Most of the world’s iconic companies are irredeemably associated with an iconic founder.
And that’s fair, to an extent — without a founder’s original vision, the company wouldn’t be there. But in reality all great entrepreneurial stories are team efforts, and the guys behind the scenes who work their arse off don’t get as much credit as they should.
Most of these guys weren’t written out of the company’s history, and are sometimes even famous in their own right, but people tend not to realise just how crucial they were to the early days of today’s huge tech companies.
And these guys aren’t exactly worth crying over — all of them got really rich from their early roles, and being in the limelight doesn’t have only upsides.
But their hard work, imagination and humility helped build the world’s greatest companies and we salute them here.
Bob O'Rear was the oldest and, as a NASA engineer with degrees in maths and physics, the most credentialed employee of Microsoft's very early days.
He was the sole manager and project leader who ported MS-DOS, Microsoft's first operating system, to the IBM PC. Legendarily, IBM asked Microsoft for an operating system for their PC, Bill Gates said they had one when they didn't, and he turned around and bought a licence to another OS for $25,000. But the OS still had to be ported to the PC and O'Rear did that, allowing them to ship.
MS-DOS went on to become Microsoft's most successful product and the operating system franchise that made it the most powerful and successful software company. O'Rear left Microsoft in 1993 and now lives on a ranch and serves on a few boards.
Steve Jobs is now rightly recognised as a product visionary, but back in Apple's garage days he was mostly a charismatic salesman who had an instinct that personal computers would be huge.
The guy who singlehandedly designed and built the Apple I and II, the best-selling computers that put Apple on the map, is Steve Wozniak. Jobs sold his VW bus and convinced Woz to go into business and the rest is history.
Kaphan was Amazon's first employee and a genius engineer from California who Jeff Bezos convinced to move to Seattle to work for Amazon.
Kaphan had worked at dozens of startups before--all of which had failed, which gave him a paranoia that everything could break down overnight. It's that healthy paranoia that early Amazon employees credit with keeping the company running when explosive growth threatened to tear its infrastructure apart.
Jerry Yang and David Filo are the co-founders of Yahoo, and both Stanford engineers, but Filo was always a bit behind the scenes. Filo was instrumental in Yahoo's success though. In particular, he wrote Filo Server Pages, the program that helped Yahoo serve up web pages dynamically, which was crucial to Yahoo's success in the very early days of the web.
Paul Buchheit was an early Google employee and though he has a dedicated following in Silicon Valley as an angel, blogger and speaker, he doesn't get acclaim in proportion to his accomplishments. Buchheit practically single-handedly built Gmail in his spare time, easily the most successful '20% project' in Google's history. He also built the first prototype for AdSense, which is now a $3 billion business for Google. And last but not least, he came up with the 'Don't be evil' motto.
Max Levchin is the tech visionary who helped build PayPal and then saved its life. It turns out if you're going to run a payments processing company, you're going to need some serious cryptography and security chops. When PayPal was taking off, the Russian mafia was siphoning millions from the company's accounts via fraud, which was threatening to bankrupt the company. Levchin invented the algorithms that helped PayPal keep fraud in check and saved the company, which went on to be acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion.
After fighting off the real mafia, Levchin went on to become one of the godfathers of the 'PayPal mafia' of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and is currently a VP of engineering at Google after selling them his startup slide for around $200 million.
To the public, the Huffington Post's amazing success is mostly due to Arianna Huffington's vision and genius. And it's definitely part of the story. But HuffPo would never have been successful without the great technology that helps the site rank high on Google queries, update its content live, etc all the while getting hit by 25 million users each month. It's no small undertaking.
HuffPo insiders told us that Berry is 'the genius', 'extremely strong-willed, very ambitious', 'the most powerful person at HuffPo besides Arianna.'
Moskovitz was one of Mark Zuckerberg's roommates at Harvard when he started TheFacebook, and immediately realised it would be huge. He taught himself programming and worked around the clock on the site, being truly instrumental in his early success.
The downside of cranking so much and actually getting results? He barely gets a mention in the Facebook movie The Social Network.
Noah Glass was an early product manager at Twitter who was one of the key guys who built the first version of the product. And Glass actually founded Odeo, the company that Twitter was eventually spun out of, even though Evan Williams invested in Odeo and eventually took it over, and is now thought of as Odeo's founder.
While Foursquare's co-founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai are out posing for Gap ads, the guy keeping Foursquare's servers from exploding under its tremendous growth is Harry Heymann. Previously, Heymann worked on Dodgeball with Crowley at Google.
He's also so witty that he has a Twitter account dedicated to Sh*tHarrySays.