A Spin Master's Guide to Crisis PR

Margit Wennmachers, operating partner at leading Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz about the DOs & Don'ts for founders  

CNN names her "the real queen of Silicon Valley".

And for the many entrepreneurs Margit Wennmachers has worked with, she's the leading expert to ask for advice when things in their company are going sideways. The operating partner at the Silicon Valley based VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) has helped many tech-founders to build their brand out of nowhere and gave support in reputation management.

For two and a half decades Margit has shaped the image of Silicon Valley – and she thinks it's more important than ever that founders today care about their culture and their brand after several data scandals, the "bro-culture" and the fall unicorns WeWork or Uber lead to a huge tech backlash. In the conversation for the Bits & Pretzels Podcast during tech conference DLD she explains:

„Silicon Valley has gone through its own version of climate change (...) the perception has gone from „Oh my god there is another unicorn“ to „All tech is bad“ – and neither is true.“

Margit has joined a16z as one of the first employees when Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Ben Horowitz started the firm ten years ago. Fast forward until today a16z became one of the most prestigious investment companies in tech and has backed hundreds of startups, including Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter and Slack. The marketing guru with a sixth sense for communication understands how to get ahead of bad news:

„Good companies look at a crisis whether it’s their fault or not it doesn’t matter (…) as an opportunity to make the company better.“

An international survey conducted by the communication firm Edelman in January found that 66 % of survey attendees "worry technology will make it impossible to know if what people are seeing or hearing is real”. So Margit argues that entrepreneurs cannot start too early to think about their brand:

„You have a brand whether you like it or not. Therefore take control of it.

Over all, to go through a crisis as quickly as possible, it all depends on the right culture in your company, she's convinced:

„You want a culture on crisis where people can speak up. They’re rewarded for speaking up."

2:24 What does a spin master do?
5:57 The Silicon Valley climate change
10:00 Whether you like it or not
16:17 Bavarian beer break
22:44 Ben Horowitz's thing for HipHop
26:44 The first meeting with Marc & Ben
31:31 "In VC land we are toddlers"
34:33 "I should have more fun”

Production: Regina Körner, Migo Fricke, Hubert Honold. Design: Christian Lohmeier.