Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Hard Thing About Jim Collins

I’ve always been on the fence about Ben Horowitz, but I haven’t had a lot to go on — I’ve followed his blog a bit and the rap lyric fetish still feels gimmicky. Mostly my impressions of him come from reading around the Instagram/Pckplz dustup a few years ago, which left me feeling like at a minimum some ethical lines got crossed. And I felt strongly enough to sympathy-crowd-invest in Dalton Caldwell’s followup gig *and* cheer for Instagram getting acquired at a monster valuation by the Zucker-borg.

But a couple days ago I got my fifth recommendation to read The Hard Thing About Hard Things and when I found myself casting about for a podcast to get me through a roadtrip today I saw the Stanford ETL session with Mr. Horowitz (embedded above) and thought I’d give the dude another shot.

It was awesome! And I actually laughed out loud a few times, especially when he got the part that set up the rationale for his book, from minute 15 for about 3 minutes (I’ve transcribed most of that section here) —

When I was a CEO… I’d be up at 3am going, “why are none of the management books that I’m reading helping me? They are no help at all!” — and I read literally every management book.. and I realized that management books are generally written for.. here’s how to not screw up your company. But if you start a company, that lasts like a week. And then you’ve screwed it up, and then, where’s the book for that? And that’s what was missing.

And so I would think about it.. And I would be like — all the VCs and everybody tells me: “Ben, you know what the key to a great company is? Hire A-players!” and I’d be sitting there like, “Oh great, ’cause I was going to hire a bunch of f*cking idiots and now you’ve unlocked the secret for me. Thank you..”

The hard thing is not to hire the best people, the hard thing is when your company is going like this [up and down hand motions] and the best people don’t want to work for you and then who do you hire, and how does that work? And do you hire the person who’s OK across the board or do you hire the person that’s got something horribly wrong with them, but something super great about them, and how do you think about that, and what do you do with that horribly wrong stuff once you get them.. that’s a hard thing.

I read those Jim Collins books, which I hate.. [audience laughter] Some of you like them, I know.. it doesn’t mean you’re not smart if you like them, because a lot of smart people like them. But the thing that he does is he makes you feel good about yourself but when you get into it you realize that cause and effect is swung around on all these things.. but he’s like, “What great companies have is a big hairy audacious goal!” and I’m like, I think that’s great but that’s not hard. It’s pretty easy to write a big hairy.. “We’re going to go to the moon! We’re going to build the biggest company in the world! We’re going to have software on every desktop! It’s all going to be ours, that’s our goal!”

OK, so now you’ve missed your goal. And not only did you miss your goal, but you built up your whole company to achieve your goal and you’ve got a cost structure that’s designed to hit your goal, and you missed your goal and you’re running out of cash and the company’s burning to the ground. And everybody who works for you thinks you’re a moron because you missed your goal.

That’s hard. That’s a hard thing. What do you do there? Um, that’s not in Jim’s book, he doesn’t even talk about that. Nobody ever misses their goal who’s a great company, so.. like, why would you miss your goal? You must not be great. So it’s like.. ok, f*ck Jim..

So, anyway, that’s where the title The Hard Thing About Hard Things comes from.

So yeah, I bought the book.

The Hertling Social Network Formula


At B3TZ world headquarters we think a lot about social networks — mainly because we think we’re building a social network with a prediction game a the center.

On Brad Feld’s blog today his guest blogger William Hertling takes a stab at a way to wrap his brain around the growth dynamics of social networks, and he does IMVHO a decent job of avoiding academic rigor but laying out a pretty interesting way to talk about some of the key drivers. I think the article — and esp. the comments that follow! — are worth a read, but here are my top three takeaways from the perspective of the game we’re making:

1)  A network that has a benefit when even two friends connect will see easier initial adoption than one that requires a dozen friends to connect.

2)  [from Meredith in the comments section] Social networks 2.0 offer unique benefits or some core value beyond your friends and acquaintances – Instagram being the perfect example in allowing people to enjoy the photography of strangers and do cool things with their own photos in an easy way.

3)  Social gaming is interesting, because it provides benefit even when connected to no one, the benefit increases when connected to strangers, and then increases even more when connected to friends.

B3TZ is still a ways off on brining head-to-head gaming dynamics back, but we’re designed to grow without H2H, and even with it we’re aiming at value even from playing with as single friend. This stuff is already religion for us <g>.

Loser Talk

There are plenty of great TED talks out there, but for some reason Alain de Botton’s A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success in particular has attained the status of sacred text for me.

Yes, it could be more focused, and yes, he’s probably talking a bit too fast. Plus, I’m not sure I completely buy into his baseline melancholy-but-breezy version of Humanism. But I do love the way his mind works, and the questions of identity and significance that are the starting points for his thoughts on our feelings about success.

Of course I love muchly de Botton’s strong visual anchors — that first image of quietly “crying into my pillow” on Sunday evening, or the weird queen with a big house, or the emotionally vulnerable Ferrari Driver.

But under those images and near the center of this three-ring circus of word-play and introspection is a modest message of hope for those of us allergic to boilerplate ideas of success — you are the only one who can make a real definition of “success” for yourself. Ja, it’s pretty obvious, but its one of those things I keep forgetting. He ends by talking a bit about about the forces that want to define success for all of us, and finally says: “…its bad enough not getting what you want, but its even worse to have an idea of what you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t in fact what you wanted all along.”

I’m not sure there’s enough direction or comfort here to get me back on Facebook, though.