Marc Andreessen has been invited to join the board at eBay. The online auction company has been struggling of late, never mind CEO John Donahoe's assertion that what's bad for the American economy is good for eBay. Andreessen, probably smelling the stink blowing in from the rising tide, stockpiled enough venture capital to last Ning through a "nuclear winter." Proving his acumen at swindling investors if nothing else — and he does know how to keep employees overworked between stints at eager, young startups like Netscape and Ning and layoff-happy AOL. [San Jose Mercury News]
"My engineers say, 'We're normal people too.' And then I have to have a conversation with them about why they're not." — Ning CEO Gina Bianchini, speaking at MIT's EmTech conference about her workers' lack of a feel for what interests the social-network tool's users.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — "That is not my presentation, although it would be very sexy if it were," said Ning CEO Gina Bianchini, as she took the stage at MIT's EmTech conference here, with someone else's Windows desktop blown up on a screen behind her. Alas, her presentation, a canned version of Ning's stump speech, was not sexy. Bianchini routinely talks up Ning, a set of tools for developing customized social networks, as if it were a platform, and takes audiences through a tiresome parade of the free websites created by her customers. MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are "walled gardens," she says — techspeak for an online service whose contents are tightly controlled by its owner. But listening to Bianchini, I couldn't help thinking that "walled garden" is code for "an idea I wished I'd come up with."
Comedian Hasan Minhaj recently left his old job at social networking startup Ning to persue a career in standup comedy and writing. Pointing out to the crowd at the Punchline last night where he was hosting, Minhaj explained that his old boss, Ning founder Marc Andreessen, was worth $5.6 billion. So why work startup hours for a few thousand a month when you could kidnap the guy for ransom? Because, as he lamented, his coworkers "put the soft in software." However, "I put the hard in hardware," Minhaj boasted. "Milpitas 'til I die!" It was all posturing in good fun, and the bit got a hearty laugh. I, for one, see the inevitable buddy picture road movie, with a disgruntled employee kidnapping a wealthy technology CEO and making a run for the border as hijinx ensue. Minhaj is performing tonight at the space180 gallery in the Mission tonight and at the Makeout Room tomorrow.
PALO ALTO — Thursday night in a Crowne Plaza hotel, with an Elks Club banquet roaring next door, Netscape cofounder, Ning king, and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen sat down with Portfolio writer Kevin Maney for a Churchill Club interview. This wasn't exactly what Andreessen had planned. Back in May, he wrote on his blog that he planned to stop speaking in public: "Used to be, if you wanted to get a message out into the market, you would give a talk at a conference, a reporter would write down some of what you said and mangle the rest, and you'd call it a day.... Mid-year resolution #1: No more public speaking. Mid-year resolution #2: More blogging." Two weeks later, he stopped blogging. Here follows a thoroughly mangled version of his comments. Marc, you have no one to blame but yourself.On Microsoft:
Marc Andreessen's Ning is a platform for thousands of social networks. Mick Balaban and Spencer Forman's WidgetLaboratory builds and sells add-ons for operators of those social sites. Or did, until August 22. That's when Ning general counsel Robert Ghoorah wrote Forman to say that WidgetLaboratory would be booted from the site for breaking its rules. The charge: something about how their widgets "unduly degraded" the rest of Ning. Now, Forman's made that email — as well as 14 others between Forman, Ghoorah, and Ning CEO Gina Bianchini — available online. Trust us, you don't want to read them all. Here's the soap opera minus the froth:
It's not Ning's porn-sharing communities, Facebook's co-ed antics, and MySpace's ninja sex angel users that prevent these social networking sites from making as much money off ads as hoped. It's the issue of getting quality attention with each insertion, writes Bryant Urstadt for the MIT Technology Review. He doesn't blame the "rude content" (you know, what the users do) or the advertisers getting skittish about running a banner adjacent to the list of people you've slept with. It's not users being naughty that's the problem — it's that no one knows how to sell against "bad behavior" yet.
NEW YORK — VCs continue to invest irrationally, Spark Capital partner Dennis Miller said at EconAds yesterday. He said too many VCs invest in "rock star" founders as though they are "a call option on a bright future." Others too quickly buy the hype from hard-selling founders. Too many company's are getting too high valuations, he added.
By offering a suite of tools for websites to add a social network layer, Google isn't challenging established players like Facebook and MySpace, but instead sites offering customizable, turnkey social networks. In other words, look out, Marc Andreessen: Larry and Sergey just declared themselves the Microsoft to Ning's Netscape. [News.com]
Few people outside Silicon Valley have heard of Roelof Botha. But the former CFO of PayPal is famous here. His two claims to fame: negotiating that company's $1.5 billion sale to eBay, and later, as a partner at Sequoia Capital, investing in YouTube and quickly flipping the startup to Google for $1.65 billion. Is it a coincidence that that figure is 10 percent higher than his PayPal score? Few insiders think so. Botha gets four pages in Sarah Lacy's Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good — more than Google cofounder Sergey Brin. Other figures who appear on the second page of her Web 2.0 book's index: John Battelle, Ning CEO Gina Bianchini, Facebook board member Jim Breyer, blog blowhard Jason Calacanis, and YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, whom Botha made quite wealthy.
Digg cofounder Jay Adelson is now asked by the likes of Kara Swisher how he'd fix big media companies, as in this clip. But there was a time when he barely knew what to do with his own Internet startup, Equinix. That tale and more covers 54 out of 294 pages in Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good, Sarah Lacy's soon-to-be-released book about Web 2.0. The first page of the book's index, one of many to come:
Netscape cofounder and propagator of porn social networks Marc Andreessen will join Facebook's board of directors, Kara Swisher reports. Andreessen will join current board members Accel Partners Jim Breyer, Clarium Capital's Peter Thiel, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Andreessen is the chairman of Ning, a company which sells tools for rolling your own social network. If your mom has an excellent visual memory, she will probably remembers him for appearing on the cover of Time magazine without shoes on. You can tell her that he dresses better now, but only slightly. Why Andreessen, and not a proxy for new investors Microsoft or Li Ka-Shing?
Ning founder Marc Andreessen is already on the record about Microsoft's proposed takeover of Yahoo: He thinks it will likely go through, and turn out to be a good deal. It's a remarkably sanguine take for someone who saw Netscape bought and destroyed by AOL. In a thorough analysis for which he dragooned two corporate lawyers, Andreessen elaborates: Yahoo has few defenses, aside from a poison pill, and Microsoft will likely succeed. For all its thoroughness, the analysis is less interesting for what it says about Microsoft-Yahoo than for what it says about Andreessen.
Every time Marc Andreessen steps away from his desk, disaster abounds. For the father of the Netscape browser, the creator of the Web as we know it, the legendary barefoot geek from the magazine covers, expectations are way too high. And so the disappointments pile up. The Andreessen of today is not the Marc we remember. His pate has gone from mophead to Klingon; his wardrobe, inevitably a tracksuit with leather shoes, is an utter disaster. And when he speaks, he says absolutely nothing. John Battelle, the slickster salesman-interviewer of bubbles past and present, tried to get some fighting words out of Andreessen on stage at Web 2.0 Expo. He failed, utterly, epicly. Andreessen praised Bill Gates, said competing with Microsoft was interesting, described Microsoft-Yahoo as "a good deal."
Here's how things usually work: Have a major outage, then fire your operations guy. At Marc Andreessen's Ning, the social-network Web host best known for its porn sites, things run a bit differently. On Monday, CEO Gina Bianchini fired VP of operations Alexei Rodriguez. On Wednesday, the company saw all of Ning's networks go offline. We hear Rodriguez failed to deliver a promised upgrade to Ning's systems that would have avoided the problem; the outage was coincidental but almost inevitable, given Rodriguez's omission. The larger problem for Ning: No one seems to care that it was down. When you offer porn and still no one complains that they can't get to it, you have a problem which goes much deeper than database configurations.
A Fast Company cover story isn't the only inexplicable gift social-network startup Ning has received. After raising $44 million last July, Ning has raised another $60 million, cofounder Marc Andreessen reluctantly announced. (A regulatory filing uncovered by VentureBeat forced the news out of him.) Why the eight-figure round for a startup whose annual revenues are likely in the low seven figures? Andreessen says he wanted to "make sure we have plenty of firepower to survive the oncoming nuclear winter."
Here's what you really need to know about Ning, according to Fast Company writer Adam Penenberg. Its chairman, Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen, has an egg-shaped head. Its CEO, Gina Bianchini, who posed for Fast Company's cover in a tank top, is a "hottie." And Ning, a provider of websites for niche social networks, is poised to hit "critical mass" and "no one can stop it." Two out of those three statements were factchecked.