Post #4. Ideas matter, especially when you can ride the wave of change…

We all get ideas. Sometimes they might even be good ideas. Good enough to form a company around and then take public and make enough money to retire on (o.k., not so many of us fall into this group, but not for lack of trying.) The reality though, is that this will happen to someone else. The odds? 1 in a 50 million or so? Whatever they are, we should all keep our day jobs.

So what if you could think up 4 of these great ideas, and keep selling the companies built on these ideas (for billions) over the span of around 15 years. All by your mid-thirties. Starting when you were still in college. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is when your ideas ride the wave of change.

Marc Andreessen’s name may ring a bell. It may not unless you are of a certain age. But he has done an astonishing thing. Over the last 15 years he has founded or co-founded companies that have changed the way we all use the Internet and the Web. Back in 1992-93, while a student at the University of Illinois, Marc worked at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA.) He and a friend wrote a program called Mosaic, which was the first popular real graphical web browser. It made surfing easy and fun. When he graduated, he moved to California, eventually co-founding a company called Mosiac Communications Corporation in 1994.

The University of Illinois owned the copyright for Mosiac, and objected to Marc and his team using its name for their company (he and his team had to write their new browser code from scratch.) They changed their company name to Netscape Communications. And in the mid 1990’s, if you surfed the web, you probably did so using their product. Enter Microsoft, which licensed the original Mosiac code from Spyglass, Inc., a company spun off by the U. of I. to make money from the original Mosiac browser. So the birth of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was really just a souped up version of the original Mosiac. Skip ahead to 1999, and Netscape’s not doing so well, (kind of ironic that your old idea made new just put your newer idea out of business) and sells itself to America Online (this was way before the AOL Time Warner thing.) For billions. Not Google/My Space/Facebook billions, but enough to get by on.

So Marc is now young and rich, and looking for another idea to build a company on. Where do you go when you surf the web? What do you look at? Stuff. And that stuff has to be somewhere. Ride the wave of change, start a new company, call it Loudcloud. Become a web hosting company. This new idea is great, and the company sells its hosting service (more large sums of cash change hands in Marc’s direction) but stays in business and changes its name to Opsware. Eventually, Opsware gets sold in 2007 and the buyer is Hewlett-Packard (more billions Marc’s way.)

Mosiac to Netscape to Loudcloud/Opsware. All good ideas that capitalized on the changing nature of the web and computing services. Pockets full, Marc decides to spread some of the cash around and invests early in Digg, the social news website. By this time, Web 2.0 is in full swing, and social networking is all the rage. Riding the wave of change again, Marc co-founds another social networking site, only his idea is just a little different. He wants users to be able to create and control their own social networks built around specific interests. Ning is born.

There is a Ning network for all stuff Library 2.0. Check it out, connect, share and learn. Not so hip on the 2.0 thing? A network for all things library is available for you too, from the ALA. Google Ning and just about anything and you can find a social network dedicated to some idea or another. If you can’t find it, you can start one. Which means your own library can have its own Ning network. For the communities you serve. Or your staff. To communicate and share. No Facebook going corporate and selling out (but who wouldn’t if someone (that would be Microsoft again) gave you enough money for 1.6% of your company to make you worth $15 billion overnight. Be honest.)

Marc Andreessen may never make any money with Ning (or from Digg.) He may make billions more, but that’s not the point. The point is that his ideas matter. His ideas have changed all of our lives. And he has done this over and over. His ideas ride the waves of change, and alter how we live and interact with each other. Which you have to admit, is a pretty cool thing.

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~ by bassperr on November 8, 2007.

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