October 23, 2014
In a recent extended interview in New York Magazine, prominent entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen sat down with Kevin Roose to talk about everything, from his experiences in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s to the various criticisms surrounding tech culture. It’s a pretty long piece, so we’ve gone through and picked out the 10 most important takeaways from the interview.
Just yesterday, we wrote about Andreessen’s resignation from eBay’s board of directors (which he also shares in a string of tweets). In spite of the fact that he’s one of Silicon Valley’s top investors, the man has been making a lot more headlines in recent days. Just a few days ago, publications covered his reaction to economist Paul Krugman’s criticism that Amazon is bad for America. In the New York Magazine interview, readers actually get to learn a little more behind the man featured on daily tech headlines.
Here are the 11 most important points from Marc Andreessen’s interview in New York Magazine, which you can also find in full in this week’s print edition:
1. There are two different sets of ethos currently embedded in the Silicon Valley tech community: one held by a generation that encountered the first tech boom of the late ’80s/early 90s and the consequent recession, and another held by a younger generation that didn’t experience that.
“For example, I think there’s sort of two Silicon Valleys right now. There’s the Silicon Valley of the people who were here during the 2000 crash, and there’s the Silicon Valley of the people who weren’t, and the psychology is actually totally different. Those of us who were here in 2000 have, like, scar tissue, because shit went wrong and it sucked,” said Marc Andreessen in the interview.
2. Andreessen is an interminable optimist, and discredits technology skeptics who think that today’s innovations in technology by all these startup companies aren’t really doing anything to influence or affect society.
“I mean, I’m incredibly optimistic. I’m optimistic arguably to a fault, especially in terms of new ideas. My presumptive tendency, when I’m presented with a new idea, is not to ask, ‘Is it going to work?’ It’s, ‘Well, what if it does work?’…There’s this economist in Chicago, Robert Gordon, who says, “All this new stuff sucks. How could you possibly compare this to the Industrial Revolution? There will be no more economic growth.” Frankly, I’d rather have the criticism that technology is having too big of an effect on the world than that technology is just irrelevant.”
3. He thinks that the show Silicon Valley actually paints an accurate portrayal of what it’s like in the industry, going so much as to say that venture capitalists portrayed on it remind him very much of real-life people who behave in the same ways.
“I thought that show was incredible…It’s amazing. Accurate satire—we’ve never had anything like that here. I know every single person in that show.”
4. The diversity problem in tech – while valid in the discussions surrounding the issue – is somewhat overstated. For Andreessen, the term and concept of “diversity” becomes more than merely a literal black or white issue, and that the industry itself isn’t systematically discriminatory.
“I think the critique that Silicon Valley companies are deliberately, systematically discriminatory is incorrect, and there are two reasons to believe that that’s the case. [These] companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then ‘white’: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures. To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions. Because of Pakistanis, we’re seeing a higher-than-ever proportion of Muslim employees in a lot of our companies.”
5. Andreessen continues that line of thought and goes into one of the most crucial points affecting the lack of diversity (the kind demanded by the public) in technology: the lack of talent and the lack of educational resources and opportunities to create that talent.
“[Our] companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent…[And] these are the problems that I think need to be solved. One is inequality of education. If you come up through a path that’s sort of a stereotypical upper-middle-class American path and you go to Stanford and you get a really great technical education and your professors really care about you, then you come to Silicon Valley and you’ve got the skills and you’re golden. But, of course, most people in the world—including most people outside the U.S. but also people in the U.S., like where I grew up in rural Wisconsin, or people in the inner city—never have access to that kind of education… If you can go to Harvard, go to Harvard. But that’s not the question. The question is for the 14-year-old in Indonesia staring at a life of either, like, subsistence farming or being able to get a Stanford-quality education and being able to go into a profession.”
6. Government regulation is holding back innovation, and it’s actually affecting consumers in negative ways.
“If you have been in an Uber car and gotten pulled over and had the car seized out from under the driver when you were like in the middle of a trip that you were otherwise having a good time on, you might be a little bit radicalized. You might all of a sudden think, Wait a minute, what just happened, and why did it happen? And then you might discover what the taxi companies did over the last 50 years to wire up city governments and all the corruption that’s taken place. And you might say, “Wait a minute.” There’s this myth that government regulation is well intentioned and benign, and implemented properly. That’s the myth. And then when people actually run into this in the real world, they’re, ‘Oh, fuck, I didn’t realize.'”
7. Yet, Andreessen says that despite its flaws, the American political system is actually right where it needs to be (with the exception of some regulatory and spending issues).
“I think the American system is incredibly well developed. I think the founding fathers were geniuses. I think the founding fathers had lived under effective government, and it was called King George, and they did not like it. I mean, they knew what an autocratic government was like. And so they implemented a representative democracy, with the representation layer as a buffer against autocratic change and against mob rule…There are two biases that I would probably try to figure out how to tweak. One is there’s a bias toward more spending as opposed to less spending because the way politicians cut deals is they fund each other’s projects. And then on the regulatory stuff, the bias in government is just to keep creating laws and regulations.”
8. Automation and the rise of robotics and technology isn’t going to cut off jobs to the point of economic ruin. Rather, Andreessen argues, new jobs will arise and the types of available jobs will increase in quality.
“The new jobs are better. They’re just better. This is what’s happening throughout China. Now it’s happening in Indonesia and Vietnam. Every time Foxconn opens up a plant, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who apply for those jobs. In developing countries, everybody’s dying to get into modern factory jobs because the alternative is far worse. What actually ends up happening is through progress, the jobs get better.”
9. He believes that there’s this misperception that poverty is on the rise. According to Andreessen, we have evolved a highly-advanced capitalist system with an extensive safety net.
“We have people rising out of poverty at a global level and in the U.S. at unprecedented rates. In 50 years, we’ve gone from hunger being the dominant problem among lower-income people to obesity being the dominant problem. We have people coming out of poverty all over the world at astonishing rates…What’s actually happening is we have a reasonably well-functioning capitalist system and then we have a very vigorous safety net. We have very high tax rates. We generate enormous amounts of tax revenue, and we have a very big safety net.”
10. What it’s like to be a venture capitalist:
“Our output at the end of the day is investment return. We’re a fiduciary for investors. They trust us with a lot of money on behalf of other people. The purpose of the firm is to make investments and then return profit from those investments. And we make about 15 primary investments a year. So, those are the big decisions. At the end of the day, what are we most responsible for? It’s making those 15 decisions and the consequences of those decisions. A lot of my time is working with founders and CEOs of the companies in the portfolio. I’m basically permanently on call to all of them.”
11. People in positions of power need to be told every once in a while that they’re ideas are stupid. He himself finds it refreshing as opposed to people who are in constant agreement or display undying approval.
“Because they don’t feel like anything’s changed. They just feel like, I’m who I was before, I’m going around, I’m doing my thing. And it’s very rare that they actually stop and think, ‘Everybody’s nicer to me than they were ten years ago’…This applies to presidents, senators, congressmen, mayors, anybody who gets in a position of power…Every morning, I wake up and several dozen people have explained to me in detail how I’m an idiot on Twitter, which is actually fairly helpful.”
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