The third day of South by Southwest Interactive brought clearer skies and uncharacteristically cool temperatures for a typical Texas spring break.
Bringing a change of pace from the DNA-centered keynote address Sunday, two seemingly unlikely friends, well-known rapper Nasir “Nas” Jones and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, took the stage.
The title of the session “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” shares its name with Horowitz’s new entrepreneurial advice book, which the pair referenced at length. Both Nas and Horowitz bounced questions off each other to provoke discussions about their mutual love of rap, the formula for running a successful business and technology in the digital world.
Horowitz's inspiration for his book was largely fueled by his appreciation for honest rap lyrics including Nas' music and information he read about Toussaint Louverture, who led dthe only successful slave revolutino in human history. Horowitz said he wanted to become "Ben Louverture" as a CEO.
"When I was a CEO (for Loudcloud and Opsware), I read almost every management book out there, and I found myself awake at 3 a.m. and sweating" Horowitz said. "I didn't know why none of the books helped me. They were designed on how to not fuck up a company. There was nothing about when you screw up your company, what do you do?"
In 2009, Horowitz co-founded a venture capital from with Mark Andreessen, the creater of the first widely-used web browser, Mosaic. Since Horowitz has been working with Andreessen for 19 years, people often ask him how they get along so well.
"The funny thing is we don't get along at all," Horowitz said. He believes it is good to challenge a coworker's thinking and not agree with everything they say
“Every CEO is at best a ‘D’ student. If you get a ‘C-’, you’re kicking ass,” Horowitz said. “You can’t worry about the mistakes you make. Nobody knows how to be a CEO. You’re constantly pointing out what’s wrong with everyone, and it’s something you have to learn.”
Horowitz’s biggest advice is “don’t quit” or “sell out” on the path to becoming a CEO. Horowitz said he continues to channel Nas’ “exceedingly honest” lyrics and messages into his business practices.
“I always knew that honesty was the key in anything you do,” Nas said. “As a writer, I noticed, as a serious fan of rap, a lot of rap told stories about life, but none of the artists got that personal about their own lives. I wanted to be different and tell the truth.”
From a young age, Nas said he was “heavily troubled” in school, and his father told him to stop attending class. Instead, Nas was given books to teach himself about the world and the dawning of the digital age. With that continued passion to learn, Nas said he recently became interested in Bitcoin after his business partner educated him about the digital currency.
Horowitz feels Bitcoin is a “breakthrough” and potential wave of the future.
“It’s the first time ever that you can transfer a piece of digital copy from one person to another, (which) is really profound,” Horowitz said. “It’s such a big idea. You can’t afford not to go after ideas that big.”