Andreessen: Studying Opposites

I highly recommend this Tim Ferriss podcast from last year, in which he interviews Marc Andreessen. It is full of fascinating insights into the world of venture capital and includes a lot of rich material you won’t find in Andreessen’s general interviews with the media. For those unfamiliar with Andreessen, he is the co-founder and general partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He is regarded as one of the leading early-stage technology investors in the world.

One particularly interesting section of the interview focuses on investors outside of venture capital who impress Andreessen. He discusses the merits of studying investors who are on the opposite end of the spectrum from him in terms of investment philosophy. In his view, these are the Buffett / Graham-mould of value investors. He also points out how, once you get past the obvious differences, there are a number of things that both ends of the spectrum have in common.

In my view, this idea of “studying the opposites” is an underrated insight and can be enormously valuable in an investing context. Anyway, below are some highlights from this part of the interview (please note that some quotes have been paraphrased):

Thinking about change: Andreessen says that investors like Buffett are essentially betting against change, while his firm is betting for change. So, when Buffett makes a mistake, it’s because something changes that he didn’t expect. When Andreessen Horowitz makes a mistake, it’s because something doesn’t change that they thought would. Andreessen also talks about how “every time [he] hears a story like See’s Candy, [he] wants to go find the new scientific superfood candy company that’s going to blow them right out of the water.”

The value of original thinking: One thing both schools have in common is the ability to “view things as they are, as opposed to what everybody says about them or the way they’re believed to be like.” I imagine this is particularly important in the venture capital world where investors also often have limited information or data points around which to build their investment case. Andreessen goes on to talk about the need to get to the “core truth of what’s actually happening in the business.”

Long term orientation: According to Andreessen, value investing is the only other place in the market where where you can find long term investors. Unlike hedge funds who can easily reverse out of trades, venture capital firms make relatively long term bets. Andreessen says when his firm invests, their assumption is that they are in for 10+ years. Knowing you can’t easily walk away from an investment also makes you think carefully about the time and dollar commitment you are making. It reminds me a bit of Buffett’s punch card rule (although you should also read this post by John Hempton of Bronte Capital for completeness).