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Marc Andreessen is the young co-founder and vice-president
of technology of Netscape
Communications Corporation. Netscape was founded by Andreessen and computer
scientist-entrepreneur Jim Clark to develop
and market an enhanced version of NCSA
Mosaic, the first Internet browser, which Andreessen had helped write
when he was an undergraduate at the University
By following the unlikely strategy of giving away the
browser for free, Netscape has been able to make a lot of money. This
was done by first by establishing Netscape’s browser (called Netscape
Navigator) as the Internet standard, and then selling other kinds of network
software for Internet and corporate use.
Netscape’s initial public offering (IPO), the most
successful in Wall Street history, made Andreessen an instant multi-millionaire.
As a stellar example of today’s information age entrepreneur, Andreessen
has achieved a kind of celebrity status, and has made the cover of Time
Magazine as the pre-eminent "super geek" of his generation.
Since its founding, Netscape has achieved a dominant share
of the markets for Internet and intranet software at the same time that
it has fueled the astronomical growth of the Word Wide Web and fundamentally
shifted the software industry to a cross-platform, Internet-based standard.
Since the end of 1995 Netscape’s share of Internet and corporate
markets has come to be increasingly challenged by competitors, most notably
software giant Microsoft. In one
of the classic corporate campaigns in recent history, Microsoft has committed
its massive resources to recapturing the Internet from Netscape.
In the midst of Netscape’s struggles for market share
and survival, Marc Andreessen calmly continues in his role as long-term
strategist and visionary while under close scrutiny by the business community
and the media. At the same time, he lives a relatively quiet and modest
life with his fianc?e, Elizabeth Horn, in Mountain View, California.
Marc Andreessen was born in July of 1971 in New Lisbon,
Wisconsin, an archetypal Midwestern town of about 1,500 people. His father,
a seed salesman, is now retired, and his mother works for catalogue clothier
Although school sports were the main focus of extracurricular
attention and the quickest road to popularity and status in Lisbon, the
6’4" Andreessen had little interests in athletics. While the
sporting teams practiced, Andreessen pursued an interest in computers
that began when he was in the fifth grade. At that time he learned Basic
programming language from a library book before ever laying hands on a
computer. In the sixth grade Andreessen used one of the school’s
computers to write a program with which he could do his math homework,
but the program was wiped out when a janitor turned off the power in the
building. A year later his parents made what must be considered one of
the great investments in business history when they bought Marc his own
computer, a Commodore
64. Andreessen then began his programming career writing games.
Andreessen was recognized early on as a superior and creative
intellect. His high school principal states that Andreessen had "an
intellectual capacity that could intimidate people," while teachers
and classmates remember him as generally likable and as having an excellent
sense of humor. They also recall that Andreessen had a rather offbeat
imagination; a proclivity to come up with rather different ideas on a
variety of subjects such as the nature of God and the future of science.
The Keys to Netscape: English and Philosophy
Andreessen went on to attend undergraduate school at the
University of Illinois. He recalls that in spite of his interest in computers,
he did not at first intend to pursue a career in computing because he
believed electrical engineering would offer more lucrative career choices.
"I ended up in computer science," he quips, "largely because
it required the least amount of work." Andreessen says his favorite
classes were English and philosophy, and credits his extra-technological
education with most of the skills and insights that led to his subsequent
While pursuing his undergraduate degree, Andreessen worked
part-time as a programmer, for $6.85 per hour, at the university’s
National Center for Supercomputing
Applications (NCSA). Andreessen was working on an assignment to write
three-dimensional visualization software for the Center’s supercomputer
when he dreamed up and implemented the first Internet browser.
In the early 1990s, the Internet was primarily a tool
for elite researchers and a subculture of technophiles who have been likened
to ham radio operators of the 1950s. Finding and downloading documents
was accordingly difficult and cumbersome, with users having to learn to
execute functions such as FTP,
in an arcane Unix format. Andreessen
came up with the idea of integrating those separate functions within a
single program, and hiding them behind a graphic interface. He approached
a fellow NCSA employee Eric
Bina with his idea, and the two undertook their project working nights
and weekends in a small basement room. The first version of their program,
called NCSA Mosaic, consisted of a mere 9000 lines of code and was complete
in about six weeks. With Mosaic, the Web could be navigated by simply
pointing and clicking. The learning curve for Internet use was thereby
shortened from months to minutes. Thus began the transformation of the
Internet to a mass medium.
Because of Andreessen’s and Bina’s employee
status, Mosaic remained the property of the University of Illinois. When
NCSA released the program onto the Internet in January of 1993, allowing
anybody to download and use it for free, Mosaic became an overnight sensation,
logging 2 million downloads within its first year. Hundreds of companies
soon began requesting licenses for the software.
Leaving College and NCSA
Following Mosaic’s successful debut, Andreessen talked
with NCSA Director Larry Smarr about whether and how he could make a business
out of his invention. Smarr had only learned about the program at its
first public demonstration, and states that he immediately recognized
the world-altering character of Andreessen’s innovation. As regards
marketing a version of the program, he told Andreessen that he would have
to start his business outside the university environment.
Andreessen graduated in 1994 with a BS in computer science
and one world-altering accomplishment on his resume. Because he did not
have the resources to start his own company, he went to work for a Silicon
Valley software firm called Enterprise Integration Technologies. Andreessen
moved to Palo Alto, California, rented a two-bedroom apartment and bought
a Ford Mustang. Shortly thereafter, he met his fianc?e, Elizabeth Horn,
a commercial real estate broker. Andreessen recalls of his job as a programmer
that he was "pretty bored."
It was only a matter of weeks before Andreessen received
an e-mail message that has since achieved the status of Silicon Valley
legend. The message was from Jim Clark, a Silicon Valley legend in his
own right. Clark had taken his own academic innovations and founded the
highly successful Silicon Graphics, Inc.
(SGI), a manufacturer of high and middle end workstations, processors
and software for the creation of three-dimensional images. Although SGI
is best known for the stunning cinematic effects seen in many recent Hollywood
blockbusters, SGI workstations are also the tool of choice for a wide
range of applications that require the absolute highest level of 3-D graphic
Clark told Andreessen that he was interested in starting
a technology company. What he had in mind was a cheap system for interactive
television, for which he thought Andreessen’s browser could serve
as an interface for subscribers. Andreessen convinced Clark that the Internet,
with millions of new users, represented a better immediate market. The
two decided to build an enhanced and improved version of Mosaic and to
follow NSCA’s lead in giving it away in order to establish their
product as an Internet standard. They founded Netscape Communication Corporation
in 1994, recruiting four of the five programmers who had worked with Andreessen
at Illinois, and hiring veteran administrator Jim
Barksdale to serve as CEO.
The Netscape Marketing Strategy
Netscape’s strategy was executed flawlessly and successfully.
On its December 1994 release, Netscape Navigator rapidly replaced Mosaic
as the browser of choice among a large majority of Internet users, capturing
within a year a market share estimated as high as 85 percent. Netscape
began drawing revenues by selling servers, the programs that run on the
big computers that serve as network hubs for the Internet and for corporate
intranets. The company also sells expensive software products to corporations
for the creation and maintenance of their own Web sites, and has been
able to obtain large royalties or license fees from businesses that include
Navigator with their own software packages.
Andreessen describes his position with Netscape with his
usual understated humor; "I am vice-president for making stuff. I’m
supposed to figure out what’s the next generation." Accordingly,
Andreessen does not manage any of the day-to-day operations at Netscape,
nor has he written a line of code since 1994. Because of Andreessen’s
unconventional corporate role, the fact that he has no experience or degree
in business, and because of his tendency to discourse in a rather fantastic
way about the future of science and technology, one well-known analyst
has questioned whether the young vice president has the right stuff to
be a continuing asset to his company during its life-or-death struggle
Jim Clark, a successful veteran of corporate struggle,
has no such doubts. Clark has stated unequivocally, "the creative
drive here is Marc Andreessen. This is his company." A number of
Andreessen’s colleagues agree that his knowledge and foresight in
the areas of technology and business are an indispensable asset for Netscape.
All are confident that his current decisions will be as decisive and correct
as those has made in the past.
Andreessen’s meteoric rise to wealth and fame has
seemingly had only minor impact on his lifestyle. "It’s odd,
but I try not to pay too much attention to it," notes Andreessen
of his success and celebrity. Several observers have noted that Andreessen’s
wealth has done little to alter the pedestrian taste in cuisine and clothing
for which he has become renowned. He and Elizabeth finally bought a house,
after first moving to a larger rented apartment, and the two have been
known to return from an evening stroll to Tower Records with upward of
100 new classical CDs. Andreessen now drives a Mercedes, and has been
seen on occasion wearing Polo shirts.
A Taste for B-movies, Business Strategy
and the Liberal Arts
Since the founding of Netscape, Marc and Elizabeth have
taken only two vacations, one of which was only a two-day excursion to
New Zealand. Andreessen still keeps to an "engineer’s schedule,"
waking at 10 a.m. and going to sleep at 3 a.m. He breaks from work every
afternoon to go with Elizabeth to walk their two bulldogs. At night the
two eat dinner, often at a restaurant, and sometimes watch video movies
(favorites include Steven Siegal, Steve Buscemi, "bad B-movies"
and Jackie Chan-style Hong Kong flicks). Beginning around midnight, Andreessen
spends two or three hours reading and answering e-mail.
Marc Andreessen still pursues a range of seemingly "ungeekish"
interests, including classical music, history, philosophy, the media,
and business. Notable on his shelf are books about the origins of electricity,
railroads and telephones, as well as a variety of trade magazines and
books about business strategy. In spite of a seemingly casual lifestyle,
it would seem that Marc Andreessen continues to apply the bulk of his
energies to the task of out-guessing, out-innovating and out-strategizing
Netscape’s competition. The results of his thinking will very possibly
continue to be found on our desktops, and on the hubs of the computer
networks that carry the lifeblood of tomorrow’s global society.
Collins, James, "High Stakes Winners; Meet the Get-Incredibly-Rich-Quick
Crowd," Time. February 19, 1996.
Dunlap, Charlotte, "The Top 25 Executives; Marc Andreessen
No. 8," Computer Reseller News. November 13, 1995.
Guthrie, Julian, "The Internet Kid," The
San Francisco Examiner. September 17, 1995.
Holzinger, Albert G., "Netscape Founder Points, and
it Clicks," Nation’s Business. January, 1966.
Markoff, John, "6 Tips on How to Earn $52 Million
by Age 24," The New York Times. August 14, 1995.
Moeller, Michael, "Netscape’s Communication
Corp’s Vice-President of Technology, Marc Andreessen; Interview,"
PC Week. Vol. 12, No. 38, September 25, 1995.
Parets, Robyn Taylor, "Netscape’s Marc Andreessen,"
Investor’s Business Daily. January 16, 1996.
Tetzeli, Rick, "What It’s Really Like to be
Marc Andreessen," Fortune. December 9, 1996.
Wagner, Douglas. "Netscape," Jones Telecommunications
and Multimedia Encyclopedia. Jones International, 1997.
Wagner, Douglas. "Jim Clark," Jones Telecommunications
and Multimedia Encyclopedia. Jones International, 1997.
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