People Who Know Sh*t: Ben Horowitz

This is a recurring PGP series. Catch up with all installments of People Who Know Sh*t by visiting the archive.

Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Justin Timberlake in Columbia Pictures' "The Social Network."

Entrepreneurship is so hot right now. It’s never been trendier to start a company. The idea of creating your own “startup” is incredibly sexy from the outside looking in. You’re the top dog and you possess the creative freedom to steer your own professional destiny. Also, you’ll be rich af when you IPO or get acquired.

Movies like The Social Network have young people convinced that the entrepreneur life is mostly glamorous. All you need is an idea and a little seed money from your friend’s rich parents. Next thing you know you’re poppin’ bottles in the club with Justin Timberlake talking big picture business strategy. Sounds a hell of a lot cooler than that cube grind, right?

Few people talk about the dark side of entrepreneurship. Building a company is an emotional rollercoaster and it isn’t the right professional path for everybody. This chart does a good job of articulating the emotional journey of creating a great company.

Via Brian Armstrong, Co-Founder & CEO of CoinBase
Via Brian Armstrong, Co-Founder & CEO of CoinBase

In his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things Ben Horowitz goes into excruciating detail about his experience as an entrepreneur building the enterprise software company Opsware, which Hewlett-Packard acquired for $1.6 billion in July 2007. The challenges that Ben faced to get to this acquisition were BRUTAL, but the various ways he navigated these monstrous obstacles are unbelievably impressive and inspirational. After the acquisition of Opsware, Ben went on to create one of the most notorious venture capital firms in the history of Silicon Valley, Andreessen-Horowitz. If you’re currently building a business or considering taking the entrepreneurial plunge, this book is a must read.

Here’s a taste:

“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”
― Ben Horowitz

“Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary cofounder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.”
― Ben Horowitz

“Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.”
― Ben Horowitz

“There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all.”
― Ben Horowitz

“From an evolutionary standpoint, it is natural to do things that make people like you. It enhances your chances for survival. Yet to be a good CEO, in order to be liked in the long run, you must do many things that will upset people in the short run. Unnatural things.”
― Ben Horowitz

“People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?” Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.”
― Ben Horowitz

― Ben Horowitz

“That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.”
― Ben Horowitz

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