Friday, April 18, 2014


McDonald's President and CEO Don Thompson took everyone by surprise today when he introduced Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, who was in town talking about his new book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.”

Mr. Thompson said he and Mr. Horowitz and their wives met each other at a black corporate directors conference some years ago co-sponsored by John Rogers Jr., founder of Ariel Investments LLC. Mr. Horowitz was a speaker that day, too, and the two men hit it off.

“We both love music, we both love to cook and we both like to smoke," he said, prompting stunned silence in the room at the 1871 tech center at Merchandise Mart.

Mr. Thompson quickly followed up by saying, “We smoke food!” The crowd burst into laughter, and there was a comment from the audience, “Are we in Denver?”

The event was pulled together by the men's wives, Felicia Horowitz and Liz Thompson. They sat in the front row along with Ms. Thompson's other pals: Amy Rule, the first lady of Chicago, and Laura Van Peenan, managing director of investment banking at William Blair & Co., which co-sponsored the event.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced Mr. Thompson. Chicago venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker conducted the Q&A with Mr. Horowitz. You can read more about that here in John Pletz's On Technology blog.

Other notable names in the crowd included Fieldglass CEO Jai Shekhawat, 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, PrivateBank CEO Larry Richman, AvantCredit Business Development Director Donald Richman, William Blair partner Richard Kiphart, Balyasny Asset Management Senior Managing Director Louis Conforti, tech entrepreneur Mark Tebbe, GoHealth founder Brandon Cruz and Liam Krehbiel, CEO of A Better Chicago, a nonprofit that funds education-focused nonprofits.

Ben Horowitz dishes on himself, other tech titans

With tech stocks getting smacked around, it's useful to get a little perspective from someone who knows what a real beating feels like.
Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Silicon Valley venture fund Andreessen Horowitz, reminded a throng of tech entrepreneurs and investors how painful things can get when he visited 1871 today as part of a publicity tour for his book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things."
Mr. Horowitz was CEO of Loudcloud, a pioneer in cloud computing a decade before investors decided it was the new, new thing. The company raised more than $100 million at the peak of the dot-com boom and somehow managed to go public before the ensuing bust unfolded, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.
Between the IPO and his first earnings call, 40 percent of his customers went under. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened just a few months later. His company's stock crumpled, eventually withering to a mere 35 cents per share. (Ultimately, it recovered to $14 and he sold the company for $1.6 billion.)
Although Mr. Horowitz is one of Silicon Valley's most revered venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, he offered some sobering, humbling tales about being a rookie CEO. “You don't always get to choose between something horrible and something great,” he said. “A lot of times, you have to choose between horrible and cataclysmic.”
Mr. Horowitz also dished on the struggles of other Silicon Valley legends, including Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Andreessen Horowitz was an investor in the company. While Facebook went public in the biggest Internet IPO ever and today is valued at more than $150 billion, he recalled that in 2007, “it was running out of cash, couldn't raise money and the whole executive team was trying to convince (Zuckerberg) to sell the company.
“It was not easy. Half the tech publications in Silicon Valley were actively campaigning to have Mark Zuckerberg fired as CEO.”
Mr. Horowitz also praised Groupon Inc., which his firm invested in, though the company's stock has been battered as well. “Groupon has got many haters,” he said. But Groupon has "been successful. What they've done is amazing.”
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.

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