The Forgotten Silicon Valley Founders
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because behind many revered billionaire entrepreneurs and startups are delicious tales of deceit, betrayal and greed. Enjoy.
By Nathan Siegel
The unsung hero is history’s most tragic creation. And Silicon Valley has produced them in abundance. The stories of these three founders are most often footnotes to Wikipedia pages of the famous.
Marc Randolph – Netflix
Between Netflix’s conception in ’97 and its public launch in ’01, Marc Randolph was arguably its most crucial puzzle piece. The original CEO spent a year and a half breathing life into the nascent business, while now-CEO Reed Hastings played the role of angel investor and attended graduate school at Stanford.
Once it emerged that Netflix was on the verge of takeoff, Hastings — the David to Blockbuster’s Goliath — began to take the reins. Though the practice is not uncommon among startups, Hastings’ famed creation story — where his frustration over incurring a late fee for Apollo 13 led to the idea of mailing DVDs — “is a load of crap,” Randolph told Gina Keating, author of Netflixed. “It never happened.”
I think having [Hastings] come back and … become CEO in my place was probably the smartest thing I ever did.
But Hastings’ anecdote is sharper, more compelling and, conveniently, leaves out Randolph’s monumental contribution. In reality, the company that raked in $4.37 billion in revenue in 2013 was the fruit of months of brainstorming sessions during Randolph and Hastings’ daily commute from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley.
Make no mistake: “He is a genius,” said Keating. And while Randolph stated in an interview that Netflix would be just another NeXT without his efforts, he followed by conceding, “I think having [Hastings] come back and … become CEO in my place was probably the smartest thing I ever did.” Props for acknowledging.
Larry Sanger – Wikipedia
A year after the revolutionary open source encyclopedia lit the fire of Internet anarchists everywhere, Larry Sanger, the project’s initial ideator and primary editor, left. Around 2004, two years after his partner’s departure, Jimmy Wales began to extinguish Sanger’s vital role, even eliminating Wikipedia references to Sanger’s co-founder position. But the community Wales helped devise struck back, as users re-edited the company’s history in favor of Sanger … and validity.
Since his departure, Sanger has been sharply critical of Wikipedia on a variety of issues, including the accessibility of porn and its underemphasis on experts in the review process. In an attempt to right Wikipedia’s wrongs and professionalize the online, open encyclopedia, Sanger launched Citizendium in March 2007. After initial enthusiasm in the offshoot, it was pronounced dead five years later, with only 100 active users.
Noah Glass – Twitter
Although the tale of Noah Glass is more widely known, it remains a telling and dramatic insight into Silicon Valley’s dog-eat-dog culture. In an attempt to salvage an idea from the sinking ship that was Odeo (a podcasting platform that Apple made obsolete), Glass (Odeo’s co-founder) and Jack Dorsey began developing a group SMS application that would broadcast one’s status to friends.
…the move marked the end of Glass’ love affair with the app.
What was initially Dorsey’s idea soon became Glass’ obsession. He coined the name, convinced Evan Williams (Odeo’s other co-founder) of Twitter’s potential and spearheaded the team of developers (including the largely uncredited Florian Weber) tasked with building the microblogging phenomenon.
Glass wanted to spin off what was then Twttr into a new company, and ASAP. But before he could, Williams, known for his cutthroat business chops, bought out Odeo investors and gained full control over the fledgling project. His first move: dump Glass. Either because Dorsey threatened to quit or Glass became volatile in the face of his failing marriage, Williams’ move marked the end of Glass’ love affair with the app and has all but eliminated his stamp on (and stake in) the multibillion-dollar chirping bird.
- Nathan Siegel, Nathan covers global business, sports and culture for OZY, where he landed after putting his dreams of basketball stardom on hold ... for now. After a childhood of jumping from country to country, Nathan is used to feeling like a tourist everywhere he goes. Follow Nathan Siegel on Twitter Follow Nathan Siegel on FacebookContact Nathan Siegel