Jim Clark is the preeminant Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Best known as the founder of Netscape, Jim is remarkable for founding three successful startups, two of them Silicon Valley legends (Netscape of course, and Silicon Graphics).

Jim Clark got off to a slow start. Lacking focus and direction, he dropped out of his small town Texas high school to enlist in the Navy. Four years later, he finished his schooling and discovered he had an aptitude for mathematics. He eventually earned a masters degree in Physics from the University of New Orleans and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Utah.

This landed him a job as an associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford. Here, with ARPA funding, he developed the Geometry Engine. This 3D graphics chip was extremely primative compared to the graphics processors in modern PCs, but was revolutionary enough for it's time. It provided the springboard from which Silicon Graphics, now SGI, was launched in 1983.

Jim spent the next 10 years working for the company. Aware of his own deficiencies as a manager, he hired on Ed McCracken as CEO early on. Ironically, Jim left the company because, disagreeing with McCracken, he found himself marginalized, unable to assert any control of the company. Clark crashed his motorcycle in 1990, laying him up with a full length leg cast. During his recovery, he shifted his focus from the hardware and software direction of SGI, to exploring new avenues to get SGI into the mass-market. During this period, Clark created strategic alliances with Time-Warner and Nintendo, who used SGI technology in their gaming consoles. But in the end, chafed by having to answer to McCracken, Jim left the company, although he retained a seat on the board.

Out of work, Jim decided to start another technology company. Still fuzzy about what the company would do, he did know he would need talent. A friend introduced him to Mosaic, the (then) popular web-browser. Not seeing the web per se as a market, he tracked down the primary author Marc Andreessen, hoping he could recruit him. Hitting it off immediately, the two searched for an idea for their business, until, they settled on a "better mosaic", simply because they couldn't come up with anything better. So Netscape was born. Again, Jim kept himself out of management as much as possible, this time hiring Jim Barksdale for the top job.

Netscape was a huge success; some say it's IPO triggered the whole "dot com" boom. Jim used his corporate contacts to evangelize the web as a business tool and within a few years intranets and web-based enterprise applications were on the go at many businesses. The Internet buzz stirred up by Netscape did not go unnoticed by Microsoft, who were quick to realize Netscape's ideas threatened their OS business. After fighting tooth and nail through the browser wars, Clark decided to leave and try for a third successful startup.

Healtheon, a health information system based on internet technologies, is Jim's latest effort. After a successful IPO in 1999, the company is now partnered with WebMD.

  • Netscape Time, Jim Clark, Owen Edwards