Sir David Frost travels to Silicon Valley in California to meet software pioneer Marc Andreessen, the multimillionaire behind the first web browser and co-founder of Netscape.
A leading American inventor and investor, he is one of only six people in the world wide web Hall of Fame.
He is a man who consistently pushes technological boundaries, and it is certain the internet would look a lot different without him – and his money.
By the age of 22, after graduating from the University of Illinois, one of the four supercomputer centres in the US, Andreessen announced the creation of Mosaic, the web browser credited with popularising the world wide web and bringing it straight into our homes.
He went on to co-found Netscape, which became the most commercial web browser of the time and allowed people to both consume and produce content online.
Andreessen remembers the sudden “rush of enthusiasm” surrounding Netscape, following initial scepticism. “Everybody discovered that there was something they could do online that would make their life better,” he says.
This prompted an explosion on the internet – and then 23-year-old Andreessen was at the heart of it. His company was the one of the first signs of the dotcom boom and things for the young entrepreneur “went completely crazy.”
Everybody discovered that there was something they could do online that would make their life better
Andreessen believes he owes much of his success to the creativity and work ethos of Silicon Valley.
“Despite the fact that there are far more failures than successes, it remains a very optimistic place. It’s an environment where entrepreneurs are encouraged, where risk taking is viewed as a good thing,” he tells Sir David.
Encouraged and inspired by the likes of Steve Jobs, Andreessen continued to expand his networks and experience. In his thirties, he became an Angel Investor in companies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Skype – which he went on to buy for $2bn.
Skype cemented Andreessen’s reputation as a man willing to make huge bets, even in the middle of a recession, when 18 months after buying the company, he sold it at a profit of $6bn.
But, Andreessen is quick to highlight that the dotcom boom got out of hand, “The nature of a bubble that big is that, by the time it crashes, nobody believes it can ever possibly crash.”
Success in the industry, he claims is a lottery: “There’s about 4,000 technology companies started a year in the United States – 15 of them will create 99 percent of the resulting investment gains.”
Andreessen tells Sir David of the positive force of the Internet. “You hear there’s different ways for criminals to be able to operate online, in some cases even terrorists who operate online, but I would argue for every criticism like that, there’s a hundred ways that it’s been good and that it’s made people’s lives better and I actually think all those positive impacts have been underestimated.”
That is not to say he does not recognise the dangers of the internet.”If you want to, you can use the Internet to only talk to people who agree with you. You don’t have to ever deal with people who have opposing views,” he argues.
Now, a venture capitalist still riding on the American dream, he also tells Sir David Frost about the political power of the Internet, particularly come election time: “It’s become very powerful specifically in two ways – fundraising, of which the Obama campaign in ’08 was the innovator; and … targeting has gotten far more sophisticated.”
But Andreessen is still waiting for the internet election: “We haven’t had the equivalent of Nixon/Kennedy – 1960 … the first TV election.”
Andreessen’s vision and energy is exciting and he is in general, “very, very optimistic”. For a man who has it all – the genius, the drive, the money and the ability to change the virtual and real world for the better, there is no reason not to be.
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