The transcript from this week’s MIB: Ben Horowitz, co-founder, Andreessen Horowitz, is below.
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VOICE-OVER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, HOST, MASTERS IN BUSINESS: This week on the podcast, I have an extra special guest. What can I say about Ben Horowitz? He is the cofounder at Andreessen Horowitz, a $12 billion famed VC in Silicon Valley.
I kind of get the sense that Ben is the inside process guy who looks at the world of venture investing and technology as a series of engineering problems to be solved. His partner, Marc Andreessen also a programmer/engineer. I get the sense he looks at the world slightly different and the two of them have really put together a unique firm in Silicon Valley that has been wildly successful.
If you are at all interested in technology, startups, venture investing, management, culture or hip-hop, you’re going to find this conversation to be absolutely intriguing.
So, with no further ado, my conversation with Andreessen Horowitz’s Ben Horowitz.
VOICE-OVER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
RITHOLTZ: My special guest this week is Ben Horowitz. He is the Co-founder and general named partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a highly regarded venture capital firm located right on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley.
He earned his MS degree in computer science from UCLA following a BA in the same space from Columbia. He is the author of several books, including “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and his most recent book, “What You Do Is Who You are.” Ben Horowitz, welcome to Bloomberg.
BEN HOROWITZ, COFOUNDER, ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ: Thank you, Barry.
RITHOLTZ: So, you began your career at the legendary Silicon Graphics in 1990. What was the technology scene like way back then?
HOROWITZ: It’s very different in that it was just — there was just technology people in it. So, it’s really broadened since then in an amazing way and the reason was we were selling technology to technology people.
It was all B2B. There wasn’t really consumer …
HOROWITZ: … businesses in the space. And then Silicon Graphics was kind of the Google of its day and that it was where all the best engineers went, kind of had all the finesse.
We had done the kind of animation for the “Terminator” movie which was like a big deal and that kind of thing. So, it was a super exciting time and just amazing when I got there how smart everybody was which in life, you just never get put in a situation unless you’re in a company like that.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. How did you move from Silicon Graphics to Loudcloud? How did that come about?
HOROWITZ: Yes. Well, so, the big kind of step in between it was a company called Netscape which I joined in 1995 and …
RITHOLTZ: What was your role in 9’5 with them?
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, I started as product manager on the kind of server product line which ended up being very important because Microsoft kind of took the money out of the browser product line which was our first one and then that …
RITHOLTZ: Although that — all those had been working all that well for them that eventually led to the antitrust suit which they lost.
HOROWITZ: Yes. No. It definitely — we definitely put the hurt on them but they kind of forced us to sell the company. So, it was an interesting one where I think they won the battle and we won the war.
Also, we broke the Windows monopoly which was the Win32 API. It was the kind of key linchpin of it. And because of Netscape, people stopped writing to that and that kind of enabled the kind of way for everything else that it happened since.
RITHOLTZ: So, from Netscape, your partner Marc Andreessen famously created the first browser. I think he was still in college when he came out …
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. He’s 18 years old. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Yes. Then came out and launched Netscape which very quickly went public, really kicked off the whole dot com.
HOROWITZ: Yes, 15 months old when it went public.
RITHOLTZ: Who was?
RITHOLTZ: That’s unbelievable. 15 months.
RITHOLTZ: Even today, as crazy as things have been, although the argument is everything is gone much further in the opposite direction, let me bring this back to you, so, from Netscape going public, how did you roll into Loudcloud with Andreessen?
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, Netscape went public but then eventually, it was a very rough kind of a legendary battle with Microsoft and we sell the company to AOL in 1999.
RITHOLTZ: 1.6 billion, something like that.
HOROWITZ: Well, Netscape, this is a Netscape sell. So, Netscape sold at that time it was 4.2 billion. But at the point the deal closed, it was $10 billion.
RITHOLTZ: So, that’s a giant transaction.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Amazing transaction.
RITHOLTZ: In mid-90s for sure.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. Yes. It was — it like was a great outcome for a company of four years. I mean, you can’t be mad at it. But at AOL, we were — I was in charge of kind of AOL e-commerce and the interesting thing at AOL e-commerce was a way — like you come, you pay AOL $10 million and they put you in the AOL mall. That’s kind of how the Internet worked …
HOROWITZ: … in those days.
RITHOLTZ: The walled garden.
HOROWITZ: Yes. The walled garden. And once you are in the mall, the problem was that your site would just basically collapse because AOL had so much traffic. It would basically turn it on you and you were just not even be able to handle that.
RITHOLTZ: The firehose. Absolutely.
HOROWITZ: My God, yes. And so, that gave us the idea to create what was kind of the original or at least the original name, so, a cloud computing company, Loudcloud.
RITHOLTZ: The idea is that this is scalable, dynamically on the fly. If a ton of traffic comes in …
HOROWITZ: Yes, it would auto expand.
RITHOLTZ: … just add a few service and …
RITHOLTZ: … you don’t just crash. You get to take full advantage of that traffic.
RITHOLTZ: And so, let me back up a little bit, what I’m really curious about, you start at Netscape as a middle manager, how do you rise to the ranks and how do you eventually become tied with Andreessen?
HOROWITZ: Yes. Well, I think there were two things and they were separate. So, the relationship with — between Mark and myself was due to kind of there’s a phenomenon in companies where if you think about product strategy and the ability for any individual to create a new — like to create a new product that works like that lands in the market is a very kind of rare skill, it’s kind of a rare skill you have in a company. And even in a really big company, there are only like five or six people who can do that, who can create a new product and get it to market.
And he and I were like whatever two of the six at the company. And so, we became friends over that and then I think the rise through the ranks was more like almost nobody in Silicon Valley actually cares about or puts effort into like management and developing people.
And so, I kind of realized that early and I thought, well, I ought to do that and then that will distinguish me and I think that’s kind of what led me to being a senior exec and then a CEO.
RITHOLTZ: That was a conscious decision, hey, we’re ignoring our staffing, we’re ignoring the people who work for us, and if I find a way how to work with these people, manage them, motivate them, et cetera, that’s a positive career move. I mean, was it that …
RITHOLTZ: … calculated?
HOROWITZ: Well, it wasn’t that calculated but that’s kind of how it unfolded and that like you get rewarded in a tech company for kind of having the best ideas and kind of knowing the technology and the products and to market the best like that.
That always gets you points and people usually don’t even notice how well you’re kind of running your team at least in the short term. Over time, it becomes obvious and so that was a big deal. I think that was a big deal for me anyway.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. So, you go from Netscape to Loudcloud. Eventually, Loudcloud becomes Opsware, it gets sold to HP for $1.6 billion and you stuck around HP for a couple of years. What was that like?
HOROWITZ: For one year, yes. Like I learned a lot. HP at that time was, I would say, kind of past its heyday for sure and it had gone through a bunch of CEOs in succession, which is never generally good as the culture kind of gets twisted around and so forth.
And I think that the thing that I learned was a company’s culture kind of goes bad when nobody feels like it’s their company, when they all feel like they work there. And I think we had gotten to that point with HP where nobody felt like, OK, HP is my company. It was like I work at HP.
RITHOLTZ: Meaning no equity participation then you’ll feel like …
HOROWITZ: No. No. It wasn’t …
RITHOLTZ: … a state of ownership?
HOROWITZ: No. No. It’s not a financial incentive. It’s more of a spiritual ownership. Like this is — I’m proud of my company where I work and so forth and I’m going to make sure that I represent in the best way and the work that we do is high quality and all that kind of thing. They had lost that and I’ve never seen a company that had lost it entirely.
RITHOLTZ: They had it and then lost it.
HOROWITZ: Yes. I mean, of course, you knew work in Silicon Valley that they had it better than anybody, the HP way. Dave Packard was just a legend as a CEO and a manager and that was kind of — they built a lot of the culture of the whole — all of Silicon Valley.
But by the time I had gotten there and the acquisition and there’s this kind of thinking which maybe you have seen it, people like they get rewarded at work for caring or for not caring. Meaning that like …
RITHOLTZ: How do you get rewarded for not caring?
HOROWITZ: Well, let’s say that the company can’t make a decision for whatever reasons, too bureaucratic. So, you work your butt off, you figure something out, you have a new idea, a new project or whatever. You try and bring it forth and get a decision on it and like it goes nowhere because nobody can decide.
Then you’re punished for caring you spent all that time and you get just nothing …
RITHOLTZ: I got you.
HOROWITZ: … but frustration. Meanwhile, the guy who is playing video games at his desk like that guy gets rewarded because he did nothing and he’s probably going to get the same pay increases.
RITHOLTZ: No negative consequences for not caring versus …
RITHOLTZ: … actual time waste and energy waste for caring and trying to do something.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the early days in terms of raising money and deploying it, what was that like when you guys were first launching a16Z as it’s known amongst the small group?
HOROWITZ: Well, it was interesting because we had — it had that quality. There’s a quality that you always want and I understand it’s better as a venture capitalist than I did as an entrepreneur.
But you always really want it when you’re starting something new, which is you want people to say, you’re crazy, that’s the dumbest thing that I’ve ever heard, because if you don’t hear that, then you don’t actually have a breakthrough. So, if it’s obvious to people, then like it’s not …
RITHOLTZ: Then it’s obvious.
HOROWITZ: … that serious (ph).
HOROWITZ: Yes. It sounds like a great idea. And so, we got that big time which was awesome. So, we went and we …
RITHOLTZ: When you were launching Andreessen Horowitz.
RITHOLTZ: Now, was that a function of we were right in the middle of a meltdown or just general who needs another venture capital firm?
HOROWITZ: Well, it was those two things. So, it was — 2009 was the worst time I think in the last 30 years to raise new venture capital fund. Only two new ones were raised, us and Khosla Ventures and, of course, Khosla is a super legend in venture capital business.
HOROWITZ: So, like yes, it was a super bad time to raise. Nobody needed another — yet another venture capital firm. And then our idea behind it, which was we were going to use Michael Ovitz’s CAA as the blueprint for the firm, everybody thought it was the dumbest thing that they’d ever heard in their lives.
I mean, it was just like what are you talking about, like this is nothing like Hollywood, you can’t do that. You guys are — like that will never work. Like it’s been tried a thousand times. Everything like it’s so dumb, nobody would ever try it to. Like it’s dumb and it’s been tried already and didn’t work.
RITHOLTZ: So, explain the CAA blueprint, what you were doing and how different that was from typical VCs.
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, basically, if you looked at the talent agency business before CAA when — and Michael started in ’75 I think, it was kind of you know you had — you look at any firm, you had agents and then you had kind of people in the mailroom because there’s no emails. So, you deliver the mail.
HOROWITZ: You remember this, Barry. It’s an old kind of school thing.
RITHOLTZ: Are you saying I’m old? Is that what you’re suggesting?
HOROWITZ: Well, you’re kind of at least close to me.
HOROWITZ: And then you had …
RITHOLTZ: I think I actually have a few years on you.
HOROWITZ: Yes. OK. Good. Good. Good.
RITHOLTZ: I’m 58, you’re 54, something like that.
HOROWITZ: Yes, 53. Yes. Yes. Exactly.
HOROWITZ: But anyway, so, then you had secretaries and like that was the firm and the economics where you get 10 percent of whatever an actress made or an actor, that kind of thing. And so …
RITHOLTZ: As an agent. The firm would generate 10 percent override …
RITHOLTZ: … or 10 percent commission on their set (ph).
HOROWITZ: And some would go to pay for the secretaries and the mailroom guys and then the rest would go to the agents and that’s kind of how they rolled. And so, kind of as a result of that, every agent kind of was a little bit playing for himself and that …
RITHOLTZ: It was an eat what you kill …
HOROWITZ: You had your own network. Yes, eat what you kill, your network is your network, you know the guys you know, and that’s had worked. And then when you were — if you were like a great actor and you were choosing a talent agency, you’d always go with the one that had the other big time actors, right, like it’s just an obvious thing.
HOROWITZ: And so, the rich got richer and the kind of same firms have been the top for decade. So, then Michael comes along and he flips the model and he goes — so, he and his kind of founding partners deferred all their commissions for the first several years and built what he called the franchise, which was the professionalized network for talent agency business, and that basically manifests itself in the pitch meeting where they would pitch the talents.
So, the way it worked at William Morris was you’d go in, you’d meet with your agent, they’d say, yes, I know the president of like Warner Bros Pictures and I’ll get you into that, da-da-da-da-da, and that was kind of the pitch.
You got into CAA, they had 30 people sitting around the table. The first person would say, I manage book publishing, here are the relationships we have with all the publishers, here are the new books coming out where I think that you would fit as we turn them into screenplays.
And the next person would say, I’m in charge of music and here’s how we can cross promote you there. And then the next person say, I’m in charge of international, here are the Japanese television commercials we can slide you into.
So, it’s just an overwhelmingly powerful network and if you fast forward 15 years later, of course, Michael became the most powerful man in Hollywood and they owned whatever 90 percent of all the top actresses, screenwriters, everything and they transformed the industry. Now, everybody runs like CAA today but like …
RITHOLTZ: All-ensemble practices like that.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Absolutely. So, we thought, wow, venture capital looks just like this, like this is exactly how it works. You got a bunch of like partners and they are like jack of all trades. They do BD and they help you with recruiting and they do this and that. And they don’t do any of them well and we knew because like we’d experienced it.
And so, we said, we’re going to do the CAA model here, and everybody said, you guys are stupid. So, that’s when we knew it would work. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So, the transition from being both an entrepreneur and somebody who was on the receiving end of venture capital, that sounds like it very much colored the way you wanted the firm to run.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Absolutely. So, the other kind of big idea that we had was venture capital was kind of oriented around you had this inventor and you’d give them money and then when the company — if the invention worked and people liked it, then you would bring in a professional COO to build that company. That was the …
HOROWITZ: … general motion. And we had a couple of observations on that. One, if you look at the history of technology companies, the greatest technology companies were generally run by their inventor founder for a very long time from Thomas Watson at IBM, Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Gates and then later on, Mark Zuckerberg and all these kinds of things.
And so, we thought that’s interesting. And then as we looked at our own experience being kind of inventor and in my case a CEO, like we knew that professional CEOs could not be taught to innovate. So, like you could teach an innovator to be a CEO but not necessarily a CEO to be an innovator.
And so, we thought, wow, what if there’s a venture capital firm that actually helped a founder become a CEO and we thought it was two parts, the CAA power network …
HOROWITZ: … which gave you a network like a professional CEOs network and then like the know-how, like what is that job, how do you do it help them get scaled up. And so, that was kind of the idea of beginning the firm.
RITHOLTZ: From the launch, the idea wasn’t let’s find entrepreneurs with great ideas and eventually will find a way to turn that into a company.
RITHOLTZ: You were looking to create a method to take entrepreneurs with good ideas and turn them into good CEOs of good companies.
RITHOLTZ: From day one.
HOROWITZ: From day one and that was the original idea.
RITHOLTZ: And the rest of Silicon Valley did not embrace that?
HOROWITZ: No. Like they had been old school and they — and look, in their defense, it used to be way harder to get ready to be a CEO because if you think about like Tandem Computers, since you’re 58, you remember Tandem, in order to get Tandem to market, you had to build manufacturing, you had to build comprehensive customer support …
HOROWITZ: … and professional services and the direct sales channel.
To get Twitter to market, you needed like three guys with laptops and AWS and like you were gone. And so …
RITHOLTZ: Very different today.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Very, very different. Plus they used to go public a lot quicker. There was relevant to that concept about three guys and a laptop and I apologize if I’m confusing books because both of your books kind of all — are jumbled in my head.
HOROWITZ: No worries.
RITHOLTZ: I learned the most important rule of raising money privately. Look for a market of one. You only need one investor to say yes. It’s best to ignore the other 30 you say no. That sounds like that comes from real experience.
HOROWITZ: Sadly, yes. Yes. So, that’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.”
HOROWITZ: But, yes, that’s right. You only need them and that’s the beauty of raising money, you just need to convince one and I think entrepreneurs get discouraged sometimes particularly if they have a particularly novel or breakthrough idea that’s difficult to understand because if it — if people can’t pattern ratchet, then it is difficult to raise money but you just need one.
RITHOLTZ: That’s interesting. And since we’re recording this right after the relaunch of “Silicon Valley” the show — HBO show, your firm was a consultant to the first season at least.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. My partner Marc mostly. Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Right. Your partner Marc. I think a lot of the rest of America looks at “Silicon Valley” and they only know it through shows like that. What do you think the biggest misconceptions the rest of the country has about Silicon Valley or is the show just dead on, even the stereotypes and the exaggerations are all based on people we know?
HOROWITZ: Well, like all shows, it’s a very kind of cartoonish version of how it actually goes. I think the biggest misconceptions are one like it’s crushingly hard to build a company. I mean, it is like emotionally and kind of …
RITHOLTZ: Crushingly hard. That’s a great phrase.
HOROWITZ: Yes. I mean, I think some partners said it’s like eating glass and it’s just like — and that’s what it feels like at times because like you go out, you tell that you have this idea, you’re so excited about it, you raise money like from — like generally you started with like your bestfriends or like your parents or like that kind of thing or it’s like somebody — anybody you know with money.
And then you hire the best people you can find and then you spend all of your time on it. So, really, the only people you end up knowing in your life are the people who work for you, the people who gave you money because it’s like all your time is on the company.
And then it starts going wrong and you go, OK, like what happens at the sales and it’s like, well, my — like that’s like, no, it going to let down everybody that I care about but like that’s my whole life. Like it’s just kind of like fail with me.
HOROWITZ: So, that kind of pressure is not like something that you experience. I mean, if you’re a soldier or whatever, you feel — you have even worse pressure but like it’s a very extreme pressure.
And then you’re always hiding it as CEO because you never want anybody in the outside to know there’s something wrong with your company. And so, that part of it is really, really difficult and the hours are just crazy hard. And then things don’t work, they go wrong, you’re running out of money.
Like customers don’t like the product or like things blow up. People scream at you. It’s a very, very tough thing for any entrepreneur I would say. Like even the smallest entrepreneurs go through this.
RITHOLTZ: So, since we’re going to talk in a moment about your new book, which is all about culture, I know people outside of the United States who have said to me, the genius of America culturally is that you don’t punish failure, you’re describing the pain and agony of failure of not succeeding.
RITHOLTZ: But we seem to be one of the few places that it’s not quite — I don’t want to call it a badge of honor but it’s not punished in the United States. You tried something that didn’t work, try something else. It seems to be more of a philosophy here than in most the rest of the world and some people have credited as the genius of Silicon Valley. What are your thoughts?
HOROWITZ: Well, so, it is — to say it’s not punished I think is a little bit — it isn’t relative to Japan.
HOROWITZ: I think that’s true. There’s not the sham. You’re not expected to commit hara-kiri at the end of it.
RITHOLTZ: Right. Even in Europe, if you try something and fail, it’s pretty difficult to launch a second company.
HOROWITZ: Yes. And that — I agree like the kind of rewarding of optimism although like we’re getting — I feel like it’s — I mean, well, it seems like we were just getting punished pretty hard right feeling and I would say that to contrast that in terms of like how they’re looked upon and like he got a lot of money for himself and all that kind of thing.
RITHOLTZ: $1.7 billion, not counting the money he got actually coming up with the We company name and …
HOROWITZ: Yes. Selling into them. Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Right. As well as going out and finding buildings, owning them himself and then …
HOROWITZ: That was a story more of what leverage meant then what like it means to fail. I think what it means — if you look at even little companies when they fail now, it get like pretty viciously attacked in the press and …
RITHOLTZ: But do those entrepreneurs go on and are they capable of — now, I don’t know …
HOROWITZ: It’s difficult. It’s difficult.
RITHOLTZ: It is.
HOROWITZ: Like I don’t think it’s that easy to fail as an entrepreneur and go on. It is certainly easier than other countries and I think that from a societal perspective, there’s definitely more support here.
But I think the — and look, among venture capitalists for sure, venture capitalists are very forgiving and will fund you even if your last company failed. So, it’s not — but in terms of like how you’re perceived by people in your circle, kind of people in the broader world, it’s pretty rough.
And then the people who work for you I think most importantly, it’s very difficult. There are few entrepreneurs who do such a great job that they can take somebody for four years or eight years out of their career, get them no financial benefit and then like start that one again.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk about the book. You pretty much begin by saying culture is everything in business, in sports, in life. You write a lot about it. How can a young company that is just getting off the ground develop a culture and maintain that over time?
HOROWITZ: Yes. And I think that — so, there’s a couple of things in that question that I think are important to understand. One is you don’t necessarily have to maintain the exact same culture overtime. Cultures do evolve. It’s not like whatever a mission statement or something like that.
RITHOLTZ: And I don’t get the sense that you are the biggest advocate for those sorts of firm mission statements that …
HOROWITZ: I don’t think they — like there this kind of — there’s a lot of this survivorship bias in business where like you look at something after the fact and go, yes, they had a great mission statement or cult-like culture or big hairy — and it’s like if you — that’s probably why they didn’t succeed. Like I doubt that that was the thing like …
RITHOLTZ: You need to go look …
HOROWITZ: … probably like the phenomenal product they built and then like the rest of it shaped up around them.
RITHOLTZ: In other words, go look at the 10,000 companies that failed and see how many of them had a great mission statement.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. I’m seeing many. So, I don’t think that’s what it is. And like when we’re talking about culture, we’re talking about — and I — Bushido (ph) has a great definition of it which is it’s not a set of beliefs, it’s a set of actions.
And so that begs the question, look, how do you get people to behave, how you want them to behave when you’re not there. So, like why do — why does that person return my phone call that day and not like a week later or not never. Why do people stay at work till 8 p.m. and not 5 p.m.? Why do people stay at Four Seasons versus the Red Roof Inn? When you do a deal, are you optimizing for the price or the partnership?
Like all these things are your culture and they’re not in the mission statement, they’re not in the KPIs and OKRs and all these kinds of things. And so, how do you program them in turns out to be a very, very kind a complex effort and not easily done and I think that — which is kind of the rationale behind the book.
And it is hard to start it right at the beginning of the company because you don’t know what you want to be and who you want to be has a lot to do with your actual business strategy. So, an example of this, if you take Amazon, right, they have a very frugal culture. They may like enforce it in all kinds of way.
RITHOLTZ: Same as leave the desk on top of the two — the door on top of the two door desks …
RITHOLTZ: … as a desk you referenced in the book.
HOROWITZ: Yes. And the whole thing, right? But they have a strategy where that makes sense because they want to be the low-price leader and that’s like in like Bezos’ like original loop about his wonderful drawing about like how Amazon works and all that. Like that was fundamental to their strategy.
Apple didn’t have that cultural value.
RITHOLTZ: Nor do they need it.
HOROWITZ: They would be antithetical to what they’re doing because they want to have — they want the most beautiful products out there and like they’re going to spare no expense. And Steve Jobs actually got fired at the first time for sparing no expense which was on culture for him but not for Sculley.
So, you get — the culture has to be built for the strategy. And so, as you are developing your strategy, you might not be able to really know what you want your culture to be in the beginning. And then like as you scale, you run into different kinds of issues and so forth.
But, yes, there is definitely I would say there are techniques but you’ve got to — to get it right, you really have to understand culture in the kind of the gestalt of it like the entire thing and that’s how I approach the book and why like it took a whole book to explain it.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s talk a moment about Shaka Senghor. All the proceeds of the book I have to add are going to helping people who get out of jail, stay out of jail. Tell us why you wanted to focus on the culture that Shaka — am I pronouncing the name right?
RITHOLTZ: Shaka Senghor.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us a little bit about Shaka.
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, Shaka went to prison when he was 19 years old for a murder that he did commit and became — rose to kind of a leadership position in a very kind of violent prison gang called the Melanics and spent 19 years in prison, seven of those in solitary confinement.
And the reason that I wanted to tell his story of how he did that was severalfold. First of all, the big mistake people make on culture is a take too much for granted, make too many assumptions. And it’s easy to do in Silicon Valley where I’m from because when employee comes to you, they have a lot of cultural basis. They’re already doing a lot of things, right?
I mean, everything from simple things where they know how show up to an interview on time and they know how to go through that process. So, they’ve had like some kind of schooling and education and like — which includes kind of a cultural background and how educated people behave. And then they probably worked at the Silicon Valley company that had some elements.
When you get a guy in prison, they don’t any of that. They don’t — they have almost nothing culturally that you can use because the way you get to prison is you come from a very broken culture and that gets into behavior that gets you locked up.
And so, he had to start from first principles on everything, which is an amazingly instructive way to understand how culture works. But the other like remarkable thing about Shaka was he got to the top of the gang, he ran it very effectively, but then he realized he didn’t like the culture and changed it and had to change himself to do that. So, that transformation process I thought was super interesting as well.
RITHOLTZ: And what organization you’re working with that the proceeds of the book are going to to help ex-cons stay out of prison?
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, there’s several. One is (inaudible) but the Anti-Recidivism Coalition out of LA, Scott Budnick’s organization and then Cut50 which was founded by friend Van Jones are two of them.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about VC today. There seems to be a whole lot more venture capital firms now than there were 10, 20, 30 years ago.
HOROWITZ: No doubt. No doubt.
RITHOLTZ: How has that competition impacted the way venture capital is practiced in general and does it have any impact on Andreessen Horowitz?
HOROWITZ: Well, so, I’d say, first of all, like the reason there’s so much more money is my partner Marc was right and software is eating the world. And so, what’s happened is as we discussed earlier, it used to be we just sold technology to technology companies and that kind of made the market for new technology companies just not that big.
Now, every business is becoming a software business. And so, the market is greatly expanded. So, there needs to be more money to fund all these new ideas. The money coming in has kind of changed the landscape a bit in that the tiers, the kinds of venture capital that you can get are different. There’s seed funds and pre-seed funds and A round firms and B around firms and growth firms. And then there’s event (ph) now kind of substitutes for the public markets Softbank.
For us, the kind of increased number firms — I mean, it does change things tactically. There is this other aspect of venture capital which we benefit from which is unlike other asset classes. So, if you look at whatever stocks or bonds or real estate or so forth like the top managers for like the ’80s are never the top managers for the ’90s, are never the top managers of 2000s.
RITHOLTZ: No persistency.
HOROWITZ: No persistence among the top managers because it’s an open playing field so to speak. But venture capital, the top managers are super persistent. Like Sequoia has been a top firm for 50 years and the reason for that is the best entrepreneurs will only work with the best firms.
And so, if you’re in the top tier, you don’t compete with anybody who’s not in the top tier and there are only about four or five firms in that class. And so, as being one of them, we always compete with the same kind of four or five.
So, it doesn’t matter if there’s more money coming from left or right or whatever because like to build a company, it’s great to have the money but there’s other things that you need. For example, like how do you attract — with so many startups out there, how do you attract employees to come to your company?
A lot of that is who did you get money from, did you get money from the smartest guys, the best guys or did you get money from somebody nobody had heard of who just have some money. And then like that becomes a spiral for you because you don’t get the best employees, you don’t build the best product and then you don’t get the customers, you don’t get the money and you go out of business.
RITHOLTZ: So, cumulative advantage is a real thing.
HOROWITZ: Absolutely in venture capital. It is probably the most — the driving factor of returns, much more than whatever how smart I am.
RITHOLTZ: You’re going to say — wow, that’s a fascinating statement. So, if you are fortunate enough to be funded by one of the very top tier firms, the statistical odds, the probabilities of you, as a startup, succeeding are a little higher …
HOROWITZ: A lot higher.
RITHOLTZ: A lot higher.
HOROWITZ: A lot higher.
RITHOLTZ: Than a second or third to you firm.
HOROWITZ: Yes. No question. Now like you may have an irrepressible product that just goes viral and berserk and then that can conquer a lot. Although even with that …
RITHOLTZ: The counterfactual is …
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: … I would look on with a top tier firm.
HOROWITZ: And then if you do happen to have a competitor funded by a top tier firm, it’s going to get better employees then that could be a real problem for you. That’s actually a lot of the Facebook-MySpace. Facebook just had better people doing better work.
RITHOLTZ: That’s quite interesting. You mentioned Softbank as an alternative to public markets, is that still the case post WeWork, post Uber? Has a little bit of the blush come off that rose?
I know they’re already — the Saudis are renegotiating the profit split and trying to lower fees and everything.
RITHOLTZ: And they’re working on raising a second fund …
RITHOLTZ: … which was originally going to be another hundred billion dollars. I don’t think they’re — I don’t imagine they’re anywhere close to that in commitments these days.
RITHOLTZ: What does Softbank mean to the public markets?
HOROWITZ: Well, so, I think it’s a very bold idea and that are certainly the proposition to kind of new companies is like you don’t need to go public, well, I’ll give you or we’ll invest 500 million or billion and WeWork gave …
RITHOLTZ: Or 10 billion or …
HOROWITZ: … $18 billion …
HOROWITZ: … into you and I think that definitely over the long term, for it to be significant and to change kind of the landscape of venture capital and public markets, it’s got to work.
And so, like the jury is still out on it. It’s not done yet. But, look, terrible PR doesn’t help. But even — I couldn’t tell you the impact of the WeWork PR on entrepreneurs yet because we’re just too early into it but that’s something that they definitely have to manage.
RITHOLTZ: So, I’m trying to remember name of the study and I’m drawing a blank on it. There has been a study that specifically looked at the rate at which venture capital firms were forming and raising capital. And in the ’90s, it was at a certain level, it ticked up in the 2000s and it really ticked up post crisis like 2011, 2012.
And then 2017, in walks the 800-pound gorilla with $100 billion funds.
RITHOLTZ: Forget the future and we’ll let the jury decide on that, what was the impact on things like valuation and raising money of the Softbank Vision funds since they launched in 2017? Did they really shake things up and affect things?
HOROWITZ: Well, I think they definitely affected the companies they invested in I would say more so than the landscape itself because it’s such like a unique/unusual deal. There were some like regular deals that they did like they put money into slack and that was kind of in a very regular way just like they just look like a growth investor.
HOROWITZ: But in many companies, they wrote quite enormous checks and with the expectation that the company would live up to deploying that money. And I think some of — when people write their retrospective on WeWork, like some of what was distorting for WeWork was they already had a very ambitious plan …
HOROWITZ: … and then Softbank encouraged them to be more ambitious. And the difficulty with a new company in that kind of idea is if you’re an entrepreneur and this gets back to what we talked about earlier about how Marc and I met, but you have always like not one good idea but you usually have like six or seven like really good ideas and the WeWorks were all named We something but …
RITHOLTZ: WeLive, WeWork, WeSchool, whatever, WeThink.
HOROWITZ: Yes. WeSchool. Yes. Yes. So, you had all those good ideas. The problem is that from a talent perspective, there are only a few people who can get you to product market fit on any of those ideas in your company.
So, like you just very quickly dilute yourself. So, if you do like your top idea even if it’s not your best idea, there’s a real chance you can make it work. But if you do your top 10 ideas, none of them are going to work and that’s almost guaranteed.
And because you’ve diluted your talent too much, it’s not a money issue, it’s a talent issue, and so when you — and the problem is entrepreneurs don’t know whether their first idea is better than their 10th idea.
RITHOLTZ: So, that was the question you immediately think of.
HOROWITZ: And I had put myself in that category. Like it’s very hard to distinguish which is your best idea.
RITHOLTZ: Don’t you — don’t really good ideas require the marketplace to validate them or a little bit of baptism of fire for the entrepreneurs to sharpen their skills and be able to get their best ideas to the market?
HOROWITZ: Exactly. So, a very good friend of mine wrote a paper called the idea maze which describes the …
RITHOLTZ: Sure. I remember. Who wrote that?
HOROWITZ: Balaji Srinivasan.
RITHOLTZ: I remember seeing that and in fact …
RITHOLTZ: … your partner Marc talks about the idea maze ..
RITHOLTZ: … and is surprised that entrepreneurs come to Andreessen Horowitz not having read it.
HOROWITZ: Yes. No. It’s one of the, I would say, most important things to read if you’re an entrepreneur because it describes that process. You have an idea but any idea, there’s tons of stuff wrong with it because it hasn’t — right, it hasn’t bumped into the market and the partners and the competitors and the technology landscape and all the things it’s going to bump into.
And so, as you hit all those things, you have to navigate your way through the maze to the actual product and doing that with one product is like …
RITHOLTZ: It’s hard enough.
HOROWITZ: Yes. I mean, it is like the kind of business equivalent of giving birth. It’s very difficult. So, I haven’t tried 10 babies simultaneously like all the babies are going to die and that’s I think what can happen if you get a giant infusion of cash.
And so, that’s the thing that — now, on the other hand and Peter Thiel described this as well, zero to one which is getting to this product market fit and then …
HOROWITZ: … there’s one to n and I think that in theory, Softbank could certainly put money in something that was going one to n and help it get to one to n faster. But, like, we’ll see if that’s how it works or if it works in a different way.
RITHOLTZ: Is too much capital potentially a burden for either the venture fund like the Vision Fund or for a scrappy startup like WeWork, is that just too much money for young, untested, sort of green CEO to deal with?
HOROWITZ: Well, I think that it is for a company if it causes the ideas that you try to implement a multiply. If you do that, then that’s going to be very dangerous.
RITHOLTZ: As opposed to take that one idea and see it through to its natural conclusion?
HOROWITZ: Yes. Take it global. That, like, if you need more money to take the market faster, that’s some more scalable activity. It’s straightforward. There is kind of known methods and so forth.
You can throw money at it and if you waste it, it’s not destructive. But if you throw money a product, that’s destructive. And so, it’s a — it’s a tricky balance. And, yes, no, it’s something that they sure — surely have to struggle with.
RITHOLTZ: So, in the book, you quote your partner, Marc Andreessen. You only ever experience two emotions, euphoria and terror. I find that lack of sleep enhances both.
HOROWITZ: Yes, that’s a description of entrepreneurship. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So, is all that extra capital not helpful? If it — or does that remove …
HOROWITZ: Well, it takes away some of euphoria and terror. And I think that that is actually dangerous because it’s that level of focus caused by that. Like, you have to be able to handle the emotion, but like nobody ever — it’s very hard to build a great company without that kind of feeling of, oh, my God, I’ve got one bullet and I have to hit the target and if I don’t, like, that’s it.
Like a level of focus you have to have to do that is kind of what makes the company, the culture, like everything gets built off of that and …
RITHOLTZ: Too many bullets …
HOROWITZ: Yes. If you take — like, if you take that away, you just have like — you just end up with a big, fat, slow bureaucratic startup which — but companies don’t execute that well generally but they do, they’re so large, they can just pound you with money. But they’ve got a sustainable underlying engine like Google Search or something.
HOROWITZ: If you don’t have that underlying engine, you just have the money somebody gave you and you start acting like that, that — that can be super, super destructive.
RITHOLTZ: So, I’m fascinated by your concept of “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” which is effectively, spoiler alert, hey there’s no formula for doing this, there’s no framework, that’s what makes him hard. It’s a case of first impression.
That was a really insightful observation. Does that come from your work as an entrepreneur or is that something you really see as a venture capitalist or both?
HOROWITZ: Well, I think it was mainly my work as an entrepreneur. I think that I crystallize being a venture capitalist working with other entrepreneurs, realizing that my experience was far from unique.
But, yes, and I think this is what’s wrong with most of the business literature as they try to put it in to some framework like here are the three steps you need to go good to greater, be a built to last or whatever Jim Kohn (ph) says.
Because it’s not like — it is very situational. It’s very specific to your company and your product and your market and your people and all these kinds of things.
And so, yes, the things that that you’re doing, you have to understand it a different level. There’s not the ABCs of building a company. You can follow the 30 steps of building a company that anybody puts out and get nowhere all the time.
And same with culture, with the — the new book like people have this step-by-step have an off side and, like, create your values and then like put it in people’s performance reviews. That doesn’t do anything other than get you hypocritical culture where people go, yes, we have those values on the wall that we don’t live.
So, you have to get to the real thing …
RITHOLTZ: In other words, create your values, don’t follow someone else’s step by step.
HOROWITZ: Well, Understand how systems work, know how — well, it’s not even so much create your own values, it’s like you got to focus on, like, how do you get people to behave the way you want them? To give you an example as, so like Tom Coughlin could’ve put values on the wall that said, like, we’re going to be very detail oriented, we’re going to like care about like everything more than anybody else does and like nobody would’ve done anything.
But what he did is he said, here’s the role. If you’re on time, you’re late.
RITHOLTZ: Right. Get to meetings …
HOROWITZ: If you came to a meeting on time, he’d fine you like thousands of dollars case you needed to be there five minutes early. Now, like, why is that better?
One, like as soon as he says that, if you’re on time, you’re late, you go, like, where the hell am I? Like what is this? Why is he saying that?
And when you ask yourself why is he saying that, then what you’re going to find out is because like we’re outworking everybody, were paying more attention to everything than anybody, like the way we practice every detail that we go over, like we’re going — we’re going to be here before everybody.
RITHOLTZ: And for people …
HOROWITZ: You run into it every time you go to a meeting. Like, you can’t — like, get away from that cultural value whereas like you put on a damn wall you see it once a year in your performance review, come on, it’s not doing anything.
RITHOLTZ: And for people who may not be familiar with it, Coughlin was the coach of New York Giants, won two Super Bowls, wrote a book “Earn the Right to Win” which I do not love sports books as business metaphors, this is a great book. Really, really comes across.
His meeting — we’ll talk about this later. His whole concept of meetings, if you’re not there and prepared and thinking about what’s going to happen at the meeting, like you can’t show up at the line of scrimmage a moment before the ball is snapped …
HOROWITZ: And figure it out. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: It’s all the prep work that goes into it. He — he was really a very deep philosopher.
HOROWITZ: Yes. And a cultural philosopher. Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking with Ben Horowitz. He is the author of “What You Do is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture.” If you enjoy this conversation, be sure and come back for the podcast extras where we keep the tape rolling and continue discussing all things venture capital related.
You can find that at Apple iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcast, wherever your finer podcasts are sold. We love your comments, feedback, and suggestions. Write to us at MIBpodcast@Bloomberg.net. Be sure to give us a review on Apple iTunes. Check out my weekly column on Bloomberg.com. Follow me on Twitter @Ritholtz.
I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’re listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.
Welcome to the podcast. Ben, thank you for doing this. I have been chasing you down for a good couple of years to join me …
HOROWITZ: All right. Well, I’m glad you caught me.
RITHOLTZ: I eventually had to work my way through the rest of all the employees at Andreessen Horowitz and now I have you in my — in my lair. I have to ask about the origin of a16Z. I know that there are 16 letters between the A and Andreessen and the Z in Horowitz, how did that come about?
And full disclosure, when I was in your office, you guys gave us some swag. I have that hat which …
RITHOLTZ: … I wear all the time. I really enjoy it.
RITHOLTZ: Where did a16 Z come from?
HOROWITZ: Well, so named the — the reasons we named the firm, first of all, Andreessen Horowitz was the big question we got when we are money from the LPs was there were like, hey, you guys are like already kind of successful entrepreneurs. Where are you really going to stay doing this venture capital thing? We think you’re just going to like raise some money and then quit.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes, yes.
RITHOLTZ: That’s interesting.
HOROWITZ: That was a big objection. So, I actually got the idea. I was, like, Marc, like if we name it after us, then they’ll be …
RITHOLTZ: You’re stuck here.
HOROWITZ: … we’ll be stuck to it. And then they’ll know we’re stuck.
RITHOLTZ: (Inaudible) serious.
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, that was Andreessen Horowitz. And then — but then, we had an immediate problem which is nobody could spell that if they were going to send us email or something.
RITHOLTZ: Two Es, two Ss and Andreessen, not an easy name to spell.
HOROWITZ: Not at all. And so, I came up with idea. So, when I was an engineer, like way back in the Stone Age …
RITHOLTZ: It’s such a geek thing to do.
HOROWITZ: Yes. We used to have to internationalize code to make it work, make it go from like whatever single to double byte strings and all this kind of thing. And so, we call that internationalization and we abbreviated I 18 and I 18 letters …
RITHOLTZ: Got you.
HOROWITZ: I was like, this will be great. We’ll call it a16Z …
HOROWITZ: … all the engineers will get it.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: And the domain was easily available. Not that Andreessen Horowitz probably wasn’t available.
HOROWITZ: Yes. No. that was available, too. It’s just a nightmare to write.
RITHOLTZ: So, when I had your CFO or COO, Scott …
HOROWITZ: Scott Kupor. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So, he was — in his book, he’s telling that essentially, post Opsware Loudcloud, you and Marc were effectively — I think he called you checkbook VCs. You were funding companies literally out of writing a check to people.
HOROWITZ: Yes, yes. We were.
RITHOLTZ: And he didn’t say this, I put these words in his mouth, but he’s like a very — he’s a lawyer, he’s very rigorous, he’s very structured.
RITHOLTZ: I pictured him, like, what are you guys doing? Wait. You’re just writing checks out of your purse. Like, I pictured him losing his mind and saying, no, no, no. We have to set up a legal structure. We have to get organized.
RITHOLTZ: There’s a lot of little urban legend about the origin stories of how accurate is — you guys were just kind of like, yeah, let’s give these guys money and give those guys money.
HOROWITZ: Well, we — I mean, we were. But, like, we started out as an angel fund before we even, like, form the kind of structure of the firm and so forth which now we have many entities. So, Scott is very happy with that., I can’t even count all the entities we have.
But like we would meet entrepreneurs and we were writing checks for $100,000, $200,000. I mean, that does sound like a lot of money. But inn our world …
RITHOLTZ: In the world of venture, it’s …
HOROWITZ: In our world it’s small.
RITHOLTZ: Right. It’s seed or angel rounds and …
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, if we loved an entrepreneur, we would, right them a check.
RITHOLTZ: Here’s 50 grand.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
And a lot of those turned out really quite well. So …
RITHOLTZ: What were some of those first checkbook firms funding? What companies did you fund that way?
HOROWITZ: Yes, yes, yes. So, well, there was a few that were, I mean, like probably the best checks were, like, things like LinkedIn and Twitter, I think, were probably the two of the best.,
But one that I really — meant a lot to me was a company called out AppNexus. I don’t know if you …
HOROWITZ: … here in New York. But they sold to AT&T for well over $1 billion. And those guys, it was just a bet on Brian, the CEO, and man, like he was tough. He just went through everything and changes of the business like people giving up on him and all these kinds of things and he just kept going and built quite a company.
RITHOLTZ: So, a couple of my favorite quotes from the book. And I’m not — again, I apologize. I don’t know which book this is from. I think this is from The Hard Thing book. “No matter who you are, you need to kinds of friends in your life.”
HOROWITZ: Yes, it’s Hard Things.
RITHOLTZ: Explain that.
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, that was — it was just kind of I was trying to come up with the way to describe my friend Bill Campbell, late Bill Campbell.
RITHOLTZ: He was the Chairman of Intuit?
HOROWITZ: Chairman of — yes, CEO and then Chairman of Intuit and kind of legend around Silicon Valley. He mentored Steve Jobs and Larry Page and a bunch of other guys. But …
RITHOLTZ: Someone called him the — that’s in the book, the “Trillion Dollar Coach.”
HOROWITZ: Yes, “Trillion Dollar Coach.” Right. Exactly.
But the way I always saw him was there’s two kinds of friends you need, one is if something good happens in your life, who do you want to call because they’re going to be as excited about it as you would be yourself. Like, and then you have very few friends like that.
HOROWITZ: And that’s always a great line between, like, fake friends and real friends. Because your fake friends, like they hear and they pretend they’re happy but they’re not really happy.
RITHOLTZ: They’re envious and …
HOROWITZ: Man, they’re ahead of me again.
And then the second kind is, like, if you’re really in trouble, like you’re in jail and you have one phone call to make, who are you going to call? And both of those guys for me were Bill Campbell.
RITHOLTZ: That’s quite fascinating.
Another quote from that book. What’s the worst thing that could happen? What would I do if we went bankrupt? And you described that as a very freeing question.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes, I know. So, that was a — so, I didn’t know what cold sweats were till I became a CEO. And then I’d be — it’d be 3 o’clock the morning, I’d be wet and awake and my guts would be boiling and I’d be like, this is what they meant.
And so, we were in a lot of trouble. The company was definitely headed for bankruptcy and I asked myself the question. I was like, OK, like, yes, what’s the worst thing that could happen? I said, like, what is the worst thing could happen to the company?
And I was like, OK, the worst thing that could happen in this world, go bankrupt, I’ll lay everybody off, all of our customers who trusted us would fail like all the investors who trusted me would lose their money and like I’d have no friends. And I was thinking, well, that’s like pretty bad.
HOROWITZ: And so then I — then my next thought was like, well, is there a way to kind of — and then, the last part of it was really essential which is, well, maybe after all that, I could buy the intellectual property out of the bankrupt thing and make it into a new company. And then, I thought …
RITHOLTZ: Why wait for bankruptcy?
HOROWITZ: Yes. Maybe I could do that before we went bankrupt and that …
RITHOLTZ: So, that’s how Loudcloud became Opsware?
RITHOLTZ: And that worked out pretty well.
HOROWITZ: Yes, I know. Thankfully, it did. It did. I would probably not be here today had that not worked out.
Speaking of failure, like that failure whatever, my life would have been very different, I think if we had failed at that.
RITHOLTZ: Why did Loudcloud not work? was it just too early in the evolution of bandwidth server technology? For — like, that was Amazon Web Services …
RITHOLTZ: … a good couple of years before.
HOROWITZ: Well, and I would say, all those are true and then maybe the most fatal thing was it was built pre-virtualization and so, there’s a technology called virtualization which kind of transform your ability to do cloud computing cost-effectively which is you could take a single computer and make it look like many computers and breakthrough technology from a company called VMware many years ago. And that really kind of change the nature of it.
RITHOLTZ: VMware, EMC bought them? I’m trying to remember …
HOROWITZ: Yes. EMC …
RITHOLTZ: … who purchased them. Yes.
HOROWITZ: EMC bought them. Yes. Right, right.
RITHOLTZ: And that was another giant pre-Amazon Cloud, data storage company back from the late ’90s.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes, yes. No. Absolutely. One of the biggest.
RITHOLTZ: There was one other question I wanted to pull out one of your quotes that I thought was so interesting. This one. I love this quote.
“A healthy company encourages people to share bad news, a company that discusses its problems freely and openly can quickly solve them. A company that covers up its problem, frustrates everyone involved.” Describe that.
HOROWITZ: Well, look. There’s this old saying that like, MBAs come with a lot of the time which is don’t bring me a problem unless you have the solution. And that’s kind of good except for what happens when they don’t have the solution.
And then what you’re really saying is don’t bring me problems. And that can become like pervasive in the culture where — and I always liken it to the wicked witch and The Wiz where she sang that song, “Ain’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Like, you don’t want The Wiz, wicked witch, running the company because you need to know what’s wrong because the faster you know it, the better it is and the slower you know it, it becomes a kimchi problem, the deeper you bury it, the hotter it gets.
And so, but it’s a very much a cultural thing because people don’t want to be associated with problems. So, getting them to bring them to you, there has to be some kind of like reward in the culture for doing that.
RITHOLTZ: And one of the things we didn’t get to during the earlier segments I wanted to ask about, I work in the financial services industry, diversity is a big problem there. It tends to be male-dominated. It tends to be not a lot of people of color.
I know a lot of firms are working on that but it’s — progress has been slow. You guys have created, specifically, a cultural leadership fund to try and change that. Tell us about the lack of diversity in venture capital and what Andreessen Horwitz is doing about that?
HOROWITZ: Yes. So, like, let me — this is big side. There’s a chapter in the new book called Genghis Khan Master of Inclusion which kind of goes through this theory. And it’s a very — I think it’s very important topic and it’s something that, generally, Silicon Valley is getting it exactly wrong think Wall Street probably the same. And it’s not intention.
So, like, the first misinterpretation is people think, everybody is racist and sexist in finance and venture capital and that’s not actually the thing. And in fact, starting from that point, actually makes you effectively systemically racist and sexist and I’ll tell you how because then you go, oh, I need women minorities in my company and then you hire them and then everybody in your firm knows they came in the side door …
HOROWITZ: … the women and minority door as opposed to the front door. And the real problem is, you can’t see the talent.
So, I’ll give you a metaphor on this. so, my friend, Steve Stoute, who ran Sony Urban Music calls me up one day and he talks in this kind of ways. He goes, Ben, I ran Sony Urban Music. And I was like, yes, I know that, Steve, but I also knew he was going to tell me a longer story.
HOROWITZ: And he goes, but it wasn’t Sony Urban Music, it was Sony Black Music. But we can’t call it Urban Music or Black Music because that would have been racist, so we had to call it Urban Music. I was like, well, that’s kind of silly.
And he goes, no, that wasn’t silly. He says because we called Urban Music, I couldn’t market in rural areas, like, no black people live in rural areas. And I go, well, that’s really dumb. He’s like, Ben, you’re not even listening to me.
I had Sony Urban Music. I have Michael Jackson. What white people don’t like Michael Jackson?
HOROWITZ: It’s not black music, it’s music. And I was like, oh my God, that’s what we’re doing in Silicon Valley. We call it diversity but it’s really urban talent. It’s this, like we’ve categorized it into something that it doesn’t need to be categorized then because we haven’t trained ourselves to see that kind of talent.
So, just give you an example of what I mean by that, so, at my firm, when we started. We were like every other firm. I had Frank Chen and he was running research and everybody in research was Asian and I had Margit, she was running marketing and everybody in marketing was a woman.
And I had Kupor. Everybody he hired was an investment banker. And like, it just went on like that.
RITHOLTZ: People hire people who look like them, sound like them, have their background.
HOROWITZ: Well, look, I know what I’m good at. I value it highly and I can test for it in an interview. So, by default, that’s what I’m hiring.
And so, I go to Margit, and I go, Margit, what is in your criteria where no man can get the job in marketing? Like, what is it? And you know what she said to me? Helpfulness.
HOROWITZ: And I was like, stop, I don’t know any helpful men.
And but then, but like here’s a real dumb thing about what I was doing is we’re a venture capital firm. We’re in the services business. You don’t think helpfulness is important in the services business, like, to be able to anticipate somebody’s needs to get to it before they know you do, you think that’s a differentiation?
RITHOLTZ: Sure is.
HOROWITZ: And so, like, we don’t have that in our criteria for anybody’s profile other than hers. When we added it, that’s all we did.
We don’t have anywhere like a a head of diversity, a diversity program. Nothing. We’re 180 people, we’re 52 percent women. All we have to do is actually be able to see the talent. We’re talent blind.
And so, the right thing to measure is …
RITHOLTZ: Talent blind.
HOROWITZ: Yes. The right thing to measure on diversity inclusion is, what is it like, like from a attrition standpoint, employee-satisfaction standpoint for your diverse groups? Because the only way you get that to be where it should be as if you can see the talent. And if you can see the talent, guess what? You’re not going to have pipeline problem, you’re not going to have any of those other problems that people run into because you can see it and the talent is out there.
And so, when you get to the cultural leadership fund, people think that’s actually a diversity idea. It’s not. It’s actually a bet on black exceptionalism.
And what I mean by that is this is us recognizing that in the last hundred years, every new musical artform from jazz to blues to rock ‘n roll to hip-hop was invented by the same group.
RITHOLTZ: African Americans.
HOROWITZ: African Americans. Almost all new fashion ideas were created by African Americans. Lately, almost all of the important new visual artists, African American. What does that mean? It means like you have a group that’s genius at moving consumer behavior.
Like, we can see that. So, we partnered with the best leaders, people like Quincy Jones, Sean Combs, so forth, where they would invest in our cultural leadership fund, we could then connect them to our entrepreneurs, get an advantage on moving consumer behavior and then we just take the money and put it back into getting more African Americans into tech.
So, for us, it’s a bet on talent that we can see that the other venture firms can’t necessarily see and were benefiting greatly from that and we win deals all the time on that.
So, it’s just a right way to think about right diversity and inclusion which is like how do you gain advantage? And you can’t gain an advantage if you’re running around blind and then changing your criteria to race and gender. That’s not going to get you anything. You just set up urban HR.
RITHOLTZ: So, you mentioned hip-hop amongst the list of musical inventions from African Americans.
HOROWITZ: My favorite, personally.
RITHOLTZ: So, we’re only about five years apart in age but my hip-hop fandom kinda stopped with “Paul’s Boutique” and the Beastie Boys.
HOROWITZ: The Beastie Boys.
RITHOLTZ: Right. I mean, “Paul’s Boutique” is a spectacular album. I think most people will admit. The scratching and mixing and sampling in that …
HOROWITZ: Rick Rubin. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Just unbelievable. In fact, that was before the copyright wall came down. So, they were doing stuff that you really can’t do later …
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. Then (inaudible) changed it all …
RITHOLTZ: However, for sure …
RITHOLTZ: But I don’t know if it — what the basis for my lack of — because I still listen to new music, but most of it tends to be jazz and pop, new stuff that comes out. How have you managed to stay current — currents in hip-hop and what are you listening to these days?
HOROWITZ: Well, like I give — yes, that’s an interesting thing to describe. I think the artform really evolved and since “Paul’s Boutique.” Rakim was just an amazing breakthrough lyrically and then Dr. Dre musically and then you have the great …
RITHOLTZ: I was in the Wu-Tang. I progressed somewhat.
HOROWITZ: Yes. That era, I mean, Wu-Tang, Nas, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G. was an amazing kind of era.
So, there is still like very good things happening. I mean, so, Young Thug’s new album is quite good. Like, I would recommend it highly. “So Much Fun” is the name of the album.
I think that — DaBaby is like everybody loves DaBaby and he’s got a new album out, that’s pretty good that I like. So, there’s — there’s several good — new stuff happening. Drake is amazing. I think he doesn’t because he’s almost so big that like real hip-hop hits don’t give them the credit he deserves, but this guy is an absolute genius and is putting out — continues to put out phenomenal music.
RITHOLTZ: I just got a new car not too long ago and all the new cars have the music hard drives that if you — so between the phone and the iPod I got a bajillion things.
RITHOLTZ: But every now and then, I just bring out a stack of discs and transfer it to the drive. And the past …
HOROWITZ: That’s amazing.
RITHOLTZ: Right? I mean, that’s what we are.
The previous car, you could use the SD drives. This car, you can take the little …
HOROWITZ: Look, you can connect your phone on Bluetooth now.
RITHOLTZ: Yes, of course.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: But the phone only has 512 gigs of music and I want to put some of my favorites in. But the reason I’m bringing that up is …
HOROWITZ: That’s awesome.
RITHOLTZ: I brought out seven James Brown discs and I transferred the James Brown “Party People” three-disc set and then the “Showtime” three-disc — four-disc set. And as I’m listening to all the stuff for the hundredth time, it’s amazing how much hip-hop pulled vocal samples, beats, baselines, rhythms, just — I don’t — I have a lot of young guys in my office …
HOROWITZ: James Brown was originally like the sampled guy. (Inaudible).
RITHOLTZ: I don’t think people realize how influential he still is to this day …
RITHOLTZ: Driving music. It’s just fascinating.
HOROWITZ: So, I’ve got the tip of your James Brown fan.
RITHOLTZ: Huge (ph).
HOROWITZ: So, there’s a show called “Tales From the Tour Bus,” Mike Judge. There’s two James Brown episodes. You have to — they’re the most amazing thing …
RITHOLTZ: Tales from the Tour — is this Netflix or …
HOROWITZ: It’s on, I think, Cinemax or something.
HOROWITZ: But it’s — it’s an amazing show, generally. But seasons two, James Brown, amazing.
HOROWITZ: Like, so, first of all, like, just how genius he was, the band he put together and how incredible they were and how absolutely nuts, out of his mind was — he never really — like he barely drunk and he never did any drugs till he was 55 and then he started on angel dust.
HOROWITZ: Like, that was his first drug.
RITHOLTZ: He didn’t do anything partway. He …
HOROWITZ: Nothing. Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Pedal to the metal.
HOROWITZ: And so, when people see him at the end, they wonder, like, what the hell happened? It was the angel dust. And so, like, the whole thing is just like a crazy tale of him. And it’s much better than any of the James Brown movies.
RITHOLTZ: So, last question before I get to my favorite questions.
RITHOLTZ: What else are you watching? You mentioned “Silicon Valley.” What — what are you streaming, what are you watching these days?
HOROWITZ: Well, the new seasons of “Mr. Robot” which is one of the great …
RITHOLTZ: Love it. Love it. It’s the last seasons. Final season.
HOROWITZ: Yes. What an amazing show that’s been.
RITHOLTZ: The first seasons was very stressful.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes, yes.
RITHOLTZ: Like, that was like challenging to work your way through.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. That was — it was very intense. But again, it continues to be intense.
HOROWITZ: I watched “Succession.”
RITHOLTZ: A lot of people like that.
HOROWITZ: It’s a very well done show, I …
RITHOLTZ: Little bit of …
HOROWITZ: It touches the Murdochs a little bit, I know.
HOROWITZ: And I’m friends with them. And I’m friends with them and I feel like it’s not fair if you look at it through that lens. But it’s still like a super well done show.
RITHOLTZ: So, if you saw that, did you see “Loudest Voice in the Room”?
HOROWITZ: I haven’t seen that yet. I heard good things about it. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: It’s the six or …
HOROWITZ: Yes. With Russell Crowe.
RITHOLTZ: Who’s amazing in it. And it’s based on the Gabriel Sherman book.
RITHOLTZ: Really, it shocking to look at Russell Crowe and say how did one guy play Roger Ailes and some of the “Gladiator” and what was the — “A Beautiful Mind.” Like it’s incredible how different …
HOROWITZ: His range is amazing.
RITHOLTZ: Really, really …
HOROWITZ: Well, and the really unusual thing about his to me is he not only has the range, but he also has the intangible. He’s a movie star. He’s a Humphrey Bogart.
HOROWITZ: He’s like a Denzel Washington.
HOROWITZ: Like that. But those guys, the most movie stars, they’re amazing because they’re movie stars but they don’t have range (ph) like like Robert De Niro, but they don’t have that kind of acting range as well. So, he’s really unique.
RITHOLTZ: What else. Give me one more thing that you’re watching?
HOROWITZ: Let’s see. What else? I watch — I want to give you a good one.
RITHOLTZ: By the way, I’m going to have to add this as a regular question because this is a really interesting question.
HOROWITZ: Yes. I’m trying to think what — you know what I like is the “Righteous Gemstones.”
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. That — it started out a little slow, but the guys who did “Vice Principals” and “Eastbound and Down” which are both, like, outstanding.
RITHOLTZ: So, now I have your …
HOROWITZ: But I think …
RITHOLTZ: I know exactly what you watch.
HOROWITZ: I think “Righteous Gemstones” may be the best of the set. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So, I only have you for a few minutes. Let’s get to my favorite question and I’m going to do — I’m going to do an abbreviated version of this.
What’s the most important thing we don’t know about Ben Horowitz?
HOROWITZ: I feel like people know so much now.
RITHOLTZ: Really? Because I think you’re kind of an enigma. Your partner is more public than you are, generally speaking.
HOROWITZ: Yes. He definitely is.
Well, I am — I mean, and maybe people don’t know this about me, but I am the best barbecuer in all of Silicon Valley.
RITHOLTZ: Yes, that’s a really low bar.
HOROWITZ: Yes. You know, it’s a low bar. But, like, still, I wear the crown proudly.
RITHOLTZ: There you go. Who are some of your early mentors? You mentioned Bill Campbell has to be …
HOROWITZ: Andy Grove. I would say Andy Grove …
HOROWITZ: … is super high on that list.
HOROWITZ: What an amazing, amazing guy. Actually, the highlight of my professional career was when he asked me to write the new foreword to “High Output Management.” And I still think that’s the best thing I ever wrote in my life is that foreword because it just means so much to me. What an amazing, amazing human being.
RITHOLTZ: That’s an amazing pair of mentors.
RITHOLTZ: what venture capitalist influence the way you think about venture investing? Or maybe I should knowing — knowing your firm, I should ask who really influenced your approach to venture capitalist? You mentioned Michael Ovitz before. Who else influenced you?
HOROWITZ: I think, like, structurally in the approach, Michael Ovitz in terms of how we run the firm was, by far, the most influential. I think that — and bing VCs, we knew a lot of the greats. So, Jim Breyer, Vinod Khosla, John a lot of the grade so Jim Breyer outpost law to John Doerr were all very influential.
(Inaudible), although he’s more of an entrepreneur than a venture capitalist, but like, he certainly was very kind of helpful and influential on, at least, me, early on. That’s (ph) some of them. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk about book. What are some of your favorite things to read, technology related or not.
HOROWITZ: Well, so I have been reading Victor Sebestyen’s Lenin biography which that’s Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich …
RITHOLTZ: That’s a pretty big book, if I remember correctly.
HOROWITZ: It’s a big book. It’s just astoundingly amazing. And particularly in today’s time, because people — people sort of forgot the hundred-year history of communism which is — just a brief summary, everybody dies. But going back …
RITHOLTZ: The end.
HOROWITZ: Going back to the Bolshevik Revolution, you can really see why and it’s a really interesting systems thing because it’s marketed as power to the people and it’s the exact opposite thing which is it’s a massive concentration of power where you transfer all the wealth to a very few number people running the government.
RITHOLTZ: It’s really power to the state.
HOROWITZ: Yes. It’s — well, but it’s too high level of powers. So, like, if you get anybody get power (ph). Like, if there was a company like Evil Corp. is in Mr. Robot, that company would be massively destructive because it’s just too high a concentration. So, it’s not specific to government or business or anything else, it’s just specific power.
And I think the problem with communism is it’s just such a big concentration of power and you really see this. I mean, so just some of the things in the Bolshevik Revolution. The — so, the first thing is, OK, anybody in government — anybody can do a government job. Any peasant could do it because, like, these are just the rich people who have these jobs and they’re all evil.
And so, he gives all the jobs to peasants. And within three months of them taking control, there’s a famine so bad that they have to put out propaganda to keep parents from eating their children.
RITHOLTZ: Unbelievable (ph).
HOROWITZ: And then, like, so coming off that, like, what do we do about the famine? Well, we’ve killed all the rich people, so now we got to start killing the kulaks who were farmers with like two horses.
HOROWITZ: And so, like, this how it rolls when you kind of give somebody massive power and you’re driven on hate of anything. And like, I mean …
HOROWITZ: … people don’t like rich people, but like hating anybody is just a very bad source of political ideology.
RITHOLTZ: So, 40 million deaths later, what ends up happening in Communist Russia?
HOROWITZ: Yes. I mean, like, and then we discover it and then it’s very hard to convert from a system like that into another system as you know. We’re finding also it’s complicated in China, it’s complicated …
RITHOLTZ: But that’s more totalitarian than it is communist. It’s sort of …
HOROWITZ: But they got — but totalitarian and communism go together because you’re going for that concentration of control.
HOROWITZ: Like, you can’t have — so, here’s the thing on communism that my friends have grown up in the Russia and Romania and so forth say it’s like people think (inaudible) was crazy. (Inaudible) wasn’t — like, if you read his work and so forth, like he wasn’t, he’s very smart. The problem is, you’ve taken away the carrot, so all you have is a stick.
HOROWITZ: And so, if you all have is a stick, then you need totalitarianism to control the people. You need to be — you need …
RITHOLTZ: You need to use the stick.
HOROWITZ: … when they don’t go to work because you’re not paying them.
RITHOLTZ: That’s one book. Give us another.
HOROWITZ: Well, I’ll reference — let will me reference kind of the book that I’ve read over and over again in preparation for this book. It’s “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James which is — so, you’ll appreciate this story.
It’s recommended to me by the late Christopher Hitchens
HOROWITZ: All I asked him was, like, what book should I read? He’s like the best book, like, is “The Black Jacobins.” Written in 1937.
HOROWITZ: Yes. He said this to me, maybe like seven or eight years ago. And that was the story of the Haitian Revolution and just an amazing book.
RITHOLTZ: Is that how that — you found its way into this book?
HOROWITZ: Absolutely. That was the kind of — that’s the very first thing I read, kind of on the Haitian Revolution and really, really amazing.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience.
HOROWITZ: well, I wrote a whole book on how I failed to build the first cloud computing company. You know, I failed a lot of things. I — actually, just — so one of the — let me tell you like a really — one of the many failures at Loudcloud. So, the company, we came out of the gates faster than any company that I’ve seen since.
So, in quarter number three, after founding. We booked 27 million in revenue.
HOROWITZ: Like, just astounding. And that’s when $27 million was a lot of money in 1999. And we were growing so fast that the fire marshal was threatening to shut down the company. So, I had to get new real estate …
RITHOLTZ: You’re just adding too many bodies.
HOROWITZ: Yes. And so, it’s how to get more real estate and so I kind of delegated it to my finance team and I just didn’t pay any attention. I was just like get us more real estate, we got to get it before they shut us down.
So, we leased a building, I signed off on it, $30 million in restricted cash to hold it down and it was kind of at the time, I think it was like $10 a square foot a month.
Within two months of that …
RITHOLTZ: Sounds pricey.
HOROWITZ: It was very pricey. Within two months of that, dotcom crashed, real estate in the next 12 months dropped to 99 cents a square foot.
HOROWITZ: Like, we had a layoff. We never really, in earnest, moved in to the building and I have this 30 million bill. I’m a start-up company, it was — which was just absolutely killing us.
And the thing I learned was, like I knew when I delegated it, it was probably a problem. But I didn’t want to deal with it for even five minutes. And what I learned is, like, if you see pain, darkness, failure, you have to run towards it. You can’t run away from it when you’re CEO.
RITHOLTZ: Embrace the pain.
HOROWITZ: Run straight at it.
RITHOLTZ: So, let me move this in a different direction. What do you do for fun? What do you do when you’re not in the office? More (ph) barbecuing?
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes. So, I listen to hip-hop. I’ve got, like, an amazing sound system. I am a big sports fan, so I …
RITHOLTZ: Give us — who’s your sound system? What’s your amp and what’s your speakers?
HOROWITZ: So …
RITHOLTZ: By the way, this — there — this question is for 17 people.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Like, it’s …
RITHOLTZ: That’s all of us …
HOROWITZ: It’s a little company called (inaudible). And they have this amazing technology which is there’s a software layer, kind of, that runs over the top that like a problem with speaker systems is certain sounds hit your first, like …
HOROWITZ: So, like the vocals, the guitars, the bass don’t all hit you at the same time.
HOROWITZ: They hit you at different speeds. This makes it so they all hit you at the exact same time and the clarity on the system is just unbelievable.
RITHOLTZ: I promise, we are going to get emails from audio engineers challenging that.
HOROWITZ: Yes. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: We’ll see what pushback is …
HOROWITZ: I’d love to see it.
RITHOLTZ: My final two questions because I know we have to get you elsewhere, right? What sort of advice would you give to a recent college grad who is interested in the venture capital world?
HOROWITZ: Well, I’d say do something else before you go to venture capital because the most important thing in venture capital is understanding the — or one of the most important things is understanding the process of how companies get built. And that’s a little bit difficult to do from the outside. So, if you can do that from the inside and then maybe going to venture capital later, I think that works better.
And then the other thing is venture capital is like one of these dumb fields and that doesn’t prepare you very much for anything else.
HOROWITZ: So, like, if you have a 10-year career and it doesn’t work, then that — know you’re really starting from scratch. Whereas if you’re an entrepreneur or you work at a startup, then there’s many things you can do off that.
RITHOLTZ: You got something to fall back on.
And finally, what do you know about the world of venture investing today you wish you knew when you guys were getting launched in the late ’90s? I’m sorry. The late 2000s?
HOROWITZ: Well, that’s a great question.
RITHOLTZ: Isn’t it, though?
HOROWITZ: Yes. I think probably — I wish we knew more about the investing process, like, what did good investing process look like? I think it’s something that we’ve learned over the years, and you know we’ve had to develop — and we’re, like, I’d say we’re way, way, way better at it now than when we started and I think like at this point, I can tell that we’re as good as the best firms because you know we end up landing like any deal just by the deals we picked, like you can tell by what the really smart competitor spec (ph).
So, we’ve got much better at it, but it was something we learned kind of the hard way, I would say.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting.
RITHOLTZ: Ben, thank you for being so generous with your time.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking with Ben Horowitz, Co-founder and General Partner at Andreessen Horwitz and author of the new book “What You Do is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture.”
If you enjoyed this conversation, well, look up an inch or down an inch on Apple iTunes and you can see any of the previous 287 conversations we’ve had over the past five years.
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I would be remiss if I did not think the crack staff that helps put these conversations together each week. Karoline O’Brien is my audio engineer, Michael Boyle is my producer, Michael Batnick is my head of research. I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’ve been listening to Master in Business on Bloomberg Radio.