Future was the next big thing in media.
Launched in June of 2021, it was billed as a buzzy new tech publication from prestigious venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz — and a way to sidestep the legacy media entirely and take the message of technological progress directly to readers.
With minimalist indigo branding and a flashy website address — future.com — Future enlisted the Menlo Park-based investment firm’s portfolio company executives, outside experts, and a suite of high-profile editorial hires to pump out a stream of hopeful articles about technology and society.
“We’re going to be having an optimistic lens on technology and the future,” Margit Wennmachers, an operating partner at the firm, told an Insider reporter in an interview at the time.
The New Yorker wrote about the launch, calling it an “opportunity to introduce new terminology, new ideologies, new framing, and new ways for people in and around technology to conceptualize their work.” Independent journalist Eric Newcomer said its debut was part of a strategy with “dramatic implications for the future of media and the venture capital industry.” Tech news site Protocol, which shut down recently, asked whether it was “the future of media.”
But a year and a half later, the publication is dead in the water.
Future hasn’t published a new article in months, most of its editorial staffers have left, and its newsletter is defunct. A source familiar with Andreessen Horowitz’s content strategy confirmed to Insider that Future is shutting down.
The ignominious fizzling out highlights the challenges of “going direct” and building a new media brand from scratch — even with one of tech’s biggest investors driving the effort.
An Andreessen Horowitz spokesperson declined to comment on the record.
The technology industry increasingly wants to “go direct.”
Venture capital firms have long sought to speak straight to founders, recruiting former journalists to create newsletters and blogs, styling their partners on podcasts as philosophical thought-leaders, and even hiring ghost writers.
Historically, the strategy helped differentiate firms in a red-hot market, where cash was abundant and startups had their pick of investors, said multiple public relations consultants and executives in the industry.
But in recent years, tech investors and executives have grown increasingly frustrated with mainstream media reporting on their businesses. Coverage has evolved from optimistic blogging to more adversarial reporting that often delves into thorny labor, political cultural issues, and closely scrutinizes power and influence, in a way some tech figures perceive as deliberately hostile.
Build your own media arm, hire an EIC, and go direct.Joe Lonsdale
In this new climate, many tech and venture firms’ media strategy has shifted from glorified marketing to a more full-fledged editorial operation. IVP, one of the oldest investment firms in Silicon Valley, hired a head of content early this year (some Insider tech journalists have left to pursue similar opportunities). Early-stage investor NFX brought on a vice president of “narrative” in October. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency giant, commissioned a hagiographic documentary about its founder Brian Armstrong. (The Atlantic panned the film as “monotonous” and “the latest frontier in corporate propaganda.”)
Investing powerhouse Sequoia Capital began commissioning long-form magazine-style articles about its portfolio company founders. There are risks to the approach: When crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried’s firm FTX imploded in November, evaporating billions of dollars in investor and customer capital, Sequoia’s glossy profile about him was mocked until the firm quietly deleted it.
“Stop giving free content to the NYT company. They are rooting against you and against the positive sum nature of what we do,” Palantir founder and VC investor Joe Lonsdale advised founders in 2020. “Build your own media arm, hire an EIC, and go direct.”
Andreessen Horowitz (often referred to as “a16z”) was an early champion of this approach. “That was one of the selling points to entrepreneurs,” said a person with knowledge of the firm’s content marketing strategy, who asked for anonymity because they continue to invest alongside the firm. “‘We have this powerful content program so we will help promote who you are.'”
In 2021, an army of more than two dozen marketers at Andreessen Horowitz doubled down on this approach. It already produced articles, videos, newsletters, and a basic-cable channel’s worth of programming on the podcast. But it increasingly looked to supplant the media entirely.
—Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) October 7, 2015
Its core focus was technology with a decidedly optimistic bent, but it sometimes branched out — also writing on wildfires in the American West and how to secure medical laboratories. It became a home to big editorial projects like the Data 50, an analysis of top startups working on data, and the similar list Marketplace 100.
It soon settled into a regular cadence, publishing a story every three or four days on average. “Say I’m ‘Mr. Smarty Pants’ or a very interesting analyst, I think the question should be: Should I try to get this into The New York Times or should I get it into Future?” said Wennmachers at Future’s launch. “We want to help advance the narrative about the future, and how technology shapes it. Because if we do that, our companies will have an easier time flourishing.”
But Future fell short of expectations, observers say. People are drawn to a venture firm’s content because of the names behind it, said a marketing executive at another VC firm. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, the firm’s cofounders, almost never wrote for the site. “Future ended up being a hodgepodge of self-serving content. That’s what we have Medium for,” they said.
Its output also drew sneers from journalists. “It doesn’t always end well when you hire people to tell the world how great you are. Future.com, from my periodic glances, is a snooze fest, devoid of even the most justifiable skepticism and tension,” wrote Brad Stone, a veteran tech journalist, in a Bloomberg newsletter this year.
As recently as June, Future’s direction seemed positive. “We launched Future to be the go-to place for anyone building, advancing, or curious about technology, the most powerful force shaping the future,” it wrote on Twitter. “We’re just getting started.”
After slow growth, reader interest waned over the fall. In August 2022, its website had around 1.3 million visits, according to estimates from Similar Web; by October, it dropped to 423,000.
And it stopped publishing.
Future’s last story was released on October 5 — an interview examining the intersection of machine learning and biology. The top “featured post” on its homepage, “What the Merge Means for Ethereum,” was published in July.
The publication has also seen an exodus of staffers. Ex-CNN editor Maggie Leung, Future’s executive editor, has left, and so has managing editor Amelia Salyers, who joined the firm four years ago.
Other departures included crypto editor Jeff Benson, who joined from industry publication Decrypt but left in October after just six months, along with veteran science writer Nicole Neuman, who had served seven months as biology editor.
Laura Nunnally, a partner and marketing expert on the initiative, left in July, as did Theresa Fisher, a general editor who previously worked for publications at medical startup Zocdoc and mattress company Casper.
None of the editorial staffers responded to Insider’s requests for comment.
On November 9, Andreessen Horowitz made another big media announcement: It was relaunching its podcast.
The company dropped a triple-bill of episodes, featuring Marc Andreessen, director Karen X Cheng, and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, with the show helmed by Steph Smith (previously a key staffer at Future.)
The move indicates that, despite Future’s travails, A16z is by no means giving up on direct media.
Future.com, from my periodic glances, is a snooze fest.Brad Stone
There’s still a steady drumbeat of blog posts and think-pieces on the promise of new technologies, startup hiring advice, and new investments — but they’re being published directly on the firm’s website, a16z.com, or cryptocurrency-focused sister site a16zcrypto.com. In November, it published a glossy feature called “The American Dynamism 50,” a list of 50 companies working on “pressing issues to support the national internet” that followed a similar format to other lists it published to Future over the past year.
Andreessen Horowitz remains committed to “going direct” and plans to continue to crank out content at a regular cadence, a person familiar with the firm’s content strategy said, but such material will live on its main website instead. A16z concluded over the past year that it wasn’t worth spending the time and energy building a new, separate brand given the firm’s prominence, the person added.
It’s also leaning into YouTube as part of its podcast push, though it’s still early days: Most of its recent videos have a few hundred or thousand views. The firm recently hired Maria LaMagna Morales, who previously worked on CNN’s streaming service, to aid efforts. And a job listing on the website reveals the firm is preparing to launch a new, flagship podcast on tech and culture.
The company’s top partners are personally embracing the “going direct” philosophy.
General partner Sriram Krishnan runs a YouTube channel with his wife, fellow investor Aarthi Ramamurthy: Aarthi and Sriram’s Good Time Show. Interviewees include Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong and conservative pundit Saagar Enjeti, on subjects ranging from NFTs to the dangers of politics in the workplace. (Their most popular videos get tens of thousands of views; others get a few hundred or few thousand.)
Andreessen, historically a prolific tweeter, is also keen to sidestep the traditional media. When Insider reporters began reaching out to some of his colleagues and associates in October 2022 to inquire about his recent activities, he fired off a 34-tweet thread about Andreessen Horowitz’s growth, the future of California, and books he’s been reading. “Lord knows what they’ll ultimately publish, so I thought I’d just write this instead,” he explained.
He followed it up with a second, tongue-in-cheek thread in November, informing his followers he was not consuming ayahuasca, skiing, or “plotting any subversion of American democracy.”
Additional reporting by Walt Hickey.
Disclosure: Melia Russell’s husband is a former employee of Andreessen Horowitz.
Correction: December 1, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misstated when Future.com’s traffic began to decline, due to an error in Similar Web’s data. Traffic began to drop in September 2022, not August.
Do you work at Andreessen Horowitz? Contact reporter Rob Price via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 650-636-6268 or email at email@example.com. Melia Russell is at +1 603-913-3085 and firstname.lastname@example.org.