Ben Horowitz: Build a Great Product First | Summary and Q&A

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November 26, 2014
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Stanford eCorner
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Ben Horowitz: Build a Great Product First

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Summary

In this video, the speaker discusses the difference between starting a company and scaling it. They highlight how the challenges shift once a product hits the market and emphasize the importance of building a great product as the foundation for a successful company. The speaker also mentions the need for management skills in scaling a business, emphasizing that these skills can be learned and are not innate.

Questions & Answers

Q: What are some of the challenges that arise when a startup enters the market?

When a startup enters the market, it often faces the first psychological trauma where it becomes apparent that the product is not as well-received as anticipated. This can make the journey significantly more difficult and require adjustments to the product or strategy.

Q: Can you build a great company without building a great product?

Building a great product is essential for building a great company. The ability to create a product that appeals to a large number of people is a prerequisite for success. Without a great product, the company's chances of success diminish.

Q: How did the mistakes of the 1990s contribute to the development of lean startup methodology?

In the 1990s, a common error was bringing in a professional CEO early on who lacked the ability to build a great product. This led to the company growing in size but ultimately burning through cash without achieving sustainable success. These experiences and failures contributed to the development of methodologies like the lean startup approach.

Q: Are the skills required to start a company the same as the skills required to scale it?

The skills required to start a company, such as building a great product, are different from the skills needed to scale it. While building a great product is crucial in the early stages, scaling a company involves additional skills like management. However, management is a learned skill, and nobody is born a great manager. It requires practice and learning to evaluate and correct employee performance while maintaining positive relationships.

Q: How does being a CEO or manager differ from other roles?

Being a CEO or manager is an unnatural job compared to other roles. It involves evaluating employee performance, providing corrective feedback, and ensuring everyone stays on task. These actions may not come naturally, but they are essential for effective management. Learning how to perform these management tasks and balancing them with maintaining positive relationships is a crucial aspect of the role.

Q: Can management skills be learned?

Yes, management skills can be learned. Nobody is inherently a great manager, and it is important to understand that management is not a natural ability. CEOs and managers must invest time and effort into developing these skills, including evaluating and correcting employee performance, in a way that is constructive and maintains positive relationships.

Q: How do you balance evaluation and correction with maintaining positive relationships?

Balancing evaluation and correction with maintaining positive relationships is a challenge for CEOs and managers. It is important to provide constructive feedback and address performance issues while also showing understanding and empathy. Building trust and fostering open communication can help navigate this delicate balance.

Q: Why do many people believe that some individuals are born natural managers?

Many people believe that some individuals are born natural managers because they may seem to possess innate leadership qualities. However, it is essential to understand that management skills are learned and developed over time. While some individuals may have natural inclinations towards certain aspects of management, becoming an effective manager requires deliberate practice and continuous learning.

Q: What happens if everyone dislikes a CEO or manager?

If everyone dislikes a CEO or manager, it can lead to significant challenges within the organization. A lack of respect or dislike for a manager can result in a negative work environment and, ultimately, affect the overall performance and productivity of the team. It is crucial for CEOs and managers to find a balance between being task-oriented and cultivating positive relationships to ensure a healthy work environment.

Q: How can CEOs and managers navigate the challenges of being disliked at times?

CEOs and managers should expect that they will not always be liked by everyone due to the evaluation and correction they have to provide. To navigate this challenge, it is vital for them to focus on being fair, consistent, and transparent in their actions. Establishing a supportive and open communication culture within the organization can also help mitigate these challenges.

Takeaways

Starting and scaling a company present different challenges. While building a great product is critical in the early stages, the skills required to scale a company extend beyond product development. Management skills, although not natural, can be developed through practice and learning. Balancing evaluation and correction with maintaining positive relationships is a delicate task for CEOs and managers. It is crucial for them to invest in developing management skills and fostering a healthy work environment to achieve long-term success.

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