June 26, 2012

Marc Andreessen on IPO Exit Strategies & More

In his “D&O Diary Blog,” Kevin LaCroix is covering Stanford’s Directors College and he has some good notes from the first day of action. Here is an excerpt based on a keynote from Marc Andreessen:

Today’s sessions began with a Keynote Presentation from Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, the founders and general partners of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Andreessen is well known as the founder of early Internet browser company Netscape and Horowitz was the co-founder of Opsware (formerly Loudcloud). Their presentation was in a Q&A format, and one question they received provoked a particularly interesting answer.

In response to a question about how a Board should prepare a company for an IPO, Andreessen’s initial response was that the company should first consider every other possibility other than going public. He emphasized that the IPO process and the life for a company post-IPO has changed so much in recent years, that now a company completing an IPO is immediately surrounded by a host of constituencies all of which are prepared to try to extract a “pound of flesh” from the company. If the company has to go public, Andreessen would prefer that the company remains a “controlled” company – that is, subject to control by the founder. He explained that the way for investors to make money on technology investments is for the investors to pick a founder, like a Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin or Michael Dell, and to make a long-term commitment to them to try to achieve their goals for the enterprise.

He went on to say that a faulty premise has emerged around corporate governance, in that there is now a perception that corporate governance ought to operate on basic principles of democracy, particularly as embodied on the “one man, one vote” principle. From Andreessen’s perspective, democracy is not the correct model. According to Andreessen, the correct analogy is the military, and specifically, war. In a wartime environment, politicians cede control to the military commanders so that they can deploy assets and take initiative necessary to “take the hill.” The objectives are more likely to be met if the founders retain control.