Marc Andreessen calls Elon Musk the ‘paramount example’ of an entrepreneur who ‘can’t turn it off’ 

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Marc Andreessen knows a thing or two about the personality traits that make for a successful entrepreneur. He’s been one himself, having cofounded Netscape in the 1990s, and he’s gotten to know many entrepreneurs as a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, he believes, is among the “very few” people who have such entrepreneurial traits, which he outlined in an episode of the Huberman Lab podcast this week.

He noted that having the traits (see below) doesn’t mean a person will become a serial entrepreneur.

“There is this decision that people have to make, which is, ‘Okay, if I have the latent capability to do this, is this actually what I want to spend my life doing? And do I want to go through the stress and the pain and the trauma and the anxiety and the risk of failure?’” 

But there are rare individuals, he noted, who not only choose to go through it, but can’t seem to stop themselves. 

“Once in a while, you run into somebody who just can’t do it any other way,” he said. “They just have to.”

He called Musk “the paramount example of our time. I bring him up in part because he’s such an obvious example, but in part because he’s talked about this in interviews where he basically says, he’s like, ‘I can’t turn it off. The ideas come, I have to pursue them.’ That’s why he’s running five companies at the same time and working on a sixth.”

In addition to heading up Tesla, Musk owns the private companies SpaceX, brain chip startup Neuralink, tunnel drilling business Boring Company, and X, which he renamed from Twitter after a chaotic takeover and revamp. In July, he also launched xAI, an artificial intelligence startup that will seek to “understand the true nature of the universe.” 

On the podcast, Andreessen went into other traits he sees in “real innovators,” or “people who actually do really create breakthrough work.”

One, he said, is being open to “many different kinds of new ideas…even outside of their specific creative domain.” But that alone isn’t enough, because a person also needs conscientiousness, or willing to apply themselves over a period of many years to “accomplish something really great,” he added. 

Next comes disagreeableness. “You need somebody who’s just, like, basically ornery, right, because if they’re not ornery, then they’ll be talked out of their ideas by people…because the reaction most people have to new ideas is, ‘Oh, that’s dumb,’” he said. 

He added, “The nature of disagreeableness is they tend to be disagreeable about everything, right? So they tend to be these very sort of iconoclastic, you know, kind of renegade characters.” 

They also “need to be high IQ,” he said, because “it’s hard to innovate in any category if you can’t synthesize large amounts of information quickly,” and they should “be relatively low in neuroticism” because “if they’re too neurotic, they probably can’t handle the stress.” 

Of course, not all disruptive entrepreneurs have all these traits, or have them to the same degrees—and Andreessen’s perspective is shaped by his perch atop an influential VC firm in Silicon Valley. Oprah Winfrey is a serial entrepreneur, but what makes her tick might be different than the traits Andreessen focuses on.

Andreessen noted that some entrepreneurs he interviews only pretend to possess those traits.

“They’ve read all the books, they will have listened to this interview, right? They study everything and they construct a facade and they come in and present as something they’re not,” he said.

One way he pokes through the facade, he said, is by asking increasingly detailed questions. Homicide detectives use the same approach. At some point people have trouble making stuff up “and things just fuzz into just kind of obvious bullshit. And basically, fake founders basically have the same problem.”

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