Reading: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

When you think of Netscape, those of us old enough to remember the browser, thinks of Marc Andreessen. But at Netscape (and Opsware), he was joined by Ben Horowitz. Together they founded venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz. This book is a compilation of the lessons that Ben Horowitz learned at those companies, and that he is sharing with us.

The book is a must read for startups and growth ceo’s.  It’s not a book written by a management guru, but by someone who has been in the trenches and doubtless had a lot of sleepless nights figuring out how to make his company survive. There’s a lot of advise for CEO’s in there, ranging from how to direct your company through rough times, to minimising politics in your company.

Some of the highlights that I found worthwhile:

Crediting Grove – It was interesting that in the book Ben Horowitz makes a number of references to the works of Andy Grove, name “High output management” and “Only the paranoid survive“. Andy turned Intel around from a memory company to the biggest chip company in the world, so pay attention, and read his work too.

Lead bullets – “Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.” “There’s not always a magical way out of your problems. Sometimes you just have to knuckle down and keep on going with all that you have.” The other interesting quote in this section was:

“There comes a time in every company’s life when it must fight for its life. If you find yourself running when you should be fighting, you need to ask yourself: “If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?” if you have the better product, why not knuckle up and go to war?”

War and Peace – what CEO are you? – A peacetime CEO will focus on expanding the market  and company’s strength. A wartime CEO is fending off immediate and existential threats (read Only the paranoid survive to catch up on strategic inflection points) . Can one CEO be both? You can read more on wartime versus peacetime CEO’s here.

People Product Profit – In that order. Take care of your people first, they are the ones that will make your product win, and in turn realise your profit.

A Market of ONE – The most important rule of raising money privately, look for a market of one. You only need one investor to believe in you and invest

2 kinds of friends – You need 2 kinds of friends in your life: one with real excitement, and a second kind of friend to call when things go horribly wrong. When your life is on the line and you only have 1 phone call to make, who’s it going to be?

If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble – Pretty straightforward!

Don’t believe in statistics – Startup ceo’s should not play the odds. Don’t believe in statistics, believe in calculus. Secret of a successful CEO? There is one skill: focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.

Ask for problems – Build a culture that rewards, not punishes people to bring problems in the open where they can be solved. The “old management standards” say “don’t bring me a problem without bringing a solution”. Well, if the employee had the solution, he wouldn’t need to bring it to the manager now, would he?

Time – spend zero time on what you could have done and spend all of your time on what you can do. Because in the end, nobody cares

Product Managers – good product managers think in terms of delivering superior value to the market place during product planning and  achieving market share and revenues goals during the go to market phase.

Hiring senior people in your company – When do you need to start hiring senior people, what types, advantages and disadvantages? Also an Andy Grove quote that hits home: the peter principle is unavoidable (full quote: “the Peter Principle is unavoidable, because there is no way to know a priori at what level in the hierarchy a manager will be incompetent“). The author gives some good advice on how to check if they are doing a good job, and when and why you need senior people. He addresses the questions like “won’t they ruin the culture with their costumes, political ambitions and the need to go home to see their family?” Maybe yes, but bringing in the right kind of experience at the right time can mean the difference between bankruptcy and glory. You’ll need a new executive to be more than a goal achiever, he/she needs to be part of the team. The CEO needs to evaluate people on current role, and nobody comes out of the womb knowing how to manage a 100 people. Managing at scale is a learned skill rather than a natural ability, and it’s nearly impossible to make judgement in advance.

The shit sandwich – from “the one minute manager” – go look it up. 🙂

Be honest but courteous with feedback – if you think a presentation sucks, just say it and give the reasons why. Watered down feedback is worse than no feedback at all. But… don’t go and show off your superiority.

What’s your story – a company without a story is usually a company without a strategy (see the amazon example – it’s amazing, Jeff Bezos wrote this in 1997!)


the hard thing about hard things

Reading: Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

Reading: Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist is a great read by Brad Feld  and Jason Mendelson

Brad Feld is the founder of Techstars, a well recognized name in the startup world.

Written in 2012, it is  one of those books that every entrepreneur looking to raise money should read.  The 3rd edition of the book was released in November 2016 and made it on the list of best books for entrepreneurs in Inc’s 2016 list.

The book goes  into detail on the different players in the game: the entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, syndicates, lawyers and mentors. It also goes into the nuts and bolts on how you should select the right VC for you, how VC’s invest, how you can structure your term sheets etc.

What I liked about the book are also the clear explanations and examples of the more “technical” terms that founders rarely came into contact with before they had to look for money to keep their idea afloat, like liquidation preference, pay-to-play, vesting, antidilution, redemption rights, etc.

If you’re thinking of raising money, read this book first. Investing is the VC’s core business, so as an entrepreneur you need to make sure you know enough to also make it your game. Either that or get yourself a damn good deal lawyer for raising money.

You can follow Brad Feld’s blog on FeldThoughts.

Reading: Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising

Reading: Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising  (Ryan Holiday)

Ryan Holiday has written a number of interesting books on diverse topics such as the ego and PR. In Growth Hacker Marketing he gives a non-technical view on the subject. It’s quite a good intro, doesn’t go too much into actual details or hands-on examples, so may not be too interesting for those with a deep understanding of growth hack. For the others: read on…

If you want to read the speed summary, head over to brand genetics.




Reading: Radical Marketing : From Harvard to…

Reading: Radical Marketing : From Harvard to…

Radical Marketing  (Sam Hill, Glenn Rifkin)

Radical marketing is a new way of looking at brands and marketing. Building and sustaining great brands has re-emerged as a crucial issue for companies both large and small.

From the Amazon page: “In this fresh, provocative book, Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin identify the mar-keting strategies that have enabled ten innovative companies to emerge as industry leaders. What do these organizations have in common? Each is in tune emotionally with its customer base, allowing them to glean superior marketing insight without spending millions of dollars. Each is more focused on the big picture–growth and expansion–rather than short-term profits. And, despite their current success, each started out with little more than a passion for their product. Engrossing, informative, and invaluable, Radical Marketing demonstrates how any company, large or small, can achieve unprecedented success through inventive and revolutionary tactics.

Today we’d call this growth hacking…


Reading: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Reading: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Malcolm Gladwell)
Gladwell describes three separate agents of change: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. Each of these has extraordinary power to move the Tipping Point. In the Law of the Few, Gladwell shows how “Connectors” (those who are highly influential across communities) can literally drive the adoption of specific trends. Word of mouth epidemics are the work of connectors. The Stickiness Factor overturns some of the commonly held concepts of communication. How to make messages “sticky” is important in a cluttered media environment. As the author describes, there is a simple way to package information, that under the right circumstances can make it irresistible. Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. This is the Power of Context.
This book should become required reading for marketing professionals. While an interesting read from a social studies perspective, The Tipping Point reveals how big-time marketing campaigns can be a lot less important than more creative word-of-mouth and viral marketing techniques.” – Excerpt from an Amazon review.


Reading: How to Think

Reading: How to Think

How to Think (Stephen Reid)
In a fast and complex world, we can’t work any harder so we have to work smarter. The ability to think clearly, quickly and creatively is crucial, yet many of us don’t realise how limited our thinking is. Intriguing book on how to ‘think’ better …