Not many people have contributed more to the Internet and its complex history and evolution than inventor, businessman, investor, and software programmer Marc Andreessen. He fired the first shot in the browser wars back in the 1990s with the creation of Netscape (both the browser and company). He’s the reason your Internet searches are possible. In fact, he’s directly or indirectly responsible for nearly everything you like (or dislike) about the Internet.
A native of Iowa, Marc Andreessen grew up in a middle-class Wisconsin home. He got interested in computers early on, teaching himself BASIC programming from a book he borrowed and designing video games before he was 10. He eventually got bored with computers in high school because he’d exhausted all possible uses of his personal computer.
After high school, he went to the University of Illinois at Champaign and majored in computer science, which he switched to because he was struggling in his original major, electrical engineering.
The World’s First Graphical Web Browser
College helped reacquaint Marc Andreessen with his love of computers, though it was almost by accident. He overheard several scientists talking about sharing their work with other scientists over the then-fledgling Internet. Andreessen was so intrigued that he and a few other programmers spent the next several weeks developing a better, more effective method of accessing and “browsing” the Web.
The result of this project was Mosaic, and it changed the world because it brought the Web to your home; until then, it was being used mostly at big companies. Andreessen and friends gave away this Web browser to over 2 million people, as people were hooked on this innovative graphical browser that used pictures and mouse clicks to browse.
It was a smashing success – and it brought him in contact with the retired founder of Silicon Graphics James Clark, who in an email invited the recently graduated Marc to discuss business.
The Internet Is the Future
At this meeting, Marc Andreessen convinced Clark that the future lay in the Internet, not in other possibilities, as the older man had been mulling. In 1994, the two partnered up to found a company called Netscape, after which Andreessen, along with the programmers he’d used in college, created a completely new iteration of the original browser, this time called Netscape. It caught on and corporations began buying Internet server software and other necessary tools as they created and published their own websites.
In 1995, the company went public and the young programmer found himself worth many millions. However, another company was also betting its future on the Internet, launching the 1990s browser wars between Netscape and this company, called Microsoft, as they competed for the market.
The Irony of AOL’s Purchase of Netscape
As the browser wars heated up, Marc Andreessen often criticized one of Netscape’s competitors, AOL, for its lack of technical expertise, yet when AOL bought Netscape in 1999, thus further enriching Andreessen, something curious also came of it – he became Chief Technology Officer at the newly merged company.
Andreessen, who had been living in California before the merger, had to move to the East Coast for his new full-time corporate duties. However, his time at AOL didn’t last long, as he was never comfortable in his role. He resigned from his position after a few months to become a part-time consultant to AOL.
However, most of his time was spent investing in tech startup companies.
In 1999, with Ben Horowitz and several others, Andreessen co-founded Loudcloud, which provided computing and software services to companies such Ford Motor, Nike, and Gannett Company. Three years later, the company transitioned into an enterprise software company known as Opsware.
Within a few years, Opsware was so successful that Hewlett-Packard purchased it in 2007 for more than $1.5 billion in cash. Two years later, partly funded with cash from the sale, Andreessen and his old partner and friend Horowitz launched Andreessen Horowitz.
Under the influence of Marc Andreessen, the firm took its initial $300 million in resources and began investing in tech startups as well as in entrenched tech firms. Within 3 years, Andreessen Horowitz had grown to over $2.5 billion.
The firm’s investments are in social media, cloud computing, mobile gaming, education, e-commerce, and cloud security. Many of the startups it invested in are now some of the most popular, impactful corporations in the world. You might recognize a few of them – Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, among others. Andreessen was also part of the investment team ridiculed for putting money into Skype, only to have the last laugh when Microsoft bought Skype several years later for $8.5 billion.
Andreessen Horowitz’s record of investing in startups is as impressive as it is significant in both the startup and investment worlds. Their interest in and funding of these companies has impacted people around the world both professionally and socially.
Andreessen’s Fingerprints Are Everywhere
You can see the impact of Marc Andreessen everywhere. He serves as board member, advisor, and consultant to various Silicon Valley companies he’s invested in. He often writes op-ed pieces for various technological and investment periodicals. He continues studying and investing in tech startups, and he’s particularly interested in the radical, innovative technology of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin,
As influential as he is, Andreessen isn’t immune to criticism. In early 2016, when India rejected Facebook’s proposed Free Basics project on the basis of net neutrality, Andreessen sarcastically tweeted his dissatisfaction with a suggestion that India’s anti-colonial sentiment had been an economic boon to the impoverished country. The tweet drew predictable criticism from all over the world, including an admonishment from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and he withdrew it as well as apologized.
Still, being deluged with criticism for reactive tweets doesn’t take away from the impact he continues to have on the Web and its constant evolution.