Venture capital star Ben Horowitz takes a look at corporate culture


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Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz.

Photograph by David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

Ben horowitz, co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, sits in his San Francisco office, patiently waiting for me. I’m late, running through SOMA, from another meeting across Market Street, having miscalculated how long it would take to get there.

I’m showing up 15 minutes late for our discussion on What you do is who you are, his new book on creating corporate cultures. We start with a discussion about the environment in his own company. Horowitz says his business emphasizes respecting entrepreneurs, getting back to businesses even when they aren’t funded, for example, and not keeping people waiting.

“We fine people $ 10 a minute for being late for meetings,” he said without any irony, or winking at me, or trying to enforce his rule, though he say there are no exceptions for their own employees. “You have to plan your day so that you don’t waste a minute of an entrepreneur’s time. The fines burn him.

I nod and change the subject.

Horowitz says the new book is really “a bit of unfinished business” from his first book, The Difficulty of Tough Things: Starting a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, which was released in 2014. “I didn’t talk about culture in the first one,” he explains. “It’s the thing I’ve struggled with the most as a CEO. ”

Prior to co-founding Andreessen Horowitz, he was co-founder and CEO of Opsware, a software company acquired by


Hewlett Packard

in 2007 for $ 1.6 billion. “It’s so difficult and complex and difficult to scale. And there isn’t much good that has been written about it.

Horowitz says that in most companies, the culture tends to be organic, rather than purposefully designed. “Very few people have the skills to do it right. He says companies often hire consultants to help create a culture, with little success. “Consultants want you to organize offsite activities and brainstorm corporate value lists, and then post them on your office walls. But that’s not really how we do it.

According to Horowitz, culture is everything you do, not what you say. “A culture is a set of actions, not beliefs and intentions,” he says. “It’s what you do and who you are. ”

In addition to, uh, not keeping people waiting for meetings, Horowitz says his company surveys entrepreneurs it refuses to fund for customer satisfaction. You would think that this might not be a successful endeavor. But that’s not how he sees it.

“Our Net Promoter Score for rejected entrepreneurs is higher than Verizon’s NPS for the customers they actually have,” he says. “Our first source of referrals are rejected entrepreneurs. They say their experience with us is different. It’s much more important than things like posting a set of values ​​on a wall.

When it comes to the growing discussion of culture at large companies in Silicon Valley, Horowitz finds the situation … complicated. “Uber’s culture under Travis Kalanick was 99% good, but they missed one thing,” he says, for example. “They trained on culture, they did a lot of things to strengthen culture, but they didn’t understand that we have to make ethics explicit … How can Susan Fowler come to Uber, get sexually harassed on your first day on the job, send a complaint to HR, and then the company does nothing. They made decisions based on their focus on competitiveness.

In the book, Horowitz reaches far beyond Silicon Valley to find organizations with strong ethical cultures. The first chapter focuses on Toussaint Louverture, who led the slave rebellion that became the Haitian Revolution in 1791, the only slave uprising that led to the creation of a nation. Horowitz says he has read almost every book written on Louverture, which banned looting by his troops. Horowitz says Louverture’s position was that you cannot have freedom if you take things from others. “They had a strong ethical code. You can’t just assume that people will do the right thing.

Other chapters delve into the samurai code of honor and the bizarre story of Shaka Senghor, who served 19 years in prison for second degree murder, led a prison gang and was eventually released and became a writer. and teacher. He has since written six books and lectured at the MIT Media Lab, among others.

Horowitz explores the ethical code of the Melanics, the Senghor Michigan prison gang. “The Melanics code was complex, but it essentially made everyone responsible for their colleagues,” he writes in the book. “If an outside member hit a member, the whole organization would rise up against him, which meant he would not be safe in any prison … If a member was deemed unworthy – often because he was not hadn’t come to the aid of another member – he was losing his protection.

Horowitz has a surprising take on what happened at WeWork, one of today’s most interesting examples of a culture that has gone off the rails.

“WeWork had great cultural strengths,” he says. “They had incredible optimism and the belief that you can do anything, that they were going to change the nature of work. They had this gigantic vision and a degree of cultural optimism that defies gravity.

“They were trying not to hear the bad news. The employees of this company knew they were burning money much faster than they were supposed to, but the information did not land. The danger now is that they’ve got rid of the guy who built this cultural force. Adam [former CEO Adam Neumann] has done nothing ; he brought in a tremendous amount of money, talent and clients. Who is going to do this now?

One piece of advice Horowitz offers entrepreneurs is that culture should support the company’s strategy. TO


Amazon.com

(AMZN), he says, there is a culture of frugality, so at one point staff used offices made outside. “This cultural value for Apple would never make sense,” he says. We discuss the remarkable Steve Jobs Theater on Apple’s new headquarters campus, which to me looks like a national monument, with vast swaths of glossy white marble.

“They’re never going to build a theater like this at Amazon,” says Horowitz. “Or give you a door to an office at Apple.”

Write to Eric J. Savitz at [email protected]


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