a16z’s Katherine Boyle on A&D Investing, Dual-use Tech, and Space Optimism


Ryan sits down with Katherine Boyle, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz (or a16z, for short). Katherine heads up a16z’s American Dynamism practice, where she invests in companies involved in national security, aerospace and defense, public safety, housing, education, and industrials. Katherine recently led the firm’s investment in Hadrian, a software-defined precision machining startup serving the aerospace and defense sectors.


Welcome to the fourth episode of Pathfinder, a weekly show where Payload managing editor and host Ryan Duffy sits down with the top shot-callers in space.

Katherine is a prolific writer and deep thinker on aerospace and defense, the US national interest, dual-use technology, and the relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington. As you can see below, we had a wide-ranging conversation on Pathfinder 0004.

Prior to a16z, Katherine was a partner at General Catalyst, and before that, cut her VC teeth at Founders Fund. She was also a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post before moving out to Silicon Valley and started her investing career.

Disclaimer, via a16z: “The content here is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal, business, tax, or investment advice, or be used to evaluate any investment or security and is not directed at any investors or potential investors in any a16z fund.”

Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems — www.spideroak-ms.com — an industry leader in space cybersecurity. Check out their space cybersecurity white paper at www.spacecyber.com


0:00 – intro

2:35 – From pre-Bezos WaPo to B-school to venture investing

3:42 – Culture shock of Silicon Valley and trying to “figure out the story I saw in front of me”

5:40 – Joining a16z and defining the American Dynamism thesis 

8:00 – No more tyranny of geography (Katherine is in Miami!)

10:15 – VC + Silicon Valley exports to the world

13:10 – “It is our goal that every firm has an American Dynamism practice”

15:00 – The false dichotomy of atoms & bits  (not mutually exclusive) … and @ 15:15, Palmer Luckey (founder of Oculus & Anduril) as case study  

15:45 – a16z Cofounder Marc Andreessen’s canonical pieces – “Software is eating the world” in 2011 and “it’s time to build” in 2020 – converging 

18:00 – Building in digital vs. physical worlds 

20:05 – Space is no longer a niche specialized area of investment

21:45 – VCs enabling commercial space sector and government/DoD serving as key initial first customers to help startups get through the “valley of death” 

22:40 – Governments as customers vs. competitors 

23:10 – You can sell to government and move into enterprise, but you can also build a large enough business just selling to “US government and her allies” 

24:43 – Dual-use technology, Silicon Valley working with the Pentagon, and Russia-Ukraine war as a catalyst for more cooperation? 

27:30 – Defense as bipartisan issue then…to national security as ESG 

30:00 – How can A&D startups compete with Big Tech for talent? 

34:20 – Hardware-software hybrids, standing up new A&D company models, and sharing the playbook by “building in public” … talent not only going to Big Tech or academia, but into companies like SpaceX, Anduril, and Hadrian, and then starting companies of their own

35:30 – The role of storytelling in startup success … and @ 36:35, having “an extraordinary storyteller at the helm” … @37:30, motivating teams through common missions and authentic storytelling 

38:00 – Hadrian investment. Tackling issues in the US defense industrial base, supply chains, and fragmented machining/parts manufacturing industry … and 40:45, where Hadrian makes the biggest impact first 

41:00 – Legacy industries serving USG often lack quality software or customer support … consumerization of B2G products 

42:30 – CS PhDs working with machinists and people who resonate with the mission

43:45 – Key under-discussed questions: Who is the team? How did you meet the team? And how are you going to recruit the team? 

48:20 – Criticism of space exploration has been a constant since the inception of the US’s space program … but @ 49:00, space is cool again! We’ve moved to a world where people see space as cool again. 

50:08 – Katherine’s predictions on the future of space exploration … “I don’t think people realize how fast it’s going to be here.”

51:30 – Family conversations on leaving Earth?!

52:45 – Does a16z have a full-time chief meme officer yet?