This is the third in a four-part series of startup visualizations built by the students of Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 journalism program at NYU. Read the first post in the series which introduces the tool and maps out Silicon Valley’s “first family,” the Fairchild Mafia, and read the second post in the series, which maps out Larry Ellison and the Oracle Mafia.
(startup descriptions pulled from Crunchbase)
[Visualization built by Simran Khosla, Jesse Kipp, Nuha Abujaber, and Jonathan Soma]
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Netscape’s circle of influence
Before Chrome, before Firefox, even before Internet Explorer, there was Mosaic.
Mosaic wasn’t the first web browser ever created, but it was close. The first was Tim Berners-Lee’s WorldWideWeb, which in 1990 was literally the only way to surf the Web. 1993′s Mosiac, however, was the first to resemble the browsers we use today. It was easy to install, it worked on the preeminent operating system of the day, Windows, and it included many of the simple features we take for granted today, like a URL bar, forward and back buttons, and graphics that display in the same windows as text. You can still download it here.
The co-creator and team leader behind Mosaic? It’s a guy who, if you read PandoDaily with any regularity you’ll instantly recognize: Marc Andreessen.
Today, Andreessen is one of the most prolific venture capitalists in the world, investing in companies as diverse as Facebook and, well, PandoDaily. But in 1993, he was a 22-year-old computer science student at the University of Illinois (where Oracle’s Larry Ellison also attended before dropping out), still a few classes shy of a Bachelor’s Degree and working at the school’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). His boss at the time, Dr. Ping Fu who helped create the groundbreaking computer graphics in Terminator 2, asked Andreessen to make a web browser. His response? “What’s a web browser?”
From those humble beginnings came what Internet historians James Gillies and Robert Cailliau called, “The spark that lit the Web’s explosive growth.” Built with the help of his coworker, Eric Bina, Mosiac proved that Web browsing wasn’t just for techies at CERN or the Department of Defense. No, the browser of the future would have attractive graphics, low barrier of entry, and be compatible with existing consumer products. And it would make people very very rich.
Guessing at the commercial possibilities of web browsing, Andreessen left the NCSA and headed to California to start the company that would become Netscape. Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Inc., helped secure funding through Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers. (More cross-mafia connections: Eugene Kleiner was part of the Fairchild Mafia, the first family of Silicon Valley).
In October of that year, Netscape released its first browser. Less than a year later on August 9, 1995, it went public. Opening at $28 a share, the stock soared as high as $75 before settling down at $58.25 by the end of the day. Netscape was the fastest growing software company of all time, growing from $5 million to $10 million to $20 million to $40 million over the four quarters of 1995. Andreessen told Wired, “No one had ever seen anything like that. It was faster than Lotus’ first year, which was the previous record in software. Shit! That’s it! We are a hit!”
But although Netscape created a monumentally important product that helped shape modern life at least as much as Fairchild did, its lightning-fast growth, massive IPO, and the breathless attention it received from the press, made it symbolic of the dotcom bubble. And indeed, through a series of developments, many of which were out of the company’s control, Netscape forever altered how companies raise capital while also pioneering the rock-star iconography associated with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs today. As Sarah Lacy writes in an unpublished ebook on Silicon Valley families,
Netscape’s IPO was considered the seminal moment that opened the Internet liquidity floodgates, and changed all the rules of what a venture backed-IPO could be and coincided with how the stock market worked.
Part of that was timing, as Andreessen notes above. The IPO coincided with a greater democratization of stock market investing. It wasn’t the banks that caused that spectacular first day pop, it was the everyday retail investors flooding brokerages to buy a piece of a product they loved. And thanks to an unprecedented crush of press, Andreessen became a symbol to every hacker or geek that you could move to Silicon Valley and build something huge in a matter of months, something that had seemingly never been possible in business before.
But the good times wouldn’t last forever. There’s a reason no one uses Netscape any more and that reason is Microsoft. Between 1998 and 2000, as Microsoft continued to bundle Internet Explorer into its Windows operating system, Netscape’s share of the browser market fell from 80 percent to less than 40 percent. Part of Netscape’s biggest legacy is the role it played in the 1998 Microsoft antitrust case. Though not officially a plaintiff, Netscape was one of Internet Explorer’s biggest competitors and thus was cast by some as the David to Microsoft’s Goliath.
But Netscape’s influence and bloodlines extend far beyond the Microsoft case. Andreessen, along with another Netscape executive Ben Horowitz, started Andreessen Horowitz which has invested billions of dollars in over a hundred companies including Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Zynga, and Groupon. The duo also founded a software company called Opsware in 1999 that eventually sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion. Another Netscape executive, Ram Shriram, was a founding board member and angel investor in Google who also worked for Amazon and served on StumbleUpon’s board. Peter Currie, Netscape’s CFO at the time of its IPO, served as Facebook’s CFO and sat on Twitter’s board. Executive Mike McCue cofounded the “voice browser” TellMe, which sold to Microsoft for a rumored $800 million, and is now the CEO and cofounder of Flipboard. And the list goes on…
Was there something about the culture at Netscape that allowed it to spawn so many successful entrepreneurs and investors? Perhaps. Netscape’s culture was like a cross between Fairchild’s and Oracle’s. On one hand, Andreessen could be a pretty volatile guy like Ellison (One of the first emails Horowitz ever received from Andreessen was signed, “Fuck You.”) On the other hand, there was a humble Midwestern mentality that informed Netscape’s culture, just like at Fairchild. (Both Andreessen and Fairchild’s Robert Noyce were born in Iowa). Andreessen described the culture at Netscape to Sarah Lacy in her unreleased ebook like this: “Egalitarianism, stock options, the value of hard work and building things versus patent trolls. Practicality, fairness and taking responsibility. People saying things how they are. That all made its way to the Valley from the Midwest.”
Netscape may have lost the browser wars to Microsoft, but while Microsoft finds itself without a CEO and playing catchup in both hardware and software, the founders and executives of Netscape helped shape some of the biggest companies of the past ten years by making smart bets on social and search. And yet there’s a circular quality to the Netscape mafia. Facebook, Google, and every other successful consumer web product wouldn’t be possible without Andreessen’s Mosaic browser. Mosaic brought the web to the masses, a development as significant as Fairchild’s semiconductors.
[Illustration by Simran Khosla]