Book Notes #005 - The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Updated: Apr 5

Rating: 4.5/5 ⭐️

"The hard thing isn't setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal... building a company inevitably leads to tough times."

- Ben Horowitz

Book Review

  • Main Ideas - Great

  • Stories & Examples - Great

  • Engagement - Great

Who should read this book?

If you are looking for a book that isn't going to sugarcoat how hard it is to run a technology compnay then this is the book for you. Ben Horowitz is a technology entrepreneur and now a Sillicon Valley venture capitalist. In this book, he speaks about his time as CEO running Opsware and the daily challenges that come with that.

This book is excellent if you are waiting to have an insider look at how Saas (software as a business) company is run, Ben successfully sold the company to Hewlett-Packard for 1.6 Billion in 2007. This book is loaded with actionable steps, personal stories and practical wisdom for any founder.

Key Takeaways


"The struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place... the struggle is when everyone thinks you are an idiot, but nobody will fire you... the struggle is where greatness comes from."

When you find yourself in "the struggle", there are a few things that might help during these challenging times:

  • Don't put it all on your shoulders. You won't be able to share everyburden, but share every burden that you can.

  • This is not checkers, this is chest. When you find yourself backed against a wall remember that there is always a move you can make to stay in the game.

  • Play long enough and you might get lucky. If you survive long enough to see tomorrow, today the right answers might come. Just keep pushing.

  • Don't take it personally. Everyone makes mistakes, don't beat yourself up. This is not a productive way to solve problems.

  • Remember that this is what separates the good from the great. If you want to be great, the struggle is the challenge to prove it.


"There is no smooth path into a great company. The problem is that everybody learns to be a CEO by being a CEO. No training as a manager, general manager, or in any other job actually prepares you to run a company."

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

Tips To Calm Your Nerves:

  • Make some friends. Talk to people, who have gone through similar situatons.

  • Get it out of your head and onto paper. The process of writing separates you from your own psychology.

  • Focus on the road, not the wall. Focus on where you are going rather than on what you hope to avoid.


"CEO is an unnatural job...[and] it generally takes years for a founder to develop the CEO skill set."

The CEO Skills Set:

  • Be authentic: It's extremely important that you believe in the feedback that you give.

  • Come from the right place: It's important that you give people feedback because you want them to succeed and not because you want them to fail.

  • Don't get personal: Don't prepare people to get fired, prepare them to succeed. If they don't take feedback, then decide to fire.

  • Don't clown people in front of their peers: You should never strive to embarrass someone in front of their peers.

  • Feedback is not one-size-fits-all: Your tone should match the employee's personality, not your mood.

  • Be direct, but not mean: Feedback is a dialogue, not a monologue.

The key to becoming a great CEO is to master the unnatural. If you are a founder CEO and you feel awkward or incompetent when doing some of these things... welcome to the club. This is the process, this is how you get made.


This book may not be for everyone, but it was one of my favoires to read in 2021. This book truly shows the realities of being a tech founder as a full time job. Skipping all the glamour of being a founder, in this book you can really see behind the scenes. From topics of mental health, firing and hiring, and the fear of loosing other peoples money by the decisions you take. There are a lot of business books written with many ideas about how to build a startup, but there are few that talk about what hard it actually is to run one.

After being in the starup enviorment, I belive this book will be extremly useful for any founder or aspiring founder. If you think you want to be a tech founder, read this book. As Ben says;

"If you don't like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don't be a CEO."

Hope this helps, until next week!

- Agustin