Let There Be a Hundred Valleys
Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen has a record for knowing what’s coming next with technology. He forecasts the future of Silicon Valley and the big moves in tech
Silicon Valley is starting to feel a little less exuberant these days. Some big start-ups are having trouble raising money. Others are delaying plans to go public. Hot new technologies like Bitcoin have been struggling. With all the nervous chatter out there — Where is this going? What’s next? — I called on Marc Andreessen, who has lived through a bubble or two (or three).
Market is Manic Depressive
Andreessen, a prominent venture capitalist, has been at the epicentre of the US technology business for two decades. In the early 1990s, he was a co-founder of one of the first major web browsers, Netscape. He went on to start Ning, an early social site. Now, in addition to being voluble on Twitter, he sits on the board of Facebook, eBay and Hewlett-Packard.
I got 28 minutes with him. But. Andreessen speaks so quickly, it felt like an hour and a half.
Saying “bubble” to a venture capitalist around here is like saying “homework” to a teenager. They roll their eyes and try to shoo you away. So rather than ask if we are in the middle of another — ahem — bubble, I asked Andreessen why some young companies can’t seem to raise all the money they want.
His answer: conditions ebb and flow. And right now, they are ebbing for some companies. But for others, capital is still available. “We have not seen any pullback so far on private investment,” Andreessen said. “Actually, what we’re seeing is more of the opposite right now. We’re seeing a lot more institution- al money — in particular from the hedge fund world — crossing over” into tech investing. But what about companies that can’t find their way to the stock market, like Box and Square? Andreessen pointed to 1997 and 1998, when the market for initial public stock offerings was briefly derailed by the Asian financial crisis. Before long, investor interest revved up again, and the Nasdaq stock market was flying high. (A few years later, of course, it came crash- ing down.)
So if a startup can’t go public just now, it’s no big deal. “The nature of the public market is that it is manic depressive,” Andreessen said. “It gets excited, it gets depressed.”
Speaking of feeling down, I asked Andreessen a question I often hear from people outside Silicon Valley: Why can’t other places build their own valley-style tech hubs? People in cities ranging from Dublin to Berlin to New York often ask what they are doing wrong.