Marc Andreessen has proved himself to be one of the foremost entrepreneurs and financiers of his generation and is said to see himself as another J. Pierpont Morgan. Andreessen jumpstarted the growth of the Internet as the technical expert and co-founder of Netscape that was sold to AOL for billions. He has since built his VC firm, named a16z, into one of Silicon Valley’s foremost funds and seeks to become a leader in other areas of finance with $55 billion in assets under management and with tentacles in other areas of finance. Here are 9 lessons from Marc Andreessen:
#1. Focus on emerging trends. Andreessen was a pioneer in the emerging Internet, and Netscape, his landmark venture, kickstarted the Internet. Nearly every entrepreneur from Sam Walton (Walmart) and Dick Schulze (Best Buy) to Joe Martin of Boxycharm and Brian Chesky (Airbnb) jumped on an emerging trend.
#2. Finance after Strategy Aha, the third Aha! There are 4 Aha’s and the Top 20 VCs, who are in Silicon Valley, mainly finance after Strategy Aha. to get an edge on other VCs, to replace the entrepreneur with a seasoned CEO, and to promote and build the venture for an attractive exit. However, if you are an entrepreneur, wait for Leadership Aha!
#3. Respect your growth engines. Andreessen and Horowitz, his partner in a16z, have a policy to respect entrepreneurs and their time. Their firm’s VCs are fined if they keep entrepreneurs waiting. They recognize that entrepreneurs are crucial to bring ideas to Aha.
#4. Flip fast if valuations are through the roof. Timing is crucial in VC to get a high value exit through a strategic sale to gullible corporations that recognize the potential but not the risks. This might be one reason why nearly 70% – 90% of corporate acquisitions fail.
#5. Expand in “easy” directions from a strong base. Corporations expand in “easy” directions with proven products into new markets or new products into established markets. While most VC firms have stuck to their VC knitting, a16z is diversifying to money management and investment banking – to combine home runs and base hits for higher returns and synergies.
#6. Keep partners on a smart leash. Not too tight. Not too loose. a16z allows its partners to seek new directions, but also monitors their ventures in order to cut losses. This means allowing the partners to test new ideas with limited capital, investing more if successful and cutting if not.
#7. Learn investing by proving assumptions. Gamblers rely on their instinct. Smart investors do their homework. a16z challenges its partners’ assumptions and requires them to test to minimize the risks. Except for senior partners, who have more leeway.
#8. No boundaries. Others may shy away from entrepreneurs with a dodgy past, but 16z does not seem to have any such qualms, including financing Flow, the new venture by Adam Neumann of WeWork infamy.
#9. Promote constantly. a16z is no stranger to PR, which helps companies such as Coinbase. Airbnb, Affirm, Instacart, Netscape, and Skype to be relentlessly hyped and allows VCs to exit at sky-high valuations. After they exit, watch out below because the valuations often tank.
MY TAKE: Andreessen and his firm seem to have found the right mix of positioning on emerging trends, testing new directions, and relentlessly promoting for high valuations. But Andreessen is human – after being an early investor in Instagram, his company invested in a competitor and avoided a later round of Instagram funding. The competitor folded. Instagram became a unicorn.
The above also suggests a piece of advice for the investing public: Be careful about investing when the venture is going through its hype cycle prior to, along with, or immediately after an IPO when the venture, the VCs and the investment bankers are in full promotional mode. Let the hype die down before considering an investment.