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Industry Must-Read: 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things'
By: Luke Willoughby
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Ben Horowitz is one of the preeminent leaders in Silicon Valley, both as an accomplished CEO and now successful venture capitalist. He wrote this book to cut through the struggle of politics, bureaucracy, and competition in business to provide a firsthand roadmap for successful leadership in any field. How do you build a strong team, a desirable brand, fire your friends, and maintain enough sanity to sell your company for $1.35 billion in the midst of the dot-com burst? These are the hard things, and they apply to anyone seeking success in today’s digital world.
 
Horowitz first walks through his story as CEO of Opsware, a business-management software similar to Oracle or SAP. It’s a harrowing journey through underperforming teams, impossible clients, a failed IPO, and six-month benders of non-stop work, all while the market is in free-fall. But Horowitz prevails. He describes his role as a leader and a rock, and above all, a decision-maker. Collecting input and making the best call is what makes a great leader at any level, whether you’re a Fortune 500 CEO, in a start-up, or even in your personal life. Sometimes it’s a lonely place, where the only decision is between bad and terrible.
 
To overcome, Horowitz’s roadmap provides invaluable insights including: If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble. Stick to the facts and tell it like it is while avoiding tendencies to be overly positive. Just win, baby, because nobody cares about anything else and they are right not to care. You need lead bullets, meaning unquestioned superiority in the marketplace; don’t waste time with incremental benefits or "proprietary technologies" (silver bullets). You need to be 10x better than the marketplace to achieve consideration; 2x or 3x will not influence change.
 
Horowitz’s wisdom continues through essential internal functions, including managing superstar executives with destructive egos, addressing excuses in performance, and distinguishing strong talent from poor. In one word, much of it comes down to proactivity; good leadership defines their success by figuring out "what" and "why," they take a written stand on whether to attack or yield, and they decompose problems and over-communicate. Bad managers talk about "how" and answer questions all day.
 
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Horowitz provides an invaluable cross-section of how he experienced and facilitated innovation. At any opportunity, he made conscious decisions to shatter the status quo. To do this, he would always seek guidance from his own list of distinguished mentors, including former tech CEOs, VC leaders, and Hollywood moguls. When Horowitz was building his own VC firm, Andreesen and Horowitz, he began with a strong marketing push to generate awareness, whereas the VC industry has historically shunned marketing and PR. As a result of their innovative approach, their firm, which also differs in culture and respect of entrepreneurs, has accelerated into a premier Silicon Valley powerhouse with handpicked technologies and start-ups including Airbnb and, most recently, a $200 million stake in Pinterest.
 
Horowitz’s personal motto is: Rise Above. Be Great. Stay Great. He also loves rap music.

   

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About the Author
Luke Willoughby works in the digital media landscape of New York across varying agencies and brands. He also has a background in video and content production, and is invested in the resurgence of the full-service advertising agency and the associated opportunities for the marketing industry. Originally from Denver, Colorado, he's a fan of most outdoor activities and otherwise enjoys reading and film.
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