In short, software is eating the world.
More than 10 years after the peak of the 1990s dot-com bubble, a dozen or so new Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter are sparking controversy in Silicon Valley, due to their rapidly growing private marketvaluations, and even the occasional successful IPO. With scars from the heyday of Webvan and Pets.com still fresh in the investor psyche, people are asking, "Isn't this just a dangerous new bubble?"
I, along with others, have been arguing the other side of the case. (I am co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz, which has invested in Facebook, Groupon, Skype,Twitter, Zynga, and Foursquare, among others. I am also personally an investor in LinkedIn.) We believe that many of the prominent new Internet companies are building real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses.
Today's stock market actually hates technology, as shown by all-time low price/earnings ratios for major public technology companies. Apple, for example, has a P/E ratio ofaround 15.2—about the same as the broader stock market, despite Apple's immense profitability and dominant market position (Apple in the last couple weeks became the biggest company in America, judged by market capitalization, surpassing Exxon Mobil). And, perhaps most telling, you can't have a bubble when people are constantly screaming "Bubble!"
But too much of the debate is still aroundfinancial valuation, as opposed to the underlying intrinsic value of the best of Silicon Valley's new companies. My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.
More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—frommovies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.
Why is thishappening now?
Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.
Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago, when Iwas at Netscape, the company I co-founded. In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.
On the back end, software programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software-powered start-ups in manyindustries—without the need to invest in new infrastructure and train new employees. In 2000, when my partner Ben Horowitz was CEO of the first cloud computing company, Loudcloud, the cost of a customer running a basic Internet application was approximately $150,000 a month. Running that same application today in Amazon's cloud costs about $1,500 a month.
With lower start-up costs and a...