Like the frontier characters from Deadwood, his favorite TV show, Marc Andreessen has discovered that the real challenge to building in new territory is not in the practicalities of learning a trade, but in developing a savviness for what makes people tick. Without understanding the deep patterns of human behavior, how can you know what to build, or who should build it, or how? For Marc, that means reading deeply in the humanities: “I spent the first 25 years of my life trying to understand how machines work,” Marc says. “Then I spent the second 25 years, so far, trying to figure out how people work. It turns out people are a lot more complicated.”
Marc joined Tyler to discuss his ever-growing appreciation for the humanities and more, including why he didn’t go to a better school, his contrarian take on Robert Heinlein, how Tom Wolfe helped Marc understand his own archetype, who he’d choose to be in Renaissance Florence, which books he’s reread the most, Twitter as an X-ray machine on public figures, where in the past he’d most like to time-travel, his favorite tech product that no longer exists, whether Web will improve podcasting, the civilization-level changes made possible by remote work, Peter Thiel’s secret to attracting talent, which data he thinks would be most helpful for finding good founders, how he’d organize his own bookstore, the kinds of people he admires most, and why Deadwood is equal to Shakespeare.
Listen to the full conversation
Recorded April 14th, 2022
Read the full transcript
TYLER COWEN: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Conversations with Tyler. Today I’m chatting with Marc Andreessen, known to many as @pmarca. Marc, welcome.
MARC ANDREESSEN: Hey, Tyler. Great to be here.
COWEN: Simple question: Have you always been like this?
ANDREESSEN: [laughs] Yes. I believe that my friends would say that I have.
COWEN: Let’s go back to the junior high school Marc Andreessen. At that time, what was your favorite book and why?
ANDREESSEN: That’s a really good question. I read a lot. Probably, like a lot of people like me, it was a lot of science fiction. I’m one of the few people I know who thinks that late Robert Heinlein was better than early Robert Heinlein. That had a really big effect on me. What else? I was omnivorous at an early age.
COWEN: Why is late Robert Heinlein better?
ANDREESSEN: To me, at least to young me — see if older me would agree with this — a sense of exploration and discovery and wonder and open-endedness. For me, it was as if he got more open-minded as he got older. I remember those books, in particular, being very inspiring — the universe is a place of possibilities.
COWEN: What’s the seminal television show for your intellectual development in, say, junior high school?
ANDREESSEN: Oh, junior high school — it’s hard to beat Knight Rider.
COWEN: Why Knight Rider?
ANDREESSEN: There was a wave of these near science fiction shows in the late ’70s, early ’80s that coincided with . . . Some of it was the aftermath of Star Wars, but it was the arrival of the personal computer and the arrival of computer technology in the lives of ordinary people for the first time. There was a massive wave of anxiety, but there was also a tremendous sense of possibility.
There were a set of these shows that basically propelled you — I think the line they would always use is “20 minutes into the future.” Knight Rider was like this. Airwolf was like this. There was a whole bunch of shows like this, where it was our world except advanced technology had just arrived. What that meant, how it would fit in, how it would change things — these very compelling fictional portrayals.
I still get a little fired up whenever I get into a modern car. Today, you get in, and it actually looks like the Knight Rider car on the inside. I still get a little jolt of excitement that that actually happened. In fact, if you want it to, it will talk to you.
COWEN: We fast-forward to high school. What is it in high school that you hated the most and also did the worst at? What was the biggest tax of high school? Classes, but which? Chemistry lab, writing?
ANDREESSEN: [laughs] All of them. I went to a very small high school. I have friends who went to all these very fancy magnet schools and science schools and all these things. It’s actually really funny, I read all these debates about Lowell High School or Stuyvesant and all these places. My high school was the opposite of all that. No AP classes, no advanced work of any kind. Basically, it was an endurance competition to see who could outlast who, me or them.
COWEN: Was there a teacher who understood what you were about, or just no one?
ANDREESSEN: There were a couple. There was a computer teacher in particular. We actually got a computer lab with two or three computers towards the very end. Then there was a teacher, a young teacher who came in. We dialed in a little bit. I was mostly in a holding career until I got off to college.
COWEN: No slight intended to the University of Illinois, which is a good school. Why didn’t you go to a better school?
ANDREESSEN: I grew up in rural Wisconsin. Everybody just assumed, if you went to college, it just meant you went to college in Wisconsin. You just went to, probably, the University of Wisconsin. I actually found out later they had rolled up all these little tiny teacher colleges into what they call the University of Wisconsin system, but it was really a bunch of little colleges. Then it was Madison. That was the default path. From where I grew up at that time, crossing state lines to go to University of Illinois was a gigantic move, a very big change.
COWEN: You didn’t have a passport?
ANDREESSEN: Very uncommon. It’s amazing how fine people can subdivide groups. There’s a Wisconsin-Illinois rivalry. That’s a very big thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say East Germany and West Germany, but maybe a little bit. It was a big deal to jump the fence.
COWEN: In what sense are you still a thinker of the rural Midwest?
ANDREESSEN: I thought I was a fluke. I thought I was strange. It’s like, you leave the Midwest, you go to the coast, you get involved in tech. You’re on a very different path than the people I knew. I just assumed that I was weird and different.
I got out here to Silicon Valley, and then I started to get oriented. Then I read this profile that I recommend to everybody, which is, Tom Wolfe, the great novelist, journalist, wrote a profile of Bob Noyce, who was the original founder of Intel and basically the father of the chip industry. I read this profile. I don’t mean to compare myself with Bob Noyce, but basically, Tom Wolfe describes an archetype.
The archetype is the Midwestern tinkerer who basically comes out of a very practical, farming-oriented, mechanical, dirt under the fingernails, working with machines, with your hands, culture and background — literally for farming, for light mechanical work — and then basically ends up in advanced technology. So, I went in one shot, after reading that profile, from thinking of myself as a fluke to thinking of myself as a cliché. I think the cliché definitely applies.
COWEN: As a moralist, are you still rural Midwest?
ANDREESSEN: I really struggle with that. I would say I’ve lived my life on the two polar extremes of what I would consider to be — whatever you might call it — the morality scale or the personality scale or the cultural scale, which is, I’ve lived in an extremely conservative, repressive, right-wing, and very, let’s say, traditionalist — probably the most traditionalist environment in the country, or at least one of them — in the rural Midwest.
Then I’ve lived the other part of my life in the extremely open-minded, libertine, liberated, progressive, far-left milieu. I don’t live in San Francisco proper, but I live close enough where I feel the gravity well of the most extreme form of progressivism in the country.
So, I’ve experienced both extremes. I don’t know, maybe it’s, again, the tinker in me or the practical person. I inclined more towards the middle on that stuff. I see the issues with both sides over time. I see the advantages of both sides. I think the extremes are both probably bad ideas.
COWEN: Let’s say you had done a very rural Midwest kind of thing and had a bunch of kids in your 20s. How would your life have been different, if at all, other than having the kids?
ANDREESSEN: I waited a long time. We have one kid now, a seven-year-old. I waited a long time to do that — into my 40s. My answer for a very long time would have been, you prioritize. You either have, basically, work or kids. For the career that I do, it’s like you have a choice, and it’s really hard for people to be able to do both. For a long time, I would have said that that was the case. The answer to the question would have been, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did.
I will say I was really struck — my business partner and friend, Ben Horowitz, who’s had a very similar career to mine — he had three kids when he was very young, in his early 20s, when he had no money and was under a lot of stress. He had the polar opposite life trajectory in that dimension than I did. I’ve got a seven-year-old. His kids are fully grown. They’re off in college. They’re beyond college. They’re graduated, and they’re off in their careers.
What he told me was, having three kids at that age . . . He said he wouldn’t necessarily wish it on anybody in terms of the stress that results. However, he said that it was a very focusing, motivating thing, and it caused him to be laser-focused, hyper-focused at work. The cliché in tech is, the workers are like, it’s time for foosball. Then it’s time for the yoga class, and then it’s time for the massage, and then it’s time for volleyball, and then it’s time for the beer bus.
I knew Ben when the kids were little. I’ve known him for 25 years now. I worked with him starting in the early ’90s. It was just always very clear he was hyper-focused. Every minute of work really, really counted. In retrospect, I don’t know whether I could have pulled that off, but there is a different way of working that that level of pressure puts you under that, at least in his case, worked very well.
COWEN: If you had grown up in Renaissance Florence, what would you have been doing?
ANDREESSEN: Do I get to be a Medici or not?
COWEN: If you want to be, but they’re just plain bankers, right?
ANDREESSEN: [laughs] Yes, sort of. People don’t know that when the Medici ruled Florence, they were plain bankers, but Cosimo de’ Medici — the line went that he had to take over the state in order to preserve the banking business, and then the family became very politically important. Then, of course, it was the sponsor for the arts and, basically, sciences — DaVinci and all these amazing people, Michelangelo — for decades and then centuries that followed.
Aspirationally, I would have been a Medici. Had I not been a Medici, I would have tried to get as close to the Medici as I possibly could. I would like to think I would have been some form of either a proto-scientist or proto-engineer. DaVinci’s notebooks are full of engineering — he was an engineer — they were full of engineering diagrams and plans, including things that have, to this day, never been built. He actually built military machines at one point, and maybe there was proto-engineering going on there.
Then, as you said, finance — they created an entire world of that really helped develop economy as we know it today, from a very early stage. Being part of that banking system, I think, would have been very exciting at that time. I hopefully would have been able to talk myself into one of those. Sculpting — I think I lack the talent, so maybe banking instead.
COWEN: Say we put you back in the Neolithic period. What are you doing?
ANDREESSEN: [laughs] Hopefully, finding a niche. Aspirationally, you’d probably want to be a hunter. We would see very quickly whether I had the aptitude for that. Probably, witch doctor would have been a bit of a stretch, although maybe I can play cult leader when I have to. At some point, they started writing things down. They started having poetry. They started to have, not really science per se, but they started to explore nature. They started to build cities, come together.
Maybe I could have done the irrigation system. That would have been a good way to get the rest to try to put up with me.
COWEN: Moving ahead to the current you, which books have you reread the most?
ANDREESSEN: Let’s see. That’s a good question. I’ve read a lot of business history. I’ve read a lot of technology history. I’ve read a lot of finance history. I’ve covered that. That stuff, I don’t tend to read more than once. It’s almost entirely, I would say, broadly speaking, it’s political theory, it’s history, it’s economic theory a little bit, although it’s probably more economic history.
I probably keep circling around the same small set of topics around, basically, how do people organize? Then, what happens when they do? And then, how do they behave? I keep circling around that. I’ve been rereading James Burnham’s books. Had a particular fascination for him for the last few years. I’m actually finishing a reread of those books right now. So, books like that.
COWEN: How are those different on the reread?
ANDREESSEN: I guess the way I would describe it is, I spent the first 25 years of my life trying to understand how machines work. Then I spent the second 25 years, so far, of my life trying to figure out how people work. It turns out people are a lot more complicated. It turns out, [laughs] there’s a lot more moving parts and there’s a lot more history.
I find for the really good books now that I read, I don’t understand. I don’t have any formal training, like I don’t have any formal training in history. I took one history class at University of Illinois. Very good engineering school — they let us take one humanities elective. I took a history class, one class. I don’t have any formal foundation in history or philosophy or economics or political science, sociology.
It actually reminds me of learning technology, I don’t understand a lot of what they’re talking about the first time. Then I will read six other books, and the pieces will start to fall into place, I’ll read the history. The pieces will start to fall into place, and then I go back, and I read it again and I’m like, “Okay, this is what they’re talking about.” It’s reconstructing, for me, a 500-year tradition piecemeal. Those books tend to get reread a lot.
COWEN: What is the scenario like where you end up as a deeply committed advocate for the humanities? Or are we already there?
ANDREESSEN: Yes, I think I’m getting there. Tell me what you think of this. Or maybe we can have a different conversation, a different interview, a second interview with you sometime, which is, there was the humanities pre the 1960s, and maybe even the humanities pre the 1930s, and what they thought about and talked about and worked on. And then, there are the humanities as we know and understand it today. I think they’re pretty different. I might go so far to say very different, and I might go so far as to say they really have no resemblance to each other.
There’s an older tradition in the humanities, and I’m not discovering anything here. It’s like the history of philosophy — philosophy pre the 1960s, as it turns out, I’ve got quite fascinated. Through Burnham, I’ve gotten quite fascinated with sociology in the 1910s, 1920s. It was a very different kind of thing.
COWEN: It’s much closer to economics, right?
ANDREESSEN: Well, this is the other thing. Economics pre — what was it — the 1950s, 1960s, it wasn’t all these formulas. It wasn’t all these formulas. It wasn’t a branch of physics, like it seems like it is today. It was descriptive. It was verbal. If you read Keynes, it’s like this, and even the people that preceded him.
I was fascinated by the Second Industrial Revolution a while ago, and I found this book on Google Books about David Wells, who was an economist in the 1880s. He basically just describes how the Second Industrial Revolution rolled out at that time. He just tells the story. He goes through, like, “Here’s what’s happening.” That was an economics book with no formulas.
The form of humanities that resonates me is like that. It’s history, economics, philosophy, politics merged. And then, at least in my case, you’re trying to find the people who are analytical and descriptive, as opposed to prescriptive, but it was a different kind of thing. You could argue that they were not rigorous. You could argue that they were storytelling and not being scientific, but I think they were being scientific in their way at that time.
They had their issues, but they didn’t have our issues. Everything today is filtered through our politics. It’s really hard to understand, in my view, how people thought, especially before the 1960s, and again, I think, even before the 1930s, through our political lens. You have to go back and reconstruct what they actually talked about at that time. It turns out to be more interesting than I would have thought.
COWEN: We learned from Twitter that today’s supposedly rigorous thinkers are often not very rigorous at all. They often use rigor against themselves, in a sense, right?
ANDREESSEN: The great miracle of Twitter. Everybody looks at Twitter. It’s like this mass. Basically, it has an engine — there’s no question. Are these different machines engines or cameras? Like, is the stock market an engine or a camera? It’s something that economists will debate.
The thing about Twitter — is Twitter an engine or a camera? This prevailing view is that . . . I say social media broadly, but Twitter specifically because it’s where the elites are — the intellectual elites, the social elites. The prevailing wisdom on Twitter is that it’s primarily an engine. It’s changing behavior for better or worse. I actually tend to think it’s at least as much a camera. It’s like a giant X-ray machine.
You’ve got this phenomenon, which is just fascinating, where you have all of these public figures, all of these people in positions of authority — in a lot of cases, great authority — the leading legal theorists of our time, leading politicians, all these businesspeople. And they tweet, and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, that’s who you actually are. [laughs] These are the things you actually think.” To your point, “This is your actual level of thought. Oh, these are the delusions you’re operating under.”
Our friend Martin Gurri has this thesis of collapsing authority in the modern world. I think a lot of it is the authority figures just basically showing up and exposing the emperor, quite literally, in a lot of cases has no clothes. The fact that that phenomenon is so widespread and not more recognized, and then that it continues — I just think it’s absolutely fascinating.
COWEN: All this extensive reading of history, of earlier social science — how does it affect your daily practical investing decisions at the conceptual level?
ANDREESSEN: What I’m trying to get to is the broad patterns of human behavior. You get very practical on this, right? What we actually do in both entrepreneurship, both starting and running these companies, building products, designing products, building products that don’t exist, bringing them into being, and then also in venture capital, actually funding these efforts, it’s actually . . .
There’s a guy [Robert Hagstrom] who wrote a book referring to this kind of investing as the “last liberal art,” which is to say, you might think it’s basically an application of business or finance — and it is, to a certain extent. You might think it’s an application of technology — and it is, to a certain extent. But really, what you’re dealing with is a large amount of human behavior.
You’re dealing with human behavior on the part of all the people in the industry and all the things that we’re doing and our own behavior and our own biases and our own ability to think clearly and all the people we coach and work with. But then, look, these products launch, and they have to take in the market. And to take in the market, they have to get a large number of people — who are busy already in their daily lives out in the world — to basically take something new seriously, and to want to use it and want to buy it and pay for it and have it really affect how they live.
What I’m figuring out over time is the psychology-sociology elements are as important or more important than the business finance elements or the technology elements. Like I said, it’s not something that comes naturally. Those of us like me — a lot of us came up through the engineering background. We were quite literally never trained in human behavior. We never trained in sociology or psychology or any of these things. We back into this through harsh experience over time.
But I’m always curious, if people act a certain way, it’s like, okay, is that new behavior or is it actually a very old form of behavior? Is this something new people are only doing today, or have they been doing this kind of thing for a long time?
If they’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long time, then there’s something deep about it. For me, it’s, okay, read backward and try to figure out, what actually is this form of behavior? Is it actually that deep? If it’s a Lindy thing, if people have been acting a certain way for thousands of years, they’re highly likely to continue acting a certain way for thousands of years.
You can’t predict people per se, but at least you can start to predict the patterns of behavior. And at least I feel a lot more comfortable when I have that kind of grounding as opposed to just trying to deal with people in the moment.
COWEN: Let’s say we take curious Marc, put him in a backwards time machine, give him all the languages he needs and immunities against all disease. Where in history do you wish to spend a month?
Mark: Yes. There are a couple of big, obvious tempting ones. Athens, the trial of Socrates would have been exciting to see. Socrates had it coming. It would have been fascinating to see that play out, the first modern cancellation. I think the era of de’ Medici. A month in the court of Lorenzo would have been fascinating.
I think that the Second Industrial Revolution, Edison’s lab, J. Pierpont Morgan. The original J.P. Morgan was a banker, and he operated primarily with that. He financed large-scale industrial enterprises, like the railroads, but he actually was also a venture capitalist in his spare time. He financed Edison’s efforts in a significant way.
In fact, he was the first customer of Edison’s light bulb system for the house. Edison came and installed the first indoor lighting in the world in J.P. Morgan’s library. Then it caught on fire and burnt the library down, and then J.P. Morgan, to his enormous credit, rebuilt the library and hired Edison to do it all over again.
That moment, extending through the 1920s, was in a lot of ways, in my view, the most relevant origin of what we’re living through today. To be in that 1880-to-1925 period, I think, would have been really great.
COWEN: What’s your favorite tech product that no longer exists?
Mark: I love the little Blackberry that had the four-line LED display and the keyboard and ran on AA batteries. I loved that little guy. I still miss him. I could type like crazy on that guy. I took notes on a four-line LED display for years.
COWEN: It was better for typing than the current product?
Mark: It was better for me for typing. Yes, I’ve missed it ever since.
What else no longer exists? It’s really fun to drive old cars. It’s very, very fun to drive old cars. The ’60s muscle cars are super fun to drive. It does very quickly educate you as to why modern cars are what they are. It turns out old cars were more like pickup trucks, even if they look like sports cars. Those are a lot of fun.
COWEN: Do you still use an RSS reader?
Mark: I do. This is actually an exciting moment on that topic for those of us who love these things. I use Feedly, which I like a great deal. It’s a guy. The guy who does it is a guy who used to work for us, a wonderful guy. I think it’s a great product and the inheritor of the now-lost Google Reader, the ruthlessly executed Google Reader.
This is talking about books, but Substack — one of our companies — has a new reader. It’s primarily for reading Substack. It basically is recreating, in my view, the best of what Google Reader had. That’s the other one that is getting a lot of use right now. I use both of those.
COWEN: Why does RSS at least seem to be so much less important than before?
Mark: RSS is one of those things. I would say this gets into a broader, overarching, huge debate-fight happening in the tech industry right now. Internet got built on two models, which are diametrically opposed. One model was open source, open protocols, and networks. This was originally TCP/IP. Then there was HTTP for the web. There was SMTP for email, and there was NNTP for Usenet once upon a time — discussion groups and so forth.
In college and then coming up, a lot of the work we did at Netscape was around those protocols, SSL. We really created Netscape, another one of these. So protocols — computer languages, if you will — open, not tied to a company. Anybody can implement against them, the same way anybody can be on the internet, anybody can exchange email, anybody can be on the web. The reason that those statements are true is because those are open protocols.
Then there’s this other, diametrically opposed kind of world, which I’m also very involved in and very excited about, which is this world of the internet companies. The actual Google and Facebook and all these companies over the years — many with us today, and long gone — that built all these incredible services that we live in and get huge amounts of value out of.
The internet companies build internet services. They don’t tend as much to build internet protocols. They tend to build these walled gardens, these kinds of contained environments. They exercise a lot of control. There are huge debates over that control. We can have a long discussion about that. There are big virtues to that level of control in terms of their ability to maintain a very consistent user experience.
I basically go through that to say, I think RSS was from that first world of networks. It was a protocol. It got supported by a lot of people. It didn’t quite get to the level of critical mass that was required before, basically, the social networks took off. The social networks were on the other side. They were from companies like Facebook and Twitter and MySpace, and others at the time. In essence, the social networks stole their lunch money, stole RSS’s lunch money. The social networks just got so good so fast, they just absorbed a lot of the energy that was going into blogging and going into RSS.
By the way, podcasts is the other area. There were podcast companies, but nobody ever really got to critical mass. Podcasts actually have done quite well as a network. They’re doing pretty well. It’s still not quite what you want it to be like. Podcast search is still a big problem.
COWEN: Maybe that’s a good thing, though. It segments the market a bit. You have to know what you’re doing to find your way to a podcast. People are less willing to court stupid listeners.
Mark: We’re also back to that same tension again, which is okay. Now we have YouTube and Spotify. You’ve got these major players in the form of YouTube, Google, and then Spotify — YouTube doing videos, and then Spotify doing podcasts, and a lot of people cross-posted between those. Both YouTube and Spotify have very highly prioritized this kind of spoken-word content: interviews, podcasts, and so forth.
There’s the potential that we’re sitting here five years from now, and this open podcast world has really diminished the same way that the blogging RSS world diminished, and then YouTube and Spotify have taken over podcasts in the same way that Facebook and Twitter took over text content, or whatever. To your point, maybe that’d be a good direction in some ways. Maybe that’d be a bad direction in other ways.
This whole thing — I wanted to go through it because this is why we’re so excited about this new Web3 idea. It’s going to do these elaborations of these technologies. So-called crypto and blockchain is like that. There is this new way of envisioning this kind of thing, which basically is as a network but with money, a network but with trust. These open protocols, open networks, but built on this new kind of Web3 infrastructure that gives you a very different way to realize both a high-trust environment and also to realize actual economic incentives.
What I’m hoping, and what we’re actually seeking at the firm, what we’re trying very hard to fund — I’m hoping, for example, for podcasts. I’m hoping five years from now, there will be these thriving Web3 podcast environments that will be open. We’ll have this anarchic, uncontrolled kind of element that I think you and I both like. However, we’ll have a higher level of trust, and we’ll have a higher level of monetary incentive, an economic incentive than the open networks of the past usually did.
So, there’s this third way. This is still early, but we’re quite optimistic that there might be a new way to build these systems. I’m excited to see what happens.
COWEN: What’s the concrete advantage of Web 3.0 for podcasts? Right now, you and I may not feel like it, but we are anarchic and uncontrolled, right? We can say something. Some external force isn’t going to censor us. Why is this a better podcast if it’s done through Web 3.0? Why can’t we just put it out there?
ANDREESSEN: The most obvious thing is just money. You don’t get paid. YouTube has built-in monetization. Spotify has built-in monetization. A big way that they’re able to entice creators over is by paying them. Famously, Joe Rogan — they’re paying him — I only see the published reports, but a very large amount of money to take his content out of the open ecosystem and put it into a closed ecosystem. Again, good for Spotify. I think that’s tremendous. It seems to be great for their business. That’s all good.
I’m glad that Joe Rogan is making money. Joe Rogan should not have to choose. He should not have to choose between being part of an open internet and basically not having a way to make money, and then going into a silo and having that be the way that he makes money like that. That’s the binary choice that we’ve had with all of these internet architecture decisions now for 30 years, 40 years, and it shouldn’t have to be a choice.
People should be able to get paid. What will strike you as an obvious statement, to a lot of people, it’s still a controversial statement. Incentives matter, economics matter. It is better, in general, when there is a way for there to be monetary value assigned to productive work. More interesting things happen. Substack is a great case study of this. The quality and the level of writing on Substack is just absolutely extraordinary. And it turns out it’s this great, amazing thing, which is, if you let people write for money, it turns out they write a lot of really good stuff. So, that’s the most obvious and immediate thing.
COWEN: How does someone like Rogan — it doesn’t have to be him, but a well-known podcast host — how does that person get paid in a better way through Web 3.0? Make that more concrete for us.
ANDREESSEN: Yes. They can pick their business model. They can decide on a subscription-based business model, microtransactions. They can pick whatever model they want. They can also have indirect . . . There’s the whole new rise of the non-fungible token, this idea of unique digital assets. There are completely different monetization methods that are opening up for media.
It’s entirely possible in the future, for example, you’ll have entire forms of media like video games and sporting events and music and so forth that will monetize in completely different ways through the creation of unique digital property that gets sold and trades. Look, it’s injecting economics. It’s injecting, at a very fundamental level, internet-native money, internet-native economics, and incentives into a system that simply hasn’t had that.
Of course, this isn’t to say that everything needs to cost money. This isn’t to say that lots of people won’t choose to have things be free. But let me put it this way — the hard decision between total independence and no money, and then having a traditional contractual relationship with one company — that shouldn’t be the tradeoff. There should be lots of room in the middle for experimentation, and that’s the zone we’re heading into now.
COWEN: But is the key difference easier micropayments? Is the key difference being able to sell collectibles more readily, say, with the NFT model rather than signed T-shirts? They don’t sound very big to me. They both sound like possible advantages, but as a percentage of GDP, they sound like really tiny advantages.
ANDREESSEN: Well, it depends on — percentage of GDP, it’s a percentage of GDP — everything is tiny compared to, like, healthcare. The media industry is quite small. If you look at slice of percentage of GDP, it actually turns out . . . It’s actually really interesting — video games, it turns out, is actually quite large, but television, print newspapers have always been a tiny slice of GDP. Magazines have always been a tiny slice. Book publishing’s a tiny slice, but they’re tiny slices that really matter.
I don’t really look at it top-down. I don’t really look at it as, okay, this, therefore, has to lead to an expansion of a hundred x in the media business. Maybe, I think, it grows the media business, but it doesn’t have to cause it to explode like that, but having it be a better proposition for creators, having it be a better proposition for consumers, having content come into existence that didn’t exist before.
Also, just as you think about scale — scale on these things is really hard to forecast, as it turns out, and the reason is, we live in a world now, very different from the prior worlds. We live in a world where we now have five billion directly addressable consumers online at any moment for any new thing. So, one of the things that we’re finding in our day job is it’s getting really hard to forecast market size for any of these new things. It goes back to, if they don’t have uptake in consumer psychology, then, of course, they’re going to be small, but when these things run, they can really run.
Just look at the most recent example, TikTok. Who knew that short-term videos were going to be that big? It just turns out that 5 billion people is a significant percentage that like short-term videos. All of a sudden, it’s this huge business. I think these things are unpredictable in the scope, the scale that they can reach, and I think we might be surprised as to the upside about what happens when you start to make some of these things possible.
COWEN: What prevents a lot of intermediaries from re-emerging in Web 3.0 and making it in some ways a lot like Web 2.0? Which could be okay, but actually recentralized. There are gatekeepers again. There are censorship issues again, and it’s not actually that different, but with marginal improvements? Why isn’t that the scenario?
ANDREESSEN: There will be some of that. Let me give you an example of how that did happen in the old world. Email was fully open in many ways. By the way, at least in theory, it’s still fully open emails. There’s an ATP protocol in email that lets — basically, you or I or anybody could write an email client, email server, and we exchange email with all the other email servers on the internet. Then, basically, a webmail emerged, and then you got Yahoo mail. Now you have Gmail.
Gmail’s an example of what you’re talking about. Call it a semi-walled garden. It’s an environment that you can live in. It’s complete UI [user interface]. It’s got all these features. It does give you the ability to send email. You can still send and receive email with Gmail, with other email clients using SMTP. It’s still in there, but what users experienced — to your point — they experienced this new intermediary, and then Gmail has its own anti-spam algorithm. I’ll give an example.
Gmail is not censoring content yet that I know of, but I think it’s basically any day now. They could start at any moment. The people living and working inside Gmail are going to start to have the same experience that they have in any intermediary or gatekeeper that starts censoring content.
Actually, online retailers deal with this already. Online retailers are always fighting, basically, all of their email to their customers getting classified as spam. It’s the Gmail spam engine that does that. It’s not SMTP. In this case, a gatekeeping function emerges. The argument, basically, is email is no longer open. It’s now closed. It’s been moved from that first category of network to this second category of company, and we’ve lost the anarchic and freewheeling aspect of it. Look, there is some truth to that.
Notwithstanding that, you can still build your own email system and in fact, Google built their own. At one point, everybody was on Yahoo mail. Now everybody’s on Gmail. I would describe it as a little bit the loyalty, voice, and exit Hirschman framework, which is, if you’re just in a walled garden, you have loyalty or voice, but you really don’t have exit.
Again, people blame themselves. People blame this on policies, the companies, whatever, and that has something to do with it. But it’s also an architectural observation, which is, it’s the difference between something getting built just by a company versus something getting built by a network.
If there is an underlying network, then there is exit. In a lot of cases, the Web3 things that we’re backing — they’re not even companies; they’re projects. They are Web3 projects out of the gate. We’re not even buying equity; we’re buying tokens. They’re decentralized from the very beginning, and they’re open protocols from the very beginning. So, it’s this alternate way of looking at the world, alternate way of designing systems. Then it opens up this exit option, and I think that, as usual with any human system, it turns out that matters a lot.
COWEN: What’s the main problem that needs to be solved by tech for hybrid meetings or hybrid workplaces to really succeed over the longer run?
ANDREESSEN: Yes I’m not convinced . . . Look, in the long, long run . . . I’ll pick a new science fiction. The movie Kingsman, which is a funny spy movie spoof — they have the conference room scenes, where all the British agents are meeting around the conference table, and it turns out, they’re all virtual. They’re all wearing their augmented reality glasses, and so, they’re all seeing holograms of each other.
There are going to be technological approaches — virtual reality, augmented reality — in the future that give you basically the recreation of a physical meeting environment. They already exist. These things already exist. Our friend Balaji [Srinivasan] is teaching courses right now in VR in a virtual classroom. These technologies do already exist. That will happen. I think that will be a big deal.
Having said that, I don’t think that’s necessarily the goal. I don’t think that a hybrid meeting is necessarily an equilibrium, or at least a primary equilibrium. I’m not sure if it’s something that you need to center in on. The reason I say that is because, one, it’s reductive, or it’s looking backwards, which is to say, we used to have in-person meetings, and now we have some people remote, so now we need hybrid meetings. It’s working backwards from that.
Well, there’s another way to think about that, which is, actually, maybe we shouldn’t try to have hybrid meetings. Maybe, in fact, hybrid meetings are the exact wrong idea. Maybe they’re the wrong idea because, maybe, instead of combining the best elements of being local and being remote, maybe they combine the worst elements of being local and being remote.
And maybe instead, what we want to do is shift more to the edges, and we want to have — number one, we want to have communication systems and management systems that are really built for remote work, first and primarily. And we have some of those, and some of those now work really well. Then maybe, when we get people together, we don’t want to have meetings. Maybe we want to have very immersive, very social, very human bonding — a much more intense level of actual human interaction and relationship building than you have in a meeting.
Take a step back on this. The office is an artifact of the technology of a time and place. I mentioned the Second Industrial Revolution. The office is a derivation of the factory. There was the factory and the idea of mass production, and then there was the idea of all the time-and-motion studies and all these guys who did that. And out of that, you go back, look at the history — you’ve got schools, you’ve got jails as you see them today, and then you’ve got offices. It’s this idea that you have to bring people together in this highly orchestrated, mechanistic, mass way.
Empires — fun historical fact: The Roman Empire was not run out of offices. They ran the world, yet there was no office. There was no office building. The Roman aristocrats worked out of their homes, and then they went to the Senate, and then [laughs] they went to their country house. There was no office building for administering the Roman Empire. I don’t know about the British Empire. I’m guessing they probably didn’t have a lot of offices. They maybe had a couple of offices in London, but they probably didn’t have a lot of offices either.
This office construct is a time-and-place-kind of thing. You need some punch card. You need to get people in at eight o’clock. They need to leave at five o’clock. The calendar is regimented by half-hour or hour-long meetings. In a school or prison, the bell goes off at 8:00 a.m. In the office environment, the iPhone alarm goes off, and it’s time for me to go to my meeting.
That’s an artifact of a time and place. We now have all of these new technologies they didn’t have a hundred years ago. We’ve got video. We’ve got Slack. We’ve got text. We’ve got WhatsApp. We’ve got this endless array of all of these new technologies making it possible to go more portable.
The cell phone was obviously a huge breakthrough. This was actually an incredible cause agent for the cell phone, which is just crazy. The desk phone — why are you at your desk? Big part is because that’s where your phone is, and that doesn’t make any sense. Your phone should be in your pocket.
So we’ve been on these technological trends to liberate ourselves from this artificial construct. But again, human nature being what it is, the artificial construct makes sense at a moment in time. A hundred years later, it doesn’t, but somebody actually has to step up and reinvent it.
I suspect the best-run companies over the next 10 years are not going to be the companies that are the best at hybrid. I suspect they’re going to be the best companies that are great at remote, or they’re going to be companies that take the choice of having people have actually a much deeper level of human interaction much more frequently. They’re going to push it on those extremes as compared to half-hour, hour-long meetings in the office.
COWEN: Putting aside healthcare innovations, for, say, the upper middle class, what is likely to be the biggest change in the personal home over the next 20 years?
ANDREESSEN: The big one now — it’s built right off of what we said. In a lot of ways, this is the biggest topic in the world, or at least in the developed world right now, probably in the developing world also. It’s hard to overemphasize. If everything I just said is correct, and if in the post-COVID world there’s basically this presumption that remote work is now viable, which is a new presumption — if this sticks, then it represents the first decoupling of economic opportunity from geographic locality in thousands of years.
It’s potentially a civilization-level change. I’m getting quite excited about this. You go through the history on this. For thousands of years, if you were a sharp, ambitious young person — and this is true of the Medici, and it’s true with the Greeks — you had to go to the city to basically get opportunity.
If you don’t have to do that, and in particular, if you don’t have to all go to the same city, and if you don’t have to all go to the same city that hates you, [laughs] and if, all of a sudden, economic opportunity is decoupled from that, then people are going to be able to choose how to live at different stages of their life in a fundamentally different way, much less dependent on the physical requirement of co-location with economic opportunity than they have in the past.
It’s potentially an earthquake. It’s potentially one of those things that in a hundred years, people could look back and say, “That was a real turning point for how society developed.” In that case, the definition of home changes.
The first thing is, number one, you’re working at your home. A lot of people did not plan their home or did not plan apartment buildings or whatever — it never got built with the assumption that you’re working out of them. And so one is just, all of a sudden, it’s this live-work thing, which again, is back to the future because that’s how the Roman aristocrats lived, and they ran the world, so apparently you can do that. The Romans actually had a whole system on this that we could talk about. They thought this through quite carefully, what it meant to work out of their houses. It’s a place that you work.
Second is this whole idea of the nuclear family being detached from the extended family, again, because of the need for young people to move for economic opportunity. Should the home really be two parents and a couple of kids? Or should the home really be, again, a back to the future thing? Should it be three or four generations of people and a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles, and then a lot of kids running around?
If everybody could still have access to great knowledge-work jobs online, maybe that’s a fundamentally better way to live. I talked to a founder today — he’s got eight young people in his company, and they literally go city to city every six months, and they get a group house together, and they’re exploring the world while they’re building their start-up. It may be that we’re in this time of being able to recreate a lot of the assumptions around how we can live, and a lot of that will show up right back in the house.
COWEN: How much do you worry about AI and alignment issues?
COWEN: Skynet, but it could be intermediate — just master criminals who use crypto to hire a hitman to achieve nefarious ends. They’re master AI criminals, to be clear.
ANDREESSEN: Yes. At least historically, the problem with criminals is they’re not that smart. There are not a lot of real-life Moriartys running around. I would say what I don’t worry at all about — and maybe I’m just shortsighted, but I just don’t get it. What I’m not worried about is the macro AI, like AI comes alive, and Skynet or the paperclip optimizer or the gray goo or whatever the different formulations of these problems, where all of a sudden, the machines turn on us. They get conscious and they turn on us.
I don’t know, for me — and this is probably I’m too much of an engineer — it’s like, what is AI? It’s math. It’s basically elaborations on linear algebra. I have a hard time getting worked up about linear algebra. It’s math. We’ll be able to keep the math under control. I’m not as worried about that.
I wouldn’t say it’s a specific worry, but more what you just alluded to — and we see this today — a world of ubiquitous information, communications, computation. A world of everybody being connected. There’s whatever hive mind, global brain kind of concept, where everybody’s plugged in all the time, a world in which people have the ability to marshal enormous economic resources, potentially very quickly in a collaborative way.
These dystopian views I think you’re alluding to, the whole idea of — I think the essay was called “Assassination Politics” — just crowdfunding assassinations. The concern with — what is it — the concern with futures markets? The concern with Robin Hanson’s idea that always gets put at him — if you can bet on a public figure getting assassinated, you’re creating an incentive for a public figure to get assassinated.
Yes, all of those things are real. There are going to be all kinds of issues. They emerge from basically connecting the world and wiring everybody up with computers and information systems, but it’s like, “Okay, we’ve been doing that for a long time now.”
We gave everybody spoken language. That maybe was a mistake. We gave everybody written language. They did a lot of bad things with that. We gave everybody machines. They did a lot of horrible things with machines. We figured it out, we gave people cars. In history, we gave people automobiles, and what’s one of the first things that happened was there was a nationwide rash of bank robberies.
The Dillinger Gang went out, and they took the automatic weapons from World War I, and they took the car from the 1920s and they started knocking over the banks, and it was a huge crisis that led to the creation of the FBI. It’s like, “Okay, these are the new tools. These are the new systems.” For me, it goes back to the human dimension, which is, people are going to use these things for all kinds of good purposes, all kinds of bad purposes. We’re going to figure this out as we go. We’re going to figure out how to deal with it.
What I just don’t see — again, maybe I lack vision — I don’t see the discontinuous jump, where all of a sudden, we’re in some world in which this stuff is just out of control, and there’s just no way to cope with it.
COWEN: What has made Peter Thiel feel such an amazing judge of talent?
ANDREESSEN: The thing that is so fascinating about his method — one of the things I think about is, if I rerun my career, and I used his method instead of my method — whatever my method is — would I have been more successful? I’m not positive. I think maybe.
The thing about his method — there’s a talent-picking aspect to it, but I would actually put in front of that — and maybe even more importantly — there’s a talent attraction aspect to it. My mental model of what Peter does is, I use the metaphor, the Bat-Signal. Peter puts out the Bat-Signal, and then he basically sees who shows up. He’s basically been doing this since college. That’s very interesting.
This is what he did at Stanford with the Stanford Review. He’s at the Stanford Review, he’s like, “Okay, we’re going to have a new newspaper. Let’s see who shows up and wants to work on it.” In that case, a right-wing newspaper on a very left-wing campus, it turned out it was a lot of very smart, very idiosyncratic, and very contrarian people, many of whom he continues to work with today.
Let’s put out this clarion call with the Founders Fund with the famous tagline, basically, see who shows up with flying car start-ups. And Founders Fund has been a very successful firm, based on attracting some very unusual and very compelling founders.
It’s interesting, Peter doesn’t really use social media, but he gives talks, and he writes. Again, I think that’s part of it, which is, he’s looking for who reads his stuff or who shows up at his talks. Then he basically . . .
I don’t know what you’re like as a public speaker. When I give public talks, I get to talk, and then I’m out the back door. Then I’ll go online and see what people think, but I’m not going to stay for three hours.
COWEN: No, you’ve got to stick around. You’ve got to stay. That’s the whole point. The talk is irrelevant.
ANDREESSEN: Yes, but Tyler — [laughs]
COWEN: Just show up for the end of your own talk, right? “Here I am.”
ANDREESSEN: Exactly. I don’t know. It’s one of these things you learn in venture capital. It’s like 90 percent of the battle is over by the time it starts. Ninety percent of the talent-picking process is over if you’re attracting the right people up front, and then the filtration just becomes a lot easier. He has that down to an art form that’s just absolutely amazing to see, and it continues to run. He does it every day.
COWEN: Putting aside product-market fit, what’s the question you are most trying to figure out about who makes a good founder?
ANDREESSEN: Again, this is the macro human-behavior question of all time, but the biggest question is, I think, and continues to be, and will probably always be — it’s a little bit the nature-nurture question, or let’s say it’s inherent capability of whatever form for whatever reason, and then training. That training is less formal training for entrepreneurship, but it’s on-the-job training, and hopefully, it’s coaching, and hopefully, we can help people with that.
I’d start by saying, my presumption is, there are not enough great founders in the world. I think that’s obvious. We could have a big discussion as to whether that’s the case or not. I think there aren’t. I think it’s pretty clear there aren’t. If there aren’t, how do we get more of them? Where do they come from?
Should you be starting with a hundred million people and try to train as many as you can? Or 10 million or a million, or a hundred thousand or 10,000 or a thousand? What’s the up-front criteria? What do they have to show up with by the time they become engaged in the activity and open to the training? Then how much can we train? How many people? Maybe it’s much more nurture than we think. Maybe it’s actually not nature. Maybe it’s much more nurture. Maybe we just need much more comprehensive and rigorous training, much more freely available to a lot more people.
COWEN: Like in Florence.
ANDREESSEN: That remains, I would say, a surprisingly open question.
COWEN: Let’s say you speak with five people tomorrow. They’re founders or potential founders. What is it you would like data on that you don’t have data on now, waving your magic wand?
ANDREESSEN: It would be great to have the psychometric tests.
COWEN: But you can do that. They don’t seem that useful, right?
ANDREESSEN: Yes. They’re not exactly in fashion. I would like to have videotape of what they were like under adversity, of what they were like under pressure. I would like to know how many great people they’ve worked with in the past are willing to follow them and come to work with them today. I would like to know how many people they’ve worked for who are willing to come to work for them today.
That’s one of the interesting things you see with the really best founders. You’ll find this often — people who they have worked for will come to work for them. It’s like, “Okay, yes, this person is so good that I should actually be working for them.” That’s an extraordinarily powerful statement. You do see that occasionally. I would like to see that more often.
We learn these things. Once they’re up and running, we learn all these things. It would be great to have the scrying device that lets us see all that stuff up front.
COWEN: Why has venture capital been so concentrated in tech, to some extent biomedical — and in the old days, whaling voyages — but not so much in many other things, like private equities? Much bigger. Why is venture capital limited? And conceptually, how do you think about these limits?
ANDREESSEN: This is not a value statement. It’s just a very different way of operating. Private equity comes into industries and businesses that already exist, and then it attempts to optimize them or turn them around or consolidate them or whatever it does, but always the businesses is already there that exists. I like to say we do value investing, but it’s value that doesn’t exist yet. It hasn’t been created yet. It’s blank-sheet-of-paper stuff.
With some exceptions, as you said, the history basically is that computer science–based venture capital has done very well. Biomedical, biotechnology–based venture capital has done about, you might say, half as well or a quarter as well. Then everything else is a rounding error. It hasn’t really worked.
Now, having said that, we’ll come back to this. It’s like Tesla — there were a few VCs, but most people in venture capital land didn’t think there was a ripe opportunity to build a new car company. I can tell you that. Nor did most VCs think there was an opportunity to build a new rocket company. I can also tell you that.
You do have these very striking counter examples, which let’s come back to, but the pattern has been, as you said — it’s computer tech or it’s biotech. I think it’s Bill Janeway’s thesis that he wrote about in his book. I think the book’s called Doing Capitalism, and it’s his history. He is a legendary VC in his own right and a trained economist.
He basically says it was the foundational science and advanced technology basically developed in the computer world for 50 years by DARPA and its succeeding technological agencies, and then by big industrial research labs like IBM Research and others, that created the preconditions for computer-based start-ups. There was a 50-year backstory to that by the time Silicon Valley really got going. He said, also, the reason biotech’s half successful is because there was 25 years of biotech — NIH and all these very aggressive biotech biological science–investing programs.
His claim — and this is why I think he’s always been leery, for example, of clean tech, environmental tech, for example — is he’s like, “Maybe there should have been a DARPA of clean tech that started in 1950 and ran for 50 years that we were all drawing new technologies off of, but it didn’t exist. Therefore, it’s just going to be much harder in all these other fields.”
I think that’s probably right. The reason I think that that’s probably right is because at least the history in the Valley is, if we have a sharp entrepreneur with the ability to attract a team, the ability to tell a story and have a vision, and then they’ve got insight into a technological dislocation — an actual change to the technology foundation of the field that they’re working in — then you have a shot for a successful start-up. If you don’t have a technological dislocation, it’s really hard to just do a cold start.
Now, again, having said that, Elon did this in both cars and rockets and actually developed many technical breakthroughs, subsequently, in both of those companies, but at least I didn’t see that going in. I would say the case studies of Tesla and SpaceX — and this is something we’re spending a lot of time on in our firm — really leads me to wonder if the Janeway thesis is actually wrong, and if, actually, we should be much more open-minded about this. I have a set of ideas as to why that might be the case, but that’s one of the things that we’re going to try to explore.
COWEN: This issue aside, what have you been most wrong about in the last 10 years?
ANDREESSEN: Oh, my mistakes — the prior decade from 20 years ago to 10 years ago, my errors were almost all misevaluation of ideas, and in particular false negatives. “Oh, this won’t work,” and then, it turns out it worked. Basically, in my line of work, after you do that a while, you learn to stop, basically, as they say, subtracting value by opposing your own opinion on whether something will work. I have a whole different theory on that. I don’t have that problem anymore.
Necessary disclaimer on that: in my line of work, a false negative — saying something is not going to work and then it works — is a much bigger mistake than the false positive of saying something’s going to work and then it doesn’t work. It goes to the asymmetry of returns. The big mistakes are always missing the big winners, almost 100 percent of the time. Anyway, I’ve cured myself of that.
The last 10 years, my biggest mistakes have all been in the dimension of, “Okay, this might work, but if it does, it just won’t get that big.” This goes to the conversation we had earlier, which is, here’s something where things have changed — five billion people connected being able to click and do something new. For the things that work, they’re getting to be much, much larger than I would’ve ever thought possible, just much bigger, by orders and orders of magnitude.
Again, this goes back in the day job. It’s like, okay, is it responsible to do what’s called market sizing? Are we supposed to estimate market size, which is what all the textbooks tell you to do? Or should we just say, “Maybe it’s not actually so easy to forecast market size anymore.” Maybe we should just basically say, “Look, if something’s going to work at all in this new world of five billion connected people, maybe just everything gets really big, or all the important things get really big.” That’s the one we’re trying to work out right now.
COWEN: Whom do you admire the most?
ANDREESSEN: The people I admire the most — I’ve got a two-part answer to this. Again, this goes to the patterns of human behavior. Social conformity is so strong. People are so motivated to conform with the environment around them and to get the agreement of their friends and to be part of the group. It’s so incredibly strong that the number of people who are willing to go out on a limb and actually take a contrarian position on anything is just a very small number of people.
That’s just never going to change. If anything, that’s going backwards. This might be an area where social media has caused conformity to rise, or at least among a lot of the population caused conformity to rise, you could argue. It’s probably also leading to more contrarianism as well, but certainly, there’s a lot of conformity effects that you can see in plain sight.
It’s like the old Apple Think Different thing. Everybody wants to be Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Bob Dylan or Miles Davis. It’s great to be those guys once their thing worked and everybody thought they were geniuses and heroes. It’s a lot harder up front when everybody thinks you’re an idiot and everybody’s laughing at you. And so, it’s the people willing to withstand the scorn. That’s on the one hand.
Then, the more practical answer — maybe it’s an artifact of getting older, but the more practical answer is, there’s another big dimension to what we do and what I do, which is working with these very special people and the people around them and their families. The other side is people who take care of other people — and people who really take care of other people. People who really care about other people and really try to help them succeed and try to support them in these crazy efforts, or sign up to be part of these crazy efforts. I’m enjoying, more and more, spending time with people who care deeply about other people, which was not how I started.
COWEN: If it were safe, would you go to Mars?
ANDREESSEN: No, definitely not. [laughs]
COWEN: Why not?
ANDREESSEN: One hundred percent of my adventure needs are satisfied online and being able to meet people and talk to people here on earth.
COWEN: Unless it’s after one of your talks, right? [laughs]
ANDREESSEN: Yes, exactly. I do not heli-ski. I do not parasail, and I will not be going to Mars.
COWEN: Have you ever wanted to write a book?
ANDREESSEN: Yes, I have. Someday I will. Not anytime soon.
COWEN: If you opened an independent bookstore, how would you organize it?
ANDREESSEN: Does it have to be solvent?
ANDREESSEN: Can I simply subsidize it for 50 years? If nobody ever comes in, then that’s fine.
COWEN: The token will have some value, so let’s figure it breaks even, but you can do with it what you want.
ANDREESSEN: First of all, look, it would have to have a coffee shop on the one side and a bar and lounge on the other side. It would have to be a physical gathering place for people. I don’t know, maybe I need to think more broadly than this. Maybe it also needs to be in VR or something, needs to be a virtual gathering place. Look, it should be a place for the exploration of ideas.
Then it should be extremely comprehensive. I would want it to be very focused on history, politics, philosophy, economics. The evolution of human society, how we got here, why we’re not all still living in mud huts. The really big questions — a lot of it probably organized by era. Then of course, in this case, I would want to ruthlessly censor. It would be an arduous gantlet to actually get a book into the bookstore.
COWEN: Last question. What is your favorite movie and why?
ANDREESSEN: Can I answer it with a TV show?
COWEN: Movie and TV show. Give me both, then.
ANDREESSEN: Movies are hard because they’re so short. I love movies. I watch a lot of movies. I don’t even know if there are particular . . . oh, okay, I’ll give you one: Real Genius. Have you seen Real Genius?
COWEN: I’m not sure I have. What’s it about?
ANDREESSEN: Real Genius is actually a good movie for you. It was a mid ’80s comedy, but it’s like the MIT movie. This kid basically ends up testing off the charts on its aptitude test and, essentially, at MIT. It was Val Kilmer’s first big starring role.
It’s a very funny movie but also very sweet. It’s about kids actually discovering their full potential. It takes place at a recreation of MIT at that time, with that kind of level of experimentation, and then the pranks and the humor and the uncontrolled and anarchic aspect of it, which I think does not really exist anymore but was very special while it lasted. That’s a great movie.
COWEN: TV show — favorite?
ANDREESSEN: That one’s easy. Deadwood by far, by a mile. Deadwood is a product of an auteur named David Milch, who’s a legend, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one time and really enjoyed. Deadwood, in my opinion, is the closest thing that we’re going to get to Shakespeare out of our era. It’s an absolutely extraordinary creative accomplishment. The language is unbelievable, but the content — it really sticks with me. In fact, I’m due to re-watch it. I need to re-watch it.
As far as I’m concerned, it is the actual telling of the creation of America through the development of the frontier. For good, bad, and ugly, it’s all in there. It’s the entire process. It’s the story of carving out, basically, the mining colony of Deadwood and then, ultimately, the creation of the state and, essentially, the creation of modern America that we live in.
I wasn’t there, so I can’t attest to how accurate it is. Of course, it’s dramatized and so forth, but it’s a very visceral recreation of what it must have been like to be in a place like that at a time like that. In a lot of ways, it’s the emergence of human civilization, not being able to rely on law enforcement that’s not necessarily there. The military is not necessarily there. If you have a contract dispute, it might get solved in a fistfight or a gunfight.
What it takes to basically carve what we would consider civilization out of the wilderness. By the way, again, the complexity of it, with all the complications and all the controversy and everything else that revolves around the creation of the country and the creation of the frontier.
I think a lot about the frontier idea. I think I work in the frontier. Basically, the American frontier went west as far as it could. It reached the Pacific coast; it stopped. People weren’t quite sure what to do next, and then eventually, we figured out that we should just keep going, but in the virtual frontier.
I think that’s why California has the tech industry in the north and the media industry in the south. It’s because those are the two parts of the virtual frontier: the networks and then the content in the imaginary world. I live kind of post the exploitation of the physical frontier. That show puts me right in the center of what that must have been like halfway through that.
COWEN: Marc Andreessen, thank you very much.
ANDREESSEN: Tyler, a pleasure. Thank you so much.