The Problem With Felix Salmon

April 27, 2012 9:34 pm

[This was written in April 2012]

Felix Salmon wrote an opinion piece in Reuters today, titled ‘The problem with Marc Andreessen’ – this is an attempt to spot some flaws in his argument.

1. “But Andreessen has never really been a public intellectual. His single greatest achievement — the creation of the world’s first web browser, Mosaic — took place under the auspices of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.”

- Simply put,that is not true. Marc and team wrote the code for Mosaic themselves – “David Thompson tested ViolaWWW and showed the application to Marc Andreessen.[10] Andreessen and Eric Bina originally designed and programmed NCSA Mosaic for Unix’s X Window System called xmosaic[4][6][10][11] “.
Source: Wikipedia.

What does Felix mean by “under the auspices of” anyway?

2. ““Silicon Valley is full of venture capitalists who have become dynastically wealthy off the backs of companies that no longer exist,” I wrote in that piece, and Andreessen is Exhibit A if you want to look for such a person. “” –

Products evolve. Live evolves. Internet evolves faster. It is wrong to make an argument saying Netscape doesnt exist – we live in graphical browsers all day. As for Opsware, did Felix actually check what HP did with Opsware before penning this piece?

3. “For the first time, people in Silicon Valley understood that you could make enormous sums of money just by timing the markets — buying in at a low valuation and selling at a high valuation — even if the underlying company never made any money at all.

Andreessen’s current company, Andreessen Horowitz, is devoted to doing exactly that. ”

It has always been about timing. About the underlying company not making money – that is a scenario that did not play out (the company existing as a standalone entity) – it is difficult to make an argument based on that.

4. ” I’ve never met anybody who thought that Netscape was a good acquisition for AOL, or that HP gained much from buying Opsware beyond getting Andreessen to sit on its famously-dysfunctional board. ”

Felix, the fact that you have not met anybody who thought that Netscape was a good acquisition for AOL does not really mean much. One person’s contacts is too tiny a sample space for any meaningful analysis or drawing conclusions. Also, the second part that statement – is simple noise, IMHO.

5. “Andreessen’s also very shilly, when it comes to his own businesses: when Ning finally died, for instance, he put up a blog post all about how the team there had “brilliantly executed a dramatic transformation of the company”. The fact is, as a close reading of the Wired interview will attest, that while Andreessen does have a lot of good ideas, brilliant execution is not at the top of his list of abilities.”

I have used Ning, it is a solid product. A combination of things went wrong and hence the company failed. But that can be said for so many companies. Fact is, Ning did execute a dramatic transformation in the timeframe mentioned.

6. “While Andreessen is very good at making money, then, he’s much less good at creating lasting value for the long-term shareholders of his companies. In his world, buy-and-hold public shareholders are the patsies, the people left holding the bag when the fast money has long since departed.”

Andreessen has always made tonnes of money for the shareholders of his companies. What are we talking about here?

Summary: Surprised to see an article from Felix with a clear lack of research. Marc is not God (regardless of what Wired would make us believe), but he is not evil either.

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