If you are planning on working in business in any way, whether you are still in college, two years into a start-up or thinking of joining a young, growing company, read this book – The Hard Thing about Hard Things. I just saw it is the number one business book on Amazon and deservedly so.
Two words describe it best – honest and accurate.
However, this is a blog, not a tweet, so I’m going to add a few more.
It was great to read his discussion of the times when the software was not perfect because we face that every day. Last year, we did our very first alpha version of Spirit Lake: The Game and was it ever a rough draft. Thankfully, we were working with some schools who were very cooperative and having a person on site to step in and fix problems was a godsend. This year, we are in a lot more classrooms and every time something is not perfect, I catch myself thinking, oh, God, why didn’t we wait until we had the all in one install? Why didn’t we add the read-it-to-me function before we put it in the schools? Why didn’t we …
Then I realize, just like in the book, that you HAVE to release less than perfect code because your customers will help you see what really needs to be changed. Also, you just can’t wait because other people will move into the market and take the customers while you are working on your perfect code.
While too many business books present successful businesses as one success after another, that’s not real life and Horowitz is honest enough to say so, to talk about the large customers that they lost, the drop in stock value, the customer that was furious with their quality problems. The truth is that companies who succeed have problems along the way, and if you don’t realize that, you’re going to panic when your company inevitably has problems with cash flow, quality, changes in the market.
One thing that Horowitz just teaches by example is the intense focus that goes into running a successful start-up.
It’s almost never that a book causes me to change my behavior, but this is that rarity.
As I wrote earlier, I have been dropping other commitments to focus just on 7 Generation Games. After reading The Hard Thing, I have gotten much more emphatic about it. No, I cannot take your consulting contract. No, I don’t know what you will do now. Reading about the hours Horowitz had to spend to save Loudcloud, and with three children at home, no less, made me certain that I was on the right track. If this company is so important to me that I want people to buy from us, investors to invest in us, then it can’t be less than a total commitment.
The other encouraging part of the book was how their corporate fortunes went up and down. At one point, it seemed that EVERYONE used Netscape. I wrote my first website using Netscape Composer. Now, Netscape is a thing of the past but Horowitz and Andreessen are not. If your thing you are doing is no longer viable, then you don’t lament or decide you’re a failure. You go on to a new thing.
While our company is in the technology sector also, I am guessing that anyone running any kind of business can benefit from reading this book. Whether you’re writing software or baking pies, you need to hire people who fit the job and sometimes they were great when you were part of a huge grocery chain but now, spun off as Jo’s Pie Shop, they are not making it and you have to let them go. I suspect no matter what business you are in, the first months, years even, are full of decisions that are not optimal because you had to start delivering your product or service when it was due not when it was perfect.
Thanks to years of speed-reading classes at St. Mary’s Elementary School (seriously, thanks), I read a book or two every evening before I go to bed. That’s hundreds of books a year. This book is the best one I’ve read in years.
Disclaimer: No one gave me diddly-squat for writing this post, not even a free book. I bought it on Amazon.