a16z Podcast: The Law (and Tech) of Warfare

Rules, guidelines, regulations, and “laws” are all sometimes used interchangeably — but what’s legal and what isn’t is far more complex when it comes to policy, especially when politics (and technology) enters the picture. Take encryption for instance: The debate has gone beyond the “Crypto Wars” of yore to a war of attrition playing out today as companies (like Apple) go head-to-head against law enforcement (FBI); but who wins and who loses if the battles play out differently in litigation vs. legislation? And what of cybersecurity more broadly, Russia and hacking, and other top-of-mind policy and politics topics, such as immigration? What are the legal and technical (not to mention moral) nuances of military drones … including the possibility of automating even government decision making in the future?

All of these issues share in common the power of technology to both “discriminate” — such as between military targets and civilians — as well as scale beyond borders. Technology doesn’t just level asymmetries; “It levels all asymmetries,” observes Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, and editor-in-chief of the (now) popular Lawfare blog that focuses on “hard national security issues”. In this episode of the a16z Podcast recorded while on the road in D.C., we (with Sonal Chokshi and Hanne Tidnam) take a quick tour through those issues — as well as the meta story of Lawfare as a story about the evolution of media and expert blogging on the internet.

a16z Podcast: The Living Museum

Every industry (for-profit, non-profit, government, private-sector) has been touched by tech, with most trying to lead the charge in order to stay ahead. But museums and memorials, by definition, lag rather than lead there. How is that changing as visitors increasingly expect to be a part of a dialogue, not just a monologue limited to a single interpretation of events or objects in a room? How are tech tools -- from VR/AR, RFID and beacons, and mobile apps to data, personalization, and prototyping -- changing storytelling around exhibits, artifacts, and experiences... even going beyond the museum walls?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast -- recorded as part of our annual D.C. podcast road trip 2017 (in conjunction with the a16z Tech Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.) -- Rachel Goslins, Director of the Arts and Industries Building at the Smithsonian; Sarah Lumbard, Digital Curator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Adam Martin, Chief Digital Officer at the National Museum of African American Culture and History, in conversation with Hanne Tidnam, describe what happens as museums move from "cabinets of curiosities" to living spaces that are defined by interaction.

a16z Podcast: Giving and Getting Feedback -- for Bosses and Employees

There's feedback and there's guidance; there's praise and there's criticism. All of it is important to do better work, but to develop a better and more productive workplace and relationships -- especially given how much time we spend at work! -- the way we give and receive feedback really matters. "One of the great things about having a great boss," observes Kim Scott, "is that a great boss will help you grow as a person. And for a lot of people, a big part of what gives work meaning is personal growth." That's another reason why feedback matters.

But doesn't so much feedback take too much time when you're busy building things, especially in fast-growing startups where you're also focused on survival first? Or what if you're not so into the touchy-feely aspects of soliciting feedback? In fact, what is the best way to give feedback, so that you're not being obnoxiously aggressive or even worse, "ruinously empathetic"?

You actually don't have to choose between those two things, argues Scott, because the answer lies somewhere in between, with "radical candor". Finally, how does this fit with other management wisdom around how much to develop someone -- or when to just "call it" and fire them? How does this affect women and under-represented minorities in the workplace? Or how about creatives, millennials, and remote workers? In this episode of the a16z Podcast, Sonal Chokshi explores these questions with Scott, who came out of Google, Apple University, and her own startups... and literally wrote the book on Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

feedbackperformance appraisalstalent managementhuman resourcesculturework


a16z Podcast: What Technology Wants, Needs, Does

Turnabout is fair play: That's true in politics, and it's true at Andreessen Horowitz given our internal (and very opinionated!) culture of debate -- where we often agree to disagree, or more often, disagree to agree. So in this special "turnabout" episode of the a16z Podcast, co-founder Marc Andreessen (who is most often in the hot seat being interviewed), got the chance to instead grill fellow partners Frank Chen (who covers AI and much more), Vijay Pande (who covers healthcare for the bio fund), and Alex Rampell (who covers all things fintech).

None of the partners had any idea what Marc would ask them. Putting them in the hot seat at our recent a16z Tech Policy Summit, in Washington, D.C., Marc asked them policy questions such as the implications for tech of the American Health Care Act or AHCA (which itself was being hotly debated that exact same day, just a few miles away); the role of regulatory arbitrage; and what happens to companies big and small if Dodd-Frank is repealed.

Oh, but they also covered so much more: the pros and cons of using tech to "discriminate" for better risk pooling; the role of genetics in addiction (can/should it be used to determine risk?); the opioid crisis (can tech help?); applying AI as a "salve" for everything (what's hyped, what's real, what's easy, what's hard?); the line between redlining and predatory lending (and where/when did sentiment flip?); and the ethics of artificial intelligence (beyond the ole Trolley Problem). Throw in a classic nature vs. nurture debate, a bit of 2-D vs. 3-D, and some fries (yes)... and the future arrives in this episode in 35 minutes or less.

a16z Podcast: Tech Policy and the Courts

Discussions and headlines around tech policy tend to be dominated by what the President and the White House (aka the executive branch of the government) and what the Senate and House of Representatives (aka the legislative branch) are saying and doing. But it’s the judicial branch — the courts — that often gets the final say on key technology policy questions of the day… Like encryption, among many others.

And now, there’s a new Supreme Court justice in town (Neil Gorsuch, who was sworn in last month) — how does that change judicial decision making around tech policy? Finally, is the growing trend of tech companies writing and signing amicus briefs (or otherwise engaging with the courts) for high-profile policy issues a good or bad thing for their employees, shareholders, and others?

One thing is clear, though: The tech sector is getting more and more involved in policy issues, and is arguably becoming a “fourth branch” of government (or perhaps even a “fifth estate”) with its own checks and balances. Or so argue the guests in this episode of the a16z Podcast: Karen Dunn, partner at Boies Schiller Flexner (who has also been a consultant on the TV show House of Cards); and Erin Murphy, partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C. (recently recognized by National Law Journal as “a rising star”); in conversation with Ted Ullyot, who heads up Andreessen Horowitz’ Policy and Regulatory Affairs operation (and was formerly in both industry, as a general counsel at Facebook, and government, himself). The discussion took place as part our annual a16z Tech Policy Summit, in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

a16z Podcast: The Blockchain, in Congress

There’s an interesting paradox when it comes to the U.S. government and tech: Either they’re an inventor, early adopter, and buyer of emerging new tech … or they’re a very late adopter (as in the case of government officials using Blackberries vs. iPhones). But when it comes to the blockchain, they’re trying to get ahead of and stay on top of the game — with the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, co-chaired by Reps Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and David Schweikert (R-Arizona).

What exactly is a “caucus”, and what’s the government’s perception of cryptocurrencies and similar? While people have been talking about the numerous applications of blockchain for years, which ones resonate right now with the government, and why? Where do states play more (or less) of a role than federal agencies in deciding blockchain matters? Finally, what is the “hard thing” policymakers need to be willing to do in supporting the widespread application of blockchain-based technologies?

The guests in this episode of the a16z Podcast — Polis and Schweikert, along with Coinbase chief legal and risk officer (and mayor of Atherton, California!) Mike Lempres — discuss all this and more, in conversation with a16z policy team partner Matthew Colford. This podcast was recorded as part of our (now-annual) podcast road trip, in conjunction with the a16z Tech Policy Summit, in Washington, D.C.

a16z Podcast: For Your Ears Only

When it comes to spycraft — or rather, “tradecraft,” as they say in the biz — what do the movies get right, and what do they get wrong? In this episode of the a16z Podcast, Michael Morell — former Deputy Director and twice-Acting Director of the CIA — talks all things tradecraft and tech with a16z partners Matt Spence and Hanne Tidnam.

What it is that the CIA really does? Is it a) James Bond, b) Maxwell Smart, c) Jason Bourne, or d) none of the above? For starters, it’s not at all about predicting what will happen — it’s figuring out what you need to know now to make the right decisions, asking the right questions, and reducing uncertainty. But that’s a tall order when you’re in the Situation Room advising the President — because there’s no such thing as zero uncertainty. So what makes the difference between a good analyst and a great one? How does technology affect tradecraft? And where do human spies come in?

This podcast was recorded as part of our (now-annual!) podcast road trip, in conjunction with the a16z Tech Policy Summit, in Washington, D.C.

a16z Podcast: From Jobs to Flying Cars

In this lively conversation -- from our recent annual tech and policy summit in Washington, D.C. -- Axios' Dan Primack interviews a16z co-founder Marc Andreessen about the two major narratives dominating discussions about the tech industry right now: the industry is building stupid stuff; and tech is “evil” (or at least has an outsized impact, is destroying jobs).

Part of the problem, Andreessen argues, is that we don't have enough technological innovation: With higher productivity growth, we'd have higher economic growth and more opportunity. But without enough opportunity, we're all at risk on all sides of the ideological spectrum. And actually, both the "tech is stupid" and "tech is evil" narratives are true... in different sectors [hint: those afflicted by Baumol’s cost disease]. So what then are the roles for policymakers and and entrepreneurs in addressing these issues, including jobs?

Ultimately, Andreessen argues, success in Silicon Valley isn't really about good idea vs. bad idea at all … and it's all eventually political. (Bonus: why Andreessen stopped tweeting!)

a16z Podcast: Quantum Computing, Now and Next

Moore’s Law — putting more and more transistors on a chip — accelerated the computing industry by so many orders of magnitude, it has (and continues to) achieve seemingly impossible feats. However, we’re now resorting to brute-force hacks to keep pushing it beyond its limits and are getting closer to the point of diminishing returns (especially given costly manufacturing infrastructure). Yet this very dynamic is leading to “a Cambrian explosion” in computing capabilities… just look at what’s happening today with GPUs, FPGAs, and neuromorphic chips. Through such continuing performance improvements and parallelization, classic computing continues to reshape the modern world.

But we’re so focused on making our computers do more that we’re not talking enough about what classic computers can’t do — and that’s to conmpute things the way nature does, which operates in quantum mechanics. So our smart machines are really quite dumb, argues Rigetti Computing founder and CEO Chad Rigetti; they’re limited to human-made binary code vs. the natural reality of continuous variables. This in turn limits our ability to work on problems that classic computers can’t solve, such as key applications in computational chemistry or large-scale optimization for machine learning and artificial intelligence. Which is where quantum computing comes in.

But what is quantum computing, really — beyond the history and the hype? And where are we in reaching the promise of practical quantum computers? (Hint: it will take a hybrid approach to get there.) Who are the players — companies, countries, types of people/skills — working on it, and how can a startup compete in this space? Finally, what will it take to get “the flywheel” of application development and discovery going? Part of the answer comes full circle to the same economic engine that drove previous computing advances, argues Chris Dixon; Moore’s Law, after all, is more of an economic principle that combined capitalism with a critical mass of people and ideas moving things forward by sheer will. Quantum computing is finally getting pulled into the same economic forces.

a16z Podcast: Boards, from Both Sides of the Table

A board veteran who has sat on both sides of the table, CEO of PagerDuty Jennifer Tejada shares what you gain from board membership (vs. being only an operator). How does being a board member change you as a CEO, and vice versa?

Recorded as part of our annual Director's College held at Stanford University in April 2017, Tejada (in conversation with a16z operating partner Margit Wennmachers) in this episode of the a16z Podcast offers advice about the importance of diligence on both sides, subject matter expertise, and complex dynamics among fellow board members. Tejada also talks about how to make the best use of your board as a CEO... including what's most important when managing them (hint: no surprises!).

a16z Podcast: On Wearables, Quantified Self, and Biohacking

It’s the end of the beginning — not the beginning of the end — for wearables, argue the guests in this episode of the a16z Podcast. Especially as we move from the first, to the next, generation of wearable devices: not just activity trackers and watches but VR/AR gear, “audibles”, continuous glucose monitors, and more. The quantified self movement then takes these empirical tracking- and data-gathering tools to better reason about what works and doesn’t work in our bodies to help us solve problems and live better lives.

Yet the act of gathering data isn’t the hard part… it’s linking them to insights and outcomes. Because we really do have very little data about what works at a collective let alone an individual level. With a new age of biohacking upon us — where people can apply engineering principles to manipulate what we take into our bodies (inputs) to tune how we perform (outputs) — can we finally embrace these tools? What will it take to make something that’s mainly a niche activity/community (quantified self was formally started a decade ago!) into something more mainstream for all? (Hint: it involves cookie recipes.) And finally, what are the societal implications of all this, from avoiding data dystopias to embracing the consumerization of government projects too?

Joining us to explore these questions and more (in conversation with Sonal Chokshi), we have: neuroscientist and data scientist Rachel Kalmar, currently a fellow at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University; co-founder of The Quantified Self blog and community Gary Wolf; and Geoffrey Woo, co-founder and CEO at Nootrobox (an a16z company).

a16z Podcast: The Rise of the Digital 'Pill'

The first thing that comes to mind when treating health problems is the need to take a pill (or other pharmaceutical) of some kind. But could a digital therapeutic -- a software-based intervention -- not only complement, but possibly even replace pills?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast, CEO of Omada Health Sean Duffy and a16z bio fund general partner Vijay Pande (in conversation with Malinka Walaliyadde) discuss the potential of digital therapeutics, which use software, design, and other carefully orchestrated elements to change behavior. (Because what is software, really, observes Duffy, but a way of changing behavior?)

Of course, digital therapeutics can augment medical treatment and make doctors better -- but what advantages do such methods have over pills? How do we know it’s really working? And what role does digital health have in the continuing push towards value-based care?

a16z Podcast: QR. AR. VR.

In this hallway-style episode of the podcast, a16z partners Connie Chan and Kyle Russell discuss recent announcements at Facebook's annual developer conference, F8, in the context of trends such as: messaging and QR codes; brain computer interfaces; augmented reality and social VR; and, bots (again). As online platforms built on "real" identity and brands bring more of the real world into the digital realm, will we experience filter fatigue... or will the mundane become more profound?

a16z Podcast: The Science Of Extending Life

Is it real or science fiction to dream of being able to treat… getting old? In this episode, we discuss with Dr. Thomas Rando from Stanford (who directs the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging), Kristen Fortney, CEO of BioAge, and a16z’s general partner Vijay Pande where we are in the field of “geroscience” — the idea of studying, well, aging itself, and aging as the root risk for all aging related disease. Far from science fiction, recent discoveries have given us a whole crop of promising breakthroughs to treat aging, such as parabiosis (young blood infused into old blood), senolytics, and rapamycin, and more.

What we’re beginning to see is a fundamental shift away from the idea of searching for immortality and towards the idea of increasing "health span” — where prevention means much more than eating healthier or exercising more. Are we moving from Dx to Rx to — perhaps Px? What will it look like when anti-aging therapies actually begin to be delivered to us: small molecule or protein or an antibody — or something else entirely? A pill or a blood transfusion treatment? A vaccine for aging?

And finally, what has to change — conceptually, scientifically, logistically, in regulation -- to get these therapies into the hands of all?

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.