Marc Andreessen



Born: 1971
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Cofounder, Netscape Communications Corporation

Marc Andreessen. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.
Marc Andreessen.
Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

Marc Andreessen has been called many things in his young life—from boy wonder and "Golden Geek" to visionary and "Internet Evangelist"—all because he helped develop an Internet browser called Netscape Navigator. In the days when the Internet and World Wide Web were in their infancy, Andreessen's ability to simplify the information superhighway not only made him millions of dollars but thrust him into cutthroat competition with huge rival Microsoft. Although he later quit Netscape after it was acquired by America Online (AOL), Andreessen turned his attention to forming a new company that would continue to bring the Internet to millions of people.

"Right now, today, with a little luck and brains and timing, any kid with a computer can do what Netscape has done. There are no barriers to entry anymore. Any kid can spark a revolution."

Boy Genius?

Andreessen was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 1971, the son of Lowell and Patricia Andreessen. The family moved to New Lisbon, Wisconsin, where Lowell worked selling seed to farmers and Patricia was employed by the mail-order giant, Lands' End. Some might have called young Andreessen a "geek" because he was not interested in sports and preferred to tinker with computers. But he also possessed a good sense of humor and had many areas of interest, including a love of reading.

When his parents bought him his first computer in the seventh grade, Andreessen learned the basics of computer programming from library manuals and began designing video games for fun. He also excelled in school and prepared for college. When he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, few could imagine the international impact this student would have within the next few years.

Although Andreessen originally considered majoring in engineering, he settled on computer science and worked at the university's supercomputer center, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), for $6.85 an hour. There he met a like-minded young man, a programmer named Eric Bina. Bina was a full-time employee of NCSA, who had already earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from the university. Andreessen approached Bina about creating a program to make the World Wide Web more accessible and less complicated. Bina agreed and the two worked on and off in NCSA's basement offices for six weeks, finishing a nine-thousand-line program called Mosaic.

Mosaic, the Monster Browser

Andreessen and Bina demonstrated Mosaic's capabilities in January 1993, proud of their accomplishments but having no idea that their program, called a "browser," would literally change the world. What Mosaic did was help users browse, or navigate, through the thousands and eventually millions of Web addresses and locations available on the Internet. At the time the Web was still a vast, untapped wilderness; while some folks had begun using computers at work, the boom for home users had yet to begin.

Marc Andreessen developed his first computer program while he was in sixth grade at his school's computer lab. It was for a virtual calculator. Unfortunately for the budding software designer, power outages erased the program before he could save or copy it.

A few months after finishing Mosaic, Andreessen received his bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois. Mosaic was then offered over the Internet, and within the first year was downloaded by two million users. After graduation, Andreessen took a job in southern California's famed Silicon Valley at Enterprise Integration Technologies, a company that developed Internet security products. While there, he received an e-mail from a former computer science professor at Stanford University named Jim Clark.

Clark had left Stanford to form Silicon Graphics, Inc., a billion-dollar computer hardware and software graphics company. He had recently left Silicon Graphics and wanted to meet with Andreessen to discuss a new business venture. Andreessen agreed, and the two ended up on Clark's yacht discussing Mosaic and its importance to the Web and beyond. With Andreessen's technical expertise, Clark's business background, and start-up funds of $4 million, the two agreed to form a partnership. They launched Mosaic Communications Corporation in April 1994.

Mosaic Becomes Netscape

Andreessen was thrilled to team up with Clark, and even more happy to be in California. In just a few months, he had a new business venture poised to take the world by storm, an apartment, a cool car (a Ford Mustang), and even a girlfriend. Mosaic, as both Andreessen and Clark believed, was a phenomenal success. There was, however, a dark side to their good fortune: since the program had been developed at NCSA, the University of Illinois owned the copyright. A legal clash took place between the university and the new partners, but by the end of 1994, Mosaic had been renamed Netscape, and the company became Netscape Communications Corporation.

Netscape took off and was downloaded by millions. Since the program was downloaded for free, the company's tech team worked on a variety of other software applications to sell. As companies took to the Web, they needed programs to provide secure transactions, and Netscape met their needs. By early 1995 Netscape had two hundred employees; in April the new and improved version of Netscape, called Navigator 1.0, was released to widespread acclaim.

Andreessen's life changed forever on August 9, 1995. Although he slept through all the fanfare because he had stayed up late the night before, Netscape went public on the stock market and created a frenzy of buying. Andreessen's stake of the firm was suddenly worth over $50 million, and within a few months surged to over $170 million.

Instant Millionaire

While Andreessen adjusted to life as a millionaire, Clark had been catapulted to billionaire status. Netscape was suddenly neck deep in competitors, with Yahoo!, Lycos, and Excite all carving out parts of the browser market. Then Microsoft and Bill Gates got into the game with Internet Explorer. Netscape, still at the top of its game, paid little attention to its rivals and concentrated on making its own programs faster and more sophisticated.

As the young man hailed as the "New Electronic Messiah" by the Economist in 1995, Andreessen found himself often compared to Gates. The two, however, could not have been more different: Gates was raised with money in California and briefly attended Harvard while Andreessen hailed from a small town and was from a working middle-class family. When Andreessen was asked by Fortune magazine in December 1996 if he wanted to meet the fellow computer genius, his answer was surprisingly funny: "Think about it. What would we talk about? His stock? My stock? He's got more. He'd tell me about his house; I'd tell him I've got a house too. Mine's a normal house."

Netscape continued to revolutionize the Internet with its many commercial applications, sold to most of the world's big corporations. Andreessen, too, remained dedicated to his work although he was no longer on the front lines designing programs. He was more of a team cheerleader, urging his colleagues on and meeting prospective business partners.

When twenty-four-year-old Marc Andreessen struck it rich on the stock market, his first purchase was some adult clothing—a suit. This was followed over time by a new car, a Mercedes; a house in Palo Alto, California; a great stereo and CDs (he likes blues, jazz, and classical music); and two bulldogs to go with the house.

Leaving Netscape

By 1998, Netscape had sales of almost $450 million; the following year it was gobbled up by America Online for $4.2 billion. Netscape was no longer an independent firm but part of a huge conglomerate. With the shift in ownership came a new job for Andreessen, who left his position as Netscape' senior vice president of technology to become AOL's chief of technology. The move, both from Netscape and California to AOL's headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, proved a shock to his system. Andreessen missed southern California, especially the food, and could not seem to adapt to life in Virginia, or at AOL. He became a part-time consultant for the company, but finally left AOL completely by the fall of 1999.

Andreessen returned to California and looked up several of his old Netscape buddies to discuss starting a new business. He sold a large chunk of AOL stock for financing and in October 1999, Andreessen, along with friends Ben Horowitz, Tim Howes, and In Sik Rhee, formed Loudcloud. Loudcloud was originally supposed to be an Internet business, but instead the partners decided to create Web site portals for major corporations. To achieve this, they devised a complicated software program called Opsware, which they dubbed their "secret sauce."

While Opsware was indeed a remarkable application, it was so complicated that the Loudcloud founders felt they could not actually sell it. As a result, they used it to monitor and oversee Web sites that belonged to other companies. Opsware, as an Internet watchdog, soon appealed to a number of huge corporate Web addresses, including sites belonging to Nike, Inc., Blockbuster Entertainment, Ford Motor Company (see entries), and even the United Kingdom's postal system. Loudcloud was certainly no Netscape, although it did fare relatively well despite the failure of numerous Internet companies during the late 1990s. Andreessen and his partners had poured millions of their own dollars into the venture, and were content to give it time to grow.

As of 2002, Loudcloud was still alive and Andreessen was busy mapping out its future. The cyberspace folk hero who described himself as "down to earth" was no longer a boy wonder but a man in his thirties. For his unique vision of the twenty-first century and beyond, he had picked up a few honors and awards along the way, being named "Man of the Year" by Micro-Times magazine in 1994 and earning the Computerworld Smithsonian Award for Leadership in 1995.

For More Information

Books

Clark, Jim, and Owen Edwards. Netscape: The Making of the Billion-Dollar Startup Who Took on Microsoft. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Ehrenhaft, Daniel. Marc Andreessen: Web Warrior. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2001.

Moschovitis, Christos J. P. History of the Internet: A Chronology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1999.

Quittner, Joshua, and Michelle Slatalla. Speeding the Net: The Inside Story of Netscape and How it Challenged Microsoft. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.

Tracy, Kathleen. Marc Andreessen and the Development of the Web Browser. Bear, DE: Mitchell Lane, 2002.

Periodicals

Corcoran, Elizabeth. "Growing Up is Hard to Do." Forbes (April 29, 2002): p. 36.

Hazelwood, Sara. "Andreessen: AOL's New Evangelist." Business Journal (April 2, 1999): p. 14.

Lohr, Steve. "An Internet Pioneer of the ′90s Looks to a Future in Software." New York Times (un e 17, 2002): p. Cl.

Mardesich, Jodi. "Andreessen Starts It Up." Fortune (November 22, 1999): p. 51.

"A New Electronic Messiah." Economist (August 5, 1995): p. 62(1).

Quittner, Joshua, and Marc Andreessen. "The Rise and Fall of the Original Web Startup." Time (December 7, 1998): p. 60(1).

Tetzeli, Rick. "What It's Really Like to Be Marc Andreessen." Fortune (December 9, 1996): p. 136(9).

Wawro, Thaddeus. "Hero Worship." Entrepreneur (March 2000): p. 55.

Web Sites

Netscape Communications Corporation. [On-line] http://www.netscape.com (accessed on August 16, 2002).



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