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Alex McPherson

Software Developer in Boulder, Colorado

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A pretty good read; not too meaty

###Synopsis The Hard Thing About Hard Things: A long running blog by VC Ben Horowitz is condensed into a book that flows… like a series of blog posts. Along with credibility-forming war stories, he covers advice on areas such as fund-raising, management, hiring executives, and dealing with rapid growth from an organizational perspective.

Many pieces of advice are delivered as ‘the right way’ to do things. If you take these with a grain of salt and add the parts that jive well with you to your particular manager-toolbox, it’s definitely worth a read.


Who should read it

  • People looking for startup war stories from the early 2000’s
  • Connoisseurs of hip hop/MBA crossover fiction
  • Early career CEOs or managers looking for a more aggressive perspective on startup mechanics

###Non-comprehensive interesting bullet points

“If you’re going to eat shit don’t nibble” – On dealing with bad situations with full solutions

Add “What are we not doing?” as an agenda item to a monthly meeting

#####Management Debt

Short term fixes that need to get paid off later:

  • Dual promoting two peers
  • Overcompensating an employee with another offer
  • Lack of performance management / employee feedback processes

#####Being a good company

“Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong” - On being more than a place to get a salary and resume boost

Reasons to stay put:

  • wide open career path at a growing company
  • great resume fodder
  • options to vest and get rich from

When the company goes south, those ALL fail. The only thing that can keep an employee at a place where things went wrong is that she likes her job.

That last point is particularly interesting to me: slice away your company’s perks. Do people still want to work there? What’s the core that’s not ping pong and health insurance?

#####Culture vs. perks

Perks are not culture. Culture ties back to your business: Amazon saves people money, and so started with doors for desks. Square is design focused. Their office is architecturally impressive. A16Z is entrepreneur focused, so they pay out $10 / minute when they’re late for meetings.

Culture is shared beliefs, not things you buy for employees.

#####Screening hires

Look out for people with two types of subtly different ambition: those wanting company success, then theirs as a byproduct vs. theirs first regardless of company outcome. Will they care or feel responsible if your company goes under?

Company size is important when hiring: don’t overshoot and get a ‘big’ VP of xxxxx before you need it. They might not be effective without the scaffolding of a big company around them.

Hire for strength, not lack of weaknesses.

#####Politics due to lack of structure

Politics show up when you’re not strict and following process on:

  • Performance evaluation and compensation
  • Organization design / territory
  • Promotions

Be strict on those and you can avoid (a lot of) politicking.


Train a team on your expectations. So easy. No one does it. Good product manager / bad product manager (extends to developers too, see mine here)

  • Training yields career growth and happiness
  • Training yields a crystal clear baseline for performance measurement
  • Training keeps the product quality up