You'll find peanut butter in his kitchen. His CDs are mostly classical. He's paranoid by nature, similar to Microsoft's Bill Gates and Intel's Andy Grove. He's prescient, by reputation: He saw the importance of the browser to the Internet before anybody else.
If you want to know AOL's next move, watch Marc Andreessen, the biggest technology star to come to the Washington area in more than a decade. As the new resident futurist at America Online Inc. of Dulles, it is his job to suggest what AOL should invest in, to discover the newest technologies, to spot who is the hottest emerging rival in the ultra-competitive media race.
Andreessen became AOL's first chief technology officer in March after the company completed its purchase of Netscape, an Internet software firm he had co-founded.
He sees himself as a "distant early-warning system," keeping AOL out front in an ever-evolving industry that is changing the way consumers do just about anything from buying books to watching television.
"He's as much of a genius as I've ever met," says Mike McCue, who worked for Andreessen at Netscape two years ago, and now runs a Silicon Valley start-up called Tellme Networks.
Andreessen, only 28, spends his days surfing the Internet, talking to investment bankers and venture capitalists and commuting between California and Virginia.
"I'll be the guy who says this stuff is going to be really important," says Andreessen, who is scouting out opportunities over the next 12 to 36 months for AOL. "My goal is to know about everything before it happens."
It is a job well suited for Andreessen. He says when Chairman Steve Case came to him about the job, he created his own six-page job description and then wrote a separate 25-page report on the future of AOL that included a list of its "Top Ten threats."
"He's particularly skilled at scenario planning," says Case.
Case says that in Andreessen's early months at AOL, he has even been involved in the financial "kicking the tires" part of acquisitions.
But while his new role clearly calls for a sixth sense about technology, it's more nuanced than that, as is Andreessen himself. He's also supposed to know what consumers will soon be clamoring for and how to navigate policymaking in the Internet Age.
As he plays tug of war in his new McLean house with Lily, one of his three bulldogs, Andreessen explains that he wanted his Virginia home to be big enough for him to host political fund-raisers and parties.
The more you talk to people about Andreessen, the more you hear that he's not just about microchips and servers. Friends say he writes beautifully and that although he used to be an awful, frenetic speaker, he's now more dynamic in front of groups. As the federal government became Netscape's number one customer, Andreessen developed an interest in that market that is almost unheard-of for a Silicon Valley mogul. He's also fascinated with politics, the activities of the spy community, history and movies.
Andreessen, a 6-foot 4-inch guy with a boyish face, considers himself a "media junkie" -- he loves movies, magazines and television.
He's the kind of person who will go out and read 10 books on a subject and then, when he hears you're interested in the same topic, take you to a bookstore and make you buy those books too.
"He's fundamentally about self-improvement," says McCue. He calls Andreessen a "learning machine." AOL President Bob Pittman says Andreessen has "a natural curiosity."
While he's an inventor of the Web browser, he has an unusually lousy sense of direction, and relies on the global positioning system in his tan GMC Yukon to get him around Washington.
Like many people who have many responsibilities at an early age, at times he seems much younger than his years and at other times much older.
Andreessen certainly has his quirks: He never, ever goes on vacations longer than two days, and he only visits big cities. Case says he has always thought it a bit odd that Andreessen brings his own food to the inner circle staff meetings on Mondays at 12:30. No matter what's served, Andreessen thinks it's not healthy enough.
But when he talks, as the adage goes, people listen.
Andreessen has already begun hanging out with the top local tech luminaries, joining the Capital Investors, a group of wealthy people such as MCI WorldCom Vice Chairman John Sidgmore and Nasdaq President Alfred R. Berkeley III, who meet for dinner and listen to investment pitches once a month.
He says that the three major areas in the world for technology start-ups now are Silicon Valley, Washington and Israel.
Andreessen's 7,000-square-foot McLean house has a gourmet kitchen and a huge wine cellar (with seven bottles of wine he thought he should buy just to put something there). The most furnished room has a comfy couch and chairs and a coffee table with six remote controls neatly lined up next to each other, facing a huge television.
When Andreessen shows the elegant room where people might gather for parties, he reveals some of his lingering shyness: "I like the idea of having a party and then the day comes and I want everyone to go away."
AOL's New `Evangelist'
Case says that for a year before the Netscape acquisition wheels began turning, AOL had been thinking about hiring a chief technology officer. "Then it became clear Marc would be on paper the obvious candidate," Case says. "The central aspect is peering around corners."
So Case began working on a bicoastal job description. He says he wants Andreessen to spend time in both places, understanding what's going on in two very different environments. Case calls Andreessen the company's new "evangelist."
"It's part of making sure as we get bigger we don't get insular," says Case.
Case admits that AOL has been "missing in action" in the past few years at some forums, such as PC Expo and other technology industry events, and he expects Andreessen to fill that gap.
While Case says that Andreessen is the most technically adept person at AOL who reports directly to him, Andreessen won't be the only one thinking big-picture at the company. "We're not anointing him as our Seeing Eye dog as everyone else goes to sleep," says Case.
But Andreessen will be the company's only top executive without any day-to-day operating responsibilities, the kind that prevent hours of abstract thinking, a random spur-of-the-moment visit to a new company or a voracious reading marathon.
The arrangement is fine with Andreessen. While he's an workaholic and thinker, he doesn't function well in a 9-to-5 environment.
"After 11 at night, my brain clicks on," says Andreessen. And one previous boss says Andreessen has a proven record of prescience.
"He saw the browser before anybody else," said Jim Barksdale, former chief executive officer of Netscape. "He saw the Microsoft threat before others."
Barksdale says Andreessen taught him about the Internet, and he in turn schooled Andreessen on the rhythm and process of business.
Barksdale also taught Andreessen how to be on time for meetings and what to wear in a workplace. Andreessen says that two or three years ago he started dressing like an adult.
"He dresses a lot better than I do these days," says Barksdale.
Andreessen says he feels particularly suited to this kind of job rather than one where he'd manage hundreds of people and dozens of projects.
In fact, says Andreessen, whether he suggests that AOL invest in a company, buy a product or move in an entirely new direction, the idea is that he will hand off the reins of that initiative to someone else and then go on to the next thing.
He'll move in and out quickly. "My goal is to have a SWAT team of people," says Andreessen. He's starting with four full-time people, two of whom he brought from Netscape.
Andreessen says he much prefers this freer-form job to his days of running things at Netscape.
"I don't have a particularly burning desire to run a company. It's not clear I have the temperment for that," he says.
"I like a job where I can take time, thinking, reading and writing." After dealing with corporate crises, he said, "you get to the point where, do you really want to listen to your voice mail?"
McCue says at Netscape he and Andreessen would talk about work stuff while eating pizza and watching kung fu movies. "He was very hands-off. I didn't feel like I was working for a boss."
Still, many people thought Andreessen's move was odd because he had hardly been a supporter of AOL. Like many others in the technology industry, Andreessen had criticized AOL as a lightweight contender. He has since changed his mind, saying AOL crossed over to success about two years ago when the Internet became a consumer medium.
"They are a much more technically advanced company than I thought," Andreessen admits.
He predicts AOL will be as big as Microsoft in 3 1/2 years.
"He did make a lot of statements about us," says Case, who attributes the change of heart to Andreessen growing up. Case says Andreessen is the most mature person of his age he has ever met.
As a co-founder of Netscape, Andreessen understandably felt the acquisition was bittersweet. "Netscape the company is gone," he says. "The DNA survives in a mutated form."
Case says that while Andreessen was not officially put in charge of the transition (that role went to Barry Schuler), he certainly is a bridge-builder, and probably encouraged many Netscape employees to stay through his example.
Now, instead of criticizing AOL, Andreessen says it's the West Coast that still hasn't figured out the consumer tech market.
"Silicon Valley has to change from a technology orientation to a consumer industry," says Andreessen. "There's a joke that if Silicon Valley was going to market sushi, they'd call it `raw fish.' "
But there are still many die-hard techies who think AOL needed some serious technological help. "AOL without Marc could get blindsided by some new development," his friend McCue says.
In Search of New Technologies
Indeed, a big part of Andreessen's job will be vetting new technologies. He'll look at whether something actually works, and then if people want it. "Marc is a world-class technologist, and there are only a handful of them," says Pittman.
"I can understand when I'm getting snowed," says Andreessen.
Somewhere in this country, says Andreessen, someone is developing a portable scent generator, a device that could simulate certain smells. He's pretty sure the public isn't ready for that. "Engineers can suffer from too much optimism," he says. "You need a reality check."
Still, he worries about other people doing things first, which breeds a heady sense of competition. "He's paranoid by nature, similar to Bill Gates and Andy Grove," says McCue.
"My goal is if there's something out there within five years that will affect AOL's business, I should know about it," says Andreessen.
Part of his new job means getting out and talking to people, picking up tips and trends from likely and unlikely sources.
While he can speak too fast, he's the kind of person who can talk to almost anyone, mostly because he finds something interesting about each conversation.
"He can talk to Al Gore one day and see the CEO of a three-person start-up that afternoon," says McCue.
But he didn't always win over big groups. For about a year, Andreessen has had a speech coach. He speaks often now at technology conferences and industry events. He says he likes crowds with a sense of humor.
Barksdale remembers working with Andreessen on slowing down and speaking clearly. "He could gather great audiences . . . and they would leave wondering what he said," says Barksdale.
Andreessen jokes that which coast he'll actually end up on permanently "depends on the restaurant situation." Andreessen's looking for a few good breakfast places in the Washington area. He has a favorite spot in the Valley where he strays from his healthy AOL lunches to eat blueberry coffee cake with an inch of sugar on top. But he hasn't found the right restaurant here yet.
Andreessen seems genuinely concerned that in Washington, most of the technology executives and venture capitalists frequent hotel restaurants for breakfast. "The VCs hang out at the Reston Hyatt, that's sad," says Andreessen. Maybe he'll invest in a restaurant, he says.
Someday, says Andreessen, he may start another company in a city such as San Diego or Austin, probably near a university. He'd definitely get someone else to run it, though. "In 10 years we'll stop talking about the Internet like we don't talk about electricity," says Andreessen. "It'll sink into the background."
Maybe, by then, there will be something new we can't even imagine yet.
As Andreessen knows, it's hard to predict the future. Barksdale says he knows this much is true: "Marc's got so many years ahead of him, we'll all be amazed."
Title: Chief technology officer, America Online Inc.
Birthdate: July 9, 1971
Education: BS, computer science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1993
Marital status: Single
Lives: Splits time between McLean and Palo Alto, Calif.
Drives: 1998 tan GMC Yukon
Favorite movie: "Hard Boiled," directed by John Woo, Hong Kong, 1992
Favorite book: Anything by James Ellroy
Current reading: Includes "Predatory Marketing" by Britt Beemer and "The Deal of the Century" by Steve Coll
If I went back to school now I'd study: History (especially 19th and early 20th century European and American), philosophy, possibly economics
First computer: Radio Shack color computer with 4 KB RAM and an audiocassette player for storage, hooked up to a color TV -- cost in 1980, $199 -- "What a computer should cost."
Favorite web sites:
www.imdb.com (Internet movie database)
www.slashdot.org (news for nerds)
www.theonion.com (humor magazine)
Personal technologies I can't live without:
Nokia 6160 cellular phone with ear bud headphone
RIM 2-way pager with QWERTY keyboard
Sony Vaio 505TX lightweight laptop
Replay Networks 28-hour personal video recorder
Alpine CD-ROM/GPS car navigation system
Last vacation: "Vacation? What is this word `vacation'?"
CAPTION: Marc Andreessen, spending time with Milo, one of his three bulldogs, is expected to keep an eye on the future.
CAPTION: Kettle the cat competes with a laptop for Andreessen's attention in his Palo Alto, Calif., home.