Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why Ben Horowitz is my hero

Character is what defines us.
I’m a reader of Brad Feld’s blog “Feld Thoughts”.
Brad is someone I have tremendous respect for as well.
I have recently interviewed him for about what it’s like to live in Boulder, Colorado.
In one of his fairly recent blog posts Brad was strongly endorsing Ben Horowitz’s new book, “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”. 
Up to that point I didn’t know too much about Ben Horowitz, but I immediately headed to and purchased it, as I’m being a learning machine these days you could say, devouring business books, one after the other; and an endorsement from Brad Feld was more than I needed.
The book knocked me over as Ben describes in it how hard it really is to be the CEO of a high-tech company.
Ben Horowitz is the real deal. He and Mark Andreessen (arguably the smartest individual in the world) have essentially helped deploy the internet as we know it. He has survived getting nearly demolished by Microsoft, the internet bubble burst, to then proceed to endure one crushing challenge after another for eight relentless years until finally selling Opsware for 1.6 billion dollars.
Another thing is, from time to time I will get a little bit emotional from watching a movie or reading a good story, as we all do perhaps, but I don’t typically cry. This time reading “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”, I definitely shed a tear. It was around the part where Ben has paid out $200,000 to cover the medical bills of the CEO of a firm his public company had acquired when he was under no obligation whatsoever to help that individual. He did it simply because “it was the right thing to do”.
The entire reading experience has given me a strong insight as to what I -- or any startup founder / CEO -- is really up against.
It's a really good thing to have markers that help make more accurate predictions about how various situations might unfold. And this book is a tremendous help in this regard.
Shortly after having finished it, I listened to a YouTube video in which Ben Horowitz is being interviewed by Sarah Lacy from PandoDaily, so I could get to see what he looks and sounds like. There, he talks about what he considers to be the most important thing in business and in life, which is courage. He explains that without courage no other virtue matters, that integrity and honesty mean absolutely nothing in the absence of courage, as without courage those virtues will fail to manifest to the surface.
He makes the point that it’s easy to be honest when there won’t be any losses incurred, but that it’s very hard to come clean when that’ll cost you your career or your marriage. Therefore courage is the only thing that matters. Without it, you are simply a zero-value personality, he said.
Ben also points that both the coward and the courageous *feel* the same fears. The difference is *what* they choose to do in the face of those fears. I honestly hope one day to have as much courage as Ben Horowitz has demonstrated in his role as a CEO, as well as in life when at the tender age of five he refused to yield to the pressure of bullying another child, if and when I make it to hold the title of Chief Executive Officer — and that is why he’s currently pretty much my only undead hero.

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