Chris Dixon

Partner at a16z

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON April 19, 2016

Discussion

Hi, I’m Chris Dixon, general partner at the venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz. I was a computer programmer for most of my life, and cofounded two technology companies: Hunch, a machine-learning company which was acquired by eBay, and SiteAdvisor, a security company which was acquired by McAfee. Before a16z, I was a personal investor in a bunch of tech startups and also cofounded Founder Collective, a seed-stage venture firm. At a16z, I've focused on speculative, emerging technologies like virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, distributed computing, cryptocurrencies, and bio-hacking. Ask away! ** Thanks everyone for the great questions! I'm out of time but really enjoyed it. Happy to chat more later on Twitter and Medium (@cdixon).
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProductHunt & @AngelList
@cdixon hey Chris! Thanks for joining us. Are you worried at all about the singularity? In relation to Ray Kurzweil's prediction's, which makes it seem that in 2 to 3 decades civilization as we know it will be gone, and we'll essentially become one with machines. TL;DR:
@nivo0o0 I think people watch too much dystopian science fiction 😀. I think AI will be mostly a positive force. Like all technologies it will get misused, but I think the Skynet concerns are more Hollywood fantasy than real life. Meanwhile we have real, genuine scary things to worry about like climate change.
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
Hi Chris, how do you identify emerging trends and how do you pick ventures in nascent markets?
@candriopoulos I try to spend a lot of time reading and meeting with smart people and listening to what they are excited about. Usually when really smart people are excited about a new technology something interesting going to happen in that area in the next few years.
mxschumacher@mxschumacher · curious
@cdixon @candriopoulos Would be fantastic to hear about written sources you rely on- are there specific publications, scientific journals, websites (aside from the obvious ones like Twitter, HN etc.), blogs. E.g. where do you get early-stage contrarian inspiration?
@mxschumacher @candriopoulos I'm a huge Reddit user. Not the main page but topic specific subreddits like /r/Oculus r/Nootropics /r/Futurology etc. Also obviously I read tech press, HN, Twitter, and Product Hunt 😀. I particularly like discussions of product & tech as opposed to discussions of valuations, finance etc.
@cdixon @mxschumacher @candriopoulos Started a nootropics company a number of years back. Interesting stuff
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
@cdixon @mxschumacher Thank you for sharing your invaluable insights. I really appreciate it.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Chris! Thanks for joining :) 1) How did you transition from a developer to a founder and how do you advise other developers to do the same? 2) How did you start out as an angel investor and how do you advise other aspiring angel investors who are in a position to do so? 3) What's the story of how a16z came about for you?
@eriktorenberg 1) I had a lot of great mentors including the folks at Bessemer Venture Partner where I worked before starting my first venture-backed company. I also spent a lot of time talking to entrepreneurs and trying to learn from them. 2) I made my first angel investment 1 week after selling SiteAdvisor :) I love startups and wanted to get involved with more of them. I was hugely influenced by Ron Conway who was an investor in SiteAdvisor and is just an incredibly great person and huge help to entrepreneurs. 3) I was at eBay after Hunch got acquired and thought i'd probably do investing full time at some point. I thought maybe I'd do that on my own but then started talking to a16z and just thought it was awesome what they were building and wanted to be a part of it.
Austin Teague@austin_teague · Full-Stack Marketer and Entrepreneur
@cdixon As an investor how do you find startups to invest in? Specifically is it through referrals, cold emails, specific searches/sites? Second, what is the biggest frustration leading up to investing in a startup?
@austin_teague @austin_teague I spend a lot of time following what smart hackers are interested in (see http://cdixon.org/2013/03/03/wha...). Companies come to us all sorts of ways. Often through referrals. Sometimes we reach out. It varies.
@cdixon @austin_teague "What the smartest people do on the weekend is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years" - Awesome title
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
@cdixon you've done some deals where you're the first money in (e.g. the recently announced comma.ai) and some where, according to Crunchbase, you're leading a $75m Series B (Oculus) or $30m Series C (Shapeways). - How do you think about your investing approach, are you looking to primarily focus on seed deals, but do some later stage deals if the company is legit, or are you more stage agnostic?
@_jacksmith I've been focusing mostly on seed and Series A for the past year and half or so. So if you are a seed or Series A stage company looking for financing please contact me. :)
Charles Jo@charlesjo · Creator, Startup Study Group (SSG)
A16Z invests a lot of time in media: twitter, blogs, podcasts... Has this provided increased volume of quality deal flow compared to other firms who don't?
@charlesjo: What we try to do is just open up the discussions we are already having internally and make them public. That's one reason I really like podcasting- the format kind of forces you to be natural and have a normal conversation.
Charles Jo@charlesjo · Creator, Startup Study Group (SSG)
@cdixon Awesome. Founders and investors are learning a lot through a16z podcasts. Cc @tapefinder @smc90
Dylan Qian@dylan_qian
Hi Chris! Thanks for doing this! Is there a certain action in particular (ex. adoption by Walmart, acceptance by Visa, etc.) that you would consider the turning point of bringing bitcoin to the mainstream market? Thanks in advance! PS: Would you be interested in speaking to undergraduate students at NYU next time you're in NYC?
DRFarrell@d_r_farrell
Hey Chris! BIG fan of Hunch! It was a fantastic product! What happened to the notion of building a taste-profile for everyone on the internet? Why didn't you guys reject Ebay's offer for acquisition and continue to build the product out? Do you think there's still potential for a Hunch-like product?
Bryan Landers@bryanlanders · Design Principal, Backstage Capital
@d_r_farrell @chrisdixon Yes! Similar question. Whenever I see apps like https://www.producthunt.com/tech... I recall Hunch. You had a killer start using quizzes to fill out the taste graph - can you tell us what you learned from the consumer-facing side of the product and why Hunch shifted focus?
@d_r_farrell Thanks! In the end the eBay deal worked out well. Ebay is using Hunch for their core recommendation technology. I think we were a bit early doing machine learning back in 2008-10. I think today with the breakthroughs in deep learning you could build much more powerful AI.
DRFarrell@d_r_farrell
@bryanlanders @chrisdixon Seriously! I gotta go dig-up my Hunch T-shirt and flair...
DRFarrell@d_r_farrell
@cdixon I'll take that as permission to pursue a similar company! :D Any recommendations on resources or articles?
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What are your favourite questions to ask founders?
@bentossell We like to spend a significant amount of time hearing about founders' backgrounds and what led them to start their company. We are big believers in founder-market fit http://cdixon.org/2011/06/20/fou.... I find another great way to spend time with founders is to walk through the idea maze: http://cdixon.org/2013/08/04/the...
Alec Ross@alecjross · Author, The Industries of the Future
Who are you going to vote for for President?
@alecjross I try to stay out of public political discussions :)
Alec Ross@alecjross · Author, The Industries of the Future
@cdixon I had to try ... :)
Paul Sondhi@paulsondhi · Student
Hey Chris, awesome to see you on here! If you were going to disrupt higher education right now, what would you do?
Paul Sondhi@paulsondhi · Student
@cdixon Thanks for the link! Absolutely agree with your sentiment; online courses (and not offline courses published online) develop a strong continuous learning ethic that is valuable in the long-term. Also, ditto @dylan_qian, we'd love to have you at NYU :)
Eon@eonpilot · Swift dev @ eon.codes
Hello Chris Dixon, I spoke to a Chinese guy on twitter the other day and I could not convince him i was not a bot. In the end I used Google translate and said something in Chinese. He finally gave in. Do you think we will soon see the emergence of bot-blockers? Similar to ad-blockers?
Drew Meyers@drewmeyers · Co-Founder, Horizon
@eonpilot haha.. super interesting question. I'm interesting in hearing responses to this as well.
@eonpilot The whole bot trend is interesting. I think there are multiple threads including 1) text vs voice interface (e.g. to communicate with businesses), 2) lower friction user acquisition for developers who are frustrated with app store rich-get-richer dynamics 3) advances in NLP making automated discussions much better (we were investors in Wit.AI which is the NLP engine behind Facebook's new bot platform). In general when tech X gets big there are anti-X techs. So If bots are a big deal there probably will be bot blockers :)
Charles Kunene@charles_kunene · Co-founder & Product Designer @Obaa
What's your biggest frustration with Silicon Valley in general and what would you do to solve it?
@charles_kunene Well--as you might expect --I'm generally very positive on Silicon Valley. I think this place/time will be looked back on as a very special golden era in the history of technology. I do favor the trend towards bigger, ambitious startups that solve hard problems. I think for a while people in the startup community assumed that only big companies can take on very hard technical challenges like self-driving cars, virtual reality, AI etc. I think that's starting to change and I'm very excited about it.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · PMM @Twitter // Previously @ProductHunt
Who's the most underrated investor, in your opinion?
Kingsong Chen@kingsongchen · Founder at Scanate
Hi Chris, what are some lessons learned from a16z's investment in OpenGov and how do you feel about startups working on government technology?
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@cdixon so awesome to have you on PH having heard so much about you from @epaley and @dafrankel I have to ask, how did you approach the task of developing your pattern recognition when you started investing? What were those key moments that helped shape your thinking?
Paul Tomkinson@paultomkinson · Founder, Textras
Hi Chris. Thank you for taking time with us. In 2012 Marc said about you, 'entrepreneurs who work with Chris routinely say that he was a bigger contributor to their success than their own VCs.' What since then have you learned as something entrepreneurs don't place much value in, that their VC's can help with in terms of success, that they should?
Ben Center@benhcenter · Investor Relations Associate, Onevest
Hi @cdixon, thank you for sharing your time with us! I'm curious about the acquisition process, in light of this recent article on Medium: http://firstround.com/review/one... What do you think are some of the characteristics, skills, and leadership strategies that people often overlook (or underestimate the importance of) that is crucial to building acquire-friendly companies?
Will Fry@williamrfry · Building @SolutionLoft, Studying @Penn
@cdixon As a programmer in another life, how do you think programming will change in the next 20 years? What will it look like? How much of software creation will be automated?