Andreessen Horowitz Hires a New Partner…from Sales?

When Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz launched their venture firm, they talked a good game about things being different; about having a smorgasbord of partners skilled in different areas that could tag in-and-out of portfolio companies as appropriate. And a lot of that sounded like the usual “value-add” venture capital spiel.

But two funds into the firm’s life, that vision is starting to take shape. Witness today’s announcement that Mark Cranney will be joining the firm as a partner. Cranney isn’t some techy whiz-kid, visionary founder or even a financial wizard. He’s a sales and operations guy and his job will be to help teach Andreessen Horowitz’s predominately engineer-centric founders and CEOs to be a little bit more like those things many of them decry: a sales guy, an MBA, a grown-up manager. Look at him! He even looks like a sales guy!

In addition to coaching founders and helping them find the right management talent to hire, Cranney will be building essentially a pre-sales organization within the firm that will constantly scout purchase-level managers at Fortune 500 companies, to pave direct lines to them and know in advance what kinds of products they want to buy, leading to a shorter, almost pre-qualified sales cycle for Andreessen Horowitz’s companies. “The weakness at a lot of venture capital firms is that we know the CEOs or CIOs, but we don’t know the managers making the purchase decisions,” says Horowitz.

I asked how big this group would be and Cranney declined to answer saying that was “proprietary” (See! He talks like a grown up manager too!) but he scoffed when I called it a “gargantuan task,” pointing out he’d built huge sales teams from scratch several times in his career. “That’s the easy part,” he said. Not for the typical geeky founder, of course, and that’s the point.

Like a lot of the firm’s team, Cranney worked at Opsware with Horowitz and Andreessen, where he was the executive vice president of worldwide field operations. He grew the headcount from 10 people to 350, grew revenue from $18 million to $150 million, and had four years of 100%+ growth in new bookings. That’s just not a skill set you see at most VC firms.

If this team works as advertised, it’ll be a huge, huge advantage for the firm. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this become a trend among the well-heeled venture funds, especially if this renaissance in business software blooms. As Cranney says: “If you want to sell to companies you gotta put boots on the ground. That’s not changing.”