Andreessen Horowitz’s Spin Master Built Silicon Valley As You Know It

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In Might 2015, The New Yorker revealed a profile of the Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen. In it, author Tad Buddy joined Andreessen in his lounge to observe an episode of Halt & Catch Hearth, the AMC drama chronicling the rise of non-public computing within the early 1980s. The scene supplied an intimate window into the billionaire’s residence life. Buddy described a powder room rest room so opulent it wasn’t instantly clear the way to flush it; the rooms had been grand to accommodate Andreessen’s gigantic presence. Buddy chronicled the endearing flourish with which the investor’s spouse introduced dinner—omelettes and Thai salads for 2, served on Costco TV trays. Andreessen’s obsession with a punk software program prodigy make clear his self-conception as a person aligned with the business’s outsiders.

There was one presence Buddy did not doc. That will be Margit Wennmachers, who spent the night tucked on the sofa throughout from Andreessen and his spouse.

An working associate at Andreessen Horowitz, Wennmachers is among the many most expert spin masters in Silicon Valley. She has a sixth sense for communications technique, which has helped her educate the world concerning the revolution know-how is powering. She is aware of the way to create the memorable scene that can form a narrative. She understands the way to get forward of dangerous information that’s about to interrupt and when to push startup founders to take duty for his or her actions. She returns practically each name inside 30 minutes, be it from a blogger, portfolio firm CEO, or New York Occasions reporter. Over the previous two and a half many years, Wennmachers, 53, has labored with, suggested, or damaged bread with practically everybody who has endeavored to construct—or write about—a startup. “She’s just like the router on the heart of the business,” Andreessen says.

In some ways Wennmachers is an architect of Andreessen Horowitz, the distinguished funding agency that has backed a whole bunch of startups, together with Fb, Airbnb, and Twitter. Or, at the least, she’s the architect of what the agency seems to be—and her presence has left an indelible imprint on the a whole bunch of companies which have come into contact with the agency. Due to her, Silicon Valley appears to be like very totally different than it did even a decade in the past.

Over the previous two and a half many years, Wennmachers has labored
with, suggested, or damaged bread with practically everybody who has endeavored
to construct a startup.

We’re all accustomed to Silicon Valley’s mythological picture of the tech founder: sensible, nerdy, eccentric, well-meaning. What you don’t know is that, extra than simply about anybody else in tech, Wennmachers is the individual liable for harnessing that prototype to construct the legend of Silicon Valley. Earlier than Andreessen Horowitz launched in the summertime of 2009, most enterprise capital corporations believed that no press was good press. They remained lean, behind-the-scenes outfits and received offers due to their back-room reputations. Wennmachers helped put the agency on the map by pushing its founders, Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, to embrace the press and by serving to the businesses of their portfolio articulate their concepts publicly. Within the years that adopted, many corporations emulated Andreessen Horowitz’s technique, hiring advertising and marketing and communications leads. As a journalist, I’d typically get the decision: “Hey, we’re making an attempt to rent a Margit. Have you learnt anybody?”

But it’s the character of the communications function that we hardly ever hear a lot concerning the individuals who maintain it: The most effective communicators, by definition, go unnoticed. They’re the invisible third individual in each interview. It was Wennmachers who coaxed a reticent Andreessen into taking part in Buddy’s story as a result of she believed it could be good for the agency. It was Wennmachers who arrange most of Buddy’s interviews and sat by way of all of them. When Buddy felt he wanted to see extra of Andreessen, Wennmachers come across the concept of a TV-watching dinner date, appropriately suspecting the scene could be simply bizarre sufficient to ensure inclusion and that Andreessen would come off precisely as she hoped: a relatable visionary who identifies with oddball hackers and who, when he’s not predicting the way forward for computer systems, is watching TV exhibits about individuals who predict the way forward for computer systems.

For years Wennmachers has quietly superior a story that has formed how the world sees Silicon Valley and the way the Valley perceives itself—as a bunch of brainy outcasts upending the boundaries of the established order. However because the Valley’s tinkerers change into business titans, that picture is altering. Within the wake of the 2016 elections, the business’s largest corporations have suffered a backlash. From nearly each political perspective, they’ve been criticized as profit-mongering, irresponsible, privacy-invading, and out-of-touch. Within the wake of that backlash, tech is now making an attempt to return to phrases with the impression of the instruments it has launched and to handle the wealth it has created. This presents Wennmachers with a brand new and demanding problem: crafting a revamped picture of the techie of the longer term, one which embraces the good duty that arrives with newfound nice energy.

One afternoon final October, I meet Wennmachers on the Battery, a tony personal social membership in downtown San Francisco. It had been a busy day. She’d had jury responsibility however wasn’t chosen, which left her time to fulfill up with a tech government. The pair hadn’t met earlier than in individual, however a couple of days earlier she’d helped him by way of an emergency. A buddy, not a detailed buddy, had referred to as Wennmachers with an pressing request, saying the person was “about to get skewered by The Journal.” She’d spent 4 hours serving to out over the cellphone, after which she met him for a espresso as a result of she’d been sprung from jury responsibility. If you work together with a stranger at a weak second, a sure closeness is shaped, she tells me. “It’s like, ‘I really feel like I ought to provide you with a hug,’” she says.

The man wasn’t a part of her agency, and even linked to one in all its portfolio corporations. However he might be necessary at some point. Possibly Apple will purchase his firm, and she or he’d have a buddy at Apple. Possibly he’ll begin a brand new firm and are available to Andreessen for funding. She calls individuals like this man “the surface nodes of the community,” and considers them strategic relationships that reach her attain. “It’s not altruism—it simply actually works,” Wennmachers says. Spending giant quantities of time making use of her superpower to the issues of individuals she doesn’t know is a deliberate transfer to nurture her most necessary asset: her social community.

The most effective communicators, by definition, go unnoticed. However Margit Wennmachers’ sixth sense for communications technique has made her one of the highly effective individuals in tech.

©Michelle Le

In Wennmachers’ view, communications rests on a single alternative: One performs offense or protection. Protection, in fact, is desk stakes. It should be performed. However, typically, one of the best ways to defend oneself on this planet of concepts is to form these concepts, to creator them. To play offense.

Take into account, for instance, Andreessen Horowitz’s funding in Skype. This was again in 2009, only a few months after the agency had launched, when Andreessen and Horowitz had been nonetheless working to construct a model with which they may compete alongside top-tier corporations like Sequoia and Benchmark for offers. The personal fairness big Silver Lake Companions led the Skype deal, which then valued the corporate at $2.75 billion.

On the time, Skype was a multitude—a powerful model with a dud enterprise that had spun by way of six CEOs. It was an advanced deal, and Andreessen Horowitz wasn’t even the lead investor; the agency had ponied up simply $50 million of the $1.9 billion the group had invested in change for a majority stake within the service. Nonetheless, many individuals questioned the deal’s rationale. Then, 18 months later, Microsoft purchased Skype for $eight.5 billion, netting the younger agency a big revenue. Wennmachers knew Microsoft would announce the cope with a press launch earlier than the markets opened on the East Coast. Reporters would write their tales, and no matter narrative they pieced collectively from the discharge would form the way in which individuals understood the deal.

For years Wennmachers has quietly superior a story that has
formed how the world sees Silicon Valley and the way the Valley
perceives itself.

Wennmachers noticed a possibility to set the narrative. So she requested Andreessen to point out up on the workplace by 5 am on the morning the information was set to interrupt. Someday round four am on that Tuesday, as she was dashing down the 101, touring from her San Francisco residence, she observed a police officer trailing her Mini Cooper. “When the lights go on, I used to be like, ‘Shit,’” she says, waving her arms and shaking her palms on the reminiscence. “I used to be like, ‘Sir, I must be within the workplace earlier than the markets open.’” The cop let her off. That morning, a colleague labored her method down a name listing, phoning reporters to present them a heads up concerning the deal and provide up 10-minute interviews. In a room close by, Wennmachers linked them to Andreessen, who repeated his speaking factors on why the deal was proof of what Skype might finally be.

Because the tales started to emerge, Wennmachers knew that her early-morning ways had paid off. TechCrunch featured Andreessen within the headline. The New York Occasions quoted him. “Model is difficult to measure. Actually, it’s unattainable,” she says. “However 80 p.c of the press protection concerning the deal was concerning the traders, they usually talked about us and had the framing we wished.” Wennmachers had used the information occasion to construct the agency’s repute. Success.

Lengthy earlier than she joined Andreessen Horowitz, most tech journalists already knew Wennmachers. Together with Caryn Marooney, she’d cofounded OutCast, a public relations agency that has launched waves of startups because the late 1990s. OutCast had a repute for its high-caliber consumer listing. As a younger tech reporter, I knew name from OutCast meant an organization was on the verge of breaking out, and I might do properly to take the assembly.

For years Margit Wennmachers has quietly superior a story of Silicon Valley as a bunch of brainy outcasts upending the boundaries of the established order.

Michelle Le

Wennmachers’ means to advocate skillfully for herself and others had begun a lot earlier in her life. The daughter of a mushroom farmer who later pivoted to elevating pigs, Wennmachers grew up in a tiny German village, the youngest of 4 kids. When she was 18, her mom died in a automobile accident. Quickly after, she left her hometown. She studied enterprise and languages, and on college breaks she’d escape to Cologne to stick with her sister and work temp jobs. In a single early project, she formed steel into components at a manufacturing facility. She lasted simply lengthy sufficient to determine that manufacturing facility life wasn’t for her. Shortly after ending college, she landed in Cologne, the place she stumbled right into a job at a tech firm. By the point she was 24 she was operating the advertising and marketing division of Ardent Pc’s German area.

That’s how Wennmachers received to america. It was 1991 and she or he’d transferred to the Bay Space together with the person to whom, for a short while, she’d be married. Throughout her, web companies had been sprouting up. “My first husband was a pc programmer. He wrote the Three-D modeling software program. He taught me some C++,” she says, which was useful. “You have to have some entry into the world to actually respect what’s even occurring.”

Ardent finally failed. After a 12 months of job looking, Wennmachers tripped into communications. She landed a gig as an assistant at a small comms company after which adopted a colleague to Blanc & Otus, the place she realized the ins and outs of public relations and met Marooney (amongst different issues, the pair helped IBM handle its 1996 Atlanta Olympics sponsorship). By 1997, Wennmachers had talked Marooney into beginning a brand new company.

Not like many others, Wennmachers and Marooney didn’t title their firm after themselves. They wished to keep away from a scenario through which a needy consumer insisted on talking to the named associate, aka “the necessary individual,” to get work performed. They deliberated over a reputation they’d give you with journalists on the Demo Convention, a watering gap for early Valley web sorts. Folks had every kind of opinions, however they didn’t cease speaking about it. “We simply checked out one another and it was like, ‘You understand what? It is one thing memorable. We’re sticking with it,’” Wennmachers says. Certainly, the title was an outline of the solid of characters Wennmachers and Marooney sought to signify: the nerds who’d eschewed legislation or med college in favor of a hacking tradition. Outcasts.

The early OutCast days had been scrappy—the pair ran the company from Marooney’s spare bed room in Berkeley, alternating with Wennmachers’ kitchen desk in San Francisco’s Cow Hole neighborhood. Marooney’s aged canine stored them firm they usually drank lukewarm espresso all day. Their first consumer was a startup that made on-line expense report software program, Extensity, “which was most likely the least attention-grabbing factor on the freaking planet,” Wennmacher says. It had been backed by Kleiner Perkins’ particular fund for java startups, and the duo satisfied John Doerr to seem at an occasion with Solar Microsystems founder Scott McNealy, an outspoken advocate for the pc language; they had been set to call their prime 10 java startups. The marquee names appealed and journalists confirmed as much as cowl it. Not lengthy after, Wennmachers and Marooney signed a renegade enterprise software program startup, which grew to become their first breakout hit. The corporate was referred to as Salesforce.

The title was an outline of the solid of characters Wennmachers and
Marooney sought to signify: Outcasts.

As a duo, Marooney and Wennmachers had complementary abilities. Wennmachers was direct; Marooney might assist somebody come to an thought so skillfully they’d consider it was their very own. “Folks would joke that Margit is the sensible one and I’m the good one,” Marooney says. ”And we’d joke that I’m not that good, and she or he’s not that sensible.”

Over the last decade that adopted, they navigated two recessions through which they needed to make layoffs. It sucked. However they targeted closely on constructing a tradition. They fired purchasers who didn’t perceive that their work was central and precious to a startup’s technique, even when it meant turning down income. After OutCast’s 2005 sale to the UK-based Subsequent Fifteen Communications for $10 million, Wennmachers and Marooney stayed on for a number of years. The work was attention-grabbing; they had been representing Amazon, Fb, Etsy, and most of the most central corporations within the enterprise. By these two girls’s trajectories, OutCast has constructed what tech is at present. If Wennmachers landed one of the influential advertising and marketing jobs in tech, Marooney snagged one other: At the moment, she is Fb’s international head of communications.

The rise of Andreessen Horowitz corresponds—not coincidentally—with the emergence of a brand new technology of tech entrepreneurs. The picture of the geeky founder was altering, and so had been the enterprise dynamics of startups. The price of the know-how wanted to launch a digital enterprise had plummeted—the instruments had been within the cloud now—and each teenager with a laptop computer was a possible CEO. That shift despatched a rush of younger expertise into the valley, a lot of them dreaming that they is perhaps the subsequent Zuckerberg. They weren’t content material with the outdated mannequin that VCs had insisted on with earlier generations: As soon as a enterprise received large enough, the founders wanted to be eased out to make method for “grownups,” skilled managers with name-brand MBAs and expertise.

From the start of their collaboration, Wennmachers helped Andreessen and Horowitz develop and promote that Zuckerberg promise. She by no means deliberate on becoming a member of them; initially, they employed her by way of Outcast. That was 2008, and collectively they come across a one-two punch of a launch technique. Andreessen agreed to a Charlie Rose interview, and on the finish, dropped that he was “pondering of beginning one thing.” It wasn’t technically promoting, which is totally not allowed for a fund, however nonetheless, he signaled to traders that he was taking cash. A number of months later, as soon as the pair succeeded in elevating $300 million, Wennmachers brokered a Fortune cowl story to announce its launch, following it up with a mainstage look at Fortune’s annual tech confab. For tech, it was the equal of an opera singer debuting on the Met.

Throughout the 12 months, Andreessen and Horowitz employed her as an working associate, a task through which she helps the agency revenue from their investments. “She was most likely the toughest individual to recruit,” Andreessen says. “We simply mentioned, ‘Look, would you think about coming over full time?’ And we received a kind of appears to be like that you just’re most likely accustomed to.” (I’m. It’s an extended mounted stare, poker face, you’re-not-serious-here-change-your-mind form of look.) Wennmachers had little incentive to go away a plumb function that allowed her to work together with so a lot of tech’s most promising startups at their most strategically difficult moments.

For tech, it was the equal of an opera singer debuting on the Met.

However Andreessen and Horowitz weren’t in search of a PR individual to shine one of the best mild on their funding selections. They noticed a gap for somebody to step in and tie the disparate tales within the basket of startups right into a cohesive narrative about tech’s broader impression on enterprise, Andreessen says. Within the course of, they’d be placing out “the bat sign that in the event you’re an engineer or an entrepreneur making an attempt to construct one thing basically new we would like you to return to us—as a result of we are the individuals who perceive these things.” If their plan labored, Andreessen Horowitz would set the agenda for tech’s future. The concept appealed to Wennmachers sufficient that she joined.

Wennmachers’ most important job is to advance the bigger ambitions of the agency itself, however typically that features serving to portfolio corporations. The Lean Startup’s Eric Ries calls her “a secret weapon.” Andreessen Horowitz is a enterprise investor in Ries’s startup, Longterm Inventory Change, which is making an attempt to construct a brand new inventory change that creates incentives for long-term pondering. It’s a tough challenge to clarify to individuals. Ries had all the time considered that as a legal responsibility, however when he ran it by Wennmachers, who’s an official advisor to his firm and attends board conferences, she reframed it. “She mentioned, ‘That’s not a legal responsibility. It’s a possibility,’” he recollects.

She’s notably good when issues get exhausting. “Her recommendation has all the time been transparency and honesty—simply inform the story, warts and all,” Ries says. Round Andreessen Horowitz, Wennmachers is understood for a code—she inserts it in electronic mail topic strains—that serves as an inner panic button. She makes use of it, on common, each couple of months. An electronic mail arrives with the topic 4B. It’s a cheeky reference to the concept that plans 1 by way of Three didn’t work, and neither did plan 4A, so it’s time to resort to 4B. “It’s the place one thing has actually gone sideways, often in an organization, the place we really feel like we now have to weigh in,” Andreessen says. “Zenefits is a basic instance,” he says, referring to the human sources startup and its founder, Parker Conrad, who grew to become embroiled in an enormous scandal involving fraud two years in the past.

Wennmachers has a method for coping with any catastrophe, which she discusses at size in an Andreessen Horowitz podcast, “Disaster Communications.” First, resolve what occurred. You hardly ever understand it instantly, so take the time to do the digging. Second, talk about it transparently. Don’t lie. Don’t take too lengthy. If it takes some time to analyze the scenario, inform everybody that! Inform everybody all the pieces you may! Third, perceive communications disaster just isn’t a PR downside—it’s a enterprise downside. Use the catastrophe to deal with the issue.

Controlling the message of tech has change into each simpler and more durable. Within the early days, Wennmachers wanted to hustle to place the agency’s founders on the heart of tech conversations, which frequently occurred within the pages of a brief listing of respected publications. Sure, Andreessen Horowitz had a weblog, however its strongest concepts had been conveyed by the normal press. Take into account Andreessen’s iconic August 2011 missive saying that “software program is consuming the world,” which grew to become the rallying cry for the technology of tech startups that adopted. It was first revealed as an op-ed in The Wall Avenue Journal.

That media ecosystem has now been upended and the trail to success has modified. Wennmachers’ means to push out a story now not relies on having an editor’s ear. Andreessen Horowitz can advance its personal editorial concepts by way of weblog posts, podcasts, social media, and a newly launched YouTube channel unbiased of the media, connecting immediately with individuals beginning or constructing corporations.

Its founders write frequent weblog posts, they usually have entry to sufficient social channels that they now not want a Wall Avenue Journal to push out their perspective. A former WIRED editor produces an everyday podcast that’s downloaded and listened to by a large viewers of aspiring founders, enterprise individuals, policymakers, and tech fanatics. “The operating joke of the agency is that we’re a media firm that monetizes by way of enterprise capital,” Andreessen says. It’s a joke, but in addition an inevitable evolution of Wennmachers’ function—through which a communications lead begins to look far more like a media tycoon.

Lately, because the business has grappled with its speedy ascendance, the Valley’s tales have taken a unique kind. Who will get to construct and run tech corporations? The reply appeared straightforward till Ellen Pao jumpstarted a painful reckoning along with her sexual harassment go well with in opposition to Kleiner Perkins. How ought to these corporations be run? As executives at startups like Theranos, Andreessen-backed Zenefits, and Uber are newly uncovered for malfeasance, it’s powerful to content material with all of the issues that went unquestioned. Have we given the most important of those corporations—Fb, Google, Amazon—an excessive amount of energy, and is it too late to control them?

Andreessen Horowitz can advance its personal editorial concepts by way of weblog
posts, podcasts, social media, and a newly launched YouTube channel.

The very premise on which Wennmacher has primarily based her work—that the geeky outsiders are literally visionaries who’re creating the longer term, and needs to be driving enterprise—has come to cross. Or, as Wennmachers places it: “Tech is turning into its personal energy heart.” She holds it up alongside our nation’s different energy facilities, like Wall Avenue, Washington, and Hollywood. “This tech factor was experimental. Now the businesses are huge. The revenues are actual. Everyone has a smartphone, in order that they’re on the web on a regular basis.”

Within the face of this, Wennmachers is bolstering the agency’s media technique in an try and change into much more related to individuals making an attempt to grasp tech. “The most effective function for us to play is to clarify know-how, clarify the longer term, clarify the way it works, clarify the potential implications,” she says. “We simply must double down on it.” By fashioning Andreessen Horowitz because the world’s tech translator, she believes the agency can broaden its function as an professional on all issues Silicon Valley.

But the best hazard tech employees face is that they cling to an outdated view of themselves. For the agency to take care of this authority, the Valley itself should evolve. The tropes that Wennmachers helped to vogue, the concepts that constructed the picture of the heroic founder, should now be reexamined. This requires a extreme and sudden-feeling identification shift.

However it additionally means there’s a gap for a brand new narrative. There’s an opportunity for at the least a few of tech’s execs to solid themselves as stewards and have interaction in conversations about what we should always do with the issues they’re constructing and the ensuing wealth that’s generated. That is the chance that Andreessen Horowitz’s rising media empire supplies: that Wennmacher will provide up a brand new picture for a cohort of tech’s founders—as sensible and nerdy, sure, but in addition established, inclusive, and fair-minded. That after once more she is going to set the narrative—a greater one, for this second— and the Valley will align itself round her imaginative and prescient.

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