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Lessons learnt from Marc Andreesen: making your own cake and eating it

10 Nov

It’s always interesting to read Marc Andreesen’s thoughts on things. As a co-founder of browser firm Netscape and investor in Internet success stories like Zynga, Twitter, LinkedIn and Groupon I find that Andreesen tends to have a good overall perspective on things, being familiar with the world of startups as well as with that of established companies like Hewlett Packard (where Andreesen is a Board Member).

For instance, when Andreesen writes about Why Software Is Eating The World I pay attention and take note. If Andreesen then builds on this ‘eating’ theme  by comparing building startups to Baking a Cake in 3 Minutes I really want to understand where he’s coming from.   :

  1. Software companies are taking over the world – Andreesen’s main point is that we are in the middle of a big technological and economic shift in which software companies are getting ready to take over large parts of the economy. He believes that “all of the technology required to transform through software finally works and can be delivered at a global scale.”
  2. Any good examples then? Andreesen cites well known examples such as Amazon, Netflix, Google, Zynga, Flickr, Skype and Spotify to strengthen his argument. The two common denominators between these success stories are (1) that they are all software based and (2) that they all have used their software to overtake their more traditional competitors and transform their sectors in the process.

That’s clear then: software companies are here to stay and will continue using their technologies to play an instrumental part in society and commerce. In a Y Combinator Startup School event at Stanford University, Andreesen then spoke on his lessons learnt from starting up Netscape (and how you can bake your cake too quickly):

  1. Hyper-growth – Andreesen highlights the risks of true hyper-growth, based on his experiences at Netscape: “The problem with with true hyper-growth… It’s the problem like baking a cake in three minutes. You’re in the kitchen and you have sugar, flour, egg on the ceiling. What the hell are you doing?” His main point being that a sudden flux of new employees (particularly when they all come from a specific company) can be really disruptive to an existing company culture.
  2. Management training – Management training is another thing which Andreesen thinks is important for fast-growing startups. “Many times, engineers are promoted to managers, but they have never been trained. Someone has to teach them how to do it” he feels.
  3. User centric – When Andreesen was asked how Netscape had managed to pull ahead of its competitors, he explained how he always prioritised his users. “When Netscape started there was no web analytics. Essentially all our feedback came from emails from people. Whenever push came to shove I’d always be on the side of the user,” he says.
  4. Don’t let your cake explode! I guess Andreesen startup and cake analogy all centres on his experience that startups can grow too quickly and not necessarily in the right direction or in an appropriate manner.
Main learning point: people like Marc Andreesen have been there and done it. Its’ interesting to hear their thoughts on current industry trends and to get an honest view of their lessons learnt. With Andreesen having been on both sides of the fence, founding a startup as well as investing in them, he knows what to do and what not do when baking a cake.
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