Time To Build: An Andreesen Horowitz Reflection
I read the Andreesen Horotwitz essay It's Time To Build, and thought the best treatment I could give it would be to address its points individually.https://a16z.com/2020/04/18/its-time-to-build/
On Twitter, most of the response has been a reactive response to a reaction, from journalist Kevin Roose.
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.
In my Twitter 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, talk about what it's saying.
And in this essay, I will.
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.
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; I can't imagine a better example. But it's not expanded upon and most people will sweep right past it.
Below this comes an important part of the essay, its real 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 been to Asia - a Chinese city like Shanghai, or Seoul in Korea, or Singapore - this point will resonate.
I've had a similar thought: 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 go beyond my scope here.
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.
I wish that Andreesen, who earlier said we should hold entrepreneurs to a higher standard, had defended his fund's capital funding choices at this point. (See: their funding of Clubhouse immediately after).
But I can follow his reasoning: Andreesen is limited by the ideas that are presented to it for funding. In order to go bigger, people must first present these ideas to Andreesen for consideration.
So "Time to Build" is an attempt to solicit those ideas - and to seed them out in the world.
How Tech Can Build: Responses
One response to the essay, by Stratechery, is here.https://stratechery.com/2020/how-tech-can-build/
Here is the Hacker News discussion about his article (which inspired this essay).https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22934558
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.'
Expanding on Thompson's take, for the developer looking to what they can do in the here and now, healthcare seems difficult for legal reasons, and housing difficult too.
For many voters in a city like San Francisco, housing is not malfunctioning, it's functioning how they want. Homeowner voters are preserving the value of their property, by keeping it scarce.
If we put aside politics, 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, and quickly too.
If you want a suggestion from me: start there, with education.
When I first saw the title of the essay, I thought: Time to build? Aren't we all building at maximum speed all the time, anyway?
I'm being sincere. 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, keep going.
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.
I'm not sure what that means at an implementation level. Maybe Andreesen doesn't, either.
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, you won't lose much.
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.