SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz is hailed as a Silicon Valley sage today, but he wanted to be a hip-hop hero when he was in college.
That explains why Horowitz's new business-building book dispenses management tips with the blunt force of a swaggering rapper rhyming about the harsh reality of life in a poor neighborhood.
Horowitz wants it known that starting a company isn't for the fainthearted. He accentuates the point with a book title that could also work as a hip-hop album: "The Hard Thing About Hard Things."
The book distills lessons Horowitz has learned during his 19 years as a manager and then executive at Web browser pioneer Netscape Communications, AOL Inc., cloud-computing trailblazer LoudCloud and at the venture capital firm he runs with longtime friend, Marc Andreessen.
"Writing about it was a lot easier than living through it all," says Horowitz, 47.
As Netscape's co-founder and an Internet evangelist for the past 20 years, Andreessen has long been regarded among technology's brightest minds. Horowitz, though, has been quietly building a reputation among high-tech entrepreneurs as the go-to guy for no-nonsense advice.
The new book seems likely to burnish Horowitz's credentials as a management guru. Fortune magazine describes Horowitz as Silicon Valley's "stealth power" in a cover story in its latest edition and his book has received endorsements from high-tech celebrities such as Google Inc. CEO Larry Page and Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The book might not be as impressive to readers who are sensitive about profanity and the use of racial epithets.
To punctuate his points, Horowitz quotes the hip-hop lyrics of rappers such as Kayne West, Jay-Z and Nas, almost as frequently as he cites the insights of high-tech luminaries like Andreessen, former Intel Corp. CEO Andy Grove, former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale and CEO coach Bill Campbell. His hip-hop references include repeated uses of the N-word and Horowitz drops "f-bombs" throughout the book.
He believes the coarse language helps convey his message.
"The confrontations and the conversations that I write about in the book are hard," Horowitz said. "The lyrics I use express the emotional intensity that goes with the logic in the book."
Sections of the book that cover Horowitz's eight-year stint as LoudCloud's CEO depict traumatic times. Horowitz recalls the high hopes for LoudCloud after he and Andreessen started the company in 1999, only to see things quickly unravel after demand for Internet services collapsed amid the dot-com bust in 2000 and the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
LoudCloud flirted with bankruptcy as the company's losses mounted. Horowitz saved the company by dismantling it. He went through several mass layoffs before selling the bulk of LoudCloud's to Electronic Data Systems for $63.5 million in 2002 and then remaking the company into a business software maker called Opsware. The transformation didn't pay off immediately, causing Opsware's stock to fall as low as 35 cents, raising the specter of failure yet again.