The recent publication of Marc Andreessen’s manifesto has the entire global tech ecosystem buzzing. Given his stature, influence, and history as an innovator and investor, his views carry substantial weight.
But what may feel like a provocation to many is also an invitation to reflect on one’s own motivations and values. That is what I have been doing the past few days in conversations with colleagues and clients, and those interactions have been clarifying.
Like Andreessen, I am a “techno-optimist.” I am a strong believer in technology. I am a strong believer in growth.
Eight years ago, I founded D’Ornano + Co. at the intersection of those two principles because I wanted to create an advisory firm that would help connect the best founders with the best investors. The goal has always been to help disruptive companies grow in a way that makes them resilient, i.e. with business models that work and that are capable of absorbing the many shocks that await them. Such businesses establish an equilibrium built on strong tech and finance that is diverse and delivers long-term value for all stakeholders.
It’s not just about growth. It’s about the right kind of growth. It’s about high-quality growth.
The urgency of making that distinction has become clearer over the past 18 months. After several frenetic years of easy money and massive valuations, the tech world has come back to Earth. Interest rates that we haven’t seen in 20 years have returned. The public markets turned sour on Big Tech, at least temporarily. Many large investors who had written some of the biggest checks slammed on the brakes, and many will keep pressing on the pause button for long. Though the Klavyio IPO offered some hope for companies stuck in the IPO backlog, it also has highlighted just how difficult it is to pull off an IPO in 2023.
This is not a crisis. This is just the world getting back to normal.
As markets cool, the innovation wheel continues to turn. We are in the second year of GenAI, a breakthrough technology we believe will be the foundation of profound disruption. Deals are picking up again. Disruptive companies are raising money from savvy investors.
For our firm, this is also the second year of Hybrid Growth Diligence, a new service we created to help investors identify High-Growth Tech Assets and fully understand their risks and opportunities. HGD is built on the work we have done since 2015 and represents in many ways the purest expression of our core mission: Helping investors build conviction on fast-growing, highly uncertain companies unleashing innovation.
Our vision for Hybrid Growth Diligence is that growth, as the ultimate value driver, must be properly measured, capturing both the quantitative and qualitative aspects. The truth must be known and understood not just on the financial and operational metrics, but on the company’s broader impact on the world.
Underlying Andreessen’s 5,000+ words manifesto is an argument that for entrepreneurs and innovations to succeed and thrive, they must be left alone. Everyone — critics, government, activists — should just get out of technology’s way. He imagines that the success of great technology in inevitable.
Except that it’s not.
Our firm thinks very differently about this. At our very core is the conviction that a great idea by itself is not enough. It must be matched with financial rigor and discipline. Assumptions must be challenged and analyzed. The best entrepreneurs should hunger for this. The best investors should demand this.
It’s worth remembering that Steve Jobs’ first legendary Macintosh computer — hailed for its design breakthroughs — was an abysmal financial failure that almost sank Apple into oblivion. The success of such wonders, no matter how they may dazzle, is far from assured. A lack of business discipline can be fatal for even the most transformative technologies.
Great ideas must be part of a great business to truly flourish. You must know how and when to course correct. You must grapple with the fundamentals and define what those are. You must be able to measure both quantative and qualitative elements of the business to track progress, to understand what is working and what is not working.
This becomes even more crucial as we think about the economy of 2030. Like Andreessen, we believe that tech is going to disrupt every sector of the economy. GenAI, for example, will allow researchers to develop new medicines that were never possible before. We also agree that tech offers the greatest potential to solve our most pressing global problems. Climate change. Social and economic inequality. Political instability
These problems, and the stakes for solving them, are only growing. This also means that we are in a different, more difficult world where rising climate and geopolitical risks are impacting businesses. Founders and investors can no longer look at a company in a narrow way.They must acknowledge they are global citizens and know how to manage the company accordingly.
Adding another layer of complication: The pace of innovation is accelerating and often takes surprising directions. Look again at GenAI. As dramatic as the impact has already been, startups and investors are still trying to define the business use cases that will build long-term value. Is that creating products at the bleeding edge of computer power which can be costly? Or is it integrating it into SaaS products in a way that provides meaningful and profitable solutions to customers?
With markets and technologies rapidly evolving, developing a long-term view on an asset will become critical. In these conditions, it would be impossible to eliminate all volatility in a company’s development. But you can understand it. Insisting on the right frameworks to answer these questions will reveal the level of resilience, which is what makes it possible to grow fast.
This is about metrics. But it is about more than metrics.
Metrics are pieces of a puzzle that when assembled correctly reveal the larger picture. This allows investors to answer with confidence three key questions: Is this a great business? Am I investing at a good price? Do I know the asset well? These help identify the founders who can demonstrate a holistic thinking that leads to stronger financial performance.
It’s not enough to just find entrepreneurs with bold ideas, though that is important. In this new context, we will also see increased dispersion in the future of these companies, making them even more difficult to uncover. To identify the winning companies, investors must look for those companies that are targeting the harder, bigger problems and that are executing best-in-class.
By assessing just how solid the foundation of business is, investors can identify and back the right horses. This orients investor money to the best startups that are building that future economy. Because these markets and technologies are so new, there needs to be clear understanding of the frameworks that should be applied to measure success. The right frameworks enable a new appreciation of growth.
Guardrails are also necessary to ensure that both technology and growth are going in the right direction, and that this is not done to the detriment of people or the environment.
We are capitalists. But we also recognize that capitalism and markets do not automatically address nor improve social welfare.
The mistake here is to think that regulations and financial discipline will constrain an entrepreneur or limit innovation by subjecting them to intense scrutiny. Our experience has demonstrated over and over that the opposite is true: Having clear metrics and clear insight into the business allows investors to identify the best startups and benefits founders by helping them truly understand all of the components of their business on a granular level. Even better, such tools are aligned with the fiduciary duty that all investors have.
We can see in headlines the consequences of investors failing to do the kind of due diligence necessary to truly understand the inner mechanics of their startups. Lack of strong governance, for instance, leads to debacles like FTX where the current trial of its founder continues to provide alarming details about the lack of even the most basic controls.
To succeed, it’s not enough to be a genius. Having the best AI is not sufficient. The companies building tomorrow’s economy will succeed based on their ability to build diverse supply chains, efficiently distribute their products and services, and build strong customer relationships that drive strong unit economics. These companies will think differently about their moats and will build and protect the right ones.
These companies will separate themselves from competitors. Founders and investors should embrace this financial discipline not just to be nice. Not just to be humanists. But because this will make them rich.
Fundamentally, we are capitalists.
Investors have a fiduciary duty to make money for the people who give them money. That’s the fundamental purpose of investing. By assessing the things that others have not seen, founders and investors can illuminate the once-hidden parts of the business that unlock the real competitive advantage and value.
It is urgent to play a prominent role in bringing new technologies forward and to lead the latest wave of innovation. I believe we have an active role to play here by helping investors build conviction on those companies.
This is how, together, we will build the winning companies of tomorrow. Those that will shape our future, deliver long term value and demonstrate high resilience amidst growing uncertainty.