Ben Horowitz – The hard thing about hard things

I read Ben Horowitz’s book on my flight from SFO-LHR and could not put it down. Here is why:

  • It was really well edited and uses an optimum amount of words
  • Clear and unambiguous writing, sale illness which is great in a business book
  • It talks about challenges and various approaches to problem solving instead of providing a panacea
  • It has the best description for a product manager role I’ve read ever. The contrasts between good and bad product managers are really well thought out and inspiring.
    • Even if this is 15 years old, pharmacy it is still very relevant.
    • Of course, order not everything applies and this is written for product managers in startups and not in large companies.
  • Ben’s take on analytics is refreshing in this time of “lean” shit. Analytics cannot dictate product vision. Most analytics provide lagging indicators. Product strategy comes from making time for it.

It’s a must read if you are in business or a product manager. I’m adding it to my Product Manager book list.

Books and podcasts for product managers

I’m sharing the books and podcasts that I’ve read and listened to over the last few years on product management, business and life in general that I’ve found useful. Hope you get a chance to read and listen to them.


Title Author Year
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers Ben Horowitz 2014
Lean Analytics Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz (5 April 2013) 2013
Lean UX Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden 2013
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change Charles Duhigg 2013
The $100 Startup: Fire your Boss, Do what you Love and Work Better to Live More Chris Guillebeau 2012
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative  Austin Kleon 2012
The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich Timothy Ferriss 2011
The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses Eric Ries 2011
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable   Nassim Nicholas Taleb 2008
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets  Nassim Nicholas Taleb 2007


WTF Podcast with Marc Maron Marc Maron interviews comedians, actors and musicians in a genuine and thought provoking way
The Economist – Audio Edition Must have if you want to learn about the world and economics in general
Podcast | This American Life Learn how to tell a story by listening to these amazing stories from NPR and Ira Glass

Benefits of being a product manager closer to the throne in software companies

There are significant benefits to be being closer to the throne in a large company. By this I mean that groups and individuals who sit closer to the power center of a company generally get to drive strategic imperatives more than similarly capable teams and individuals in a different office or geography. This maybe be common sense but as I suffer through another situation where a team loser to the throne is getting to drive strategy, here I feel the need to list out why this happens and how to fix it.

  • Co located leaders get more facetime with execs.
  • GMs want “daytime” answerability on high viz projects
  • Co located leaders also get greater  chance of getting into impromptu demos and hallway conversations that move “their” case forward
  • Most large companies are still driven by personalities than the substance of their ideas.

Unlike Amazon, cialis sale where there is great focus on getting the personality out of the presentation, ampoule most companies still hero worship and a great presenter with a bad idea can 90% of the time run away with it and get ownership over higher visibility, strategically important projects. This makes driving strategy incredibly hard for remote sites even if you do everything I outlined in my previous post on driving worldwide business out of India.

This is incredibly frustrating for strong talent in remote geographies and leads to either loss of talent or indifference. Inspite of my being in the US almost 1 week a month, I still find that co-located leaders can bypass me and drive parallel projects. Argh!

So.. how do you fix this? The changes have to be made at the top of the company, where the incentives to change are low and will lead to more pain for them in the short term. Thus, this is incredibly hard but necessary for building strong geographically dispersed teams. Here are somethings that will help.

  • Establish clear ownerships for software implementation and business execution and if possible, keep them at the same place.
  • Get comfortable with “non daytime” answerability.

This can only happen if the company agrees to not change strategic priorities on a monthly basis. Where such changes are common, it becomes harder to make this work.

  • Remove middle management by having business owners report to the GMs directly.

Most software companies have both software implementation managers and business owners reporting to middle management who report to more middle managers before reporting to the GM for that business. This leads to terrible waste.

More after I board my flight to London.


Impressions of Beijing – January 2014


My first business trip to Beijing in its most inhospitable climate and polluted environments was not as challenging as I thought it would be.

Amongst the expected challenges were:

  • Dealing with pollution
  • Dealing with the language problem
  • Being a vegetarian
  • Not having a working phone

So, really the biggest challenge was the language problem. Living in Delhi prepared me well for the pollution but it did get to me on the 3rd day as I developed a persistent headache.

I found two really good vegetarian restaurants near Hotel Wenjin thanks to . I had better food than I have had in Tokyo. This was just great surprise. Not having a working phone was ok since I was always with someone who had a phone. Plus, I could use facetime audio to connect with people. The worst unexpected thing was the stench of sweat and rot in early morning commuter metro and even in taxis. I was surprised that none of my chinese co workers were put off by it or even mentioned it. It was just unbearable. I would have preferred a 1 hour walk to being in that train or the taxi.

So, what did I think of Beijing… I can’t say I like it a lot. It really is too difficult to be alone here and navigate without having any help from waiters, people on the street or metro officials. I felt it was a lot like Delhi or Mumbai in terms of complexity. There is some glitz and modernization but it hides a stoic committment to tradition. The lack of attention to detail was apparent in construction and in design in general. I kept comparing it to Tokyo. Tokyo, though busy is so much cleaner and the attention to detail is simply outstanding, probably better than any in the world. The Japanese people seem nicer. Language is less of any issue and getting around is easier.

Of course, people here, as you get to know them, are just as nice but a stranger seems less open and less comfortable being approached.

I did see the sunrise screens at Tienanmen square right around the time this hoax was doing the rounds on facebook. I also saw the Mutianyu part of the great wall of China. It was great but definitely not worth going to again. Shared bus rides are the cheapest way to get there. You do have to endure a “cultural” visit to a jade factory in this trip so you do the “typical your time or your money” trade off.