What's A Marc Worth?

When Marc Andreessen announced last week he would be “scaling back” his work at America Online, passing his position to a veteran Sun Microsystems executive, he got hammered online worse than Browns’ Coach Chris Palmer after Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

The “Dawg Pound” needs to realize they’re an expansion team. The front office may be great, the locker room luxurious, the skyboxes sublime, but they may still be the 1962 Mets.

Similarly, I think, we ought to lay off Andreessen. He’s 28, he’s just filed to put $88 million in his pocket (through sale of AOL stock), and he probably doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life yet. Bill Gates knew from the start. He wanted to run his company. Andreessen, on the other hand, just wanted to write software.

By all accounts, he’s changed his mind. He’s putting his money in start-ups like ReplayTV and Accompany. He could go hiking in the Himalayas or throw a party in Las Vegas if he wanted — he’s rich and you’re not.

The reaction to the Andreessen story probably speaks more to the growing class distinction among Internet people than anything else. Some people who were in the right place at the right time have gotten stinking rich. While millions more of us are comfortable, your Volvo just doesn’t feel classy enough when you’re passed by a stretch limo. My advice is, get over it.

Far more interesting to me is what this may say about America Online’s future direction. Netscape is AOL’s most spectacular technology failure yet. Whenever AOL has bought a technology outfit (as opposed to adding some technology to its own base system) the result has been embarrassing. Netscape was the dominant browser just a few years ago — now it’s barely in the race.

William Raduchel, 53, has the unenviable task of figuring out AOL’s next tech act. Perhaps the best advice I could give is to relax and enjoy the ride. Even at its recent “depressed” price, AOL today is worth over $106 billion, against $66 billion for Sun. This despite the fact that Sun’s shares have been on an unending tear for over 5 years. Maybe (just maybe) technology isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Wall Street certainly seems to reward marketing a lot more.

Which, for some reason, brings me back to Marc Andreessen. The fact is that, almost accidentally, Marc’s success has made him a brand name. He’s the “Gen X” cover boy, star of his own “Miller Lite” commercial, a new geek for a new generation. AOL did nothing to tarnish the image of that brand — in fact he seems to have spent much of his AOL tenure making ads based on his image.

Is there a clue here somewhere? Is image really more important than reality? Is what really counts just what you seem to have done, not what you’re doing?

Instead of buying into new age buying clubs and tapeless VCRs, should Marc Andreessen be coming up instead with his own cereal, his own board game, his own action figure?

I don’t know the answer. I’m just asking. But numbers don’t lie. Tim Berners-Lee has nothing on Madonna in the accounting department. C’mon Marc-ie, let’s get to it, strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…

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