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Kelly Evans: Did software eat the world?

CNBC's Kelly Evans
CNBC

My write-up of Marc Andreesen's "IT'S TIME TO BUILD" plea on Monday was met with mostly guffaws.  

They ranged from "this is a terribly constructed essay, he just repeats the same thing over and over again" to "why doesn't he lead by example? Building infrastructure requires thinking beyond next quarter's profits, which VCs don't want to do."  Perhaps the most biting was this one: "The reason we don't have all those things is that Silicon Valley diverted all the investment dollars into 'Mommy Do' and 'Get me laid' apps for rich white boys." Allrighty then!  

Andreesen himself concluded by writing: "I expect this essay to be the target of criticism. Here's a modest proposal to my critics. Instead of attacking my ideas of what to build, conceive your own! What do you think we should build? There's an excellent chance I'll agree with you."  

But would he invest in your ideas? This is where a lot people are getting stuck. I have to be honest: I can appreciate his criticisms of our culture without needing to tie it all back to Andreesen Horowitz's portfolio. The ad hominem question--Is he a hypocrite? --is less interesting to me than is he right?, but I seem to be in the minority.  

Still, Ben Thompson of Stratechery is very good, as always, on the question of whether Silicon Valley and Andreesen himself are to blame for the culture Andreesen is decrying. "The sort of building Andreesen calls for," Thompson says, "is very much in the real world, costs real money both up-front and on marginal basis, and would surely make the most sense anywhere but Silicon Valley," where firms are obsessed with 90% gross margins on software plays like Airbnb that can scale massively. 

What's more, "human progress in this view," says Thompson--meaning Andreesen's view of, for instance, how much better off the world is with Amazon instead of Borders distributing books--"is solely online." Or rather, it has been up until now.  

So what should tech investors like Andreesen do to encourage more building in the real world? Thompson suggests (a), embrace and accelerate distributed work, which is also a weapon against overbearing regulation (because then companies can always pick up and leave); (b), invest in companies that do hardware, and (c), figure out a business model incorporating both of these things that has "a higher likelihood of success along with a lower upside." This is the reverse of the current VC "lotto ticket" model, where only a few companies will make it big but those who do will make it very, VERY big.  

Nothing short of a VC revolution, frankly. But to me, Silicon Valley is only a symptom of a larger societal problem, which Andreesen himself discusses. As Thompson puts it: "The idea that too much regulation has made tech the only place where innovation is possible is one that must be grappled with, and fixed." 

I got all excited after reading Andreesen's piece last weekend, thinking now we'll finally have this big discussion!! Instead, people flooded my inbox with "ugh, this guy is the worst." I'll be speaking to venture capitalist Duncan Davidson about some of this towards the end of The Exchange today (you can listen to the podcast version of the show here). 

See you at 1 p.m! 

Kelly

Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans