The Job of a CEO

Every job in a startup is (usually) hard: building a new product is hard, marketing a new product is hard, selling a new product is hard. But no job is harder than the job of a CEO. Also, no job is murkier: what do the best startup CEO focus on day after day? 

Ben walks through our thinking on what the CEO ought to be doing from the vantage point of how we evaluate CEOs as we decide whether to fund their companies. The job is not easy to describe, much less ace. In my view, my friend and colleague Ben has done a fabulous job of both. 

Cue the Kanye West.

Training—At a Startup?

Conventional wisdom: startups don't have the time or dollars to invest in training. Training is only for big companies who can afford it, both cash- and time-wise.

Not surprisingly, Ben picks a fight with conventional wisdom in his latest post, Why Startups Should Train Their People. The post describes why and how even startups should invest in training. No company operates so flawlessly that the right training at the right time doesn't make a huge, measurable difference.

Big Enough for the Job?

A question I hear a lot at startup board meetings is this one: "is the current VP of Marketing or VP of Sales or CFO big enough to do this job in 18-24 months when we go international or need to build an indirect sales channel or do the roadshow for our IPO?"

While you always want the best executive team you can recruit, there are downsides to asking this question too early or in the wrong way. Ben enumerates the risks in his latest blog post The Scale Anticipation Fallacy, then offers his suggestions on the right way to evaluate and develop your executive team. 

(As you can tell, our blogging agenda for the next few months—and maybe longer if the fan mail keeps coming in—is a comprehensive set of posts on entrepreneurship, management, strategy, fund raising, and leadership. Coming soon: the return of my archive on these very topics. Stay tuned.)

Why Do We Prefer Founders as CEOs?

When I introduced our venture firm on this blog in July, I wrote extensively about the types of entrepreneurs and companies we want to fund: technical founders, brilliant and motivated entrepreneurs, product-focused companies, and so on. I got widespread head nods on most of the criteria.

But many people were skeptical about the "founder-as-CEO" filter. To express their skepticism, people would ask me some variant of this central question: "shouldn't the founding CEO just get the company jump started, then recruit a professional CEO to drive once the company is up and running?" 

While we agree that startup CEOs and "grow the company" CEOs need dramatically different skill sets (a point Ben hinted at in his last blog post), we wanted lay out our thinking on why we prefer funding startups whose founding CEO plans to run the company for a good long time. Cue the hip hop.

Big Company Execs in Startups

My good friend Steve Blank does a great job of describing the metamorphosis a scalable startup needs to undergo to become a big company. During that metamorphosis, many startups hire executives from big companies to help scale the business. Some go on to do a good job. 

But I've seen more than a few of those big-time execs get organ-rejected within the first couple of months of the tranpslant. Ben published a post today about this exact phenomenon called Why is it Hard to Bring Big Company Execs into Little Companies

In the post, Ben dissects the reasons why big company execs can flounder in startups, how you can spot warning signs during the interview process, and (perhaps most importantly) what you need to do to integrate the freshly hired exec into your company. Read it to save yourself a lot of heartburn created by hiring the wrong exec or failing to do your part to integrate them into the company.  

What Some VCs Do That We Don't Like

My partner Ben and I have been active angel investors for years and now full-time venture capitalists for 9 months. But prior to that (and for most our lives), we've been entrepreneurs.

Now that we've sat on both sides of the table—and have spent more time with other venture capitalists—my partner Ben has a few observations to share about what he likes and dislikes about what some VCs do. Mostly what he dislikes. Though to be fair, he has recommendations for behavior he'd like to see instead, so it's not just a rant.

And yes, there's a quote from a rap artist (Dr. Dre, to be precise). 

Announcing Ben's Blog

For those of you who have been keeping up with this blog, you’ll know that my partner Ben Horowitz has been very actively blogging—and folks are paying attention. His post on All Things Digital called The Case for the Fat Startup struck a nerve in the startup community, prompting my good friend Fred Wilson to write a counter-post called Being Fat is Not Healthy, in turn prompting Ben to write a counter-counter-post defiantly titled Revenge of the Fat Guy.

Now for those of you who clicked on the last link, see what happened there? Yes, astute reader: Ben has his own blog now. Go, subscribe, and prepare for a slew of insightful and provocative posts from Ben on leadership, entrepreneurship, venture capital, and much, much more. Also lots of quotes from rappers.

Case in point: Ben’s first post on his own blog demystifies super-angel investor Ron Conway and features lyrics from The Game. Find out why the savviest entrepreneurs trip over themselves to raise money from Ron.

The Revenge of the Fat Guy

[This post is by Ben Horowitz.]

Fred Wilson wrote a counter post to my The Case for the Fat Startup that you can find here. Before countering his counter, I’d like to say that Fred is one of my favorite VCs and has a marvelous track record of success. Further, I’d like to thank Fred for posting his article, as it enables me to clarify a couple of subtle but important points. 

I actually agree with Fred in the base case and never said otherwise: entrepreneurs should build the product that everybody wants before raising a boatload of cash to build the company. But Fred says one thing that is confusing and another that’s just not accurate:

  • Only raise a boatload of cash once you’ve achieved product market fit. Product market fit isn’t a one-time, discrete point in time that announces itself with trumpet fanfares. Competitors arrive, markets segment and evolve, and stuff happens—all of which often make it hard to know you’re headed in the right direction before jamming down on the accelerator.
  • Only Marc and I could have pulled off the Loudcloud/Opsware miracle; other entrepreneurs shouldn’t even try.  We certainly didn’t script the movie the way it turned out. I’m not recommending that you as an entrepreneur pattern your own startup after mine. But as an entrepreneur, you have to deal with adversity, as we did with Loudcloud/Opsware. My experiences there are highly relevant to other entrepreneurs. In fact, they are more relevant than Fred’s pattern matching.

Let’s talk about each point in turn.

Product Market Fit Myths

First, I agree that the best way to build a big company would be to find product market fit and then raise a bunch of money to build a big business. But sometimes, things aren’t so clear. Let me try to describe some of the ways things can get messy as a series of myths about product market fit.

Myth #1: Product market fit is always a discrete, big bang event

Some companies achieve primary product market fit in one big bang. Most don’t, instead getting there through partial fits, a few false alarms, and a big dollop of perseverance. By the time it got acquired, Opware had achieved product market fit for a category of software called data center automation. But it wasn’t at all obvious that was going to be our destination while we were getting there. We actually achieved product market fit in a number of smaller sub-markets such Unix server automation for service providers, then Unix server automation for enterprise data centers, then Windows server automation, and eventually network automation and process automation. Along the way, we also built a few products that never found product market fit. 

Similarly, Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software and Fog Creek Software fame has an exciting new company called Stack Overflow. He has achieved product market fit in the collaboratively edited Q&A market for audiences such as software engineers and mathematicians. Is this the primary product market fit? Neither of those markets seem that big. Will he need significant new features to find the big product market fit? Probably. Should he invest or stay lean? Good question, and there’s no formulaic answer.

Myth #2: It’s patently obvious when you have product market fit

I am sure that Twitter knew when it achieved product market fit, but it’s far murkier for most startups. How many customers (or site visits or monthly active uniques or booked revenue dollars, etc.) must you have to prove the point? As I explain above, there may be multiple sub-markets, each of which need their own product. I show below that Fred himself didn’t realize that Loudcloud had achieved product market fit even though we had. It’s usually not black and white.

Or let's try a consumer products example. Apple's first iPod shipped in November 2001. It took nearly two years (91 weeks, to be precise) to sell its first million units. In contrast, Apple's iPhone 3GS shipped June 2009 and shipped 1M units in 3 days. At what point is it obvious to the original iPod team that they've achieved product market fit?

Myth #3: Once you achieve product market fit, you can’t lose it.

Fred implies that we raised a boatload of money for Loudcloud prior to achieving product market fit. This is not true. Four months after founding Loudcloud, we had already booked $12M in customer contracts, so we had product market fit by most measures. I’d defy any VC including Fred to point to a company with a $36M run rate 4 months after founding where the VC advised, “stay lean until you achieve product market fit.”

But after that bolt out of the starting gate, the market for cloud services changed dramatically. After Exodus went bankrupt in September 2001, the market for cloud services from semi-viable companies went to zero and we lost product market fit as a cloud services provider. We had to rebuild completely and would ultimately find product market fit in a different set of markets altogether.

Myth #4: Once you have product-market fit, you don’t have to sweat the competition.

It’s fine to stay lean if you are not quite sure that you have product market fit and there are no competitors in your face every day. But usually there are. In fact, the best markets are usually the ones in which competition is fierce because the opportunity is big. How long should you stay lean before attacking? Again, there is no formula that works in all (or even most) cases.

Exceptions that prove the rule

Now, there are some companies such as Twitter (one of Fred’s brilliant investments) for which the above myths are actual truths. However, I propose that Twitter is more exceptional than Loudcloud or Opsware in that most entrepreneurs are dealing with a situation that looks much more like Opsware than Twitter.

The Marc and Ben Special

Second, let's talk about the Marc and Ben Special. Fred writes: “Ben explains that Loudcloud raised $350mm in four rounds of financing (including an IPO) in the first 15 months of its life. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz can do that. Most of you can not.”

It's true that we raised a lot of money, and not all first-time entrepreneurs can raise that much money. But that's not my point. The most important fund raising that we did as it relates to The Case for the Fat Startup was the very last round (as is very clear in the original post). We raised that money as Opsware, long after we had lost all of our magic fairy dust. Marc had moved on to found Ning and I was the CEO who nearly ran Loudcloud into the wall. I am quite sure that I did not have exceptional fund raising capabilities at that point.

In summary, let me repeat that I agree with Fred in the base case: first build the product that everybody wants, then raise enough money to build the company. If you can build a big company that way, by all means do it.

Having said that, your story will almost certainly not be that clean. You might achieve partial product market fit at the same time as a scary competitor, you might not be sure that you have product market fit, you might lose product market fit. When one or more things happen, no pattern matching will save you. You will have to figure out for your own unique situation a) whether there is a clear and present market and b) if there is, how you can take it.

Fred implies that what we did at Loudcloud/Opsware was extremely difficult and while Marc and I could pull it off, other entrepreneurs shouldn’t try it. My point is that trying it isn’t really a choice. As an entrepreneur, you will sometimes (maybe more often than you like) find yourself in a difficult situation. I hope to have provided some insight on how you might come out alive when that happens.

The Case for the Fat Startup

These days, nearly all the entrepreneurs who come pitch at our venture firm Andreessen Horowitz highlight how little money they are raising and how "lean" they are planning to run the company. While we don't want to invest a single dollar more than a company needs, there is a case to be made for raising enough money to win the market. 

My partner Ben makes this case convincingly in his guest post on AllThingsD titled "The Case for the Fat Startup." Read it, and along the way you'll also hear the story of how Ben navigated our company Opsware through the turbulent dot-com implosion to a $1.6 billion acquisition by HP Software in July 2007. 

Hint: he didn't do it running lean.

What do we look for in entrepreneurs?

Hot off the virtual press: my partner Ben has posted a great essay on leadership over at TechCrunch.

The post should be of particular interest to entrepreneurs who are raising money from our venture fund, as Ben articulates the three key traits we look for in the leaders of the startups we fund. 

Bonus feature: in the post, you'll learn what we like best about three Silicon Valley icons: Steve Jobs, Bill Campbell, and Andy Grove. 

Angels vs. Venture Capitalists

[This blog post is by Ben Horowitz, the Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz.]

At our new venture fund, we’ve been spending time looking into new ways that will make the lives of entrepreneurs seeking funding easier. To that end, we've linked up with Ted Wang who has been working on an open source legal project called the Series Seed documents. We’re impressed with his work and are going to use these standard funding documents as part of our seed stage investments wherever appropriate. 

We have to give a big shout out to Ted: he nailed this. It’s exactly in step with our intention of letting entrepreneurs focus on building businesses in today’s environment, without having to follow old VC rules.

In a nutshell, entrepreneurs and the businesses they are starting have evolved. Start ups today don’t need to build a manufacturing plant (as DEC, the very first high-tech VC investment, did in 1957) to start a business. They need less money to build a product and prove that it works before scaling the business. Yet, the paperwork involved in funding entrepreneurs hasn’t changed to meet these needs. Series Seed is the first to establish this new way of supporting funding suited for today’s entrepreneurs – and we’re big fans. 

Let us know what you think: check out the Series Seed documents, and share your thoughts. 

Here’s more background on our thinking behind how entrepreneurship has changed, creating the need for these simplified funding documents. I'm speaking here from the point of view as both an angel investor and a venture capitalist, two very different kinds of investors. 

Angels vs. Venture Capitalists

Why do angel investors exist?

Before answering these questions, it’s useful to ask and answer a related question: why are there angels and why have they become more prominent in the last 10 years? After all, doesn’t the definition of venture capital include all of the activities that angels perform? 

The answer lies in the history of technology companies and the differences between how they were built 30 years ago and how they are built now. In the early days of technology venture capital, great firms like Arthur Rock and Kleiner Perkins funded companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Tandem. In those days, building the initial product required a great deal more than a high quality software team. Companies like Tandem had to manufacture their own products. As a result, getting into market with the first idea, meant, among other things, building a factory.  Beyond that, almost all technology products required a direct sales force, field engineers, and professional services. A startup might easily employ 50-100 people prior to signing their first customer. 

Based on these challenges, startups developed specific requirements for venture capital partners:

  • Access to large amounts of money to fund the many complex activities
  • Access to very senior executives such as an experienced head of manufacturing
  • Access to early adopter customers
  • Intense, hands-on expert help from the very beginning of the company to avoid serious mistakes

In order to both meet these requirements and build profitable businesses themselves, venture capitalists developed an operating model which is still broadly used today:

  • Raise a large amount of capital from institutional investors
  • Assemble a set of experienced partners who can provide hands-on expertise in building the product and then the company
  • Evaluate each deal very carefully with extensive due diligence and broad partner consensus
  • Employ strong governance to protect the large amount of capital deployed in each deal. This includes requisite board seats and complex deal terms including the ability to control subsequent financings
  • Manage own resources effectively by calculating the amount of capital/number of partners/maximum number of board seats per partner to derive the minimum amount of capital that must be invested in each deal 

It turns out that building a company has changed quite a bit since the early days of venture-backed technology companies. Building a company like Twitter or Facebook is quite different from building Tandem. Specifically, the risk and cost of building the initial product is dramatically lower. I emphasize product to distinguish it from building the company. Building modern companies is not low risk or low cost: Facebook, for example, faced plenty of competitive and market risks and has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to build their business. But building the initial Facebook product cost well under $1M and did not entail hiring a head of manufacturing or building a factory. 

As a result, for a modern startup, funding the initial product can be incompatible with the traditional venture capital model in the following ways:

  • Lengthy diligence process. Venture capitalists take too long to decide whether or not they want to invest because they are set up to take large risks and have complex processes to evaluate those risks. 
  • Too much capital. Venture capitalists need to put too much capital to work – often a VC will want to invest a minimum of $3M. If you only need 4 people to build the product and get it into market, this likely won’t make sense for your business.
  • Board seat. Venture capitalists often require a board seat and, for that matter, a board of directors be formed. If 100% of the company is building the product and the team knows how to do that, then a board of directors may be overkill. In addition, it may be too early to decide who you want to be on the board. 

As a result of the above, a venture capitalist usually requires a serious commitment from the entrepreneur to pursue an idea that is highly experimental. If the product doesn’t stick, it might make sense for the entrepreneur to pursue a totally different idea or drop the business altogether. This is much easier to do if you’ve raised $300,000 than if you’ve raised $3,000,000. 

As entrepreneurs needed someone to bridge the gap between building the initial product and building the company, angel investors stepped up. 

Angel investors are typically well-connected, wealthy individuals. They generally use their own money and come with none of the above VC constraints describe above: they don’t go on boards, they don’t need to put in lots of capital (in fact, they usually don’t want to), they prefer dead simple terms (as they often don’t have legal support), they understand the experimental nature of the idea, and they can sometimes decide in a single meeting whether or not to invest. 

On the other hand, angels do not manage huge pools of capital, so entrepreneurs need to find someone else to fund the building of the company (as opposed to the product) and most angels do not plan to spend a great deal of time helping entrepreneurs build the company. 

One more thing before answering the original question

Before getting back to the need for the Series Seed documents, it’s important to distinguish venture rounds and angel rounds from venture capitalists and angel investors. It’s possible for a venture capitalist to invest in an angel round and vice-versa. Sometimes this is a great idea and sometimes it’s tragic. We’ll first examine the rounds and then the investors. 

When should you raise an angel round and when should you raise a VC round?

This question really comes down to the company’s development. If you are a small team building a product with the hope of “seeing if it takes” (with the implication being that you’ll try something else if it doesn’t), then you don’t need a board or a lot of money and an angel round is likely the best option. On the other hand, if you’ve developed a strong belief in your product or your product idea and you are in a race against time to take the market, then a venture round is more appropriate. You will benefit from both the extra capital and extra support that comes with a serious and large commitment from your investors. 

So who is qualified to invest in each?

Obviously angels can invest in angel rounds, but what about VCs? Is it safe to have them participate? The answer turns out to be “if and only if they behave like angels.” What does it mean for a VC to behave like an angel? Well, they must:

  • Be comfortable investing a small amount of money, e.g. $50,000. 
  • Be able to make an investment decision quickly, e.g. in one or two meetings
  • Be able to invest without taking a board seat
  • Not require control of subsequent funding rounds
  • Not impose complex terms

If the VC wants to be in the angel round, but refuses to behave like an angel, then entrepreneur beware. Having a VC who behaves like a VC in the angel round can jeopardize subsequent financings. 

Angels can be great participants in venture rounds, but it’s generally better to have a VC lead those deals as they have more financial and other resources required to build the company.

What does this mean about Andreessen Horowitz and the types of investments we'll do?

As I stated above, at Andreessen Horowitz, we invest in both venture rounds and angel rounds. When we invest in angel rounds, we behave like an angel. As angel investors, we can invest as little as $50,000, we do not take board seats, and we do not require control. 

Rooted in this desire to help germinate quality ideas, our support for Seed Source legal docs will allow both us as investors and the entrepreneurs we fund to focus on building a winning product rather than scrutinizing legal docs. 

Introducing our new venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz

My partner Ben Horowitz and I are delighted to announce the formation of our new venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, and our first fund -- $300 million in size -- aimed purely at investing in the best new entrepreneurs, products, and companies in the technology industry.

Between the two of us, Ben and I have started three companies directly, created many new products and services, run operating businesses at high levels of scale, angel invested in 45 tech startups in the last five years, and served on a broad cross-section of company boards with some of the best entrepreneurs and investors in the industry. Through all this, we have worked closely together for 15 years, and we could not be more excited to extend our partnership into venture capital.

In undertaking this new mission, our core principles include:

  • Technology and its advancement is absolutely central to human progress. Entrepreneurs who create new technologies and technology companies are improving the standard of living of people worldwide and unlocking amazing new levels of human potential.
  • While broad investor psychology whips wildly between euphoria and depression, technology change not only continues but is accelerating. In fact, we believe that technology change cascades -- each new generation of technology continues within it the seeds for even more profound advances to come. And, technology change creates continuous opportunity to build important and valuable new companies.
  • A technology startup is all about the entrepreneurial team and their vision. Our job as venture capitalists is primarily to support entrepreneurs by helping them build great companies around their ideas.
  • The process of building a new technology company is changing rapidly. For example, many of the best new technology companies require far less money up front to build the first product, but far more money later to scale into today's enormous global market, as compared to historical norms. We intend to not only embrace these changes but drive them forward as hard as we can.
  • Building a great company is a team sport -- including the selection of the best possible set of investors and advisors for a specific opportunity. We have been lucky enough to work with many of the industry's best investors, advisors, mentors, and coaches over the last 15 years, and we look forward to continuing to be a great partner to all of them.
  • Trust is essential to building a great company. Trust requires the highest standard of ethical conduct, which we will strive hard to achieve and maintain.
  • While there are many exciting new entrepreneurial opportunities in fields like energy and transportation, there continues to be gigantic opportunity in information technology -- which is where we will focus.
  • And, while there are many extremely bright and capable entrepreneurs all over the world, there continues to be a special magic to Silicon Valley -- which is where we will focus.

We will hang our hat as a firm on the fact that both of us have extensive direct entrepreneurial and operating experience. We have built companies, from scratch, to high scale -- thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars of annual revenue. In short, we have done it ourselves. And we are building our firm to be the firm we would want to work with as entrepreneurs ourselves.

Here are some more specifics about how we will operate:

  • We have the ability to invest between $50 thousand and $50 million in a company, depending on the stage and the opportunity. We plan to aggressively participate in funding brand new startups with seed-stage investments that will often be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we will also invest in venture stage and late stage rounds of high-growth companies.
  • We also have the ability to participate in a variety of investment structures, including but not limited to buying founder shares, investing in public stocks, and contributing to leveraged buyouts. We do not have a goal to do any of these things specifically, but rather we will be maximally flexible to suit our investing strategy to the opportunity.
  • Ben and I will be the only General Partners in the firm, at least to start. We may add a small number of additional General Partners in the future, but we are not assuming that will be the case. We will also build a professional staff to support us in our efforts and to help our portfolio companies in various ways. However, we will not have associates or other General Partner-track junior positions.
  • Ben and I will go on boards of companies in cases where we are investing serious money -- generally, $5 million or more, although there could be exceptions in both directions. We will generally not go on boards of raw startups -- in fact, in many cases, we don't even think today's raw startups should have boards.

Here are some more specifics about what kinds of entrepreneurs and companies we are looking for:

  • Above all else, we are looking for the brilliant and motivated entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team with a clear vision of what they want to build and how they will create or attack a big market. We cannot substitute for entrepreneurial vision and drive, but we can help such entrepreneurs build great companies around their ideas.
  • We are hugely in favor of the technical founder. We will generally focus on companies started by strong technologists who know exactly what they want to build and how they are going to build it.
  • We are hugely in favor of the founder who intends to be CEO. Not all founders can become great CEOs, but most of the great companies in our industry were run by a founder for a long period of time, often decades, and we believe that pattern will continue. We cannot guarantee that a founder can be a great CEO, but we can help that founder develop the skills necessary to reach his or her full CEO potential.
  • We believe that the product is the heart of any technology company. The company gets built around the product. Therefore, we believe it is critical that we as investors understand the product. We are ourselves computer scientists and information technologists by experience and training; therefore, we plan to focus on products in the domain of computer science and information technology.
  • Here are some of the areas we consider within our investment domain today: consumer Internet, business Internet (cloud computing, "software as a service"), mobile software and services, software-powered consumer electronics, infrastructure and applications software, networking, storage, databases, and other back-end systems. Across all of these categories, we are completely unafraid of all of the new business models -- we believe that many vibrant new forms of information technology are expressing themselves into markets in entirely new ways.
  • We are almost certainly not an appropriate investor for any of the following domains: "clean", "green", energy, transportation, life sciences (biotech, drug design, medical devices), nanotech, movie production companies, consumer retail, electric cars, rocket ships, space elevators. We do not have the first clue about any of these fields.
  • We are primarily but not entirely focused on investing in Silicon Valley firms. We do not think it is an accident that Google is in Mountain View, Facebook is in Palo Alto, and Twitter is in San Francisco. We also think that venture capital is a high touch activity that lends itself to geographic proximity, and our only office will be in Silicon Valley. That said, we will happily invest in exceptional companies wherever they are.

Finally, one personal note -- my role as an active Chairman of Ning will continue unchanged, along with my board roles at Facebook and eBay.

If you have read this far, thank you very much for your interest in our new firm -- we will keep you updated over the months and years to come by blog!

About This Blog

  • My name is Marc Andreessen. This blog is on temporary hiatus -- will be back soon with a new design and fresh content!
  • You can send me email at pmarcablog (at) gmail (dot) com. If you'd like to submit a business plan to my venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, please email businessplans (at) a16z (dot) com.


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