Balaji Srinivasan, a Stanford academic who co-founded genetic-testing company Counsyl, is stepping up as Andreessen Horowitz’ eighth general partner.
The firm, which is just four years old, tends to pick general partners who have built or operated large companies before. So this is in keeping with that philosophy.
While teaching at Stanford, Srinivasan started Counsyl, a South San Francisco-based company that helps prospective parents test their risks of passing on genetic conditions to their future children.
While Counsyl doesn’t get as much hype as other consumer Internet or mobile startups in Silicon Valley, they are at the forefront of “big data” meeting the rapidly dropping costs of full genome sequencing. The company is testing somewhere around 3 to 4 percent of all births in the U.S. So with 4 million births per year, that would put them at around 120,000 to 160,000 tests per year. At around $500 to $600 per test (depending on whether there are insurance discounts), they’re on an annualized revenue run-rate of about $60 million to $80 million a year and we hear that the company was last valued at $1 billion in the most recent round.
What Srinivasan brings to Andreessen Horowitz is the kind of expertise that will help the firm sort out health-related deals. But he has a pretty broad range of interests. He also runs the Stanford Bitcoin group and teaches a MOOC (or a massive open online course) about startup engineering at Stanford that has reached about 125,000 students.
“I’m interested in businesses that take digital bits and turn them into interfaces for physical atoms,” said Srinivasan, who will be the firm’s youngest partner at 33. “I’m also interested in drones, Bitcoin and 3D printing.”
It took Andreessen Horowitz about six months to recruit Srinivasan.
“Marc was very persuasive with the idea that I could have leverage across a bunch of industries,” Srinivasan said. “Being a VC will definitely be different in certain ways. The biggest change is that I can’t be as hands-on in a company as I normally would be.”
The firm’s co-founder Marc Andreessen added, “We met Balaji back in the spring. He’s spent a lot of time at the firm. We’ve gotten to know him, built a great relationship so we decided to pull the trigger.”
Andreessen said that he has no plans to open any kind of health or biotech-specific funds. Instead, he’s looking for businesses that follow the firm’s “Software eats the world” theory, where more and more industries are being dramatically disrupted by software solutions. So they won’t be looking for traditional therapeutics companies, but rather quantified self, genome sequencing and health IT companies.
He also said that he feels comfortable with a natural size of six to 10 general partners for the firm, and a single fund and a single Silicon Valley-based office. The firm also has 65 other professionals or regular “partners” who help portfolio companies with recruiting, marketing and business development.
As a side note, Srinivasan is unafraid to voice sometimes controversial political views. In a recent speech at Y Combinator’s Startup School, he outlined ways that Silicon Valley could exercise newfound political power against the U.S.’s more traditional commercial and political centers in New York and Washington D.C. The speech triggered criticism from others who said that he was naively suggesting that Silicon Valley secede from the U.S.
He wrote a recent piece in Wired that was more specific, talking about how software is enabling groups of like-minded individuals to form long-lasting communities and perhaps even one day will let individuals group together to form new nation-states.