There's a lot to like about Ben Horowitz's new book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
Mr. Horowitz, raised in Berkeley and the grandchild of card-carrying American Communists, is now a proud Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Notwithstanding all the efforts of Democrats to demonize Mitt Romney and "millionaires and billionaires" during the last election cycle, Mr. Horowitz's book is a welcome sign of an American culture that, for now, at least, is capable of not merely resenting successful entrepreneurs but also of celebrating them.
One of the ideas conveyed clearly in the book is that success is the result not only of luck, but of hard work, a classic puritan virtue. Much of Mr. Horowitz's narrative has to do not with his career as a founding partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, but with his time as CEO of Loudcloud, which became Opsware, and which was sold to Hewlett Packard for $1.6 billion in 2007.
He quotes himself as telling one manager, "It's important to me that the people who spend twelve to sixteen hours a day here, which is most of their waking life, have a good life."
At another juncture, he tells employees, "I need you to go home tonight and have a serious conversation with your wife, husband, significant other, or whoever cares most about you and tell them, 'Ben needs me for the next six months.' I need you come in early and stay late." One employee, Ted Crossman, recounts that during this period he worked "seven days a week 8 a.m–10 p.m. for six months straight."
Several substantial sections of this book were published earlier on Mr. Horowitz's blog, www.bhorowitz.com, and are still available there free of charge.
For example, the section on pages 226 to 228 of the book, Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO, was published on Mr. Horowitz's blog here on April 14, 2011.
The chapter titled "Programming Your Culture," which appears on pages 179 to 184 of the book, was published pretty much identically on Mr. Horowitz's blog here on December 18, 2012.
The chapter titled "The Freaky Friday Management Technique," which appears on pages 252 to 253 of the book, was published on Mr. Horowitz's blog here on January 19, 2012.
The chapter titled, "When Smart People Are Bad Employees," which appears on pages 165 to 169 of the book, was published on Mr. Horowitz's blog here on January 4, 2011.
There's nothing inherently wrong with repackaging already-published blog content into a book, and in this case, Mr. Horowitz isn't even directly profiting from it, other than reputationally, because he has pledged his portion of the book's proceeds to a charity, the American Jewish World Service. But I sure would have liked to have known, before I paid money for the book, that a substantial portion of its liveliest content was available free of charge and had been issued years earlier. In this case, there's no disclosure on the book's jacket copy or its Amazon page that the content consists in part of previously published, and still freely available, blog posts. (The introduction does say the book "includes the related lessons from the blog.")
The other thing I wished for from this book that was not there was some more reflection on the course of Hewlett Packard after it bought Opsware for $1.6 billion. Even accounting for dividends, an investment of $1,000 in Hewlett Packard stock made on September 21, 2007, the day the Opsware acquisition closed, would have dwindled by now to about $645. A similar investment in the S&P 500 Index over the same period would have grown to $1,224, while the same investment in Apple shares would have grown to $3,873 and in Google shares would have grown to $2,155.
Mr. Horowitz can't be held accountable for what happened to his company since he sold it, of course. But some of his bravado in this tale relates to his building of the company that was founded in 1999 and sold for $1.6 billion about 8 years later. It doesn't demean that quite formidable accomplishment to point out that it's one thing to exit at the right moment by finding a deep-pocketed (and some might say dumb, or overpaying) buyer, and another thing to build a business that outperforms and creates value long-term, sustainably, over multiple generations. There are the hard things about hard things, and then there are the really hard things.