Here’s a great entrepreneurial story from the great Marc Andreessen:
Marc Andreessen co-founded Web browser company Netscape, whose IPO launched the 1990s dot-com stock boom. Now he and business partner Ben Horowitz–who worked together at Opsware, a company sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2007 for $1.65 billion–have started their own venture capital shop, Andreessen Horowitz. They’ve raised an initial, $300 million fund.
I’ll tell you about the first executive staff meeting that we had, when Jim Barksdale became the CEO of a new company called Netscape.
So, Netscape was founded in April 1994. Jim Barksdale, who had been the head of McCaw Cellular and Federal Express before that, became the CEO in early 1995. At that point, Netscape had just released its first products.
The revenue was already growing extremely fast. We were hiring people left and right, and it was just generally chaos. It was one of these companies where people were running around, doing all kinds of stuff, and it was hard to tell what was happening. And there was generally a huge amount of confusion.
Jim showed up at the first executive staff meeting and said, “OK, I want you to listen very carefully to what I have to say.” He said, “We have three rules here at this company now. Rule No. 1 is when you see a snake, kill the snake.” In other words, when you see a problem, and there’s something that needs to be fixed, just go ahead and fix it. Don’t screw around. Don’t delay. Don’t overanalyze it. Just fix the problem. And we said, “OK, Jim. We got that.”
And then he said, “Rule No. 2 is, don’t play with dead snakes.” He said, “When a problem has been solved, or you have taken an approach on something, do not revisit it. Simply move on down the road.” And that one was very helpful, because I think as a company at that point, we had a pattern of touching dead snakes.
And then the third thing he said was, “Often, the biggest opportunities start out looking like snakes … look for the points of disruption.” Look for the things where something is going wrong, because that may indicate a major opportunity. And that was essentially the operating manual for the company for several years.
You know, it lodged in our brains.