[Book Review] The Hard Thing about Hard Things

Buku ini menjadi pembelajaran dalam mengungkap kerepotan dan kesusahan di balik kehidupan CEO tech-companies. Tagline dari buku ‘The Hard Thing About hard Things’ adalah building a business when there are no easy answers. Penulisnya sendiri adalah Ben Horowitz, seorang venteran entrepreneur dan co-founder Andreessen Horowits, perusahaan Venture Capital (VC) yang juga menginvestasi Facebook, Airbnb, GitHub, Pinterest, dan Twitter.

The hard thing isn’t setting a big-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 ahrd thing is getting people to communicate within the orginazation you just designed.

The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night when that dream turns into a nightmare.

Yep! Itulah sepenggalan dari kalimat – kalimat pembuka yang menggambarkan betapa sulitnya membangun dan menjalankan sebuah bisnis baru teknologi. Sayangnya, semuanya memang tidak ada jawabannya. The hard thing about hard things: there is no recipe for dealing with them.

Meskipun tidak ada formula ataupun resep untuk menangani semua itu, penulis mengkapsulasi beberapa saran berdasarkan pengalamannya selama meneguk asam-pahit-asin-manis di tech-enterpreneuship. Membacanya ikut menjadi keringat dingin dan tegang, apalagi kalau mengalaminya beneran ya (fiuh!).

The struggle

Life is struggle (Karl Marx)

As your dreams turun into nightmares, you find yourself in the struggle.

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place

The struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

Every great entrepreneur, from Steve Jobs to mark Zuckerberg went to the Struggle, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. That’s why it is the Struggle.

Most people are not strong enough. The Struggle cases failure, always if you are weak.

The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

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Being positive is good, but being overly positive can be a delusion. As a CEO, being transparent about company’s problems makes sense. It’s imperative to tell it like it is. Here are the key reasons:

1. Trust → for the sake of communication

2. The more brains working on hard problems, the better

3. Bad news travels fast, good news travels slow

Here comes a day when you have to lay people off. There are steps to do it in the right way:

  • – Get your head right (if company fails to hit its financial plan)
  • – Don’t delay
  • – Be clear in mind why you lay people off (it’s not about their bad individual performance, it is about company failure, admit it. But Trust me, this will be a good company. Trust me: this will be good for you career and life).
  • – Train your managers (managers must lay off their own people → not pass the task to HR)
  • – Address the entire company (the message is for the people who are staying)
  • – Be visible, be present

However, firing an executive correctly is a bit more complicated than firing an employee. Here is a four-step process:

  • – Root cause analysis
  • – Informing the board
  • – Preparing for the conversation
  • – Preparing for the company communication

The main message in Chapter 5 is very logical, you have to:

Take care of the PEOPLE, the PRODUCTS, and the PROFIT – in that order

Yeah, cannot be the other way around. Taking care of the people is the most difficult of the three by far and if you don’t do it, the other two won’t matter. Taking care of the people means that your company is a good place to work.

Startups should also train their people. Why?

a. Productivity – once we hired many talented people, how many fully productive employees we added? So please CEOs, think to invest time in training.

b. Performance management – managers should clearly set expectations when they trained employee for the job

c. Product quality

So how to minimize politics in your company? Well, political behavior almost always starts with the CEO. It may seem to be funny but in fact, it’s often the least political CEOs who run the most ferociously political company. Two techniques to minimize politics:

1. Hire people with the right kind of ambition

2. Build strict process for potentially political issues and don’t deviate (attract by performance evaluation and compensation, organizational designa nd teeritory, and promotions)

Then, what if we face another problem, such as when smart people in your company are becoming bad employees? There are 3 cases like the Heretic, the Flake, and the Jerk; all of them can be destructive but also make a positive contribution to company. Decide to mitigate the negative attribute and keep from polluting the company culture (hold the bus only for him).

Hard thing

Hard thing

The most difficult skill as CEO, according to the writer, was the ability to manage own psychology.

The only thing hat prepares you to run a company is running a company.

Being a CEO means nobody to blame (every problem in the company was indeed their faults), too much broken stuff, a lonely job . Ha, but great CEOs face the pain and deal with sleepless night and the most important, they all say, “I didn’t quit”

That’s why the two key characteristics of entrepreneurs are brilliance and courage. But, the most most important decisions tested courage far more than intelligence. Courage, like character, can be developed; it is called courage development process. How? Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become more courageous. Every time you make the easy, wrong decision you became a bit more cowardly. The courage bar for building a great company remains as high as it has ever been.

CEOs are made, not born

Being a CEO requires lots of unnatural motion. Mastering the unnatural.

How to evaluate CEOs?

  1. Does the CEO know what to do? (strategy and decision making)
  2. Can the CEO get the company to do what she knows? (capacity and communicative/motivated)
  3. Did the CEO achieve the desired results against set of objectives?

Founder CEO

Technical founders are the best people to run technology companies. All of the long lasting tech-companies (HP, Intel, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) had been run by their founders/innovator. Indeed, it was difficult for technical founders to learn to become CEOs while building their companies.

However, there are gaps between founder CEOs when compared with professional CEOs:

1. The CEO skills set (lacked of managing executives, sales, organizations, etc)

2. The CEO network (potential customers, executives, press, investors, biz connection)

First rule of entrepreneurship: There are no rules!

The most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle

Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers

Because your emotions are at odds with your logic.