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Ben Horowitz likes bitcoin and people who can take bullets

Ben Horowitz

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz told a full house at tech hub 1871 on Thursday that it takes courage, ingenuity and a thick skin against haters to become a successful business leader.

Horowitz said he and his VC partner Marc Andreessen, known locally as the University of Illinois alum who helped created the first Web browser, look to invest in people who have “figured out something no one else knows.”

Even better, he said, is someone who refuses to give up.

“Some just look for a silver bullet,” he said. “I like the ones who acquire a lot of lead bullets.”

Horowitz recounted some of his own “lead bullet” moments, including taking early cloud-computing company Loudcloud public just before it descended into bankruptcy with the 2000 Nasdaq crash and then selling its core business. Horowitz turned around the reconstituted company, Opsware, to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in cash, and he and Andreessen have raised $2.5 billion since starting their VC firm four years ago.

1871 making room for more incubators

Horowitz told his stories via questions from billionaire venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker in what was billed as a “fireside chat.” More than 300 people — mostly clients of event sponsor William Blair, a Chicago-based investment banking and asset-management firm — got a copy of Horowitz’s new book recounting such tough-love lessons, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.”

Horowitz’s other insights:

  • What’s in your heart doesn’t matter. It’s what you do that matters. That’s a lot of what courage is about.
  • Bosses should tell people why they’re being fired or laid off, make every manager a part of the layoff process, help the laid-off people pack up their things and tell them how much their time at the company has been appreciated.
  • Bitcoin will become a success because it’s a “major computer science breakthrough.” As a centralized ledger, it tracks digital currency transactions without requiring a big third party controlling the platform.

Fortune magazine outlines other lessons from Horowitz’s book, advising bosses to hire people who put the company’s collective good ahead of their own personal agendas; to be willing to stand and fight for the company’s future if it’s worth saving; and to enforce critical traits such as honesty and frugality above niceties like yoga classes.

Turns out Horowitz’s visit was good timing as 1871 expands its agenda and doubles its space at the Merchandise Mart.