basic build

I read the Andreesen Horotwitz essay It's Time To Build, and thought that the best treatment I could give it would be to address its points, individually, and also the response to it.

On Twitter, most of the response that I've seen has been a reactive response to a reaction to it, from journalist Kevin Roose. The key interaction here is shown below.

twitter fight

Basically, Kevin says Andreesen should be the change he wants to see in the world, as a VC.

Paul Graham says Andreesen built the web browser that built the Internet software world, show some respect.

I was going to say 4/5 of the responses to the essay about it have referenced this scuffle, but that understates it. In my timeline, I couldn't find a Twitter response directly addressing the essay, but a ton have brought up this tweet and journalism.

To which I'd say: if you want to respect the essay, why don't you talk about what it's saying?

It's written to be accessible and for you to talk about it: that was the intention. So focusing on a single derivative Twitter comment about the essay, if you want to help the essay, is misguided.

You help the message by talking about the message, about the substance of what it's trying to say.

And that's what I'll do, in this essay.

Point by Point

Andreesen starts off by saying that the Coronavirus response has exposed weaknesses in our society.

One example is medical: vaccines, to treat it, and medical equipment, to combat it.

Another example is payment rails. People can't get their stimulus checks in a timely manner.

The latter point is the strongest one. It's true, for fintech: we could have much faster payment options, that settle in seconds instead of days. It would be more efficient and effective for the economy as a whole to have technology-enabled, 'modernized' settlement.

The reasons why we don't are pretty much all bad. It encapsulates the argument as a whole, really well: I can't imagine a better example. But it's not expanded upon and most people swept right past it.

Below this comes an important part of the essay, practically it's thesis statement:

We could have these things but we chose not to — specifically we chose not to have the mechanisms, the factories, the systems to make these things. We chose not to *build*.

You don’t just see this smug complacency, this satisfaction with the status quo and the unwillingness to build, in the pandemic, or in healthcare generally. You see it throughout Western life, and specifically throughout American life.

Andreesen points out that, if you look at where the creators of Westworld turned to show a futuristic city, they filmed in Singapore - not the USA. It feels like the cities of the future aren't being built here.

If you've ever been to Asia - China, or Korea, or Singapore - this point will resonate.


Actually Singapore.

I've had a similar thought, and concluded before this essay was written: the real-world power to build new cities like that isn't here anymore.

Then Andreesen cites education, which I'd prefer to skip over, because it's mixed up with questions of prestige and scalability that the incumbents don't want to take on, and that are too much for my scope here.

I did think the point about 1-on-1 tutoring as a proven method that can go virtual is interesting, and new. It makes sense the barriers to this are cultural, not technological, as we can certainly do 1-on-1 tutoring now. The question becomes: who would pay for it, and maybe more importantly, how can people be convinced to sell and to pay for it, as a business.

In theory it's a good idea.

Then, to summarize a bunch of stuff: we, as a society, should re-orient to building.

The levers for this are: education, housing, and healthcare.

So, build solutions to education, housing, and healthcare, to revitalize the American Dream.

My modest suggestion was that Andreesen, who earlier said we should hold entrepreneurs to a higher standard, should've slipped in a brief defense of his fund's choices at this point, or made explicit the implicit idea that Andreesen would be prioritizing them. (See: their funding of Clubhouse immediately after).

But I can follow the behind the scenes reasoning: Andreesen is limited by the ideas that are presented to it for funding. In order to go bigger, to dream better, people must first present these ideas to Andreesen for their consideration. So this blog post is an attempt to start soliciting those ideas, to start seeing them out in the world.

How Tech Can Build (Responses)

One response to the essay, by Stratechery, is here. stratechery

Here is the Hacker News discussion about his article (which inspired this essay).

Ben Thompson, the author, goes into more detail on Andreesen's background. Like Andreesen, Thompson has a Midwestern background. He's from Wisconsin, not SV, which matters because for him the solution lies partly in utilizing the resources of those 'under-utilized' places.

Thompson then offers some suggestions: tech should expand distributed work, tilt more towards hardware than software, and figure out how to invest to have a 'higher liklihood of success along with a lower upside.'

That's Thompson's take.

Expanding on Thompson's take, going beyind its points to my own, for the operator looking to what they can do in the here and now, healthcare seems difficult for legal reasons, and housing difficult too.

For many constituents in a city like San Francisco, housing is not malfunctioning, it's functioning exactly correctly. Homeowner voters are preserving the value of their property, by keeping it scarce.

I'm not a homeowner, and I disagree - but not everyone would agree this is a 'mistake'.

That leaves education - which looks wide open, by comparison.

Education has its own hurdles, but compared to the other two, it has the lowest barrier to entry. You can create a service to offer solutions for it without facing business-killing legal hurdles, unlike those other two.

Incidentally, when I first read the title of the essay, my original thought was: Time to build? Aren't we all building at maximum speed all the time, anyway?

This is sincerely written, not sarcasm. If you follow the kinds of thinkers and VC's that Andreesen would support, you've probably imbibed that message.

Really, it's not a bad one. Build often, build as much as you can, learn from your successes and failures, and iterate.

So how does 'time to build' offer anything new, if building all day every day is your default stance?

I think the essay is suggesting a different kind of building - a change in emphasis. A building that wouldn't have blindsided us so much pre-pandemic, that is more open to the different possibilities of the world, and more ambitious - socially, culturally, even revolutionary.

I'm not sure what that means at an implementation level. Maybe Andreesen doesn't, either. The essay is light on solutions.

Yet with that being said: if you keep building and working for a better tomorrow, I don't see much downside. Even if you fail, it won't be catastropic.

You build, you learn. Keep building, keep learning.

You won't go far wrong with this, and you never know: if your contribution catches on, you could change the world.