Lunch with the FT: Marc Andreessen
The Netscape founder and tech investor talks about the trouble with stock markets, what he looks for in entrepreneurs and why illegal immigration is good for America
Keen to avoid the San Francisco traffic, I arrive half an hour early at Tamarine, a sophisticated modern Vietnamese restaurant in Palo Alto. At 12.27pm, three minutes before he is due, Marc Andreessen texts from his car: “Be right there :-)”
As I contemplate the billionaire venture capitalist’s fine Midwestern manners, there is another beep. “Oops,” it reads. “Just got pulled over for cellphone violation for sending that email :-). No good deed goes unpunished :-).”
I prepare to wait. Tamarine has dark-panelled walls and spotlights illuminating orchids on each table. Cordoned off by an olive velvet curtain, I tune in and out of a conversation between tieless French executives about ebooks. Just before 1pm, Andreessen emerges from behind the curtain. At 6ft 4in and wearing a gingham shirt, he is unmissable: a genial man with a serene manner, unruffled by his encounter with the police who had pulled over his two-year-old Tesla, and in no hurry to order.
He asks what I have been struck by on this visit to Silicon Valley, and, when I cite its collaborative culture, he beams as if it is a personal compliment. “I couldn’t believe that people were volunteering to help [me],” he recalls of his own arrival 20 years ago. “It didn’t match anything where I grew up.”
In the 1990s he worked as a student programmer on Mosaic, one of the first internet browsers. In 1993 he moved to California for a job and met James Clark, who thought Mosaic could be commercialised. The company changed its name to Netscape, going public in 1995. Aged 24, Andreessen was worth $58m. The following year he appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s “Golden Geeks” issue, immodestly sitting atop a golden throne, barefoot.
“I’m terrible at self-introspection,” he confesses, as a spotlight creates a distracting halo on his bald head. “I had a sense, early on, I could build things because I got involved early in computers and coding. The big discovery of my life was when I came to the Valley and discovered people would fund you to do it.”
He has since made his name as an investor, privately and co-founding Andreessen Horowitz, a $4bn venture fund, in 2009. His investments include Facebook, Skype, Airbnb and Twitter.
It is a long way from his small-town roots in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, when he recalls considering Chicago a “big cosmopolitan city, with all the fancy people”. His extended family farmed in Iowa. His father, Lowell, sold seed corn for an agricultural company; his mother, Patricia, was a housewife. “If you don’t plant the fields on time or get the fertiliser out, you have a real problem. You can’t talk yourself out of it — there goes your farm. People are incredibly practical, hard-working. Deferral of gratification is a huge thing. Calvinism runs very deep. It sets you up pretty well for engineering.”
He refers enthusiastically to an essay by Tom Wolfe about Robert Noyce, Intel’s founder and an Iowa farm boy. Wolfe links Intel’s open ethos and its cubicle culture to the egalitarianism of the farm. “When I finally read that, I was, ‘Oh!’ ” Recognition....MUCH MORE
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Lunch with the FT: Marc Andreessen
HT: Muck Rack
Here's the quote we pulled to make a headline:
“Business journalism ought to do extremely well . . . [people need to] know what’s going on.” But “for general news people want their biases and prejudices confirmed”. He goes on to advise the FT to ditch print entirely.