It’s time to build. Marc needs no introduction!! He is the co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser. He is also the co-founder of Netscape. In addition, he is the co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. Marc makes a hard-hitting point about our pervasive failure to build. COVID-19 crisis has literally revealed all our weaknesses. This is aptly personified by the quote below by James Lane Allen.
“Crisis Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It”.
This has been exposed by the Coronavirus crisis. We have failed to build so many things. Including but not limited to medicines, vaccines, ICU Beds, ventilators, masks, and PPE! This is not to say we lack the capacity to build or innovate. However, we knew about bat-borne coronaviruses for a long time. Because, we were caught un-prepared. In Marc’s words, “it is failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to build”.
Effective governments have managed to “flatten the curve”. Containment, tracing, and lockdown have enabled this. Ineffective governments and their health systems have struggled. I find this argument flawed. I believe the real issue is over complication of decisions. This may be putting in place too many processes. This is exasperated by legal landscape, middlemen etc. Our failure to build and scale the health system has resulted in chaos. As a result, loss of life. Perhaps some of these failures could be explained using Chaos Theory. Edward Lorenz and his definition of chaos seems quite relevant now!
“When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future”.
According to Marc, this is not because of lack of money. It is because of lack of desire to build. We have tried to optimize everything without regard for second & third order effects. For instance, by outsourcing manufacturing just because labor is cheap. As a result, there is now a quantum shift of “build” expertise to offshore locations and worse strategic reliance on them. “Short Term” Investor focus exasperates this. Marc argues that this is why we haven’t seen flying cars, massive delivery drone fleets, or Hyperloop mass adopted yet.
While the essay is America centric, I can imagine that this has crucial bearings on developing economies as well. Take India for instance, we shouldn’t just aspire to become the “services” provider for the world. We should take urgent steps to improve our manufacturing prowess and reduce reliance on foreign manufacturing. Marc goes on to say that we also see major discrimination when it comes to building and scaling up in a few sectors. These include – Education, Healthcare, Housing and Infrastructure.
On one hand, this has resulted in escalating price curves for these sectors. While, on the other, while availability of smartphones and consumer tech becomes more affordable than ever. Again, this is not only applicable to America, but developing economies such as India as well. In our generation, we have seen incredible escalation in price curves of Education, Healthcare, and Housing. It is clear that we are heading for a ticking bomb.
There is a need for 10x improvements across sectors. One reason why, it’s time to build.
We need to scale up our high quality education. Also, we need to use 10x improvements in Online learning to educate every remaining soul in India. We need to unleash telemedicine and last mile delivery services to massively scale up and improve our healthcare system. Through public private partnerships we need to build new cities to reduce strain on our metropolitan areas and also control spiralling housing prices.
Finally, Marc makes a passionate appeal to stop obsessing over whose model of building is better. Instead, start holding left and right both accountable for results. Upon reflection, in a place like India this is of paramount importance. See Twitter on any given day, you will likely see trending topics downplaying or up-playing the ruling government. Whether you are a Prime Minister Modi fan or not, we need to support him. Please do not get polarised by social media. Instead, focus in your own capacity for nation building.
Finally, a crisis demands us to come together, sacrifice, and resolve. As Marc says, building is hard but our forefathers did it. We can too. If now is not the time to start a “build movement” I don’t know when is?
Thank you Mark for your seminal call to arms. I will surely be building!!