The Financial Times has lunch with Marc Andreessen:
Andreessen continues on the theme of how mundane his social life is for a plutocrat. “We eat at home almost every night. We watch an unbelievable amount of TV or movies.” He gossips about The Honourable Woman series, and attributes the creative renaissance of television to its expanding internet audience. “Today, you’re also selling to Netflix and Amazon and Microsoft and Sony and Yahoo.”
He likes television, he says, because it puts the writer in charge, and compares it to the best tech companies which are also built when you put founders in charge for long periods. “By the way, writers are often crazy; they’re unpredictable, they don’t necessarily operate on a budget or timetable you might want. They argue a lot. Which is the same thing we deal with, with founders. But you get the magic.”
Andreessen turns to public stock markets:
“There are so many people paid to make the problem worse: paid to regulate, to short-sell; to activists, to the governance experts, to the analysts. The pressure that comes to bear when you’re a public company is just astonishing and it comes at you from a dozen dimensions and you’re, “I can’t believe all these people are out there getting paid to attack me like this.”
Despite the touch of paranoia in his answer, Andreessen has thought deeply about finance. Stock markets are now too risk-averse and snarled by regulation, he says, which means public investors “won’t get the returns”. Besides, tech groups have access to multimillions of private capital to fund growth, so have less need for public markets. Any gains, therefore, accrue to a narrow group of wealthy private investors, such as Andreessen, rather than pension funds.
“Microsoft went public in 1986, valued at $300m. It went to $300bn. Public shareholders got a thousand-time rise. When Google went public in 2004, it had about a $30bn valuation and went to about $300bn. Investors got about a 10-time rise. Facebook went public at about $100bn. It’s now $200bn, so public investors have had a two-time rise.” I suggest he seems content living with risky investments. He agrees. “But I’m weird. I’m different. I’m unusual. Most people want to live in a world where there’s no risk. Most people want to invest their money and not have it fall.”