Ben Horowitz: Nailing the Hard Things [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

November 26, 2014
Stanford eCorner
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Ben Horowitz: Nailing the Hard Things [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm, answers various questions about his background, college experience, and the challenges of being an entrepreneur and CEO. He discusses the importance of skills such as programming and people management, the value of working for an established company before starting a startup, and the difference between wartime and peacetime CEOs. He also explains the philosophy behind Andreessen Horowitz and the impact of marketing on venture capital.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did growing up in Berkeley influence your entrepreneurial mindset?

Growing up in Berkeley, a city known for its counterculture and rebellious spirit, influenced me to think differently and not follow the mainstream. This led me to rebel against the hippie culture and ultimately become a venture capitalist instead of a communist.

Q: What did you study in college and what do you wish you had studied more?

I studied computer science at Columbia University, and I believe it was a frowned upon major at the time. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time studying biology because I didn't realize how much it would intersect with information science in the future.

Q: Besides technical skills, what other skills can college students learn that will serve them well in any field?

In the world of entrepreneurship, the two most important skills are programming skills and people skills. People skills, such as understanding others' motivations and perspectives, are highly underestimated but crucial in building and running a successful company.

Q: How did you recognize the potential of the Internet and start investing in it?

I interacted with the Internet in its early stages, but it wasn't initially obvious that it would become what we know today. However, when my partner Mark built Mosaic, the first web browser, I saw its potential and realized it was the future, leading me to invest in it.

Q: How did you learn how to run a company and what is the value of working for an established company before starting a startup?

I learned how to run a company by working in a big company, in my case Silicon Graphics. It wasn't just about having great managers, but rather the frustrations and challenges I faced in getting things done that became the basis for building my own company. Working for an established company also allows you to network with smart people and build a reputation in the industry.

Q: What is the difference between a wartime CEO and a peacetime CEO?

A wartime CEO is focused on making quick and accurate decisions, especially in challenging times when the company is running out of cash or facing tough competition. On the other hand, a peacetime CEO is more focused on the long-term development of the company, nurturing its people, and building a strong organization.

Q: What were the core principles of conventional VC firms that you admire and incorporated into Andreessen Horowitz?

One core principle we adopted from conventional VC firms was the recognition that a small percentage of companies generate the majority of returns. We focused on investing in those high-potential companies. Additionally, we adopted the use of a strong network and marketing to differentiate ourselves and build a reputation.

Q: What companies currently excite you in terms of their potential impact?

One company that excites me is Databricks, a company founded by individuals from UC Berkeley. They have developed a technology called Spark that is a much faster and more efficient replacement for MapReduce, an existing technology in the big data field. I believe Databricks will revolutionize big data processing.

Q: How do you see the intersection between biology and information science in relation to companies like Jawbone?

Companies like Jawbone, which collect health data from wearable devices, have the opportunity to provide valuable insights by analyzing large datasets. Integrating genetics data from companies like 23andMe with wearable device data could lead to personalized health recommendations and a deeper understanding of individuals' health.

Q: As a technical founder, how do you juggle between building a great product and running a company?

As a technical founder, it's essential to have a team and network that can complement your expertise in building a great product. Surround yourself with people who have experience in managing and running a company, as well as those who have insights into various aspects of the business, such as marketing and finance. Collaboration and delegation are key to balancing both aspects of the role.


In summary, Ben Horowitz discussed his college experience, the importance of technical and people skills in entrepreneurship, the challenges of being a CEO, and the philosophy behind Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm. He emphasized the need for both a strong product and management skills, the value of working for an established company before starting a startup, and the importance of building a network and marketing in the venture capital industry. Additionally, he highlighted the potential impact of companies like Databricks and Jawbone in the fields of big data and health monitoring. Overall, his insights shed light on the mindset and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and CEOs.

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