“I was young, I was surviving the times
Waiting for my moment, I was destined to shine”
— Nas, “Surviving the Times”
Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Ben Horowitz at SXSW where he gave me a copy of his new book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Knowing parts of Ben’s story, and having followed his work for some time, I was excited to check it out.
The book shares some of Ben’s stories about the hard truths of running and growing a business. From these stories I noticed a few themes that kept recurring, and I wanted to take a minute to share the ones that really stuck with me.
Don’t Accept “No” for an Answer
Somedays “no” means giving up, and giving up means shutting your doors, laying off everyone who’s worked hard to build your company, and disappointing your family, friends, and investors. With everything on the line “no” simply isn’t an answer.
While Ben was running Opsware its largest customer, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), wanted to end their contact. If EDS ended their contact, responsible for 90% of the Opsware business, Opsware would be forced to close their doors.
Ben didn’t let that happen. He put his best team on the project and convinced EDS to give them 60 days to improve. In those 60 days Opsware moved mountains, acquired a company favored by EDS, and not only won back their largest customer but strengthened their relationship in doing so.
Through blood, sweat, and tears an answer will be found. Don’t be afraid or hesitate to find it, and never give up.
Perception Isn’t Reality
Talk is cheap and you’re going to hear a lot of it. People may think your company is failing based on declining sales despite not knowing the multi-million dollar contract you just signed. People may think you need to build feature XYZ because all of your competitors have it. Hear them out but don’t jump on the bandwagon.
When Ben sold Loudcloud, and spun Opsware off into a separate company, everyone believed he sold all of his customers, revenue, and bottom line business. In doing so the Opsware stock price fell to $0.35.
The outside perspective was wrong. Opsware had one seriously talented team, $60 million in the bank, a $20 million a year contact, and all of the existing intellectual property from Loudcloud. In time the stock price rose over $7, and eventually Opsware was acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $1.65 billion in cash.
You know better than anyone the health of your company and what you should be focusing on. Don’t let the naysayers bring down company moral, and don’t let assumed trends define your product roadmap. Follow your gut, provide new value, and build your own future.
Above all else treat everyone with the utmost respect and be fair. Taking responsibility for your actions and failures will carry a lot of weight, and keep those around you dedicated to your goals.
During the Loudcloud acquisition Ben was responsible for laying off 140 of his employees. Rather than flying to New York to announce the acquisition with others he stayed back, delivered the news in person, let everyone know he appreciated their time, and helped them carry their belongs to their cars.
Don’t hang your head or hide out in your office. Be transparent, supportive, and straightforward. You’ll be amazed at the reactions from your team and the bond you develop.
Overall The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a fantastic book, and one I’d consider a must read for any CEO, entrepreneur, or employee of a startup. Running and growing a business is hard but Ben’s book will help us all stay strong in the struggle.