Ten years ago last week, Netscape went public. It seems like only yesterday. OK, it seems like a million years ago. A lot has changed. There is no flattering...
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ten years ago last week, Netscape went public.
It seems like only yesterday. OK, it seems like a million years ago.
A lot has changed. There is no flattering way to put this, but 10 years ago, I was dazzled. This Netscape thing, this IPO, was just too much.
I got an adrenaline rush just reading about the newborn browser company.
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What could be cooler than a company of kids just out of college who liked to Rollerblade and build Coke-can sculptures in their cubes?
Not only that, but the adults were paying attention to them. And everybody was getting rich. It seemed there was no end in sight.
With the IPO anniversary upon us, maybe you’ve been reading about Netscape’s legacy and the lessons to be learned. Interesting stuff.
But me? I’m feeling nostalgic.
To me, Netscape’s stock-market debut was like the Beatles coming to America — a moment in history that marked lasting change.
I remember sitting at the breakfast table the day after Netscape’s IPO. Sure, I’d heard of Netscape. Its headquarters was right down the street from our Mountain View condo.
The newspaper said Marc Andreessen, Netscape’s 24-year-old co-founder, was worth $59 million. Marc Andreessen, the guy who worked on computer projects at the University of Illinois, my alma mater. I remember thinking: “This is the start of a revolution unlike any we’ve ever seen.”
OK, actually I was thinking, “Jeez, I guess Andreessen had a better faculty adviser than I had.”
From the beginning, Netscape had all the elements to tell the story of Silicon Valley’s Internet era: The young technologist. Explosive growth. A product that really could change the world. And the ability to create wealth for its zany employees in ways previously unimaginable.
Finally, I understood what the valley chatter was all about. Finally, my relatives in the Midwest understood.
It’s almost hard to remember the giddiness of the times.
Just following Netscape’s growth became an exhausting pursuit. By 1996, the company was hiring 24 people a week. Its offices were spreading through my neighborhood like a corporate amoeba.
“One day I blinked my eyes,” a company spokeswoman told me in 1997, “and there were like 600 more people here.”
We watched the stock price and paid attention to celebrity founders like we’d never paid attention before.
In 1996, Time magazine put Andreessen on its cover as one of the “Golden Geeks.” The photo had him sitting on a throne in bare feet. The magazine later reported that dozens of readers wrote in to suggest that Andreessen was in need of a pedicure.
“I have only one thing to say about this week’s cover,” Doris Barrera of Wheaton, Ill., wrote to the magazine, “toenails!”
The media discovered the millionaire secretary and poor D’Anne Schjerning, employee No. 2, became a poster child who moved from a trailer park to a gated community.
But we soon found that what goes up must come down. By early 1998, the company was laying off workers. Microsoft, which had no plans to cede the browser market, had famously said of Netscape that it would “cut off their air supply.” By the end of the year, AOL swallowed Netscape whole.
Poof. After four years, the company was gone.
Even so, we owe Netscape our thanks — for the thrill of the rocket ride up, sure. But even more so for the lessons it left with its dramatic decline.
Mike Cassidy is a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News