Yo, the sun don’t shine forever
But as long as it’s here then we might as well shine together
—Sean “Diddy” Combs, “Victory”
In the early days of the technology industry, there was no thought about consumers, because consumers were not our customers. The first computer was sold to the United States government and in general we sold technology to technologists trying to build solutions to difficult problems. Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, famously said in 1943 that the worldwide market for computers was 5. While that seems impossible in retrospect, at the time computers were exceptionally expensive, hard to use, and difficult to sell. Logically, this meant that the industry built technology for people in priority order of how much money they had—first to governments, then to big business, then to small business and almost never to consumers. One could see this in popular culture as James Bond had all kinds of cool technology gadgets that consumers could only dream about.
This changed slightly with the advent of the PC, but the consumer market was still relatively small compared to the government and business markets. Once the Internet and then the smartphone hit the scene, the economics reversed themselves: technology became cheap, easy to use, and often free to distribute. As a result, new technologies now go to markets in priority of their size—first to consumers then to small businesses then to big businesses and finally to governments. And now James Bond just uses a smartphone.
As a result, consumer behavior—in other words, culture—has become central to successfully building, marketing, and selling new technologies.
In the meanwhile, one group of people has been responsible for more cultural influence than any other and perhaps all other groups combined. African Americans invented all modern forms of music from jazz to blues to rock and roll to hip hop. In the United States, most fashion, dance, and language innovation has come from this relatively small community. This is especially significant, because worldwide no culture influenced consumer behavior more than U.S. culture.
So, when we started the firm in 2009, it made logical sense to us that as software eats the world and technology’s primary target audience becomes consumers we would focus on this unique talent pool. In the early days, this meant hiring African Americans in the firm and backing the best African American entrepreneurs such as Paul Judge, Tristan Walker, Diishan Imira, Donnell Baird, Steve Stoute, Ryan Williams, Debo Olaosibikan, and most recently Chris Bennett.
Still, we felt that we were leaving opportunity on the table in two important dimensions. First, we had not systematically partnered with the established cultural leaders and second, we were not increasing the number of African Americans entering the technology business. Today we announce the Andreessen Horowitz Cultural Leadership Fund to address both issues.
The basic goals of the CLF are twofold:
- Connect the greatest cultural leaders in the world to the best new technology companies
- Enable more young African Americans to enter the technology industry
To accomplish this, we created a new fund with Limited Partners who are exclusively cultural leaders including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Shonda Rhimes, Will and Jada Smith, Quincy Jones, Kevin Durant, Chance the Rapper, Nasir Jones, Charles Phillips, Edith Cooper, John Thompson, Robin Washington, Richelieu Dennis, Shellye Archambeau, and more. The fund was raised by our partner Chris Lyons. He will invest it in companies in the Andreessen Horowitz portfolio who are interested in partnering with the cultural leaders who invested in the fund.
Next, all of the fees and carry associated with the fund will be donated to non-profit organizations that enable African Americans to enter the technology industry.
We are extremely excited to unite cultural and technology leaders to facilitate a better future for everyone.