For every exciting advance we make, there’s someone on the other side that is threatened by it
There is no question that Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm headed up by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, has become a major force since it was founded back in 2009. The young VC firm has funded some of the best and brightest companies in the tech industry: Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Groupon, Airbnb, Box, Fab.com and Pinterest, to name just a few. And this is just the beginning — Andreessen Horowitz just announced it has raised $1.5 billion in fresh funding to invest in even more startups.
I talked to Marc Andreessen this week to get his thoughts on Silicon Valley, the startup ecosystem, and where the larger tech world is headed in 2012. Here’s what he had to say:
Silicon Valley is still tech’s ground zero
“Our firm is very Silicon Valley focused. Now, we’re not religious about it. We’ll go far and wide to find the best companies and fund them. But there is a magic to Silicon Valley. It’s a lot like Los Angeles with film, New York City with finance or fashion, and Washington D.C. with politics. A lot of people want to work where there’s a critical mass of other people in their field; it’s like a natural force of gravity.
Because the best people in technology keep coming to the Valley, there tends to be a self-renewing property to it. It’s become a place where great technology franchises have been built repeatedly. I would love for there to be a dozen Silicon Valleys around the world. But it’s a very hard thing to replicate.”
When running a VC fund, it pays to walk the walk
“Closing this latest [$1.5 billion] round from our investors was a pretty straightforward process. The key thing is, we’re really focused on the alignment of our interests with the people who invest in us. Each of us at Andreessen Horowitz has a significant personal investment in the firm ourselves. We each pay full management fees and carried interest, so we’re exactly side-by-side with our investors.
We also have a hard commitment that none of our partners will make private technology investments outside of Andreessen Horowitz — you won’t see me investing in a startup as an individual. Our investors really like that, it makes them feel that we’re real partners.”
Tech should learn the language of Washington
“Ever since I arrived in the Valley, there’s been a debate about how the tech industry should approach government and legislation. There’s one school of thought that says we should just ignore Washington and build the future on our own, the idea that we’re going to invent our way out of any problem that comes up. Then there’s the other school of thought, that it’s very important to engage with Washington on their terms, because the industries that are threatened by technology are very good at lobbying. I’ve always been more in the second camp.
Technology is very important and it has a big impact on the world. Politicians are naturally going to want to be involved in something that is that important, and they’re going to try to make laws about it. For every exciting advance we make, there’s someone on the other side that is threatened by it. The oldest and most entrenched industries are lobbying like crazy, so for the tech industry to not participate is just handing the ground to them.
On top of the traditional methods, we can also do new stuff like the SOPA/PIPA blackout, which was a whole new form of engagement and protest. I know that a lot of people in Hollywood were absolutely shocked at the effectiveness of that.”
A startup shakeout is coming, but that’s OK
“There has been a lot more seed funding in the past two to three years. In terms of our own self interest as a VC firm, we want as much seed funding as possible — it presents us with a lot of great opportunities to evaluate for a venture round.
There is going to be a shakeout at the seed stage. A lot of companies will come up for Series A funding at some point, and there are just too many of them to really raise what they’ll need. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s a very small amount of funding they’ve taken on so far, and nowadays a lot of them will have the opportunity to sell as a talent acquisition. It’ll work out fine for them. In the long run, imagination tends to be rewarded, not penalized.”