This post is a summary of my thoughts after reading The New New Thing by Michael Lewis.
I’ve read many of Michael Lewis’s books and have seen this one around. I finally decided to pick it up - I knew it was about Silicon Valley, but that was it. The book is actually a biography of Jim Clark, who founded three billion-dollar companies including Silicon Graphics and Netscape.
I would recommend How the Internet Happened and this book to someone interested in understanding the late ’90s Internet boom. The Internet was just coming out, and people were still grappling with its potential. It was such a massive technological leap that there was profound optimism for the future.
Those who were able to imagine the future were able to build massive fortunes seemingly overnight - at least on paper. In hindsight, it’s fun to see both a bubble and legitimate unicorns develop simultaneously. It’s very interesting to compare the culture then against the climate today. Today, we understand the Internet a lot better and a lot of things have played out. The late ’90s seem like the Wild West in comparison.
The “next next thing” refers to the pursuit for the next breakthrough technology company. Clark’s pursuit of it was endless and he could not take stop pushing himself to new heights. I admire that - especially considering some of the risks he took to let reality catch up to his visions. Some of the quotes below capture that.
As always, here are some notable highlights. The book was published in 1999, so some quotes are fun to read in hindsight.
“The new new thing is a notion that is poised to be taken seriously in the marketplace. It’s the idea that is a tiny push away from general acceptance and, when it gets that push, will change the world.”
“All those years you thought you were achieving something. And you achieved nothing. I was thirty-eight years old. I’d just been fired. My second wife had just left me. I had somehow fucked up. I developed this maniacal passion for wanting to achieve something.”
“it was probably the best group of engineers I’d ever seen assembled, and everyone knew that they were almost always right. From my point of view, they had exactly the right qualities to produce great products—they were almost always right, and if you disagreed, you had a big argument to change their minds. […] If somebody insists that 2 + 2 = 5, I’ll never back down, no matter how bad it makes them feel.”
” […] a piece of software that Andreessen had helped write in college, called Mosaic. Mosaic enabled its user to travel around the Internet. Why anyone would wish to do so was at the time unclear.”
“Never mind that you weren’t actually making money—there’d be time for that later, assuming someone eventually figured out how to make money from the Internet. […] Time was the one commodity you could not waste if you wanted to make a billion dollars from the Internet.”
“The technologist’s tendency to commit all his resources to new technology, by financing ever more new technology, had generated one of the great economic miracles in human history.”
“a single assumption underpinned the entire boom: the future would be better than the past.”
“His role in the Valley was suddenly clear: he was the author of the story. He was the man with the nerve to invent the tale in which all the characters—the engineers, the VCs, the managers, the bankers—agreed to play the role he assigned to them […] if he was going to retain his privilege of telling the stories, he had to make sure that the stories had happy endings. If that meant supplying forty million dollars more to Healtheon, so be it.”
“In the end the bankers and the venture capitalists agreed to let Clark give Mike Long twenty of the forty million dollars he needed. […] technology stocks were collapsing, and a new pessimism had found its way into the heart of the miracle economy. All Clark said was, ‘I’ll be a billionaire again soon.’”
“How often did a man say to you, “Come with me, I’ll make you rich,” and then tell you exactly how rich he was going to make you, and then do it? It went without saying that Clark was making it up as he went along.”
“Out of fear of losing yet another very public success to Benchmark, Kleiner Perkins had just paid $25 million for a 33 percent stake in a new company called Google.com […] software that might or might not make it easier to search the Internet.”
“The “business model” of most Internet companies was to attract huge crowds of people to a Web site, and then sell others the chance to advertise products to the crowds. It was still not clear that the model made sense.”