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Ben Horowitz MS ’90

Ben Horowitz

Climbing the latter of success: Ben Horowitz MS ’90 trains others to reach their full CEO potential

By Wileen Wong Kromhout

Between 2005 and 2009, Ben Horowitz MS ’90 and friend, Marc Andreessen separately and together invested $4 million in 45 start-ups, among them Twitter and Qik, a live mobile video company. During those four years, the two quickly became known as superangel investors: major players in a new trend of early-stage financing.

Things were going well when the two decided to become business partners and open a new venture capital firm. Andreessen Horowitz, today seen as one of the hottest venture capital firms in the technology sector, was established in June 2009. Recently, it was announced that the firm would also be starting a second fund to invest in tech start-ups after raising $650 million, an unheard of feat for a firm so young.

The success of Andreessen Horowitz is not surprising when you look at the history of the people behind it, in particular Ben Horowitz. Horowitz’s career, which began at Silicon Graphics in the early ‘90s, rose rapidly after graduating from UCLA.

Horowitz soon joined Netscape in 1995 as a first product manager, that’s where he met Andreessen. At Netscape, Horowitz was rapidly promoted to vice president and general manager responsible for much of the company’s server product line, which included more than 300 employees and $100 million in revenue. When Netscape was acquired by AOL, Horowitz was asked to continue as the company’s vice president in its eCommerce Division.

“Getting an education at UCLA made it obvious that there was some incredible amount of opportunity still left in computer science and still left in building new software based companies and that we were just at the beginning,” said Horowitz.

“My education at UCLA exposed me to almost everything that was going on in computer science at the time. All the things I learned really helped me to understand and gave me the foundation to succeed.”

Horowitz later honed his CEO skills as head of Opsware, a data center automation software provider. A co-founder of Opsware, then known as Loudcloud, Horowitz served as president and CEO of the two companies for their entire history.

Loudcloud, a managed services provider, offered infrastructure and application hosting services to enterprise and Internet customers such as Ford Motor Company and Nike, Inc. In 2001, Horowitz was able to take Loudcloud public. A little over a year later, he sold Loudcloud’s core managed services business to Electronic Data Systems (EDS) for $63.5 million in cash and began the transformation of Loudcloud into Opsware.

Horowitz was able to grow Opsware to hundreds of enterprise customers, over $100 million in annual revenue and 550 employees. Finally in July 2007, Opsware, which nearly collapsed but rebounded under Horowitz’s leadership, was sold to Hewlett-Packard (HP) for $1.6 billion in cash. Following the sale, Horowitz spent another year at HP as their vice president and general manager in HP Software overseeing 3,000 employees and $2.8 billion in annual revenue.

When creating Andreessen Horowitz, the two partners knew their hands-on experience running companies would be of great value to others and both wanted to share that. Envisioning the firm serving as a boot camp for start-up executives, they looked for companies with the technical founder still in charge. They wanted that person to learn how to be the chief executive.

“We are hugely in favor of the founder who intends to be CEO,” explains Andreessen on the company’s Web site, “Not all founders can become great CEOs, but most of the great companies in our industry were run by a founder for a long period of time… we can help that founder develop the skills necessary to reach his or her full CEO potential.”

“Building a good company is a hard and very complicated endeavor,” said Horowitz. “We want to help make it easier to build really high quality companies - successful companies that are great places to work and great places to do business with.”

Today, besides investing in new entrepreneurs, products and companies in the technology industry, Horowitz writes regularly for his blog in syndication with six million followers. Top posts have included topics like: “How to minimize politics in your company,” “Why start-ups should train their people,” “Hiring executives” and “The right way to lay people off.”

“I really enjoy what I’m doing right now,” said Horowitz. “In particular I enjoy writing my blog which is becoming very popular. But the reason I like writing it is it’s a chance for me to basically share all the things that I’ve learned over the years. And the reason it’s been very gratifying is that people are really interested in my trials and tribulations.”