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Andreessen Horowitz is bullish on the latest resurgence in hardware startups. The company has backed Shapeways and Airware, a 3D printing company and a drone company.

But Marc Andreessen is very cautious in his optimism about the sector. “The problem is that hardware companies are much harder to build and scale than software companies,” he said at PandoMonthly in San Francisco this evening. “Even with Kickstarter, even with China, there are so many ways hardware can blow up in a non-recoverable way.”

“Chris Dixon and I argue about this. He says ‘hardware is the new software.’ Oh no, no, hardware is haaard,” Andreessen said. “It’s called hardware for a reason.”

When he’s talking to 22-year-olds who are interested in building drone companies, Andreessen advises them to find a 50-year-old hardware veteran to partner up with.

There’s been a 10- to 15-year break period when hardware companies were out of vogue for startups, mostly because they were too capital intensive for venture capitalists to back. The problem with these gaps in innovation is that they leave gaps in the culture and knowledge around a sector. Andreessen says new grads who are excited about hardware — many of whom possess the experience to build the electrical, mechanical, and software parts themselves — still need a mentor on the business side.

“They need that hardcore, hardbitten angry ops guy who is used to yelling at vendors and working on FedEx on shipping costs,” he said. “If you can build these companies around the experience of the prior generation, it’s very powerful.”

The recent resurgence in hardware startups is due to low-cost pre-fab components becoming very sophisticated, he said. “You buy this chip from TI or Samsung, and it’s just like, it’s a miracle on that machine,” he said. Chips now have graphics and video. They’re powerful enough to run real software, so drones, robots, and toys can run serious Android or Linux applications.

The other reason for the recent hardware renaissance is the simple way cycles work. “Not much hardware innovation has happened, because there have been no hardware startups,” Andreessen says. “So there are a lot of bottled up ideas like drones and robots that just did not get developed in the last 15 years,” he said.

“You see this whenever there’s a missing gap of time where there’s no innovation in a category,” he added. “At some point, it’s like it’s spring-loaded. It just comes back. It comes roaring back.”

[Disclosure: Marc Andreessen is an investor in PandoDaily.]

[Photo by Yelena Sophia/Bloom Productions]

  1. Andreessen Horowitz
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