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Picture yourself as a 21 year old that brings the internet to the mainstream

Netscape sets the tone for a new generation of tech startups. Marc Andreessen think he's late to the internet when he gets too Silicon Valley.

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In my last post, I discussed the story of Jan Brandt's brilliant marketing strategy at AOL.

Her carpet bombing marketing was so incredible that not only did she increase AOL's user base, but she did so at a speed where other executives were pressuring her to dial it down a notch 🤯

Learn how she did it here!

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Today at a Glance 👓

Picture yourself as a 21 year old in UIUC's computer lab.

It's 1992 and the internet is still for nerds.

Life is simple - pizza, soda, & a dream to change the internet.

How did a few students in the midwest revolutionize the web?

Here are my 3 takeaways after reading chapter 1 of "How the Internet happened" by Brian McCullough.

  1. Netscape signaled a new kind of energy in tech that we take for granted today.

  2. It's always early on the internet.

  3. Netscape won because it focused on their ecosystem.

Let's dive in 🚀

Big Netscape Energy

Netscape signaled a new kind of energy in tech that we take for granted today.

Up until Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen launched Netscape, the tech industry was dominated by hardware companies that worked on single products for years. For example, it took Microsoft 4 years to release Windows 95. And that was the norm. Tech companies had a corporate culture that paralleled any other industry - work 9 to 5, report to your manager, and make incremental progress with your team.

But Netscape changed the game. The initial team was Clark and a bunch of fresh college graduates. These guys basically lived at the office and worked non-stop. For breaks, they would take naps, play games, etc. Today, it's common to have a foosball table at the office, not so much in the mid-90s.

Netscape's IPO Sparks a Boom - 80 Days That Changed the World - TIME

Most importantly, Netscape was a software company. That allowed them to iterate at unfathomable speeds for that era. All of a sudden, it became possible to test new features overnight. Product lifecycles went from 5 year plans to 5 day plans. Users could try the products out with minimal friction which led to unprecedented growth.

Even the IPO process was expedited and Wall Street started realizing that software products were a whole new paradigm - valuations could not be made solely off of current day profits.

For the latter half of the 90s, pretty much all tech companies embraced this culture of shipping fast and treating their product as an ongoing experiment. Think Yahoo, Amazon, etc. Even today, companies still operate mainly with that same mindset (i.e. Facebook's move fast and break things motto).

It's always early on the internet

If you're excited to make an impact in the tech industry but feel like there are no more ideas left, hopefully this helps.

When Marc got to Silicon Valley after graduating, apparently he thought the tech boom was pretty much over. America had entered a recession in 1990 and for the years to come, employment recovery was very slow. And then of course, just two years later, it's Andreessen's company that brought back people's attention to the tech industry. More and more people moved to the Bay Area in the years after excited to get their hands dirty in the digital gold rush.

This reminds me of Kevin Kelly's article "You are not late". Basically, even today, the internet is still so young and most of the developments are still yet to come. Yes - we've seen tons of progress - but there's no way that this is the final form of the internet (if there is even such a thing). The internet and technology as a whole is always being iterated on. It just take one new idea to open the floodgates for thousands of new projects and interfaces. This quote from Kelly sums it up:

"But, but…here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014."

Embrace Open Source

Netscape won because it focused on their ecosystem and encouraging third party developers to participate.

When Netscape launched, Mosaic controlled >90% of the browser market. What's insane is that it took just a few months to a year for Netscape to overtake them.

How did they do it? By thinking of ecosystem first rather than just their own product. They encouraged developers to "build add-ons and plugins that would interact with their own software".

Checking for and Embedding Plug-Ins on Netscape Navigator

Naturally, this excited the tech community and many people quickly started relying on Netscape as the default browser. Web devs would in fact encourage users to view their sites specifically on Netscape because of the additional functionality.

Key takeaway here: it's essential to enable and facilitate a developer ecosystem. Having people active in your ecosystem is ultimately the strongest weapon there is.

It's worth noting that I'm seeing this actively play out in crypto today - just take a look at the Farcaster ecosystem and how many developers are building on top of the protocol. Truly a positive sum game.

By learning tech history, it's easier to identify tricks & techniques that can help founders approach the idea maze even today.

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