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The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Book Review and Key Takeaways

We are back with another book review and key takeaways, and this time I’ll be reviewing The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s popular in the tech world and a relatively newer book having come out in the last couple years. I really enjoyed the book and have actually read it twice in the last year or so because there was so much useful information packed into it.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things not a huge book at just under 300 pages, but Ben gets really deep on some important business decisions and situations you’ll find yourself in – some of which I’m going to talk about in the key takeaway section. The book is great to read from top to bottom, but is also the type of book that you can very easily flip to a specific section if you have a specific problem that you want to get feedback on, as that’s what a lot of the book is about (how to deal with really hard things that come up in running a business). Use it as a reference tool or almost like a business dictionary, or just read it front to back – it’s up to you!

Now let’s jump into my 3 key takeaways:

Takeaway #1: The real difficulty of being a CEO

Ben does a really good job of describing what the role of a CEO is and just how difficult that role is. If you’re thinking about starting a tech company or running a tech company, or getting into any type of business for that matter, he explains the important parts of this role and makes it clear that you will have to make a lot of really hard decisions by yourself. Now this doesn’t mean good CEOs close the door to other people and just sit alone and make all these decisions by themselves. In fact, what he highlights is the fact that the CEO sits at the center of a company and it’s the CEO’s job to take in information from the different people and different parts of the organization and then ultimately make the decision because they’re the only person in the company that has all of that different information at their disposal.

The CEO knows the important information from the head of sales, head of operations and head of engineering, whereas the head of those specific departments don’t know all the information from the other departments – not to mention other business information they may not be privy to. This is why a lot of important decisions can really only be made by the CEO, because they simply have all the information. That’s also why they have the role that they do and that’s why they usually get paid accordingly, since these are not easy decisions to make.

What’s really important to know is you will have to make a lot of very difficult decisions by yourself, and that’s okay. Ben does a great job of explaining the true role of the CEO and makes it clear just how difficult this can be. This is not a flowery book about how fun and easy the whole process is – he really digs deep and makes it clear what the challenges are and while it can seem daunting, it’s also a really cool thing to learn and get the behind-the-scenes insight on.

Takeaway #2: The importance of managing people

Ben spends a good chunk of the book talking about the importance of people – including how to hire, manage and even fire them. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a book about sunshine and rainbows. And while there are obviously plenty of parts that are more positive, Ben goes in-depth on things like how to fire people, what to do when employees aren’t working out and other difficult tasks that may come up.

He also makes it very clear that the CEO sits alone at the end of the day, and you almost want to think about it as a major people management position more than anything else. Not in the sense that it’s a human resources job, although they are heavily linked. At the end of the day, the CEO has to manage all of these different functions within a business and that really comes down to managing people. Managing your head of sales, meeting with them, strategizing and more. Same goes for your head of HR, head of marketing, head of engineering etc.

It’s the CEO’s job to sit at the top and manage all of these different functions, make sure they’re operating smoothly and that there’s proper communication between them too. Because of the importance of people, Ben goes into great detail on hiring, managing and firing because nothing is ever going to go perfect and he doesn’t beat around the bush about the hardest problems to face.

Takeaway #3: Make sure you’re ready to take on the challenge

The last takeaway I had from The Hard Thing About Hard Things was less written literally and more an overall feeling I got which is the true difficulty and challenges that come with being the CEO. Whether it’s a fast-growing tech company or a big company of any kind, Ben really pulls the blinds back on what it takes to be a CEO and lead a big company in a whole variety of ways. This is why I highly recommend a full read, so can also learn the strategies and tactics he discusses in-depth.

The overarching lesson I took is that going down this journey is going to be a tough one. We all know the difficulties that come with business, but taking on the CEO role specifically brings all types of difficulties that will come up at some point. It’s just a matter of when, how and what you’ll do about it, so you want to get really clear that this is the path you want to go down because becoming a CEO isn’t for everybody. It brings with it plenty of additional difficulty, tough decisions you’re going to have to make and stress.

So be sure that it’s what you want to do and if you are unsure about whether a role like this would be a good one for you, it’s definitely worth reading the book because it’s almost like a fast track to seeing what the life of a CEO is like. If you can’t stomach them in the form of a book, you might not be able to stomach them in real life especially because some of these tough decisions can come up day after day.

Final thoughts

To quickly summarize the three key takeaways, number one is that being a CEO is a series of very extremely difficult decisions – many of which you’re going to have to make by yourself – so make sure you’re okay with that. Number two, it’s a huge people management position so make sure that you’re comfortable with hiring, managing and also firing people. You’ll learn a lot about how to do all of those things if you read the book. Lastly, make sure being the CEO and going through these hard decisions and stressful times is really what you want to do because yes, there will be great moments. Yes, there will be a lot to take away from it and there are big upsides. But also make sure you will be comfortable with the added stress, the longer weeks, the time away from family – stuff like that – before pursuing the role more seriously.

Hopefully you learned a lot from my takeaways, and if you thought those takeaways were good – I’m really not doing it justice so I highly recommend grabbing the book or getting the audiobook (you can find a direct link to it on my Resources page as well). Thanks for reading, and make sure to check out the blog for even more book reviews or join the SG community to join other like-minded solopreneurs building their businesses together.

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