To Netscape And Beyond!

To Netscape And Beyond!

“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.”- Marc Andreessen

My first experience with the world wide web was via the NCSA Mosaic browser during the summer of 1993, Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen changed everything when they brought a commercial-grade browser, Mosaic Netscape 0.9, to market on October 13, 1994. Netscape Communications Corporation (née Mosaic Communications Corporation).

I acquired a prospectus to the August 9, 1995, Netscape IPO but couldn’t get my hands–or my dad’s hands–on any pre-IPO stock. I missed the bus. I was there and aware. It was an extremely successful IPO. The stock closed at $58.25 from $28, which gave Netscape a market value of US$2.9 billion, turning 24-year-old Andreessen into a millionaire. Some call that IPO the Big Bang of the Internet. The moment The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a research platform founded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and most used by academics, scientists, govvies, scholars, and students, into the commercial Netflix and chill Internet we have today.

While we can thank Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf for inventing the protocol upon which the Internet is based, TCP/IP,  and Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliaum, both working at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucleaire (CERN), for coming up with hypertext and the world-wide-web, HTTP, the Internet as we know it might have never existed and stayed in the realm of hobbies like amateur “ham” radio or Dungeons & Dragons without Andreessen.

Marc was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on July 9, 1971, and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, coincidentally where the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) lives and where the NCSA Mosaic web browser was invented. While Andreessen might very well have been a computer science prodigy, it really came down to timing, access, proximity, and opportunity.

In 1992, Andreessen took a $6.85-per-hour job coding at NCSA and had his first Internet experience, soon discovering the proto-web, which was only accessible via a text-based terminal browser called Lynx. Andreessen tapped his buddy Eric Bina and they invented NCSA Mosaic in only a month and a half and then offered it for free. Within a year, I–and two million other people–had downloaded a copy. After graduating, Andreessen hit a fork in the road: one path, and he’d have spent the rest of his life writing code for e-commerce (though, he had already invented the graphical, rich-text, web browser, after all); the other path, Andreessen would become much more than a footnote in Internet history (sorry Vint, sorry Tim, Sorry Bob) but one of the faces on the Mount Rushmore of Tech Billionaires. That’s when Jim Clark invited him to join Netscape to create Mozilla, the Mosaic-killer. I still call it Mozilla to this day, however, we all remember it is Netscape Navigator.

On November 24, 1998, AOL bought Netscape for $4.2 billion and the rest is history. From there, joining forces with Ben Horowitz to found Loudcloud and then their VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz. With investments in Facebook, Airbnb, GitHub, and Twitter, Marc Andreessen chooses disruption every time, which reflects his own personal philosophy. Though known for his optimism, Andreessen wrote a WSJ op-ed, “Why Software Is Eating the World” which is mandatory reading. While we might blame Garrett Camp for founding Uber; Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk for founding Airbnb, and Elon Musk for founding Tesla–all extremely disruptive startups that have thrown entire industries, cities, and countries into riots and chaos–Andreessen argues that it’s the software, stupid. He said it better, “Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.”

Back in 2014, Andreessen wrote an op-ed for the New York Times Dealbook, Why Bitcoin Matters. It’s a fascinating read but, to him, Bitcoin is not only a currency, a collectable, a revolution, and an investment, it’s a “breakthrough in computer science” solving the Byzantine Generals Problem, “[Imagine] a group of generals of the Byzantine army camped with their troops around an enemy city. Communicating only by messenger, the generals must agree upon a common battle plan. However, one or more of them may be traitors who will try to confuse the others. The problem is to find an algorithm to ensure that the loyal generals will reach agreement.” Bitcoin answers the question of “how to establish trust between otherwise unrelated parties over an untrusted network like the Internet.”  To Andreessen, Bitcoin is as much of a fad as the printing press, the wheel, the compass, the clock, the calendar, the lightbulb, the airplane, the internal combustion engine, the transistor, the computer, and the Internet (sorry newspapers, the publishing industry and video stores).

According to Andreessen, “Bitcoin is a classic network effect, a positive feedback loop. The more people who use Bitcoin, the more valuable Bitcoin is for everyone who uses it, and the higher the incentive for the next user to start using the technology. Bitcoin shares this network effect property with the telephone system, the web, and popular Internet services like eBay and Facebook.” Even more, Bitcoin is the backbone upon which thousands of programmers and building new products and services. Even if Ethereum isn’t locked into Bitcoin, per se, anything that hurts, injures, kills, or promotes and benefits Bitcoin will directly effect the value of not just Ethereum but every single altcoin.

When Interviewed by The Washington Post, also back in 2014, Andreessen was “confident that when we’re sitting here in 20 years, we’ll be talking about Bitcoin the way we talk about the Internet today.”

As a result, VC firms like Union Square and Andreessen’s own Andreessen Horowitz, have been bullish when it comes to investing in startups who have embraced the new economy, including not only Bitcoin and Blockchain but altcoins and the fascinating collection of outside-the-box interpretations of how the blockchain can be used outside of just acting as a financial ledger tracking currency. Andreessen Horowitz invested heavily in Coinbase’s round B and was one of the first investors in Ripple. They also invested in Axoni, Earn.com, Multicoin Capital, and others. As recently as last July, Andreessen Horowitz raised $300 million for its own crypto fund.

I think we can all agree that Marc Andreessen is either a genius, a visionary, an oracle, or just lucky. He’s probably an amalgam. To him and to his billions, Bitcoin is no longer a question mark, it’s an exclamation point.

Takeaway: While it might seem like you can live and work from anywhere and everywhere in the Internet age, people and proximity do matter. If you’re not there, you might miss out of the opportunity of your life.  Marc Andreessen has always been where the action is. He attended university at one of the birthplaces of the Internet, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. Then he moved to Dulles, Virginia, to follow the development of the Netscape browser; and then, when everything shifted to Silicon Valley, Marc Andreessen followed the industry there.

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