These days, Marc Andreessen is one of the most prominent and well-respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, as well as a member of Facebook’s board of directors.
But circa 1994, he was fresh out of school and serving as a cofounder at pioneering web software company Netscape Communications, which had just signed a $US7 million deal with telecom giant MCI to help build MCI Marketplace, an early take on an Amazon-style online store.
On stage at this week’s Google Cloud Next conference, Andreessen says the MCI Marketplace was “a big day for a startup company,” and required them to work around the clock for six months to get it done and ready. Once it was done, he told one of their engineers to get it out to MCI.
“The next day, I get to work, I get the angriest phone call I think I’ve ever received,” says Andreessen.
Netscape “did not have a process for shipping software,” Andreessen says — so the engineer burned the software to a CD and “put it in a Ziploc baggie” he had gotten from the kitchen, and put it in the mail.
“It was literally ‘We paid you $US7 million and you sent us a CD-ROM in a baggie,'” Andreessen recalls being told by his MCI contact. Andreessen does note, however, that it was a fresh bag, not used for a sandwich, so at least there’s that.
A 2000 profile of Andreessen from Wired sheds more light on the MCI/Netscape relationship: When the $US7 million check first arrived, Andreessen was so excited that he went around showing it to each employee personally. Circa 2000, at least, he told Wired he regretted the deal: “[What] we didn’t realise is that we were selling our soul.”
Committing to MCI as a customer meant Netscape, with its limited resources, had to prioritise their needs over a wider customer base. “A big early customer owns you,” Andreessen told Wired. In 1999, AOL purchased Netscape for about $US10 billion, while Andreessen went on to other ventures.
You can watch the full video of Marc Andreessen, in conversation with Google chief internet evangelist and “father of the internet” Vint Cerf, here:
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