The Hard Things About Hard Things – Book Summary

I was recommend The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz by a mentor and have since recommended to several friends as a must read.

Book references in the book; High Output Management by Andy Grove and Only The Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove

Below is a summary sourced from

Leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity.

Don’t rely on first impressions.

Importance of founders running the company.

Do you know what’s cheap? Flowers. Do you know what’s expensive? Divorce.

Do you know the best thing about startups? You only ever experience 2 emotions: Euphoria and Terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.

Two kinds of friends.
1. Someone is more excited than you when something good happens.
2. Someone can be rely when things go horribly wrong.
Best, 2 in 1.

This was wartime.
The company would live or die by the quality of my decisions,
and there was no way to hedge or soften the responsibility.
I wanted all the data and information I could get, but I didn’t need any recommendations about the future direction of the company.

Artificial deadlines. Playing one against the other.
Doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.

If we hadn’t treated the people who were leaving fairly, the people who stayed would never have trusted me again.

We had to get into the broader market in order to understand it well enough to build the right product.
Paradoxically, the only way to do that was to ship and try to sell the wrong product.
Learn fast and do what was needed to survive.

Whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.

There is no way for us to survive if we don’t have the winning product. So, I am going to need every one of you to do something. I need you to go home tonight and have a serious conversation with your wife, husband, significant other, or whoever cares most about you and tell them. I need you to come in early and stay late. I will buy you dinner and I will stay here with you. Make no mistake, we have one bullet left in the gun and we must hit the target.

How can we walk away from requirements that we KNOW to be true to pursue something that we THINK will help?
Figuring out the the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job.

I don’t care about any of the existing requirements; I need you to reinvent the product and we need to win.

Sloppiness would not be tolerated.

What are we not doing?
Sometimes, however, the things you’re not doing are the things you should actually be focused on.

If you are going to have a dog race, then you are going to need a rabbit.

When you’re building a company, you must believe there is an answer.
It doesn’t matter whether your chances are 9/10 or 1/1000, your task is the same, just have to find the answer.

Focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.

First principle of the Bushido – the way of the warrior: keep death in mind at all times.
and lives as though each day might be his last, he will conduct himself properly in all his actions.
CEO will maintain the proper focus when hiring, training and building culture.

Cope the Struggle
don’t put it all on your shoulders
share every burden that you can
there is always a move
play long enough and you might get lucky
don’t take it personally
evaluating yourself and giving yourself an F doesn’t help. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes.

CEO should tell it like it is
The more brains working on had problems, the better
Good culture: Bad news travels fast, good news travels slow

Build a culture that rewards people for getting problems into the open discussion where they can be solved together

The right way to lay people off while keep cultural continuity and retain best employees
1. Get your head right
2. Don’t delay
3. Be clear in your mind about why you are lying people off
Admitting to the failure. “The company failed and in order to move forward, we will have to lose some excellent people”
4. Train your managers: Managers must lay off their own people
5. Address the entire company. “The message is for the people who are staying”
6. Be visible, be present, be engaging

Fire an Executive fairly and improve your company
1. Root cause analysis
2. Informing the board
3. Preparing the conversation with the executive
4. Preparing the company communication

Demoting a loyal friend
2 deep emotions: Embarrassment & Betrayal
Use appropriate language. “I have decided…”
Admit reality
Acknowledge the contributions

Lies that Losers tell
to develop creative narratives to avoid dealing with the obvious facts of losing.
only take action on positive indicator – negative
only looked for alternative explanations on the negative leading indicator – negative

Lead Bullet: If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?

Nobody cares.
All the mental energy you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one seemingly impossible way out of your current mess.

Take care of the People, the Products and the Profits – in that order
If your company is a good place to work, you too may live long enough to find your glory

I don’t give a fuck how well trained you are. If you don’t bring me five hundred thousand dollars a quarter, I’m putting a bullet in your head.

Training is the Boss’s Job
Productivity = Result
Performance management: clearly set expectations
Product quality
Employee retention: Helpful manager & Career development
Training is mandatory, not optional

Functional training: the knowledge and skill that they need to do their job
withholding new employee requisitions from managers until they’ve developed a training program for the TBH (To Be Hired)

Management training: setting expectations for management team

Good Product Manager
know the market, product, product line, the competition extremely well
operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence
CEO of the product
take full responsibility and measure themselves in terms of teh success of the product
responsible for right product/ right time
know the company, revenue funding, competition…
take responsibility for devising & executing a winning plan
not part of the product team but manage the product team
marketing counterparts to the engineering manager
crisply define the target, the “what” and manage the delivery of the “what” (not “How”)
communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally
give direction formally
gather information informally
create collateral, FAQs, presentations & white papers that can be leveraged by salespeople, marketing people & executives
anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions
take written positions on important issues: competitive silver bullets, tough architectural choices, tough product decisions & markets to attack or yield
focus the team on revenue and customers
not focus team on how many features competitors are building
define good products that can be executed with a strong effort
think in terms of delivering superior value to the marketplace during product planning and achieving market share and revenue goals during the go-to-market phase
decompose problems (not combine all problems into one)
think about the story they want to written by the press.
Not covering every feature and being absolutely technically accurate with the press
ask press questions (Not answer any press question)
assume press and the analyst are really smart
Clarity (explain the obvious)
define their job & success (Not constantly be told what to do)
Disciplined: send their status reports in on time every week

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

Hiring executives. Be careful of Rhythm & Skill mismatch
1) Screen for mismatches
Look for candidates who come in with more new initiatives than you think are possible.
Look for self-awareness of differences of new job and previous job.
Joining motivation. Creating vs Running.
2) Aggressively integrate the candidate once on board
Force them to create: Give them monthly, weekly, even daily objectives to make sure they produce immediately
Make sure that they “get it”, i.e. understand the product, technology, customers & market.
Put them in the mix: initiate contact and interaction with others

Hire executives to do better than you
1. Know what you want: Act in the role yourself
2. Figures out the right match. (Functional, Operational, Smart, Effective?)
3. Make a lonely decision

Set the metrics that capture priorities
Spend enough time going deep enough on the actual user experience instead of just metrics.
Don’t ever substitute product vision with metrics.
Penalises those sacrifice the future for the short term and rewards

Technical debt
By writing quick and dirty code, the trade-off is running into serious trouble in the future.

Management debt
An expedient, short-term management decision with an expensive, long-term consequence.
1. Putting two in the box: Two outstanding employees, only one position and keep both, 2 decision makers in a position.
2. Overcompensating a key employee because she gets another job offer.
3. No performance management or employee feedback process. People need to be corrected and be aware to performance optimally and improve.

Management quality assurance.
Engineering. It cannot build a high quality product, but it can tell you when the development team builds a low quality product.
Human Resources. It cannot make you a well-managed company with a great culture, but it can tell you when you and your managers are not getting the job done.

Employee Life Cycle.
Performance management

Great HR Manager
World-class process design & control skills
a true diplomat
Industry knowledge: compensation, benefits, best recruiting practices.
Deeply networked in the industry.
Intellectual heft to be the CEO’s trusted adviser.
Understanding things unspoken

“This is not the Fucking priority” is radically stronger than “this is not the priority”.

Sometimes an organisation doesn’t need a solution; it just needs clarity.
The right policy is the one that the CEO can follow.

Don’t reward behaviour that has nothing to do with advancing company business.
Increase employee compensation because by asking, not for outstanding performance – negative

Career development of employee: it comes naturally, no more.

Minimising Politics
1. Hiring people with the right kind of ambition
Ambition for the company’s success with the executive’s own success only coming as a by-product of the company’s victory
2. Build strict processes for potentially political issues
especially in Performance evaluation/compensation, organisational design/territory & promotions and do not deviate.
Screening for the Right kind of Ambition: their view. “me” or “team”

Peter Principle
In a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently.
Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent, and there they remain being unable to earn further promotions.

Law of Crappy People
For any title level in a large organisation, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title

Hiring senior person
to acquire knowledge and experience in a specific area to speed up time to time
Do I value internal or external knowledge more for this position?
Engineering from within. Sales external.

The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least 10 times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing.

Creating a Company Culture
Distinguish you from competitors
Ensure that critical operating values persist, such as delighting customers or making beautiful products
Help you identify employees who fit with your mission

Shock is a great mechanism for behavioural change

Perks are good but they are not culture.

Organisation design
1. Figure out what needs to be communicated
2. Figure out what needs to be decided
3. Prioritise the most important communication and decision paths
4. Decide who’s going to run each group
5. Identify the paths that you did not optimise
6. Build a plan for migrating the issues identified

Process: A formal, well-structured communication vehicle
Focus on the output first: If that’s the goal, what’s the process to get there.
Figure out how you’ll know if you’re getting what you want at each step. How will you measure each step?
Engineer accountability into the system.

Pause at Page 235: The Scale Anticipation Fallacy

Another good summary at