a16z Podcast | Ben and Marc Explain (Practically) Everything – Part 2 | Summary and Q&A

January 1, 2019
The a16z Podcast
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a16z Podcast | Ben and Marc Explain (Practically) Everything – Part 2


Clayton Christensen's theory of disruption, outlined in his book published in 1997, still holds true today and is widely used in the tech industry for analyzing business models and understanding the process of progress and innovation.

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Key Insights

  • 🧑‍💻 Clayton Christensen's theory of disruption, published in 1997, remains highly relevant and widely used in the tech industry.
  • 👶 Disruption theory explains why new companies are crucial for progress and how they can outpace incumbents.
  • 💱 Professional CEOs now have a better understanding of disruption theory and are more willing to embrace change and take risks.
  • 🙈 Disruption, although having negative connotations, is the catalyst for progress and should be seen as a positive force for innovation.
  • 👨‍💼 Incumbents struggle to innovate due to their focus on optimizing their existing business models, making them vulnerable to disruption.
  • 😀 Successful entrepreneurs possess great courage and determination, refusing to give up even in the face of adversity.
  • 👨‍💼 Valuations based on peer comparisons are often meaningless and distract entrepreneurs from focusing on their business metrics.


hello I'm Michael Copeland and this is the a 16z podcast you're about to hear part two of the been and mark explained practically everything podcast if you missed part one find it on a 16z comm part two picks up with a discussion of disruption theory disruption theories been in the news of late as it relates to Clayton Christensen you know the mast... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is disruption theory according to Clayton Christensen?

Disruption theory, as explained by Clayton Christensen, is the process by which new companies with innovative ideas and business models overtake incumbent companies, leading to progress and better opportunities.

Q: How have professional CEOs embraced disruption theory?

Professional CEOs now understand the importance of disruption theory and how it can drive progress. They are more willing to take risks and make changes to their businesses, even if it means disrupting their own established models.

Q: Why is it challenging for incumbents to innovate?

Incumbents, especially those led by professional managers, are focused on optimizing their current business models. They struggle to think outside the box and adapt to new technologies or market trends. New companies led by innovative thinkers are often more capable of driving change.

Q: How has disruption theory impacted the tech industry?

Disruption theory has greatly influenced the tech industry, with companies like Google and Facebook embracing it to stay ahead of the competition. These companies understand the importance of constantly innovating and are willing to take risks to maintain their position.


In this podcast episode, Ben Horowitz and Mark Andreessen discuss disruption theory and its relevance in today's business landscape. They talk about the impact of Clayton Christensen's book and how the principles still hold true. They also delve into the challenges faced by big companies in innovating and disrupting themselves, as well as the courage and perseverance required to succeed as an entrepreneur. The conversation concludes with a discussion on their book, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things," and the importance of understanding the context behind management advice.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the general idea behind disruption theory?

Disruption theory explains why new companies are needed and how they can take over from existing companies. It highlights the process by which progress happens, stating that new companies and new ideas drive innovation and create better products and opportunities. Disruption theory challenges the notion that the status quo is the best and only way things can be.

Q: Why do incumbents struggle to innovate at the same rate as new companies?

Incumbent companies, particularly those run by professional managers, are experts at optimizing and maintaining their current business models. When a new, disruptive business model emerges, incumbents may find it difficult to adapt because it contradicts their existing strategies. On the other hand, new companies led by visionary founders have a different perspective and are more open to exploring new opportunities.

Q: How do big companies like Google and Facebook handle disruption?

Companies like Google and Facebook are considered new companies because their founders, such as Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg, have a different mindset and understanding of disruption theory. They are more willing to embrace change and think about expanding into new businesses, rather than solely optimizing their existing ones. These leaders are aware of disruptive threats and are capable of taking action to counter them, making it challenging for competitors to disrupt them.

Q: How does the understanding of disruption theory influence investment decisions?

Disruption theory guides investment decisions by identifying which companies are vulnerable to disruption and which ones are likely to succeed. Professional venture capitalists use the theory to determine which companies to avoid attacking, particularly those run by founders who understand disruption theory. It is riskier to attack well-established incumbents or new companies led by experienced CEOs who can effectively defend their businesses.

Q: Is disruption a negative or positive phenomenon?

Disruption is often mistakenly associated with destruction, resulting in a negative connotation. However, according to Clayton Christensen's perspective, disruption is a positive process that drives progress. It enables better products, better business opportunities, and personal growth for individuals. Disruption challenges the status quo and allows for continuous improvement and innovation, making it a powerful and positive force.

Q: How do big companies transition into new markets and adapt to disruption?

Transitioning from one market to another and adapting to disruption can be challenging for big companies. Historical examples, such as HP and IBM under their founders, show that companies with the original inventors at the helm were more successful at innovation. New companies led by visionary founders, like Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, are capable of thinking beyond their current business strategies and willing to explore new opportunities. This ability to see the world differently gives them an advantage.

Q: What did the founders learn from the 2008 crash?

The founders learned firsthand how quickly macroeconomics can impact markets and funding availability. Having experienced the dramatic fall from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, they acknowledge the importance of understanding how economic factors affect private funding. The 2008 crash led to a significant decrease in available funding, making it challenging for companies that had relied on high multiples for valuation. Knowing the potential magnitude of such downturns could have mitigated some of the pain they experienced.

Q: What do the founders wish they knew or had been told as entrepreneurs?

The founders acknowledge that there is so much they did not know when they started their entrepreneurial journeys. Understanding how macroeconomics can impact markets, particularly in terms of funding availability, would have helped them navigate challenging times. While the learning curve of being an entrepreneur is valuable, having more awareness of the potential challenges and risks would have made their journeys less painful.

Q: What would the founders like to see more or less of from entrepreneurs?

The founders would like to see less emphasis on peer valuations among entrepreneurs. Focusing on the valuations of peers is irrelevant and misleading as it does not necessarily reflect a company's true value or business metrics. Instead, entrepreneurs should look at more meaningful data, such as valuations based on actual revenue and other business performance indicators. Obsessing over peer valuations can lead to errors in judgment, delays in decision-making, and disrupt progress.

Q: What traits do the founders admire in great entrepreneurs?

One trait that stands out among great entrepreneurs is their courage and refusal to give up. They display unwavering determination, perseverance, and the ability to navigate through challenging situations. They do not easily get demoralized or discouraged but instead show up to work every day and find ways to overcome problems. Successful entrepreneurs have the mindset of making their ventures work, regardless of the obstacles or criticisms they face.

Q: Is there anything the founders wished people pushed them harder on in response to their book?

The founders believe that people focused too much on pushing them about certain aspects of their book, rather than truly understanding the purpose behind it. The book aimed to provide insights specific to their experiences, which could be applied in different situations. The frustration was that people wanted advice without understanding the context. They emphasized the importance of knowing why someone is giving advice in order to determine its relevance and value.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Clayton Christensen's book on disruption theory, published in 1997, explained why new companies are needed and why they can outpace incumbents in innovation.

  • The theory has been proven right with the rise of important companies like Google and Facebook, and the mechanics that prevent incumbents from innovating at the same rate still exist.

  • Professional CEOs now understand disruption theory better and are using it to drive progress and make difficult decisions.

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