Recap: A Discussion with Nas and Ben Horowitz at SXSW Interactive 2014
Hip Hop legend and entrepernuer Nas interviews friend, business partner, and Venture Capitalists Ben Horowitz for a deep discussion on the correlation of hip hop and entrepreneurship for SXSW interactive.
SXSW kicked off last week in Austin, Tx with a host of events, performances, and trade shows, celebrating the areas of music, film, and interactive technology. Among the scheduled events was Sunday’s discussion panel with iconic rapper Nas and top investor Ben Horowitz. Horowitz, who recently released a book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, has been working with Marc Andreessen for over 19 years, and together the two have molded their Venture Capitalist firm into a one of the most successful investment firms of our time. Nas, who has collaborated with Horowitz recently on a number of projects including Tristan Walker’s Bevel by Walker & Company, interviewed the Silicone Valley CEO on a number of topics including history, music, entrepreneurship and the parallels of language and ethics of hip hop and business. The two discuss their respective careers, their chance meeting and the development of their friendship and joint business ventures. Nas and Horowitz broke down the elements of success in starting your own business and succeeding on your own terms. The lively discussion, was filled with hip hop quotables and sound advice for those in the audience looking to invest in their dreams.
In today’s world, product teams have access to an unprecedented set of data on the products that they’ve built. Left to themselves, they will optimize the product around the data they have. But what of the data they don’t have? What about the products and features that need to be built that the customers can’t imagine? Who will make that a priority? The CEO.
But how do you do that and only that if you have been involved in the product at a much deeper level the whole way? How do you back off gracefully in general without backing off at all in some areas? At some point, you must formally structure your product involvement. You must transition from your intimately involved motion to a process that enables you to make your contribution without disempowering your team or driving them bananas. The exact process depends on you, your strengths, your work style and your personality, but will usually benefit from these elements:
Write it; don’t say it. If there is something that you want in the products, then write it out completely. Not as a quick email, but as a formal document. This will maximize clarity while serving to limit your involvement to those things that you have thought all the way through.
Formalize and attend product reviews. If teams know that they should expect a regular review where you will check the consistency with the vision, the quality of the design, the progress against their integration goals, etc., it will feel much less disempowering than if you change their direction in the hallway.
Don’t communicate direction outside of your formal mechanisms. It’s fine and necessary to continue to talk to individual engineers and product managers in an ad hoc fashion, because you need to continually update your understanding of what’s going on. But resist the attempt to jump in and give direction in these scenarios. Only give direction via a formal communication channel like the ones described above.
Another way to characterize this: don’t continue to act like a product manager does with a team of four developers when you are running a company of 40 or 400.
We thought that one way to communicate respect would be to always be on time to meetings with entrepreneurs. Rather than make them wait in our lobby for 30 minutes while we attended to more important business like so many venture capitalists that we visited, we wanted our people to be on time, prepared and focused. Unfortunately, anyone who has ever worked anywhere knows that this is easier said than done. In order to shock the company into the right behavior, we instituted a ruthlessly enforced $10/minute fine for being late to a meeting with an entrepreneur. So, you are on a really important call and will be 10 minutes late? No problem, just bring $100 to the meeting and pay your fine.
Another great piece by Andreesen Horowitz founder, Ben Horowitz: Programming Your Culture is a smart take on an important topic, filled with common sense. I also loved this line: “The world is full of bankrupt companies with world-class cultures. Culture does not make a company.”
…in general, founding CEOs perform better than professional CEOs over the long term, and a venture capital firm that enables founding CEOs to succeed would help build the best companies and yield superior investment returns.
Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and has invested in Twitter, Skype, and Facebook, among other top companies. In a 2009 talk, here’s what he has to say about what it’s really like to start a tech company. Watch the whole thing, especially for the part about his conversation with Michael Jackson on a specific moment in the movie “The Wiz”. (via Ben Horowitz Discusses Starting A Tech Company)
Being an entrepreneur, being a CEO, being around other CEO’s and having worked with other CEO’s I find this to be an important blog post from Ben Horowitz
“By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared to keeping my mind in check. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it, and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: The first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown.
At risk of violating the sacred rule, I will attempt to describe the condition and prescribe some techniques that helped me. In the end, this is the most personal and important battle that any CEO will face.”