Metaphor matters

I made the three hour drive to Wenatchee last week, so I queued up my friend Ben Gilbert’s excellent podcast Acquired, and got to enjoy their most recent episode on the origins of the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Aside from learning a lot about both Ben Horowitz and Mark Andreessen, I was struck by the importance of the metaphor they choose for their venture firm.

A16Z set a goal of becoming “The CAA of Venture” — or more plainly: a premium Hollywood talent agency in the world of technology venture investing. If that’s the metaphor, it determines some very strategic, ground-level decisions about running a venture firm. For example:

  • A talent agency represents actors, not movies. So a venture-talent agency funds entrepreneurs, not companies.

  • A talent agency will seek out and court actors they want to represent. So a venture-talent agency will aggressively recruit entrepreneurs, whatever stage of a company they’re at.

  • A talent agency develops a relationship that should outlast any particular movie or project. So a venture-talent agency develops founder relationships that should last more than one company.

  • A talent agency does not replace their actor in a movie with some new actor. So a venture-talent agency does not replace their founder in a company with a new one.

  • A talent agency can handle many business matters for an actor so that she does not have to become proficient at those things, and can focus on acting. So a venture-talent agency will roll up anything that they can do on behalf of their founders, especially if there is an advantage to doing any of it at greater scale.

  • A talent agency will promote their talent to make them more bankable. So a venture-talent agency will promote their talent to make them more bankable.

Conversely, if you have no metaphor for what you’re doing, it can be much harder to make strategic decisions, because how can you know if you are being consistent with your vision?