a16z Podcast: Crisis Communications

A crisis is an opportunity to change one's culture, to model scenarios and set up a crisis plan/process, to become a better company. But it's also a bit like therapy, from the act of asking probing questions to get at the facts ... to dealing with emotions and conflicting agendas.

In this hallway-style conversation with a16z's Margit Wennmachers and Kim Milosevich (who previously shared the why, how, and when of public relations), we explore the process -- and mindsets -- behind the outcomes of a crisis in lieu of specific examples. Because it's something that seems so obvious to those who are on the inside (but even then it's really not!), yet is actually a bit of a "black box" to founders and others who aren’t familiar with crisis comms 101.

What constitutes a crisis? Can someone inside a company "call it" early and prevent a crisis from becoming a bigger deal? How do you respond when there's a lag or too much time between acknowledging the issue and finding out all the facts? Who should be in the (war) room where it happens? Should you share the off-the-record background story with reporters? How do you know when a crisis begins and ends -- or that you're ready for a "comeback" story? We explore all this and more in this episode of the a16z Podcast. One thing's for sure though: It may seem like a public relations or media problem -- but it's really a business problem, and is often tied to internal culture and values. So how to make that an opportunity (without being opportunistic about it)?

a16z Podcast: Monetizing Open Source (Or, All Enterprise Software)

Here’s what we know about open source: Developers are the new buyers. Community matters. And there will never be another Red Hat (i.e., a successful “open core” business model … nor do we necessarily think there should be).

Yet open source is real, and it’s here to stay. So how then do companies build a viable business model on top of open source? And not only make money, but become a huge business, like the IBMs, Microsofts, Oracles, and SAPs of the world? The answer, argues James Watters, has more to do with good software strategy and smart enterprise sales/procurement tactics (including design and a service-like experience) than with open source per se — from riding a huge trend or architectural shift, to being less transactional and more an extension of your customer’s team.

Watters, who is the SVP of Product at Pivotal (part of VMWare and therefore also Dell-EMC), is a veteran of monetizing open source — from OpenSolaris (at Sun Microsystems) to Springsource (acquired by VMWare) to Pivotal Cloud Foundry — with plenty of failures, and successes, along the way. He shares those lessons learned in this episode of the a16z Podcast with Sonal Chokshi and general partner Martin Casado (who was co-founder and CTO of Nicira, later part of VMWare before joining Andreessen Horowitz). These lessons matter, especially as open source has become more of a requirement — and how large enterprises bet on big new trends.

a16z Podcast: The Changing Culture of Open Source

The culture of open source has changed across generations, from previous ones that had to fight for the brave new way -- to the current "GitHub generation" that not only accepts open source, but expects it as the default. Which makes sense given that open source powers so much of the software world today... and by the way, that's not just tech companies but hospitals and banks; it touches everyone.

Open source culture has also moved away from cults of personality and top-down models to drive the vision for open source projects, to decentralized individual contributor identities and more micro-sized projects within projects. So what does that mean for the governance of open source, whether it's by institution or foundation, or a "healthy" or "popular" project? Should we invert, always invert to make sure open source code "lands" and is committed by default -- as opposed to going through a cabal of gatekeepers first?

This episode of the a16z Podcast -- featuring Nadia Eghbal (who formerly researched the sustainability of open source projects for Ford Foundation, and is now in community programs at GitHub) and Mikeal Rogers (community manager and more at Node.js Foundation) in conversation with Sonal Chokshi -- covers all this and more. Is open source simply too loaded a term? Is there no sense of ownership? How best to manage a project or resolve conflicts? After all, at the end of the day, it's about people, not just code...

a16z Podcast: Cryptocurrencies, App Coins, and Investing in Protocols

Most of us have probably heard of bitcoin and ethereum -- but did you know there were 15 new cryptocurrencies launched this past month alone? How then do we know which protocols to invest in -- not just as a developer or user, but as an investor? Because, let's face it, open source software and services need resources not just to survive but thrive.

General partner Chris Dixon talks about this dynamic between open vs closed in this episode of the a16z Podcast with Olaf Carlson-Wee, founder of (a16z investment) Polychain, a new kind of hedge fund that invests directly in cryptocurrencies at the protocol layer. But what does that actually mean? Instead of investing in the companies that are building on top of these protocols, Polychain invests in the protocols themselves -- in much the same way that you could have invested in domain names instead of early internet companies like Amazon in the early days (which most people actually didn't have access to do). Imagine if you could have bought equity in Linux!

As people create application-specific tokens for these protocols (also known as “app coins”) to crowdfund and share equity in these networks, it's actually "bringing capitalism into open source" -- and could even one day lead to less centralized platforms and a web owned by users. It's also creating a whole new asset class... but whatever you do, do NOT try this at home!

a16z Podcast: Eyes in the Sky

In this episode of the a16z Podcast recorded at our inaugural Summit, Jonathan Downey, CEO of Airware, Grant Jordan, CEO of Skysafe, and Kyle Russell, partner at a16z, discuss our future with “eyes in the sky.”

How do you balance experimentation and following the rules in a space where people have fears about what a future with drones might look like? This conversation covers the most interesting enterprise use cases for commercial drones, where we are in the introduction of drones into the consumer and commercial space (including the most interesting enterprise use cases for commercial drones), and how the industry will scale.

Downey, Jordan, and Russell parse out what the new FAA regulation means big picture for drones and airspace, and what’s been overlooked. Regulation, says Grant, is just one element. What do we want our drone future to look like — where we want them flying and where we don't — and how will our responses to consumer and commercial drones affect each other? What are the privacy and safety implications, and how do we navigate them?

From Hidden Figure to Sonic BOOM

An aerospace engineer who worked for NASA for over 40 years, Dr. Christine Darden is one of the mathematicians that the book and movie Hidden Figures was based on. Darden eventually would lead the sonic boom team, going on to become the first African-American woman in senior management at NASA.

In this intimate conversation with a16z’s general partner Jeff Jordan, held at the SF Jazz Center, Darden shares with Jordan how she first fell in love with geometry and math; the effect that Sputnik had on our culture (and her); and what it was like to work at NASA in the 1960s. And finally, Darden shares with us all the secrets of the sonic boom.

a16z Podcast: The Storage Renaissance

As we enter a new era of distributed computing -- and of big data, in the form of machine and deep learning -- storage becomes (even more) important. It might not be sexy, but storage is what makes the internet and cloud computing go round and round: "Without storage, we wouldn't have databases; without databases, we wouldn't have big data; we wouldn't have analytics ... we wouldn't have anything because information needs to be stored, and it needs to be retrieved." This is especially complicated by the fact that more and more computing is happening at the edge, as with autonomous car sensing.

Clearly, storage is important. But now it's also undergoing a renaissance as it becomes faster, cheaper, and more in-memory. What does this mean for all the big players in the storage ecosystem? For CIOs and IT departments? For any company competing on data, whether it's in analyzing it or owning it? And for that matter: What is data, really? Beyond the existential questions, this episode of the a16z Podcast -- with a16z partner Peter Levine; Alluxio (formerly Tachyon) founder and CEO Haoyuan Li (“HY”); and storage industry analyst Mike Matchett of The Taneja Group -- covers all this and more. It even tries to make storage, er, great again.

a16z Podcast: The Product Edge in Machine Learning Startups

A lot of machine learning startups initially feel a bit of “impostor syndrome” around competing with big companies, because (the argument goes), those companies have all the data; surely we can’t beat that! Yet there are many ways startups can, and do, successfully compete with big companies. You can actually achieve great results in a lot of areas even with a relatively small data set, argue the guests on this podcast, if you build the right product on top of it.

So how do you go about building the right product (beyond machine-learning algorithms in academic papers)? It’s about the whole system, the user experience, transparency, domain expertise, choosing the right tools. But what do you build, what do you buy, and do you bother to customize? Jensen Harris, CTO and co-founder of Textio, and AJ Shankar, CEO and co-founder of Everlaw, share their lessons learned here in this episode of the a16z Podcast — including what they wish they’d known early on.

Because, observes moderator (and a16z board partner) Steven Sinofsky, “To achieve product market fit, there’s a whole bunch of stuff beyond a giant corpus of data, and the latest deep learning algorithm.” Machine learning is an ingredient, part of a modern software-as-a-service company; going beyond the hype, it’s really about figuring out the problem you’re trying to solve… and then figuring out where machine learning fits in (as opposed to the other way around). Customers are paying you to help solve a problem for them, after all.

a16z Podcast: Build Your Personal Brand

Your brand, says head of a16z marketing and Outcast Agency co-founder Margit Wennmachers, is what people say about you when you're not in the room. And it's going to happen, whether you choose to have an active part in it or not. But what does this mean at an individual, not just company/product level?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast, Wennmachers and Outcast CEO Alex Constantinople -- both longtime veterans of public relations and building executive profiles -- de-mystify what having and building a personal brand takes. It's not only about "thought leadership", either... a personal brand can also provide a filter for choosing what to do (and what not to do), as well as define your aspirations for where you want to go next. Even if you cringe at the idea of putting yourself in the spotlight.

This conversation, moderated by a16z partner Hanne Tidnam, was recorded as part of the BreakLine Tech program for military veterans, an immersive education program for veterans transitioning into new careers (including a week of talks and courses hosted at Andreessen Horowitz).

a16z Podcast: The Business of Healthcare

Starbucks supposedly spends more on healthcare than it does on coffee beans. And 20 years ago, says Rajeev Singh, CEO of Accolade, healthcare was 10% of GDP; today it’s 19% -- that's nearly one-fifths of our gross domestic product. So what tools do we have to address the high costs of health care, especially as stakeholders increasingly look for value-based care?

This episode, recorded at our a16z inaugural Summit and moderated by Vijay Pande (a16z general partner on the bio fund) discusses approaches that combine new tech + people + data to address and improve healthcare. What are the macro trends driving innovations in the business of healthcare? And what will define the success of companies in this space? (Hint: it's not directly related to costs or healthcare reform.)

a16z Podcast: The Genetics Of Drug Delivery

In this episode of the a16z Podcast introduced by Vijay Pande (based on a presentation at our summit event), Russ Altman, Stanford professor of bioengineering -- and former chairman of their Bioengineering Department -- takes us on a short but deep tour of the possibilities of genomics in drug discovery. Including how building a large bank of human genetic variations will change our understanding and optimization of drug response.

Altman (who also hosts his own radio show, "The Future of Everything" on SiriusXM and Stanford radio) describes how in much the same way we inherit our grandmother's eyes, or our great grandfather's ears, we also inherit a response to certain drugs: whether they work or not, what side effects we'll experience, how we react to them.

But it's not just genetics information that matters here; it's also molecular, cellular, tissue, and other data about the whole organism. By applying data science and bioinformatics on a more complete data "bank" like this, for the first time, we can see the whole range of actions and side effects -- as well as possible new uses -- that specific drugs will have on specific individuals.

a16z Podcast: Technology, Mobility, and the American Dream

The irony of our systems working so well -- technological, corporate, and yes, even political -- is that we've become too comfortable: matching to others just like us, producing less, taking fewer risks. But isn't the very point of technology to make our lives more comfortable? Yes... until "we" -- whether an entire class, generation, ethnic group, or country like the U.S. -- become a little too complacent. Or so argues Tyler Cowen in his new book, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.

We've even outsourced our mobility to immigrants, observes Cowen (who is also a prolific economics blogger, columnist, and professor at George Mason University and director of the Mercatus Center there). Which is great... until you realize we're also giving up so much of that dynamism ourselves. This complacency affects everything from how economies to corporations to individuals grow, and we discuss how in this episode of the a16z Podcast (with Alex Rampell and Sonal Chokshi).

"The general problem is that 'veto points' build up in a lot of systems as they grow larger and more bureaucratic." That's why we have NIMBYism (and a bunch of other such -isms). Corporate cash becomes the new stagnant pool (watch out for those mosquitos!). The stability of real estate becomes a trap. Social media (and even some protest) becomes signaling vs. actually doing something. As for culture: Who defines it? And is it time to bring back the individual quest?

a16z Podcast: The Future of... You

Humans have always wanted to enhance themselves -- from getting nutrition just-right to optimizing their performance, whether in sports or health or work. And food is a big part of all that.

But our current systems of food production (and consumption) are far from efficient and sustainable let alone optimizable. That's where a whole new generation of wearable/ bio-feedback, food and nutrition, food production, and performance enhancement/ "nootropics" companies come in. How do these approaches move from the internet and online communities into the mainstream? Or from the university lab to the field? Or, put yet another way, from hobby to daily practice?

After all, what we measure, what we take in, and what we output defines what it means to be human. We discuss this "future of you" in this episode of the a16z podcast with Daniel Chao, CEO of Halo Neuroscience; Rob Rhinehart, CEO of Soylent; James Rogers, CEO of Apeel; and Geoffrey Woo, CEO of Nootrobox -- based on a conversation with Chris Dixon at our inaugural Summit event.

a16z Podcast: Tech and Entertainment in the 'Era of Mass Customization'

Imagine, for a moment, an alternative universe: One where Netflix got disrupted by some other streaming-content company that made its DVD rental business irrelevant. But that's just a counterfactual of what could have happened. What actually happened is that Netflix cannibalized (or rather, "hybridized") its own core business to make room for a more strategic one given where the tech was going...

Given how rare it is for companies to successfully disrupt themselves like this, Reed Hastings, CEO and co-founder of Netflix, shares how they did it in this episode of the a16z Podcast (based on a conversation with Marc Andreessen that took place at our inaugural summit event). But please don't say "only the paranoid survive" -- Hastings believes business leaders need more sophisticated metaphors "to anticipate the paths, and all the judgment it takes, of deciding which competitive path to most explore". It also turns out that sourcing, managing, and supporting creative ideas and creators is not unlike the questions VCs ask themselves -- like trying to figure out just how much experience entrepreneurs need (especially if first-timers, like the directors of "Stranger Things" were).

And finally, is there a "Netflix brand" or genre of content -- and if so, just how far can you stretch it so the same brand can produce something like "Orange Is the New Black" one day and then "Fuller House" the next day? Or are we entering an "era of mass customization" where we only see content suited to our interests -- dark and dystopian if that's your thing, sunny and funny if not? How is the industry ecosystem evolving; where do telcos, Silicon Valley, Hollywood fit in? All this and more in this episode.

a16z Podcast: Brains, Bodies, Minds ... and Techno-Religions

Evolution and technology have allowed our human species to manipulate the physical environment around us -- reshaping fields into cities, redirecting rivers to irrigate farms, domesticating wild animals into captive food sources, conquering disease. But now, we're turning that "innovative gaze" inwards: which means the main products of the 21st century will be bodies, brains, and minds. Or so argues Yuval Harari, author of the bestselling book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind and of the new book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, in this episode of the a16z Podcast.

What happens when our body parts no longer have to be physically co-located? When Big Brother -- whether government or corporation -- not only knows everything about us, but can make better decisions for us than we could for ourselves? That's ridiculous, you say. Sure... until you stop to think about how such decisions already, actually happen. Or realize that an AI-based doctor and teacher will have way more information than their human counterparts because of what can be captured, through biometric sensors, from inside (not just observed outside) us.

So what happens then when illusions collide with reality? As it is, religion itself is "a virtual reality game that provides people with meaning by imposing imaginary rules on an objective reality". Is Data-ism the new religion? From education, automation, war, energy, and jobs to universal basic income, inequality, human longevity, and climate change, Harari (with a16z's Sonal Chokshi and Kyle Russell) reflect on what's possible, probable, pressing -- and is mere decades, not centuries, away -- when man becomes god... or merges with machines.

a16z Podcast: When Will Genomics Live Up to the Hype?

It's been nearly 15 years since the Human Genome Project was completed. But "are we there yet" in the golden age of genomics? What did we think we'd have by now, what do we actually have, and what do we really still need to make genomics live up to its promise?

Well, one thing we now understand is that our DNA isn't static; in fact, it changes at an absolutely crazy rate. We also need to add more context -- about mutations, about somatic tissue, about phenotypes, about each person's unique history -- to make genetic information more complete and accurate. So what does that mean for predictive vs. diagnostic (which are two very different things) genomics? What are the challenges and opportunities for commercialization?

The guests in this episode of the a16z Podcast -- Carlos Araya of Jungla,Jeff Kaditz of Q, and Gabe Otte of Freenome -- discuss all this and more with a16z bio fund partner Malinka Walaliyadde in a conversation that took place at our inaugural a16z Summit event.

a16z Podcast: Startups, Pivots, Culture, and Timing (Oh Shit!)

The hardest thing about pivots (major shifts in company/product direction) isn't just the actual pivot. It's the courage to make the decision... and being honest with yourself as a CEO. Especially since, no matter how great the team or board or even customers may be, it's lonely: You're the only one in the position to synthesize the knowledge; nobody else has the data and the insight put together in the same way.

And sigh, "pivot" has also become such an overused word, it's certainly lost nuance, and perhaps even meaning. So what does "pivoting" a startup really mean? For decision making? Timing (or time left until you run out of cash)? Culture? Are things different for so-called “hard tech” or deep research-based startups?

Finally, how do you know when things are working, that you really do have product-market fit? a16z co-founder Ben Horowitz and Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal discuss (in conversation with Sonal Chokshi) all this and more in this episode of the a16z podcast, sharing war stories and lessons learned. Both witnessed first-hand -- and drove -- pivots: Jason watching Ben at Loudcloud/Opsware post-IPO, and conversely, Ben watching Jason at Lytro. Maybe, all startups -- and ultimately, successful companies -- are really just a series of pivots...

a16z Podcast: Securing Infrastructure and Enterprise Services

The modern enterprise holds all sorts of applications, devices, and workflow needs. How should we be thinking about securing infrastructure -- and identity -- in this context, for entities like major news media outlets or financial institutions such as News Corp or NASDAQ?

Well, this episode of the a16z Podcast brings those voices together: Frederic Kerrest, cofounder and COO of Okta; Brad Peterson, CIO of NASDAQ; and Dominic Shine, CIO of News Corp ... in conversation with Ben Horowitz at our recent a16z Summit.

What's the big security picture for these types of organizations, and others? How should we prepare? Last year's DINE DDoS attack was just one glimpse of what's to come, providing a bit of a barometer read for what's currently working, and what desperately needs re-engineering. One interesting solution involves decentralization; but as we move towards such technology (like blockchain) in security, what will high-frequency trading look like? How will consumer relationships, transactions, UI/design security be reimagined? What areas and fundamentals should we focus on?

a16z Podcast: Cars and Cities, the Autonomy Edition

Thanks to freeways, cities became something to get through instead of something to get to. Now, as the next transportation revolution -- from rivers to trains to cars to autonomous cars -- promises to change the face of our cities, what happens to car culture, infrastructure, and more?

Who owns what, who pays? And what about the design -- and product management -- challenges, whether it's designing for user trust, city adoption, or an ever-moving target thanks to constantly evolving tech?

This episode of the podcast (in conversation with Sonal) covers all this and more, featuring: a16z's Frank Chen, who recently shared 16 questions about autonomous cars; Taggart Matthiesen, director of product at Lyft who covers the core platform as well as development/strategy for autonomous vehicles; and Carl Pope, former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club -- and author (with former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg) of the upcoming book Climate of Hope: How Cities Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet. Will curb space be the new shelf space? When we value the "iPhone-ness" over the "carness" of cars, what changes? And... will we all drive less, walk more?

a16z Podcast: What Startups Should Know about Analyst Relations

In the age of the internet -- where information is freely available online, and connections between sellers and buyers of software products are visible on LinkedIn -- do analysts really matter? Do they play a role in decision-making for purchases from smaller vendors like tech startups, especially given the rise of the developer as a buyer?

Or what if you're trying to create a new category ... do you need to be on a Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave or similar? We answer these questions and more in this episode of the a16z Podcast, featuring former analysts, client managers, and/or product marketing veterans Stacy D'Amico (who joined a16z after a decade at Gartner), Michael King (director of enterprise product marketing at GitHub), and Aneel Lakhani, in conversation with Sharon Chang of the a16z market development team.

The conversation covers everything startups should know about analyst relations, from why and how and when to engage with analysts to whether to consider pay-for-play (no!) or more boutique/niche analyst firms. Most importantly: given their limited resources but big market visions, how can startups get the most out of analyst relations?