Spinning a Golden Web

updated 09/11/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/11/1995 01:00AM

TWO YEARS AGO, MARC ANDREESSEN was pulling in $6.85 an hour toiling at a University of Illinois computer lab. On Aug. 9, the 24-year-old software developer was worth more than $50 million after the first public stock offering of Netscape Communications, the Mountain View, Calif., company he cofounded last year. Even though Netscape has yet to turn a profit, investors are betting on Andreessen's Netscape Navigator, a software program that lets laymen explore, or browse, the World Wide Web, a graphics-intensive part of the Internet.

Andreessen has come a long way quickly. Growing up in New Lisbon, Wis., "he was always working on computers," says his father, Lowell, a retired agricultural-seed salesman who, with wife Pat, a shipping employee at Lands' End, bought their son his first computer when he was in seventh grade. By the time Andreessen was a senior at the University of Illinois in 1993, he and six fellow students had created the Mosaic program while working on a university-sponsored computer project. The program was the first to give nontechies easy access to the Web, and it prompted a 10,000-fold increase in the number of Web users over the next two years. Andreessen—who had earned only an hourly wage for his work—left school soon after to join Jim Clark, 50, the founder of Silicon Graphics. Hoping to improve on Mosaic, the pair founded Netscape in April 1994 and created the new Navigator browser—10 times faster than the original Mosaic—within nine months. Now, less than a year later, 75 percent of all Web users have switched to the Navigator.

Andreessen, who is barred by law from talking about Netscape during the initial stock offering, still lives in a one-bedroom Palo Alto, Calif., apartment, drives a Ford Mustang to work and, say friends, hardly fits the image of an eccentric tech-head. "He's good at dealing with people. He's not a typical computer nerd," says his girlfriend, Elizabeth Horn, 25, an analyst for a real estate firm. "He's well-dressed. And he bathes a lot."

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