Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.
Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen released their (annual?) conversation from an a16z conference. That event included the podcasts with Charles Koch and Ted Sarandos. This is our second post with the a16z founders, almost to the day! Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, July 15.
This episode is hosted by Steven Johnson who asks about Andreessen’s and Horowitz’s see it to believe it moment. Ben said that his was when he first saw Mosaic, “because for years in tech there were all these ideas about what was possible. From all the things that you ought to be able to do, but you could never actually quite get. Mosaic was it. It was all there. You were like, ‘Oh my god, the whole world is right there.’”
These lightbulb moments are all around us. Malcolm Gladwell talked about them with Tyler Cowen.
David Lynch said that he didn’t know ‘artistic painter’ was a job. When a friend told him his dad painted, Lynch thought he meant houses. Paul Rudd said something similar to Marc Maron.
Andreessen’s moment came via the television. Watching Night Rider and seeing KITT speak Andreessen said, “I think I fell off the couch.”
Johnson also inquired about their relationship and asks how Horowitz and Andreessen argue so well. It was Marc’s interview with Tim Ferriss that first suggested we argue well. Horowitz explained it like this.
“We are close enough in personality but different enough in skills that we often see things from different angles. A lot of it is Marc himself. Marc like to take the other side of an argument. He just enjoys taking the other side, that’s his thing.”
It takes “a level of trust and we can really go at it in way that for most people you’d go, f-you, you can’t talk to me that way.”
It’s not easy. Dan Egan said he underestimated how difficult it would be to make sure people felt respected and heard, and still disagree. But good arguments make better companies. In Brad Stone’s book, The Everything Store, he wrote, “Amazon’s culture is notoriously confrontational, and it begins with Bezos, who believes that truth springs forth when ideas and perspectives are banged against each other, sometimes violently.”
Andreessen goal though isn’t to be right. “The way I think about is this; it’s more important to have a successful partnership than being right on any particular issue.”
Their opinions evolve as they see two-thousand pitches a year. These are “some of the smartest people in the world in all the domains they are operating in.” Andreessen said, and, “After that it’s hard to pick up a magazine because you’re seeing this stuff months or years before it shows up in the press.”
Marc’s reading habit is an experiment this year. He’s trying the Talebian suggestion to barbell the content. “I’ve stopped reading newspapers and magazines…I only read books and social media.”
Why books? “Books have probably become the great underestimated source of information relevant to our daily lives.” Audiobooks, for example, are great while washing the dishes. What books does Andreessen like? He called Finite and Infinite Games “a great book that goes through history where politicians and philosophers thought the world was zero sum and huge battles were fought but three-hundred years or so ago Adam Smith and a bunch of other really smart thinkers noted that you can gain from trade and it’s good for everybody.”
You could also listen to music. Horowitz quoted hip hop in his book The Hard Thing about Hard Things because it’s, “a very capitalistic form of music. The main theme of hip-hop is, how do you build something out of nothing, how do you compete.” This is a “perfect analog for entrepreneurship.”
These books, tweets, albums, and songs are mostly heard in Silicon Valley, a place with a secret history. Why there? “It’s the place where the really smart engineer, programmer, sales manager, marketer – on the margin – is more tempted to move to,” said Andreessen.
But it’s still an amalgam. The duo suggest reading The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce.
It’s a place making collaboration software by engineers who must be present. Andreessen thinks the relocation advantage has a psychological explanation. “It just so happens in the form of traditional companies it’s better to get everyone in the same room.”
But that’s for traditional companies. In other instances brainstorms (like at IDEO) and arguments are deafening. George Lucas moved from San Francisco, not so much for what it offered, but to get away from Hollywood. Warren Buffett lives in Omaha. Ken Burns lives in New Hampshire.
Toward the end of the conversation, the discussion turns to ideological biases. Andreessen said that people look at Blockchain and:
“If people walk up to this idea from the right they’re like, ‘what on earth is this decentralized hippy thing?’ And if they walk up from the left they’re like, ‘Oh my god it’s got money in it must be evil.’ You gotta wrap your head around it and we see it as a third model for innovation. Many of the smartest mathematicians, programmers, theorists, and economists are obsessed with this.”
They fail to do what Ben and Marc do well, argue. Hans Rosling wrote that holding two contradictory ideas in our head is difficult but necessary. Rosling wants people to shift their thinking from A or Z to A to Z. How? Be like a financial reporter, talk to short sellers or conduct your own Ideological Turing Test.
Another path toward incorrect conclusions is stepping outside our circle of competence. Horowitz and Andreessen are not worried about artificial intelligence. Ben said it’s “pretty low on my list.” Andreessen said, “The thing that drives me crazy about this is the freaking physicists. It’s like, I’m a computer scientists and I don’t have crazy conspiracy theories about black holes.” To which Horowitz added, “It’s hard to find an AI expert who goes, ‘Oh yeah, this is a big problem.’”
Thanks for reading.