Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Seven More Questions for Andreessen Horowitz Enterprise Dude Peter Levine

peter_levineA few weeks ago, I published some highlights from a conversation I had with Peter Levine of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. At the time, I promised that I’d add a second installment from more of our talk, which was pretty interesting, and here it is.

At the point where I wrapped up part one of our conversation from late last year, Levine had been talking about opportunities he saw around data storage in the enterprise. As he sees it, another big space ripe for disruption — and thus investment — is in security. That’s where the conversation picks up below:

AllThingsD: So Andreessen Horowitz has done a bunch of security deals. What kinds of opportunities are you seeing there?

Levine: Data security. Okta puts active directory out in the cloud. All SAAS apps, everything goes out there. That’s access control, which very much is security. Security is also being exacerbated by the number of mobile devices in an environment. If you have BYO devices and you’re using someone else’s SAAS, as a CIO you don’t own either piece of that. So an interesting security problem to solve is how you make corporate data usable in that scenario.

Is anyone coming close?

Sure. There’s one company in our portfolio. Silver Tail (now part of EMC) does behavioral prevention. It can look at the behavior of an endpoint and determine if it’s a human being. If you can detect patterns of illicit behavior, you can shut them down before they do any damage. So that’s interesting. Bromium, which just announced, which builds impenetrable walls around processes that live on mobile devices. The premise of Bromium is that you no longer have to do virus scanning. It assumes that viruses are coming into a system anyway, and they’re going to come by way of something like a browser, and affect a running process. But if that process is wrapped by an impenetrable wrapper, it can’t get onto the system. To kill that virus, all you do is shut down that process. So that’s an interesting investment we’ve made.

How do you go about finding the companies that you invest in?

We are not thematic investors, first of all. And I love that. To me, if you’re a thematic investor you end up being the 40th one to pick a company in a given stack, because you have to be in on a certain kind of company. We really do see nearly 100 percent of all the deals that are occuring at any given point of time. We evaluate every single company on its merits. As soon as we say we need to be in on something like, say, database technology, then all of a sudden I have made a preordained and preconceived decision that this is important. I don’t want to have a bias coming into things, that I throw out something that’s actually interesting, or include something that may be way overinvested. We look at each company as a fresh canvas, but we will look at companies that have great technical co-founders who believe that they are going to go dominate a given market segment. It may not be obvious at all. Most obvious things are obvious to many people. It’s a matter of finding the non-obvious things. There are a lot of things we see, and there are a lot of areas where we haven’t invested.

Is that how do you explain GitHub? That was a huge deal, and no one really understood it at first.

I wasn’t really looking to invest in a collaborative source code control system. Before last year, I didn’t even know it existed, and didn’t internalize the value of what they do. After we met them and realized the power of what they do, and have done, and the potential future for that company, we invested. It’s interesting when you don’t have biases and just let everyone come in and pitch, knowing you really can see things in the eyes of the entreprenuer, which I believe is really critical. As soon as I have opinions, I start to shape the company in my mind’s eye, and that’s really backward, because as a board member you want them forming the vision and to help along the way.

I’m hearing deal flow has been really high. Is that likely to continue for awhile?

It’s good that we’re seeing tons of stuff, and there’s a tremendous amount of innovation occuring. It used to be there was a lot of consumer stuff going on, and maybe only a few things happening in the enterprise. Now the enterprise deal flow is much higher than consumer. But I’ll tell you, it’s so cool to see all that. And we’ll pass on most things. But it’s cool being here, at this firm, but also at this time. The last time there was really a lot of flourishing innovation around the enterprise was in the mid-1990s.

Will you be doing many more deals in 2013?

I’m sure we will. We have a lot of seed investments right now. It’s a lot like dating before you get married, so I’m a big believer right now in what we have going on with our seed portfolio. They’ve come up for A rounds, and we have the opportunity to really work with the company. But I like seeds, because you get to watch a company and watch the execution and the dynamics of the team. One recent deal we did was Convergent-IO, which was a seed that turned into an A round.

What do you like and dislike in a team?

We’re very much pro-technical co-founder or founder. I would say that that is like a fundamental criteria. It is easier to coach a technical co-founder on how to run a business than it is to coach a professional manager on the DNA of what the vision of the company is. We look for someone who has a burning passion to go take on the world. We want entrepreneurs that want to go for the long ball. They want to run the company for the long term, and they want it to be a standalone enterprise, as opposed to building something to get acquired. We also like to make sure the entrepreneur understands how they’re going to use the money they’re raising. We like for them to have an appreciation of the clear understanding of how to get from point A to B.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik