The Fatal Flaw In Marc Andreessen's Tencent Theory

In a new Q&A with the Wall Street Journal, Marc Andreessen argues that skeptics who predict the second coming of the dotcom bubble "just don't know what they're talking about." This time around, he says, it's all about building a franchise, baby.

Since Andreessen coined the term "software will eat the world," let's give his theory its due. For instance, the idea of a "winner-takes-all" startup that owns a market like photo-sharing—and then franchises out from there—is partly responsible for inflating valuations for companies like Snapchat.

It's unclear whether Andreessen would put Snapchat into the category of companies that "really honestly have no idea" how they're going to make money. But he humors the Journal with a stroll into the "Pros" column anyway:

WSJ: Which type is Snapchat?

Mr. Andreessen: The bull case on Snapchat is that there's a company in China called Tencent that's worth $100 billion. And Tencent is worth $100 billion because it takes its messaging services on a smartphone and then wraps them in a wide range of services—things like gaming and social networking and emojis, and video chat—and then charges for all these add-on services. And it has been one of the most successful technology companies of all time and is worth literally $100 billion on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Maybe that's [CEO Evan Spiegel's] plan. Maybe Evan's plan is to transplant the Tencent business model into the U.S., which nobody has actually been able to do yet.

But if Snapchat's value is predicated copying the Tencent franchise, Spiegel may be in trouble. Back in November, when Tencent was a potential suitor to buy Snapchat, one of its cofounders betrayed a crisis of confidence to The New York Times:

Another potential suitor for Snapchat is Tencent, one of the three Internet giants in China. In September, Pony Ma, one of the founders of Tencent, spoke of that constant tension when discussing his interest in Snapchat.

"I'm facing a crisis in this industry, said Mr. Ma. "Young people, the things they like on the Internet, increasingly I don't understand it. This is my biggest worry."

Just your daily reminder that #followateen is a precarious business model.

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