Ben Horowitz, co-founder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which controls $18.8 billion of investment across a wide array of industries, thinks audio has a bright future. “Audio broadcasting is 100% a big deal and is going to be around forever. It’s amazing,” he said. On the latest episode of “Math & Magic: Stores from the Frontiers of Marketing” – the podcast hosted by iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman – the veteran of Silicon Valley says audio’s role is arguably more valuable today.
“Conversations are the things that people really value, particularly in the age of social media which is not a great medium for conversations,” said Horowitz. “I think that music and conversations are going to be around – how you get them will change technologically.”
Horowitz, 55, was one of online media’s early executives, leading America Online’s e-commerce platform, working marketing at Lotus, and then running several product divisions at Netscape Communications. It gave him an early view of the digital world we are living in today.
“So many of the things that we thought were going happen, did happen. The world came online, the world has the Library of Congress in their pocket, and people better access to information now – video worked, audio worked, all the industries moved onto the internet. We did think that was going to happen,” said Horowitz. “On the bad side, we did think there was going to be a lot of crime although we thought we had a better chance of stopping it.”
Horowitz said in those early days in Silicon Valley they also did not anticipate all the implications of social media. “We had version of it, we had news groups, we had things on the internet in the early days but it didn’t happen quite the way it did with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. But I think humanity is not able to process everybody’s opinion momentously.”
One change that Horowitz said Netscape executives did see was a fundamental change in how news was consumed. But he said when they approached the big media companies to invest in the growing online space, they were laughed out of the room.
Netscape, which set records on Wall Street when it went public, is now largely an also-ran in the digital world. Horowitz says as he has gone on from the company to work at Hewlett-Packard and then to cofound the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in 2009, its lessons have stuck with him.
“When you’re a leader of an industry, you have got to make the industry. It’s not just enough to make the company work,” said Horowitz. He also learned a lot when AOL bought Netscape and brought what Pittman – who was an executive at AOL-Time Warner at the time – said was a clash of East and West Coast. “Culture is very subtle and nuanced in the sense that you always have the main culture, and then you have subcultures. There, you know, it's never a uniform across everything. But you have to, as an organization, be very clear in your head: what parts of the culture are essential to our competitive advantage,” said Horowitz.
Now a venture capitalist, Horowitz says his mission is to change how investment firms build companies. Among its investments has been the connected car company Automatic, which was acquired by SiriusXM in 2017, and the digital music tracking company Mediachain Labs, that was bought by Spotify in 2017.
“I couldn’t be more positive about people starting companies,” he said. “I wish there was money for everybody who ever had an idea to make the world a better place to go and give it a shot.”
Horowitz, a member of a hip-hop group, told Pittman when as a teen when he first heard the style of music it was not unlike a teen in the 1950s who heard Elvis Presley for the first time.
“It felt like a breakthrough,” Horowitz said. “For me, it was so aspirational, you know, you had these kids who like, literally, they had nothing. They would make songs about their sneakers and their sweatsuits. Aspiration is a thing independent of what you have. For me, it was such a great kind of motivational attitude. You can make something from nothing; the whole culture of it had just tremendous appeal.”
Listen to the latest episode of “Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing” HERE.