Silicon Valley has been receiving a lot of unfavorable media attention in recent months, from Valleywag to New York Magazine to The New Yorker. Last week, during a sit-down with Marc Andreessen at the Sand Hill Road offices of his firm, Andreessen Horowitz, we discussed some of that coverage, and what he makes of it. Part of our conversation, lightly edited for length, follows.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the media lately over whether or not Silicon Valley takes into mind the broader economy. Do you think some of those criticisms are valid?
The stories crack me up. There’s sort of two criticisms. One is that Silicon Valley is the new elite, the new one percent, the new oligarchy, and that all the billionaires don’t give a shit about society and [welcome a] Mad Max dystopian wasteland of no jobs [as] technology takes everything over.
The other argument is that technology produces nothing of value; it’s all just Snapchat apps so 14-year-old girls can send selfies to each other. I have a hard time reconciling the two arguments.
What of the argument that the Valley is building technologies that are primarily of value to a subset of people who can afford to use them?
That I don’t agree with. I think that’s almost just Uber, or the early-delivery services.
If you’re a journalist and come to Silicon Valley and you want to find three startups [whose services] only 25-year-olds and single people with discretionary income are ever going to use, you can do that, congratulations. If you want to come to Silicon Valley and find companies that are really going to open up access to transportation or education or financial services to people who haven’t had access to those things before, you can also do that.
These stories are very well-written and they’re entertaining, but they’re typically written by someone outside the Valley who wants to reach a certain conclusion to make them and their readers – in my view – feel better. I think it’s very reassuring, especially to people in New York right now, to think the Valley is just a bunch of kids farting around. But it’s only one slice.
Another widespread criticism is that tech entrepreneurs don’t give back enough. As a philanthropist, what do you think?
With tech — and you see this with a lot of these new entrepreneurs — they’re 25, 30, 35 years old, and they’re working to the limit of their physical capability. And from the outside, these companies look like they’re huge successes. On the inside, when you’re running one of these things, it always feels like you’re on the verge of failure; it always feels like it’s so close to slipping away. And people are quitting and competitors are attacking and the press is writing all these nasty articles about you, and you’re kind of on the ragged edge all the time. So to try and figure out how to find the time to intelligently allocate philanthropic capital, like, it just does not compute. It’s a timing issue.
Many founders I know, including a lot of really young founders, fully plan to give the vast majority away. They just plan to do it when they have time to do it properly. You could make the reasonable argument that the world would be better off if they gave the money away faster; it just begs the question of how, which is a harder question to answer. Even Warren Buffett couldn’t figure out how to do it without just giving it to Bill Gates. Maybe the answer is just give all the money to Bill Gates!
Photo courtesy of BusinessWeek.
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