Welcome to the fifth instalment in our new series lauding the brightest minds, greatest achievers and biggest inspirations in the worlds of trading, finance and business. Each month we’ll bring you a true Littlefish hero – someone whose individual achievements and successes have inspired us here at LFX HQ to do what we do.
This month’s Legend is a high technology entrepreneur turned investor, venture capitalist, blogger, best-selling author and ultimate multi-tasker. So without further ado, it’s time to introduce our fifth Littlefish Legend… Ben Horowitz.
#5 Ben Horowitz
“As a startup CEO, I slept like a baby.
I woke up every two hours and cried.”
Summing up Ben Horowitz’s career in one job title is not an easy task. On his blog, he lists six – computer science student, software engineer, cofounder, CEO, fund raiser, company acquirer and seller. And we’d add bestselling author, blogger, motivational speaker, mentor and now Littlefish Legend to that list as well.
But let’s go back to the beginning – to London in 1966, when Ben was born. Shortly after, his family moved to Berkley, California, where Ben grew up.
By 1990, a 24-year-old Ben had racked up a BA in Computer Science from Colombia University and an MSc in Computer Science from UCLA and moved to Silicon Valley (where else?!). His first job as a graduate was as an engineer at Silicon Graphics, but just four years later he would move on to join Marc Andreessen (more on him later) as one of Netscape’s first product managers.
Rapidly rising to Vice President and General Manager, Ben was already handling over $100M in revenue by the time Netscape was acquired by AOL in 1998 and he became Vice President of AOL’s eCommerce Division.
But it wouldn’t be long before he’d decide to go it alone. In 1999, Horowitz co-founded Loudcloud with Marc Andreessen and two others (Tim Howes and In Sik Rhee). Loudcloud was a managed services provider (nowadays, we’d call it a cloud service provider, but – as Ben puts it – people weren’t quite ready for that in the early 2000s). It attracted some pretty lucrative clients including Nike, Ford Motor Company and the United States Army, to name but a few.
But it wasn’t an easy ride – something Ben takes pains to point out both in his book and blog. The tech industry was struggling with the fallout from the dot-com crash of 2000 and Loudcloud’s customers were going bankrupt in droves. So just three years after it was founded, Ben took the difficult decision to shift his focus, starting by selling Loudcloud’s core managed services business to Electronic Data Systems for $63.5 million in cash – a decision he now describes as the best of his life.
So, now what? A lesser man might have called it a day on the entrepreneurship front. But instead, Ben transformed what was left of Loudcloud into Opsware, a data centre automation software provider. (He tells the full dramatic story of how Loudcloud became Opsware and was ultimately acquired by HP in this blog post – far better than we could).
Ben managed to steer his new company Opsware through a number of obstacles and went on to sell it to Hewlett-Packard just five years later for a sum of $1.65 billion. His brave decision to change course had paid off.
And surely now he was ready to put his feet up and take a rest? Not a chance – instead, he and Marc Andreessen put their heads together and came up with the idea for Andreessen Horowitz – a capital investment firm aimed at investing in and advising both young startups and established companies in high technology, and sharing what Ben had learnt on his journey.
Since then, Ben has backed some incredible talent, including but by no means limited to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Airbnb, Groupon, Instagram and Skype. Basically, if there’s a high-flying tech company emerging in the spotlight, you can safely bet that Ben is behind it. And he’s not pocketing the cash he’s making from investing in some of the biggest tech companies of the 21st century – instead, along with Andreessen, he pledged to donate at least half of his fortune from capital investment to charity.
To share his entrepreneurial wisdom with other companies, entrepreneurs and pretty much anyone who’s struggling, Ben also writes a blog about his experiences, which you can find here. His blog has become something of a triumph in its own right, with 10 million regular readers, and is particularly famous for his brutal honesty about the startup world and use of rap lyrics to complement his business advice (Ben reckons rap music is the sound of entrepreneurship). And he also put his knowledge of exactly why startup life will either kill you or make you stronger into his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers – a bible for anyone thinking of starting their own business, or who’s already embarked on the struggle.
So what’s next for Ben? A look at his blog will tell you he’s still learning, still sharing and still investing in some of the best tech startups out there – and still one to watch.
“By definition, a breakthrough idea looks like a stupid idea. If everybody recognised the idea as a breakthrough idea, it wouldn’t be a breakthrough at all.”
Littlefish on Ben Horowitz…
Here’s what Littlefish FX CEO Sam Barry had to say about Horowitz:
“So, I could go on and on about why Ben is a legend in my eyes. I could also tell you why his book ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ helped me through some periods that without something to turn to would have made the whole struggle much, much harder. But when you have the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Dick Costolo and Peter Thiel singing your praises (if you don’t know who they are, shame on you) and talking about how much inspiration and value they derive from you, then frankly who cares what I say.”