Andreessen envyMay 3, 2012: 11:17 AM ET
Venture capital goes an ugly shade of green.
FORTUNE -- Want to get a venture capitalist to roll his eyes dismissively, but don't have a pet food delivery start-up to pitch? Then just mention how much you admire Andreessen Horowitz.
Never before has a new VC group grown so quickly, raising nearly $2.5 billion in its first three years of existence. Nor has another VC firm become the industry's undisputed media darling, before having even returned the initial investment on its first fund. No wonder other VCs are a bit miffed.
"There are hundreds of other VCs who have made more money for their investors than either of those guys," one rival recently told me. "What happens to them if this is a bubble, and it pops? How smart are they going to look?"
Bitter, party of everyone. Not on the record, of course, or to the faces of Andreessen Horowitz staffers. But on background and behind their backs, the envy is epidemic.
Look, I get it. Fundraising is supposed to be hard. Overnight success is anathema to a long-term asset class. And many actually blame Andreessen Horowitz for the tech bubble itself, arguing that the firm's penchant for paying high prices has fomented industry-wide inflation.
But all of that is secondary to a larger, or at least more prevalent, complaint: Media complicity in the Andreessen Horowitz canonization.
I can't argue the point. Andreessen Horowitz have been featured on countless magazine covers (including by Fortune), fawning blog posts, conference keynote slots and Marc Andreessen getting named one of Time's 100 most influential people. But I can, at least, try to explain it. Consider me like Demi Moore in A Few Good Men, when Kevin Pollack asks "Why do you like them so much?"
1. Andreessen Horowitz is better at media management than any other venture capital firm out there. Maybe better than any other financial firm, period.
The primary attribute here is access. If Andreessen Horowitz makes an investment, there is a very good chance that reporters will get phone time with Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Jeff Jordan or whoever else is most appropriate. Same thing if the firm raises a new fund, chooses to give away half its earnings to charity, etc. That may sound obvious, but you'd be amazed how many "brand-name" venture capitalists don't usually give interviews when they do deals. Seriously, how often do you see John Doerr or Mike Moritz quoted about a Series A round? Or even about a fund close?
I'm not trying to say that we're grateful, and thus write nice things. I'm saying that they make a significant effort to disseminate their message, whereas others leave us to our own (often cynical) devices. VC enthusiasm can go a long way, since the investor almost always knows more about the new portfolio company than does the reporter.
Equally important: Andreessen Horowitz doesn't seem to play favorites. I'm sure that Marc and Ben have closer relationships to certain scribes than to others, but the firm seems to offer up its own news on an even playing field. It also hosts several off-the-record dinners each year, at which groups of reporters are invited to break bread with firm execs.
Critics might argue that such meals amount to media manipulation, but they simply reflect how Andreessen Horowitz recognizes the value of access. Not only when it comes to good news, but also when it comes to less flattering situations. If a reporter feels he or she has been treated well by a firm in the past, they will at least give the firm a legitimate chance to plead its case before laying down the written hammer.
2. Few failures. While it is true that Andreessen Horowitz is too green to have had many major successes, it also hasn't had many major failures. In other words, there isn't a series of bad deals for us to criticize. In fact, it's biggest mistake so far might have been choosing to invest in PicPlz at the expense of losing its ability to re-up with Instagram. And that mistake simply meant that Andreessen Horowitz will net around $78 million in profit instead of a couple hundred million.
3. No corruption or other personal foibles. Ever heard ther one about how Andreessen screwed over that entrepreneur. Or how Horowitz dressed down that reporter? Yeah, me neither. Not saying it hasn't happened -- everyone has their moments -- but neither name partner has developed a nasty reputation. That matters when developing other narratives.
Again, the envy felt by other VCs toward Andreessen Horowitz is completely understandable. And, someday, they might get some schadenfreude if Andreessen Horowitz missteps cause us reporters to tear Marc and Ben down from the pedestal that we built for them. But, for now, the adoration is deserved. Sorry.
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