Along with his business partner, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz has invested in some of the most popular companies of this generation. From Facebook, to Pinterest, Twitter and Foursquare, Horowitz has been able to spread his influence throughout all corners of the tech world. Besides being a highly successful businessman, though, Horowitz has also established himself as a good writer.
His blog on the official site of his venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz’ a16z.com, has become quietly popular in the past couple of years. On the site, he shares everything from advice to the things he’s experienced during a storied career.
While the topics of his blog posts can vary, there’s always one touch of constancy that Horowitz adds. Though you might not expect it from a 47-year-old venture capitalist born in London, Horowitz is a huge rap fan and each addition he makes to his blog posts is headlined by one of his favorite lyrics to complement the message he seeks to deliver.
Many of those posts have included great pieces of advice for running a business. In this list, we’ve compiled the 5 best, along with the catchy lines they were prefaced by, to present Ben Horowitz’ cardinal rules of running a business, as told by rap lyrics:
“Wait ’til I get my money right
Then you can’t tell me nothing, right?”
—Kanye West, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
There are some companies that can function and grow happily without having to worry about making profit. One of those types of companies is Twitter, Horowitz says, because the current market has decided that businesses that attract lots of attention (users, if you will) and cultural relevancy are as valuable as any other.
Such companies don’t have to bow to every order of their investors, despite the lack of profit. But, if yours is a company that isn’t like Twitter, and thus doesn’t have the luxury not to worry about money, profit is paramount. Profit for the non-Twitter-type companies represents a freedom that allows them to decide their own destiny, and not have their fate in investors’ hands.
“Until you generate cash, you must heed investors even when they are wrong,” Horowitz wrote. “If investors wake up one day and think you are toast, you are indeed toast. When you generate cash, you can respond to silly requests from the capital markets the way Kanye would: ‘Excuse me, is you saying something? Uh uh, you can’t tell me nothing.'”
“God body and mind, food for the soul
When you feeding on hate, you empty, my ni*&$a, it shows”
—Rick Ross, “Hold On”
Horowitz makes a clear distinction between companies that create “can’t do” and “can do” cultures. Companies that generate can’t do cultures are those that make it hard for innovative ideas to be acted upon. In these companies, ideas have to go through lots of red tape before they are taken seriously.
“If one smart person figures out something wrong with an idea–often to show off or to consolidate power – that’s usually enough to kill it,” Horowitz said, as he described “can’t do” companies.
Horowitz instead advocates for companies that think like Google, which will get behind any innovative idea and would be willing to try it out, regardless of the “hate” that any one member at the company might have for it.
“It’s just another mutherf*ckin’ day for Dre, so I begin like this
No medallions, dreadlocks, or black fists
Just that gangsta glare with the gangsta raps”
—Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride”
Horowitz acknowledges the fact that even horribly managed companies can succeed while other well-managed companies can fail. In fact, many might argue that the only thing needed for success is for a company’s product or service to be top notch. Regardless, Horowitz stressed the importance of building a good company (not just a good business) and a good place to work.
He regards every day as an opportunity not only to do good things with his company, but also to make sure that the people who are working there have a good life. A good company will be able to keep employees on board through the hard times, Horowitz argues, and subsequently bounce back.
“Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.”
“I do this for my culture
To let them know what a n@#!a look like when a ni&%!a in a Roadster
Show them how to move in a room full of vultures
Industry is shady, it needs to be taken over
Label owners hate me, I’m raising the status quo up
I’m overcharging n$%^a for what they did to the Cold Crush”
—Jay-Z, “Izzo” (H.O.V.A.)
In this blog post, published in December 2012, Horowitz writes about the role company culture plays in success. He doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, though, without highlighting what is most important: raising the status quo.
“The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least 10 times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing” he wrote. “Two or three times better will not be good enough to get people to switch to the new thing fast enough or in large enough volume to matter.”
“Cause two suckers can’t agree on something
a thousand mutherf***ers die for nothing”
—Geto Boys, F*** a War
According to Horowitz, there is no sense in trying to compromise when it comes to command. There should be one decision-maker, only; otherwise confusion and chaos can seep into a company. At a company in which decision-making is a responsibility that is shared, employees are bound to suffer.
Those employees have to decide who to go to when they are at a crossroads, then whoever’s sharing responsibility might have to debate amongst themselves about which way to go. This, Horowitz says, can only lead to a slowing-down of progression at a company.
It is for this reason that the venture capitalist advises entrepreneurs to stay away from this trap.
“If shared command is so bad, why do people keep trying it? Basically, the people in charge need to make one decision: who should run the company,” he says. “They cannot decide, so they compromise. And now, because they couldn’t make one decision, every single decision that the company makes from this day forward will be slower than it would have been otherwise. It sucks to work for that place.”
Photo credit: Scott Gries/Getty Images
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