As the baby-faced cofounder of Netscape, Andreessen gave birth to the dotcom boom. His Web browser granted the masses access to the Web. And Netscape’s amazing 1995 initial public offering broke the rule that tech companies had to show years of profit before going public, letting ordinary investors bet on the growth of the Internet.
Now, at the age of 39, he’s an elder statesman of Silicon Valley, on the board of eBay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, and Skype — four companies that bridge generations of innovation. His new venture-capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has vaulted into the top ranks of Silicon Valley’s VC center, Sand Hill Road, on the strength of his connections and influence.
So what is he after? World domination, clearly. A bit of payback, maybe: He saw AOL crush his first company, Netscape, through a sort of malign neglect. After resigning from his post as AOL’s chief technology officer in 1999, he told Wired, “When I project five or ten years down the road, I want to look back and realize that I was at the creation of something great.” AOL clearly didn’t fit the bill.
Well, mission accomplished, Marc. His position on Facebook’s board and his role as a close advisor to Mark Zuckerberg alone fit that bill.
But that’s just for starters. Andreessen helped navigate the complex process of spinning Skype out of eBay, and now he’s poised to watch it soar as a publicly traded company, if it pulls off its IPO. And even his post-AOL venture, a startup first called LoudCloud and later Opsware, led him to HP, which acquired Opsware for $1.6 billion in cash. Andreessen played a role in forcing HP CEO Mark Hurd to resign following an expense-account scandal, and is now among those picking the tech giant’s next leader.
How will Andreessen earn his crown? In 2008, I saw Andreessen speak about the dearth of tech IPOs. The financial sector, he said, was “de-equitizing”: With fewer companies going public, and other companies merging and buying back shares, the opportunities for ordinary investors to bet on the growth of companies were disappearing.
The trend, Andreessen said, could reverse at any time. Here’s my theory: Andreessen’s not known for his patience. So he’s doing his singlehanded best to bring back the go-go days of the 1990s, a time when capital flowed freely to the Valley and funded entrepreneurs’ dreams.
The Skype IPO is just a harbinger. If Facebook goes public — in 2012, at the earliest, the company has hinted — then we can say the glory days are back. And we can tip our hats to Marc Andreessen.
[Photo via timothysykes.com]