What’s the future of startups? Just one word: Dopamine

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Marc Andreessen, the father of the modern Web! Today he announced that he’s launching a $300 million venture capital fund with his old biz partner from back in the glory days of Netscape, Ben Horowitz.

This is interesting on a number of fronts that have nothing whatsoever to do with Nerd World (raised $300mm in worst fundraising environment in 40 years, will NOT be investing in trendy “green tech” startups, etc.) But here are two things that might pass muster with readers of this august forum:

1. Andreessen Horowitz believes we’re on the cusp of a renaissance in consumer electronics. Yes, that’s right: The U.S. and gadget capital of the world.

2. Also: Andreessen is a firm believer in backing companies whose products make your brain secrete dopamine.

Let’s start with the duller one first: Andreessen is especially keen to bankroll consumer electronics startups. “We think there’s going to be a resurgence of consumer electronics in Silicon Valley,” he told me during a recent breakfast. “It’ll be a return to the days of RCA.”

The way he and Horowitz see it, the hardware side of making great gadgets has become fungible. All that stuff is manufactured, cheaply, in Asia these days. There’s nothing to it! Witness blogmeister Mike Arrington who’s about to start selling his own, Techcrunch-branded tablet computer (the CrunchPad) to consumers.  The tricky stuff is the software that can turn a formerly dumb device, like a Bluetooth earpiece for a mobile phone, into a full-blown computer. OK, that was Andreessen’s example, a reference to the uber-nerdly Jawbone, the manufacturer or which he’s already invested his own money in, and which, he says, will some day be much more than a simple earphone. So, if you have an idea for any piece of hardware that runs on real, honest-to-God software, Andreessen and Horowitz want to talk to you.

Bonus points if your product causes consumers brains to squirt dopamine! The neurotransmitter is kind of a drug of anticipation—we secrete it when thinking about food and sex. A few months ago, I was talking to Andreessen and he told me, half jokingly, that “I’m only investing in dopamine companies.” He’d been spending some time looking into it and determined that other things stimulate its production was well. Blackberries and iPhones for instance. You know how, when you’re at a dinner table and some nitz pulls out his iPhone and starts checking his email? And how you and everyone else reflexively reaches for theirs? That, my friends, is a dopamine response, and if you pay attention, you’ll start noticing all kinds of things that spur it.