The Marc Andreessen you know today has his fingers in a lot of cookie jars – serial entrepreneur, angel investor, venture capitalist, advisor, mentor and director on the boards of several prominent companies including Facebook and eBay. But the career path he took to reach this place is a story well worth retelling.Most people know about Netscape’s browser wars with Microsoft and its acquisition by AOL, but not everyone is aware of the origins of the Netscape browser and Marc Andreessen’s meteoric rise as the software engineer responsible for the invention of the graphical web browser.
Started programming at the age of nine
Marc Lowell Andreessen was born to Patricia and Lowell Andreessen on July 9, 1971 in Cedar Falls, Iowa and grew up in Lisbon, Wisconsin. By the time he was nine, Marc was chewing through books on BASIC programming, and had soon done everything he possibly could on his TRS-80 personal computer.
Marc got majored in Computer Science, getting his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Illinois in Champaign in 1993. While he was a student at the University of Illinois, Marc also worked as a part-time assistant at the University’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).
This was back when the World Wide Web had just taken off big-time as a form of communication between academics at different educational institutions, and Marc got to play around with the Internet a lot at NCSA. The browsers used at that time were meant for Unix machines that were largely limited to the universities, and this was blocking the wider spread of the Web.
Project Mosaic was a huge improvement on the existing browsers
In 1992, Marc and a fellow NCSA employee named Eric Bina undertook a project called Mosaic which was a huge improvement on the existing browsers. Among the revolutionary new HTML tags they added were the hyper-link and image tag. They also added a graphical user interface with clickable buttons and scrolling that was much easier to use.
The initial Unix version they released was an immediate hit. After versions for the PC and Mac were released, it took on a dynamic of its own since the Web was now open to everyone, with Mosaic as the browser of choice.
Because he had created it as a project for the University, they held all the rights to it and Marc didn’t get what some would consider to be the well-deserved fruits of his invention. After graduating in Dec 1993, Marc moved to Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, California.
This is when he met Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Inc. Clark had the resources, and Marc the technical know-how. Together, they set about creating a startup to rebuild and commercialize Mosaic. Mountain View, Calif.-based Mosaic Communications Corp. was launched in 1994, with Marc Andreessen as the vice president of Technology, and an engineering team filled with Bina and other fellow workers who were with him at NCSA.
1994: Netscape unveiled
In order to avoid infringing on the University of Illinois’ rights to Mosaic, Marc and his team set about rebuilding a new browser called Netscape from scratch. Long story short, the Netscape browser was finally available on the Internet on Oct 13, 1994. The University of Illinois promptly cracked down with an accusation that Marc’s company has stolen Mosaic. The matter was settled when the company changed its name to Netscape Communications Corp., and paid the University nearly $3 million.
The Netscape Navigator then took the Internet by storm, capturing 75 percent of the browser market share in two years. In between, the company went public in 1995 with a historic IPO that put Marc Andreessen on the cover of TIME and turned him into a global icon.
Then there’s the ugly phase where Netscape got their clocks cleaned by Microsoft and its brilliant strategy of giving away Internet Explorer for free by bundling it into Windows. Netscape ended its glorious run with a bang in 1999 when AOL acquired the company for $4.2 billion.
This is where Marc Andreessen parted ways with the Mosaic phase of his life, after a brief stint working for AOL as a CTO. In Oct 1999, Marc launched Loudcloud Inc. to provide hosting for high-end computing services. One of his partners in this venture was Ben Horowitz. Loudcloud subsequently changed its name to Opsware in 2003, and the company was acquired by HP for $1.6 billion in Sept 2007.
By this time, Marc had transitioned into a respected Silicon Valley insider, advising startups and making dozens of angel investments. He and Horowitz teamed up to make it official, and started Andreessen Horowitz in July 2009 as a vehicle for making venture capital investments.
Biggest blockbuster to date has been Skype
They started with $300 million, and managed to grow it to more than $2.7 billion within three years. Their portfolio includes stand-out stars such as Facebook, Airbnb, Foursquare, Twitter and Pinterest. But their biggest blockbuster to date has been Skype.
Andreessen Horowitz was part of an investor group that acquired a controlling stake in Skype in Sept 2009 by paying $2.75 billion. Marc Andreessen no doubt enjoyed what followed, because the same Microsoft which had destroyed Netscape then came calling in 2011 with $8.5 billion to buy Skype.
To be fair, Marc almost surely doesn’t hold a grudge against Redmond. In fact, he told an audience at the Qualcomm Uplinq conference that he’s hoping Microsoft will win the smartphone wars after their $7.2 billion deal to acquire Nokia’s phone business.
Also in 2011, Marc’s third startup Ning was sold to Glam Media. Around the same time, Marc wrote a much-discussed oped in the Wall Street Journal about software running more and more businesses and being delivered as a service. This thinking, and his epic personal journey as a software engineer developing Mosaic and Netscape, guides the way that he chooses startups for investments.
Qualcomm Uplinq 2013 — Fireside Chat with Marc Andreessen
“Software is the catalyst that will remake entire industries during the next decade. We are single-mindedly focused on partnering with the best innovators pursuing the biggest markets,” says Marc Andreessen.
Marc Andreessen got married in 2006 to Laura Arrillaga, founder of the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund.