one that just kept you up at night?
Some of them were harder. so the easy ones were the ones that were overwhelmingly emotional in retrospect. one of the easiest ones for me to write was the one about the loudcloud ipo. all those things were so vivid, like it’s just getting back to ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
In the book, you talk a lot about writing and how sometimes that’s a good exercise for ceos or founders to do to clarify their thoughts or to express some of their feelings. when did you start writing, and is that something that you have been doing for a long time?
I actually got into trouble, it was my first job, when I was working at silicon graphics, I used to do a lot of these long entertaining pieces, some which were not appropriate in companies, and probably the stuff that people would write who work f...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Had she read your blog posts?
She had read the blog posts and she was into them. and then, I had been working with ajws [american jewish world service] on this — like this women’s rights thing was really starting to overwhelm me psychologically, just what was going on, because...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Why was now the right time for the book?
It was this weird combination of stuff. so I had thought about writing kind of a series of blog posts, which I was going to call ceo tales, which is a lot of what’s in the book. but then at the same time, a publisher from harpercollins was on me. ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
One of the things that I found was super interesting about the book was how honest you were. have you always been this honest and forthcoming or did it come out in the book?
I would like to use that drake quote, “i always tell the truth so i’m good in every hood spot.” so one, it was something I learned a little bit as being ceo. I never forget it, because I used to try and be a positive leader. I believe all that ja...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
I’ve heard from other founders that you always advocate for an entrepreneur to stay at a start-up when other board members might want to fire them. why?
That’s true. it really comes from the fact that we have invested in tech companies that are in the business of innovation. founders tend to be better at innovating than anyone you can bring in from the outside — it’s not always the case, it isn’t ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Do you advise founders in the book to aim for a public offering, or to sell to a suitor?
It’s very, very dependent on the company and the situation. the general rule of thumb is that if you are the number one company and you’re in a very large market, then it usually makes sense not to sell.
You said recently that you’re donating 100 percent of your book earnings to charity.
I’m donating all the proceeds to the american jewish world service which is basically helping women who are essentially being treated as slaves and who don’t have full rights. the proceeds will go to help them get represented and to get self-deter...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Has the actual tech and start-up business changed?
The laws of business physics have been broken in terms of how many customers you can acquire and how fast. no one in history has ever acquired 450 million customers in the same amount of time that whatsapp did. how could you before the internet an...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
So the idea is that you can now be famous in tech?
I think so, and I think it effects entrepreneurship in a few ways. there was never any question in the old days about what your priorities were. you had to build a company and there was nothing else to it. now there is this other kind of interesti...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What has changed from when you were a tech c.e.o. to today’s founders of tech start-ups?
There are a lot of things that are different than when I was c.e.o. today, it is a lot easier to get started and to build a business. also, tech people have become important outside of tech world — this was never the case when I started out. even ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
One topic you go over in the book is the difficulty of firing friends. what is your advice when it comes to working with friends?
John d. rockefeller once said, “a friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.” andy grove also once said, “it’s fine to hire your friends as long as you’re willing to fire them.” I think those are the rules. you...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Why is the book titled “the hard thing about hard things”?
You read these management books that say these are the hard things about running a company. but those aren’t really the hard things. the hard things are when you have to layoff half your company, or you have to fire your best friend. or you have t...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
So do I have to be a c.e.o. to read this?
When I first wrote the book I was thinking it would be for entrepreneurs and for people who worked in start-ups and organizations, but people who have read the book that are not in those roles have found it very helpful and liked it a lot.
You’re all digital all the time, why write a physical book?
In my own experience as a c.e.o. I would find myself laying awake at 3 a.m. asking questions about my business and there weren’t management books out there that could help me. because of the dynamic nature of management you can’t just say, “do som...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’re explicit about preferring founder ceos when investing. what’s the first thing you focus on when mentoring them?
Management and management style do have to come from personal philosophy. but there are some common things in leadership that if you don’t have them, it’s going to be very unlikely that you’ll succeed. one thing is a clearly articulated vision. ca...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How do you like to give feedback?
Giving feedback is probably one of the more difficult discussions you can have because you have to be aware of personality, of timing, and of the broader situation. you have to do it very frequently or it’s not going to work. and you really have t...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Many managers default to hiring for smarts or prestige. what are some of the other things you look for?
There are studies that show that the look and feel of a person is incredibly dominant in hiring decisions, which is really stupid because it only matters for the interview itself. what you really want to say is “what do I need this person to be go...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Why does the book focus on struggle so much?
I think that business book reporting, it’s all jim collins, it’s the story of victory, it’s success bias over and over again. when you look at a company that’s already succeeded or is at the very top of its game, it isn’t necessarily when it’s exe...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free