This book wasn’t entirely what I was expecting from the title.
Ben starts the book by setting out his background and experience. He started his career at Silicon Graphics (SGI), and then after a couple of other moves, ended up at Netscape in charge of their Enterprise Web Server line. Netscape then entered a period of heavy competition with Microsoft - and as well as the well-known Browser wars, Microsoft also offered stiff competition with its internet server (IIS). The story of his time at Netscape during this time is fascinating. Netspace eventually was sold to AOL, and soon after this, Ben left to start his own company - LoudCloud.
He set this company up in 1999, which was an unlikely time to be starting a cloud services business. Ben recounts his story of starting very fast, with good investment and good sales. But then the dot-com bubble burst. This lead to lots of tech companies going out of business, which lead to lots of lost sales. He kept the business going by taking it public before it was profitable - a bold move. Once public, he then changed the entire direction of the business, selling a large chunk of it, and renaming it to Opsware in the process. He eventually sold the company to HP. Then started a venture capital firm.
Once he’s firmly established his credibility, he moves onto the bulk of the book - giving advice to CEOs and aspiring CEOs. He does this by drawing on his experiences at Netscape, LoudCould and OpsWare, sharing more anecdotes to help along the way.
He covers a wide range of advice from hiring, firing, training and managing people, scaling then selling a business, company culture and the skills needed to be a CEO.
I found the book an interesting read, and there were a few stand out sections in the book for me.
I enjoyed him discussing ‘the struggle’ entrepreneurs go through. He discusses some of the different ways he’s struggled as an entrepreneur - from wondering why you started the company in the first place to when you know you’re in over your head. He suggests working through this ‘struggle is where greatness comes from.’
In another section, he also advises CEOs to tell it like it is. He felt the pressure early on being a CEO to ‘project positive and sunny demeanour’ - he found that his employees saw through this, and giving it to them straight was a better approach. He thinks that this approach builds rather than undermines trust. Also, if there is a challenging problem to solve, you have more brains working on it.
He believes that companies should ‘take care of the people, the products and the profits - in that order’ and dedicates a chapter to this theme.
My favourite little anecdote in the book came in towards the end of the book. Ben has two teams that go to war with each other. He draws on an idea from the film Freaky Friday - in this film, a mother and daughter swap bodies for a day - so he swapped the team leaders of the two teams - once the team leads could see the other side of the issues they worked together to make the teams work together.
Other memorable sections include the section about ‘lead bullets’, ‘management debt’, when smart people are bad employees’, ‘hire for strengths not weaknesses’ and ‘Peacetime CEO vs wartime CEO’.
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting - it’s written for CEOs and aspiring CEOs - I’m not sure how much I can apply to my life right now. However, I found the account of a CEO taking a tech business through the dot-com crash and seeing what he learnt from it fascinating.