Interview with the Innovator

There’s a great two-part interview with Marc Andreessen up at the Business Insider (although it’s occasionally painful to watch as their streaming is buggy beyond belief).

Marc talks about Netscape and what he’s learned about creating technology businesses, strategy, etc.  Here are a couple of gems:

  • Jim Clarke spent four years in the wilderness at Silicon Graphics before he had a product that people actually thought was useful.  This helped him mentor Marc while Netscape was in its wilderness period
  • Before starting Netscape, Jim & Marc had a variety of ideas, including an idea for XBox Live-but it was 1993 so it couldn’t work.
  • When they started Netscape they had two elements that helped them:
    • The idea worked: Mosaic as a browser was a research success.  They just had to rewrite the code and commercialize it
    • They defined their business model (sell servers and commercial browsers; give non-commercial browsers away for free)
    • Note that the above basically says “create a great product and then build a company”, not the other way around
  • Business plans are useless – but the process of planning is very valuable.  It forces you to think critically about your business and show that you understand the issues
  • Every tech company starts off doing something different than one it originally planned to do.  Microsoft started writing compilers but made money in OS.  Apple started with the Apple II but made its money on the Mac.  Silicon Graphics started selling computer chips and ended up making supercomputers.
  • “There’s not a tension between product and business [in the technology industry] – there’s a staging.  You don’t have a business until you have a product – especially a product that lots of people want.”  It’s about product/market fit.  Make a killer product and then scale up.  Marc seriously wants to avoid creating companies that grow to 75 people, go nowhere and everyone just collects a salary.

Marc answered one big question I’ve always wondered: why did AOL buy Netscape?  After all, the business tanked immediately after they bought it.

It turns out that AOL never really cared about the business and actually never even bothered to really run the company.  They bought the company so that they would be perceived as “the blue chip internet company,” the “GE of the Internet”.  It worked – there stock subsequently quadrupled and they were able to buy Time Warner.

Finally, he was asked what three things made him the success that he is.  His answers might surprise:

  1. Luck
  2. Timing – which he considers luck
  3. Place – being in Silicon Valley has forced him to be better as he is always surrounded by so many smart people

Here are the videos: