And explains why his firm shouldn't be judged based on returns—yet.
We still don’t know why exactly famed investor Marc Andreessen suddenly quit Twitter last weekend.
But we do know that he feels “50 pounds lighter” and “free as a bird,” as he said on Thursday evening during a small event in Palo Alto. Andreessen added that Twitter can be a hothouse—both a positive trait because many users are passionate, but also a negative as it can become overwhelming.
“It’s a little bit great to take a step back and get some space,” said Andreessen, who was previously a very frequent participant on Twitter, even popularizing the so-called “tweetstorm,” a series of tweets about one thought or idea.
He’s also gotten into a bit of hot water with his tweets, such as his comments about India’s ban of Facebook’s Free Basics app, which lets users access select websites and apps without paying for Internet data because of the company’s control over the app. Andreessen responded to the ban by calling it “wrong” and suggesting that the country’s band because of the view that the app was a form of colonialism wasn’t a sound economic decisions. His comments were immediately seen as an insult to the country, and prompted him to take a two-week break from Twitter. (Catch up on the saga here.)
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Andreessen, who co-founded the seven-year-old venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz after founding Netscape and Loudcloud, also tackled some hot Silicon Valley topics while at the event on Thursday hosted by StrictlyVC, a daily newsletter about venture capital. Startups valued at more than $1 billion, for example, have become both a growing phenomenon and a concern to some investors.
“It is true that it’s much harder to be public today than when I first started,” said Andreessen, adding that much of the late stage funding flowing into “unicorn” startups like Uber and Airbnb (in which Andreessen’s firm invested) today is a substitute for going public. These same companies would have already gone public during the dot-com bubble, for example.
“We do think that in the long run […] most or all of these companies will and should go public at some point,” he added. The upside of the influx of late-stage capital helping them stay private is that they have enough time to get their business to a point at which they can sustain the pressure of being a public company, such as quarterly revenue expectations.
With that said, Andreessen also countered the idea that being a public companies spells the end of innovation and drastic change. After all, Steve Jobs’ turnaround of Apple following his return as CEO in 1997 was done while the company was public, Andreessen pointed out. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and Nvidia’s Jen-Hsun Huang are all CEOs who are leading their public companies through significant changes and doing so with success, according to Andreessen.
Andreessen also addressed a recent Wall Street Journal report that suggested that his firm isn’t a top performer among rival venture capital firms based on its returns. The biggest criticism of the report has been that a young firm like Andreessen Horowitz hasn’t cashed in on all of its investment, making it impossible to truly measure their returns—an argument Andreessen echoed on Thursday.
“This goes to a core philosophy of how to do things that don’t have a direct outcome,” he said, referring to the many years it takes for investors to know how they investments will pan out—usually a decade. His firm’s solution then is to evaluate itself based on its processes, he said. For example, the firm does a monthly analysis of all the deals it has looked at, and all of those of its competitors, and how they compare. In short, as long as Andreessen’s firm gets a shot at investing in the best deals, regardless of whether or not it does choose to write a check, it can be rest assured that its procedures for finding and vetting potential investments are working.
As for making mistakes, whether that’s mistakenly passing on a great investment or investing in a dud, Andreessen isn’t too worried. “Venture is one of those things where the best venture capitalists in the world strike out all the time,” he said.