The Spin Master Behind Facebook, Airbnb, and Silicon Valley As You Know It

    In Could 2015, The New Yorker printed a profile of the Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen. In it, author Tad Pal joined Andreessen in his lounge to observe an episode of Halt & Catch Fireplace, the AMC drama chronicling the rise of non-public computing within the early 1980s. The scene offered an intimate window into the billionaire’s dwelling life. Pal described a powder room bathroom so opulent it wasn’t instantly clear tips on how to flush it; the rooms had been grand to accommodate Andreessen’s gigantic presence. Pal chronicled the endearing flourish with which the investor’s spouse offered dinner—omelettes and Thai salads for 2, served on Costco TV trays. Andreessen’s obsession with a punk software program prodigy make clear his self-conception as a person aligned with the trade’s outsiders.

    There was one presence Pal didn’t doc. That will be Margit Wennmachers, who spent the night tucked on the sofa throughout from Andreessen and his spouse.

    An operating partner at Andreessen Horowitz, Wennmachers is among the many most expert spin masters in Silicon Valley. She has a sixth sense for communications technique, which has helped her educate the world in regards to the revolution expertise is powering. She is aware of tips on how to create the memorable scene that may form a narrative. She understands tips on how to get forward of unhealthy information that’s about to interrupt and when to push startup founders to take duty for his or her actions. She returns practically each name inside 30 minutes, be it from a blogger, portfolio firm CEO, or New York Occasions reporter. Over the previous two and a half many years, Wennmachers, 53, has labored with, suggested, or damaged bread with practically everybody who has endeavored to construct—or write about—a startup. “She’s just like the router on the heart of the trade,” Andreessen says.

    In some ways Wennmachers is an architect of Andreessen Horowitz, the celebrated funding agency that has backed a whole lot of startups, together with Fb, Airbnb, and Twitter. Or, at the very least, she’s the architect of what the agency seems to be—and her presence has left an indelible imprint on the a whole lot of companies which have come into contact with the agency. Due to her, Silicon Valley seems very completely different than it did even a decade in the past.

    Over the previous two and a half many years, Wennmachers has labored
    with, suggested, or damaged bread with practically everybody who has endeavored
    to construct a startup.

    We’re all accustomed to Silicon Valley’s mythological picture of the tech founder: sensible, nerdy, eccentric, well-meaning. What you don’t know is that, extra than simply about anybody else in tech, Wennmachers is the particular person liable for harnessing that prototype to construct the legend of Silicon Valley. Earlier than Andreessen Horowitz launched in the summertime of 2009, most enterprise capital corporations believed that no press was good press. They remained lean, behind-the-scenes outfits and gained offers due to their back-room reputations. Wennmachers helped put the agency on the map by pushing its founders, Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, to embrace the press and by serving to the businesses of their portfolio articulate their concepts publicly. Within the years that adopted, many corporations emulated Andreessen Horowitz’s technique, hiring advertising and marketing and communications leads. As a journalist, I’d typically get the decision: “Hey, we’re attempting to rent a Margit. Are you aware anybody?”

    But it’s the character of the communications position that we not often hear a lot in regards to the individuals who maintain it: The perfect communicators, by definition, go unnoticed. They’re the invisible third person in each interview. It was Wennmachers who coaxed a reticent Andreessen into collaborating in Pal’s story as a result of she believed it might be good for the agency. It was Wennmachers who arrange most of Pal’s interviews and sat by means of all of them. When Pal felt he wanted to see extra of Andreessen, Wennmachers come across the concept of a TV-watching dinner date, accurately suspecting the scene can be simply bizarre sufficient to ensure inclusion and that Andreessen would come off precisely as she hoped: a relatable visionary who identifies with oddball hackers and who, when he isn’t predicting the way forward for computer systems, is watching TV exhibits about individuals who predict the way forward for computer systems.

    For years Wennmachers has quietly superior a story that has formed how the world sees Silicon Valley and the way the Valley perceives itself—as a bunch of brainy outcasts upending the bounds of the established order. However because the Valley’s tinkerers change into trade titans, that picture is altering. Within the wake of the 2016 elections, the trade’s largest firms have suffered a backlash. From nearly each political perspective, they’ve been criticized as profit-mongering, irresponsible, privacy-invading, and out-of-touch. Within the wake of that backlash, tech is now attempting to return to phrases with the impression of the instruments it has launched and to handle the wealth it has created. This presents Wennmachers with a brand new and demanding problem: crafting a revamped picture of the techie of the long run, one which embraces the good duty that arrives with newfound great power.

    One afternoon final October, I meet Wennmachers on the Battery, a tony personal social membership in downtown San Francisco. It had been a busy day. She’d had jury obligation however wasn’t chosen, which left her time to fulfill up with a tech govt. The pair hadn’t met earlier than in particular person, however a number of days earlier she’d helped him by means of an emergency. A buddy, not a detailed buddy, had referred to as Wennmachers with an pressing request, saying the person was “about to get skewered by The Journal.” She’d spent 4 hours serving to out over the telephone, after which she met him for a espresso as a result of she’d been sprung from jury obligation. Whenever you work together with a stranger at a susceptible second, a sure closeness is fashioned, she tells me. “It’s like, ‘I really feel like I ought to offer you a hug,’” she says.

    The man wasn’t a part of her agency, and even linked to one in every of its portfolio firms. However he could possibly be essential in the future. Perhaps Apple will purchase his firm, and he or she’d have a buddy at Apple. Perhaps he’ll begin a brand new firm and are available to Andreessen for funding. She calls folks like this man “the surface nodes of the community,” and considers them strategic relationships that reach her attain. “It’s not altruism—it simply actually works,” Wennmachers says. Spending giant quantities of time making use of her superpower to the issues of individuals she doesn’t know is a deliberate transfer to nurture her most essential asset: her social community.

    The perfect communicators, by definition, go unnoticed. However Margit Wennmachers’ sixth sense for communications technique has made her some of the highly effective folks in tech.

    ©Michelle Le

    In Wennmachers’ view, communications rests on a single selection: One performs offense or protection. Protection, in fact, is desk stakes. It should be executed. However, typically, one of the best ways to defend oneself on the earth of concepts is to form these concepts, to writer them. To play offense.

    Think about, for instance, Andreessen Horowitz’s funding in Skype. This was again in 2009, only a few months after the agency had launched, when Andreessen and Horowitz had been nonetheless working to construct a model with which they may compete alongside top-tier corporations like Sequoia and Benchmark for offers. The personal fairness big Silver Lake Companions led the Skype deal, which then valued the corporate at $2.75 billion.

    On the time, Skype was a large number—a robust model with a dud enterprise that had spun by means of six CEOs. It was an advanced deal, and Andreessen Horowitz wasn’t even the lead investor; the agency had ponied up simply $50 million of the $1.9 billion the group had invested in change for a majority stake within the service. Nonetheless, many individuals questioned the deal’s rationale. Then, 18 months later, Microsoft purchased Skype for $eight.5 billion, netting the younger agency a major revenue. Wennmachers knew Microsoft would announce the take care of a press launch earlier than the markets opened on the East Coast. Reporters would write their tales, and no matter narrative they pieced collectively from the discharge would form the way in which folks understood the deal.

    For years Wennmachers has quietly superior a story that has
    formed how the world sees Silicon Valley and the way the Valley
    perceives itself.

    Wennmachers noticed a chance to set the narrative. So she requested Andreessen to point out up on the workplace by 5 am on the morning the information was set to interrupt. Someday round four am on that Tuesday, as she was dashing down the 101, touring from her San Francisco dwelling, she seen a police officer trailing her Mini Cooper. “When the lights go on, I used to be like, ‘Shit,’” she says, waving her arms and shaking her palms on the reminiscence. “I used to be like, ‘Sir, I should be within the workplace earlier than the markets open.’” The cop let her off. That morning, a colleague labored her manner down a name listing, phoning reporters to provide them a heads up in regards to the deal and supply up 10-minute interviews. In a room close by, Wennmachers linked them to Andreessen, who repeated his speaking factors on why the deal was proof of what Skype may ultimately be.

    Because the tales started to emerge, Wennmachers knew that her early-morning ways had paid off. TechCrunch featured Andreessen in the headline. The New York Occasions quoted him. “Model is difficult to measure. Actually, it’s unimaginable,” she says. “However 80 % of the press protection in regards to the deal was in regards to the buyers, and so they talked about us and had the framing we needed.” Wennmachers had used the information occasion to construct the agency’s popularity. Success.

    Lengthy earlier than she joined Andreessen Horowitz, most tech journalists already knew Wennmachers. Together with Caryn Marooney, she’d cofounded OutCast, a public relations agency that has launched waves of startups because the late 1990s. OutCast had a popularity for its high-caliber consumer listing. As a younger tech reporter, I knew name from OutCast meant an organization was on the verge of breaking out, and I’d do properly to take the assembly.

    For years Margit Wennmachers has quietly superior a story of Silicon Valley as a bunch of brainy outcasts upending the bounds of the established order.

    Michelle Le

    Wennmachers’ skill to advocate skillfully for herself and others had begun a lot earlier in her life. The daughter of a mushroom farmer who later pivoted to elevating pigs, Wennmachers grew up in a tiny German village, the youngest of 4 kids. When she was 18, her mom died in a automotive accident. Quickly after, she left her hometown. She studied enterprise and languages, and on faculty breaks she’d escape to Cologne to stick with her sister and work temp jobs. In a single early task, she formed steel into components at a manufacturing unit. She lasted simply lengthy sufficient to determine that manufacturing unit life wasn’t for her. Shortly after ending college, she landed in Cologne, the place she stumbled right into a job at a tech firm. By the point she was 24 she was working the advertising and marketing division of Ardent Laptop’s German area.

    That’s how Wennmachers received to the US. It was 1991 and he or she’d transferred to the Bay Space together with the person to whom, for a short while, she’d be married. Throughout her, web companies had been sprouting up. “My first husband was a pc programmer. He wrote the Three-D modeling software program. He taught me some C++,” she says, which was useful. “You want to have some entry into the world to essentially admire what’s even occurring.”

    Ardent in the end failed. After a yr of job looking, Wennmachers tripped into communications. She landed a gig as an assistant at a small comms company after which adopted a colleague to Blanc & Otus, the place she realized the ins and outs of public relations and met Marooney (amongst different issues, the pair helped IBM handle its 1996 Atlanta Olympics sponsorship). By 1997, Wennmachers had talked Marooney into beginning a brand new company.

    In contrast to many others, Wennmachers and Marooney didn’t identify their firm after themselves. They needed to keep away from a scenario by which a needy consumer insisted on talking to the named accomplice, aka “the essential particular person,” to get work executed. They deliberated over a reputation they’d give you with journalists on the Demo Convention, a watering gap for early Valley web sorts. Folks had all types of opinions, however they didn’t cease speaking about it. “We simply checked out one another and it was like, ‘You realize what? It is one thing memorable. We’re sticking with it,’” Wennmachers says. Certainly, the identify was an outline of the solid of characters Wennmachers and Marooney sought to symbolize: the nerds who’d eschewed regulation or med faculty in favor of a hacking tradition. Outcasts.

    The early OutCast days had been scrappy—the pair ran the company from Marooney’s spare bed room in Berkeley, alternating with Wennmachers’ kitchen desk in San Francisco’s Cow Hole neighborhood. Marooney’s aged canine stored them firm and so they drank lukewarm espresso all day. Their first consumer was a startup that made on-line expense report software program, Extensity, “which was in all probability the least fascinating factor on the freaking planet,” Wennmacher says. It had been backed by Kleiner Perkins’ particular fund for java startups, and the duo satisfied John Doerr to seem at an occasion with Solar Microsystems founder Scott McNealy, an outspoken advocate for the pc language; they had been set to call their high 10 java startups. The marquee names appealed and journalists confirmed as much as cowl it. Not lengthy after, Wennmachers and Marooney signed a renegade enterprise software program startup, which turned their first breakout hit. The corporate was referred to as Salesforce.

    The identify was an outline of the solid of characters Wennmachers and
    Marooney sought to symbolize: Outcasts.

    As a duo, Marooney and Wennmachers had complementary expertise. Wennmachers was direct; Marooney may assist somebody come to an thought so skillfully they’d consider it was their very own. “Folks would joke that Margit is the good one and I’m the great one,” Marooney says. ”And we’d joke that I’m not that good, and he or she’s not that good.”

    Over the last decade that adopted, they navigated two recessions by which they needed to make layoffs. It sucked. However they centered closely on constructing a tradition. They fired shoppers who didn’t perceive that their work was central and helpful to a startup’s technique, even when it meant turning down income. After OutCast’s 2005 sale to the UK-based Subsequent Fifteen Communications for $10 million, Wennmachers and Marooney stayed on for a number of years. The work was fascinating; they had been representing Amazon, Fb, Etsy, and lots of the most central firms within the enterprise. Via these two ladies’s trajectories, OutCast has constructed what tech is at present. If Wennmachers landed some of the influential advertising and marketing jobs in tech, Marooney snagged one other: Right this moment, she is Fb’s international head of communications.

    The rise of Andreessen Horowitz corresponds—not coincidentally—with the emergence of a brand new era of tech entrepreneurs. The picture of the geeky founder was altering, and so had been the enterprise dynamics of startups. The price of the expertise wanted to launch a digital enterprise had plummeted—the instruments had been within the cloud now—and each teenager with a laptop computer was a possible CEO. That shift despatched a rush of younger expertise into the valley, lots of them dreaming that they could be the following Zuckerberg. They weren’t content material with the previous mannequin that VCs had insisted on with earlier generations: As soon as a enterprise received sufficiently big, the founders wanted to be eased out to make manner for “grownups,” skilled managers with name-brand MBAs and expertise.

    From the start of their collaboration, Wennmachers helped Andreessen and Horowitz develop and promote that Zuckerberg promise. She by no means deliberate on becoming a member of them; initially, they employed her by means of Outcast. That was 2008, and collectively they come across a one-two punch of a launch technique. Andreessen agreed to a Charlie Rose interview, and on the finish, dropped that he was “considering of beginning one thing.” It wasn’t technically promoting, which is totally not allowed for a fund, however nonetheless, he signaled to buyers that he was taking cash. A number of months later, as soon as the pair succeeded in elevating $300 million, Wennmachers brokered a Fortune cover story to announce its launch, following it up with a mainstage look at Fortune’s annual tech confab. For tech, it was the equal of an opera singer debuting on the Met.

    Throughout the yr, Andreessen and Horowitz employed her as an working accomplice, a task by which she helps the agency revenue from their investments. “She was in all probability the toughest particular person to recruit,” Andreessen says. “We simply mentioned, ‘Look, would you contemplate coming over full time?’ And we received a type of seems that you just’re in all probability accustomed to.” (I’m. It’s an extended mounted stare, poker face, you’re-not-serious-here-change-your-mind type of look.) Wennmachers had little incentive to go away a plumb position that allowed her to work together with so lots of tech’s most promising startups at their most strategically difficult moments.

    For tech, it was the equal of an opera singer debuting on the Met.

    However Andreessen and Horowitz weren’t in search of a PR particular person to shine the most effective gentle on their funding selections. They noticed a gap for somebody to step in and tie the disparate tales within the basket of startups right into a cohesive narrative about tech’s broader impression on enterprise, Andreessen says. Within the course of, they’d be placing out “the bat sign that in case you’re an engineer or an entrepreneur attempting to construct one thing essentially new we would like you to return to us—as a result of we are the individuals who perceive these things.” If their plan labored, Andreessen Horowitz would set the agenda for tech’s future. The thought appealed to Wennmachers sufficient that she joined.

    Wennmachers’ foremost job is to advance the bigger ambitions of the agency itself, however typically that features serving to portfolio firms. The Lean Startup’s Eric Ries calls her “a secret weapon.” Andreessen Horowitz is a enterprise investor in Ries’s startup, Longterm Inventory Trade, which is trying to construct a brand new inventory change that creates incentives for long-term considering. It’s a tough challenge to clarify to folks. Ries had all the time considered that as a legal responsibility, however when he ran it by Wennmachers, who’s an official advisor to his firm and attends board conferences, she reframed it. “She mentioned, ‘That’s not a legal responsibility. It’s a chance,’” he remembers.

    She’s significantly good when issues get arduous. “Her recommendation has all the time been transparency and honesty—simply inform the story, warts and all,” Ries says. Round Andreessen Horowitz, Wennmachers is thought for a code—she inserts it in e mail topic strains—that serves as an inner panic button. She makes use of it, on common, each couple of months. An e mail arrives with the topic 4B. It’s a cheeky reference to the concept plans 1 by means of Three didn’t work, and neither did plan 4A, so it’s time to resort to 4B. “It’s the place one thing has actually gone sideways, normally in an organization, the place we really feel like now we have to weigh in,” Andreessen says. “Zenefits is a basic instance,” he says, referring to the human sources startup and its founder, Parker Conrad, who turned embroiled in a large scandal involving fraud two years in the past.

    Wennmachers has a method for coping with any catastrophe, which she discusses at size in an Andreessen Horowitz podcast, “Disaster Communications.” First, resolve what occurred. You not often comprehend it instantly, so take the time to do the digging. Second, talk about it transparently. Don’t lie. Don’t take too lengthy. If it takes some time to research the scenario, inform everybody that! Inform everybody every part you possibly can! Third, perceive communications disaster just isn’t a PR downside—it’s a enterprise downside. Use the catastrophe to handle the issue.

    Controlling the message of tech has change into each simpler and more durable. Within the early days, Wennmachers wanted to hustle to place the agency’s founders on the heart of tech conversations, which frequently occurred within the pages of a brief listing of respected publications. Sure, Andreessen Horowitz had a weblog, however its strongest concepts had been conveyed by the normal press. Think about Andreessen’s iconic August 2011 missive saying that “software program is consuming the world,” which turned the rallying cry for the era of tech startups that adopted. It was first printed as an op-ed in The Wall Avenue Journal.

    That media ecosystem has now been upended and the trail to success has modified. Wennmachers’ skill to push out a story not will depend on having an editor’s ear. Andreessen Horowitz can advance its personal editorial concepts by means of weblog posts, podcasts, social media, and a newly launched YouTube channel impartial of the media, connecting straight with folks beginning or constructing firms.

    Its founders write frequent weblog posts, and so they have entry to sufficient social channels that they not want a Wall Avenue Journal to push out their perspective. A former WIRED editor produces an everyday podcast that’s downloaded and listened to by a large viewers of aspiring founders, enterprise folks, policymakers, and tech lovers. “The working joke of the agency is that we’re a media firm that monetizes by means of enterprise capital,” Andreessen says. It’s a joke, but in addition an inevitable evolution of Wennmachers’ position—by which a communications lead begins to look way more like a media tycoon.

    Not too long ago, because the trade has grappled with its speedy ascendance, the Valley’s tales have taken a special type. Who will get to construct and run tech firms? The reply appeared straightforward till Ellen Pao jumpstarted a painful reckoning together with her sexual harassment swimsuit towards Kleiner Perkins. How ought to these firms be run? As executives at startups like Theranos, Andreessen-backed Zenefits, and Uber are newly uncovered for malfeasance, it’s robust to content material with all of the issues that went unquestioned. Have we given the most important of those firms—Fb, Google, Amazon—an excessive amount of energy, and is it too late to control them?

    Andreessen Horowitz can advance its personal editorial concepts by means of weblog
    posts, podcasts, social media, and a newly launched YouTube channel.

    The very premise on which Wennmacher has primarily based her work—that the geeky outsiders are literally visionaries who’re creating the long run, and needs to be driving enterprise—has come to cross. Or, as Wennmachers places it: “Tech is changing into its personal energy heart.” She holds it up alongside our nation’s different energy facilities, like Wall Avenue, Washington, and Hollywood. “This tech factor was experimental. Now the businesses are big. The revenues are actual. Everyone has a smartphone, in order that they’re on the web on a regular basis.”

    Within the face of this, Wennmachers is bolstering the agency’s media technique in an try and change into much more related to folks attempting to grasp tech. “The perfect position for us to play is to clarify expertise, clarify the long run, clarify the way it works, clarify the potential implications,” she says. “We simply must double down on it.” By fashioning Andreessen Horowitz because the world’s tech translator, she believes the agency can broaden its position as an professional on all issues Silicon Valley.

    But the best hazard tech employees face is that they cling to an outdated view of themselves. For the agency to keep up this authority, the Valley itself should evolve. The tropes that Wennmachers helped to vogue, the concepts that constructed the picture of the heroic founder, should now be reexamined. This requires a extreme and sudden-feeling identification shift.

    Nevertheless it additionally means there’s a gap for a brand new narrative. There’s an opportunity for at the very least a few of tech’s execs to solid themselves as stewards and interact in conversations about what we must always do with the issues they’re constructing and the ensuing wealth that’s generated. That is the chance that Andreessen Horowitz’s rising media empire offers: that Wennmacher will supply up a brand new picture for a cohort of tech’s founders—as sensible and nerdy, sure, but in addition established, inclusive, and fair-minded. That after once more she is going to set the narrative—a greater one, for this second— and the Valley will align itself round her imaginative and prescient.

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