The last time I was talking to Marc Andreessen about a new staff announcement, the big reveal was the former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers. So when I hopped on the phone Saturday to get the down-low on the latest partner, I was expecting a big celebrity reveal. After all, competing venture firms always snark that Andreessen Horowitz is all-too-heavy on the PR sizzle.
Instead I was introduced to Balaji S. Srinivasan.
Srinivasan wasn’t hired for his name — he was hired for his expertise. And the appointment says a lot about where Andreessen Horowitz is headed as a firm.
At 33, Srinivasan is one of the youngest members of the firm, and here’s something you don’t hear in GP ranks all the time: A lot of his experience is as an academic. He was most recently the cofounder and CTO of Counsyl, makers of a pre-pregnancy genomic test that’s used in some 4 percent of American pregnancies.
Again, not a household name. But that company shares something in common with the a16z philosophy: It was all about software eating the world — specifically the world of healthcare. Or as Srinivasan recently described it “software reorganizing the world.” Srinivasan will be investing all over the collision of atoms and bits, in areas like quantified self, MOOCs, bitcoin, drones, and 3D printing.
Heretofore, these are areas that a16z partners — particularly Chris Dixon — have invested in some and talked about a lot. Indeed, nearly every VC we’ve had on stage at PandoMonthly has gone on and on about the promise of bitcoin in particular, but very few have invested substantially.
Andreessen noted that for the firm to make bit bets in these areas, it needs a partner who is laser focused on what’s going on in these complex and sometimes regulated spaces. “We’ve been talking about mobile money for twenty years,” Andreessen says. “It’s only tipping right now. It’s a matter of being in the market and really understanding what is happening and being very close to the details.”
To Srinivasan the key is the phrase “big bets.” “This is one of the only firms willing to make very big bets on these spaces,” he said a few times in the call about his decision to join the firm. With $2.7 billion under management they certainly have the wherewithal.
He geeked out on bitcoin quite a bit in our recent call, saying the reason people were so excited about it isn’t just that it’s the final realization of all these hopes of mobile money, or as Andreessen has described it, creating the first “general ledger” of the Internet. It’s that bitcoin has solved a big unsolved problem in computer science: How to distribute a scarce asset without going through a central server.
“Up until now, technology has cloned non-scarce assets or required a centralized authority,” Srinivasan says. “The first application of this is money, but you could also trade things like software license or shares in companies or cryptographic keys to unlock houses and cars.”
Andreessen Horowitz is going to make a big play in the world of bitcoin. It’s just a matter of which company.
But back to the inside baseball of what this move says about Andreessen Horowitz as a firm. If you look at all of the GP announcements since the firm’s founding, you see a lot of names that weren’t super well known, with the exception of Chris Dixon who was practically the spokesperson for the New York ecosystem. Okay, SuccessFactors CEO Lars Dalgaard was a bit of an enterprise rock star, and Jeff Jordan got some general business fame taking OpenTable public.
But still, this isn’t a firm that takes the NASCAR approach to building its partnership, as much as competitors may gripe about the firm’s brand and marketing savvy. There’s a broad diversity of sector, age, experience, and style with just two commonalities: Everyone was either a CEO or founder and everyone has an almost cult-like obsession with the power of software.
[Disclosure: Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan, and Chris Dixon are all personal investors in PandoDaily.]