Home 4Q2015 The Internet Wave (1994 – 2002): The Internet Changes Everything

The Internet Wave (1994 – 2002): The Internet Changes Everything

by Kashyap Deorah

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[The following piece The Internet Changes Everything has been extracted from Part 1: The Internet Wave (1994–2002) of the book ©’The Golden Tap: The Inside Story of Hyper Funded Indian Startups’ by Kashyap Deorah. The book was first  published by The Lotus Collection, an imprint of Roli Books Pvt.Ltd  , India, in 2015. It is available for purchase on Amazon.in as a Hardcover and Kindle edition.]

The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.’

~ Eric Schmidt

The sweltering summer of Mumbai had begun. It was May of 1994. I had finished my matriculation exams and was figuring out what to do next. When I had to choose my optional subjects during high school, my parents said, ‘Pick the one that interests you most’. I blamed them for burdening a kid with the responsibility that should have been theirs. After all, my friends’ parents picked out the subjects for them. Why were my parents being goofy about the whole thing?

Now that I was ‘on my own’, I was going to enjoy my freedom of choosing my path for junior college:* science, commerce, or arts [*Most state education systems in India employ a 10+2 pre-undergraduate junior college system.]. It was going to be commerce, of course. Arts had the most girls and science the least. Science had the most hard working students and arts the least. Commerce was a good middle ground. I liked numbers, especially those with a currency pre-fixing them. My elder sister seemed to be having fun in college doing commerce. So it was set then.

Except this time my parents had an opinion. They thought I should consider appearing for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Woah, wait, that meant I would become an engineer, and that meant I had to pick science for junior college. But what about social development that comes with co-ed education. Besides, science had biology, and I hated biology. Mother said: ‘I was talking to our neighbor when doing groceries yesterday. Amit is here for his summer vacations. From IIT Kanpur. You should go meet him. Just to get his perspective. What’s the harm in meeting?’

Whenever my mother says, ‘What’s the harm?’, it is a trap. And I walked right into it. I went to meet Amit Agarwal. There was an intensity about him. He wasn’t much of a talker, and when he did talk, it was with a straight face. Just as I had been set up by my mother to meet him, he had been set up by his mother to meet me. He was in no mood to talk a kid out of a co-ed life that he himself was deprived of. That made communication easy: he answered my questions in a matter of fact manner. He was in his third year at IIT Kanpur, studying Computer Science and Engineering. He liked it there. He talked to me about the hostel culture, how he was making a lifetime worth of friendships and had all the freedom in the world to pursue what he liked. He thought IIT was about to open a whole new world for him, a world that was otherwise inaccessible. ‘I want to go to the US and study further.’

I blamed them for burdening a kid with the responsibility that should have been theirs. After all, my friends’ parents picked out the subjects for them. Why were my parents being goofy about the whole thing?

The vibe in the room was that we had both talked enough. Enough to go back to our mothers with a clear conscience. As I was about to leave, I saw a picture of a group of youngsters playing in the snow. ‘Wow, where is that?’,I asked.

‘That’s Lake Tahoe in California. Those are my seniors from the department. They are at Stanford now. That’s where I want to go.’

As I walked back to my home, my brain was racing between two choices: girls, snow, girls, snow. This was going to be tough. At dinner, it was clear that my parents had plotted to get me to commit to prepare for IIT JEE. They wanted me to make my own choice, as long as it was IIT. The snow was inviting. There would be some girls at IIT, wouldn’t there? It was decided. I was going to prepare for the IIT JEE.

That day, my world shifted in ways that would take me a lifetime to understand. At around the same time, half way across the world, some other momentous events were happening. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen had decided to make the Mosaic browser commercial and had incorporated a company called Netscape; [1] Stanford grad students Jerry Yang and David Filo had renamed ‘Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web’ to ‘Yet Another Hierarchically Officious Oracle’ or Yahoo!; and a quant named Jeff Bezos working at a New York hedge fund had grown partial to the idea of ‘the everything store’[2] while brainstorming with his boss about business ideas to exploit the coming technology wave called the Internet. The power of the Internet was limited only by human imagination. After all, what is technology except a way to eliminate the constraints of space and time? The Internet would fulfil the audacity of such boundless thought.

The US Department of Defense had started opening up the Internet for public use in the early ’90s, and the idea of computers being able to ‘talk’ to each other caught the fancy of anyone associated with computers and software. During 1993, the amount of data transmitted over the Internet had jumped by a factor of 2,560. Something extraordinary was happening and many were trying to make sense of it. It was like in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The apes woke up in the dawn of man to discover a slick black monolith in front of their caves. There was a spooky background score and the apes scuffled around the monolith to dare to touch it, feel it and figure out what it meant. Eventually, it gave them god, religion and wars, as well as technology and the modern human civilization.

The power of the Internet was limited only by human imagination. After all, what is technology except a way to eliminate the constraints of space and time? The Internet would fulfil the audacity of such boundless thought.

Did the dawn of the Internet mean that the world would become one giant computer with an infinitely large virtual disk? Did it mean that you could see a file on someone else’s computer halfway across the world? Did it mean we could write to people without posting a letter? Did it mean we could type words on our computers and someone far away could see what I typed, instantly? Did it mean that my software built in one language could talk to software built in another language? Did it mean I could trade a stock without calling my broker who then ran to the trading floor to yell his lungs out? Did it mean my software running on a Windows could be operated from a Mac? Did it mean multiple people could create software without being at the same location or move files from one machine to another without using floppy drives? Did it mean smart software on multiple computers could self mutate, talk to each other and rise in mutiny against humanity? The world did not know the least of it.

Netscape, Yahoo! and Amazon

By the end of 1994, Netscape launched the world’s first commercial Internet browser called Navigator. Netscape Navigator was the window through which the world saw the World Wide Web for the first time. In 1995, Navigator gained 20 per cent market share every quarter. On the day of the IPO in August 1995, the Netscape stock that was first offered at $14 and then doubled to $28 last-minute soared to $75 on the same day, and closed above $58. By the end of the year, it had shot up to $174. To many, it was the year that the Internet was commercially launched. The performance of the Netscape IPO was a sign of times to come. There was a general sense of agreement that the Internet changes everything, and everyone who was alive at the time had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invent how.

When a pair of eyeballs glared through the window of the Internet, they needed a start page to figure out what’s out there and where they should go. Yahoo! became the home page of the World Wide Web. Just like a directory of files on a computer, it was a directory of web-pages and web-sites on the Internet organized in a hierarchical structure. After an initial investment of $2 million from Sequoia Capital in April 1995 followed by a second round from Reuters and Soft Bank in fall 1995, with less than 50 employees, Yahoo! went public in April 1996 valuing it at $848 million on the day of the IPO. For youngsters around the world, and especially at Stanford University, Yahoo! inspired the first generation of right-out-of-college Internet entrepreneurs to dream up a new business on the World Wide Web.

Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie flew to Texas. Bezos picked up his father’s Chevy Blazer and they started driving cross-country to Seattle. For most, driving coast-to-coast in America is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially with your life packed in a suitcase. The sense of freedom, exhilaration, and adventure of a road trip was reflected in the still nascent Internet world – the journey had just begun. The Internet was moving information on the superhighway as budding entrepreneurs were moving their stuff on regular highways. This entrepreneur in particular was about to start something that would move a large amount of transactions and products on both highways. At D.E. Shaw and company, a hedge fund on Wall Street, Bezos had recently been elevated to the position of heading Internet initiatives. He saw the profound effect of the Internet on commerce. Anyone who was selling anything in the real world started creating web-pages and web-sites with their catalogue of products and services.

For youngsters around the world, and especially at Stanford University, Yahoo! inspired the first generation of right-out-of-college Internet entrepreneurs to dream up a new business on the World Wide Web.

Bezos fell in love with the idea of an Internet store for virtually everything. It occurred to him that for the practical constraints of building a supply-chain of products to compete with big box retail, he would need to start with one category and expand from there. He picked books as the category to start. The 1992 Supreme Court ruling with regard to mail order businesses was on Bezos’s mind: merchants did not have to collect sales tax in states where they did not have any physical operations. In his shrewd mind, this ruled out Silicon Valley and New York City since the states of California and New York had a large population, and opening an office there would mean collecting sales taxes for all orders delivered in those states. Bezos picked Seattle because the population of the state of Washington was small and Seattle was a bit of a technology hub.

At the time, he had picked the name Cadabra as a placeholder for the company. He was looking at names starting with A or B since websites used to be listed alphabetically, and registered Aard.com, Awake.com, Browse.com and Bookmall.com. He got cozy with another possibility, Relentless.com, which till date points to Amazon.com. Shel Kaphan, Amazon’s first engineer (who many, excluding Bezos, considered the co-founder) had previously consulted with a company called Symmetry Group. Kaphan’s friends disparagingly confused the name Symmetry with Cemetery. He was horrified about the name Cadabra Inc., since the same folks would now confuse Cadabra with Cadaver.

Thankfully, Bezos was soon struck with an epiphany about the world’s largest river, and registered the domain amazon.com on 1 November 1994.It started with the letter ‘a’ and had the letter ‘z’. With the arrow in the logo going from a to z, signifying Bezos’s ambition to offer the widest selection to customers. Bezos said, ‘This is not only the largest river in the world, it’s many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all the other rivers away’. When Kaphan’s former co-worker became the first person to order a book from Amazon.com on 3 April 1995, there were several other online bookstores in the US. The choice of name and the way Bezos built Amazon over the next two decades showed his relentless ambition to ‘blow all the others away’.

Based on Amazon’s S-1* filing, Amazon was bootstrapped with a little over $300,000 of equity investment from July 1994 to May 1996, including $10,000 of his own money to start and $245,000 from his parents in 1995 [*S-1 is a public document shared with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by companies planning to go public.].Bezos then raised $1 million at a little under $5 million in valuation by pitching to sixty individual investors in the Seattle business community. Business at Amazon had grown well since inception, and further accelerated in 1996. Bezos decided to raise VC money and pitched to Connecticut based private equity firm General Atlantic. Silicon Valley VC John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers caught wind and flew to Seattle to meet Bezos. After some back and forth, Kleiner invested $8 million valuing the company at $60, a whopping 6x of the valuation General Atlantic had started with. John Doerr joined the board after initially suggesting a junior associate take up the role. Two other board members joined in 1997 after investing $100,000 each. After three years in operation and having raised less than $10 million in funding, Amazon went public in May 1997. The new shares issued to the public valued Amazon at $438 million. Jeff Bezos owned a majority of the company at the time of the IPO.

The Stanford Start-up

In early 1996, there were two sets of Ph.D. students in the Gates Computer Science building of Stanford University who were inspired by the exponential growth of information on the Internet and the possibilities it presented. When Stanford Computer Science Ph.D. students are faced with a life problem, they write code to solve it. A popular T-shirt on campus at the time said, ‘Why write code, when you can write code to write code?’

While Venky Harinarayan was working to finish his Ph.D., his girlfriend, now wife, was making domestic plans. She went online looking for apartments, visiting several different sites, comparing the various listings, going through the tedious process we all know and hate. During that time, Larry Page had just begun his doctoral work and was scouting around for dissertation topics. He wondered about the structure of the Internet and how the fast exploding information was organized. He imagined the world’s information as a graph of web-pages with links pointing to each other. His advisor encouraged him to pursue this direction. Ph.D. students measure their productivity by writing papers, and then measure success by how many other papers referred to theirs. The importance of a research paper was determined by how many citations it received from other papers. Why the World Wide Web should be any different, Larry thought.

When Stanford Computer Science Ph.D. students are faced with a life problem, they write code to solve it. A popular T-shirt on campus at the time said, ‘Why write code, when you can write code to write code?’

Venky was working with Stanford classmate Ashish Gupta, and IIT Madras and Stanford junior Anand Rajaraman on a project related to databases. In a primal sort of way, Venky was pre-disposed to connect his current work with the woes of his distressed damsel. He re-oriented the project to build a comparison shopping engine for classified listings on the web. Like any committed boyfriend would, he put his colleagues Ashish and Anand to work with him on the problem. Like any committed project mates would, Ashish and Anand found reasons to like the idea and started working on it. Venky did well because Ashish and Anand were no ordinary students. They were both President’s Gold Medal (PGM) winners from IIT Kanpur and IIT Madras respectively. Every year, each IIT rewards the topper from the entire graduating class with this top academic honour. Considering how competitive it is to get into IIT in the first place, due to the selection of a few thousand out of a few hundred thousand, a PGM is no mean feat.

Around that time, a student called Sergey Brin had started his Ph.D. as well. He met Larry and instantly hit it off with him. He was inspired by Larry’s research project because he thought it represented the quest of human knowledge. In the same lab, Anand Rajaraman was hacking up Attercop* alongside Sergey Brin who was hacking up BackRub.Professor Jeff Ullman was the Ph.D. advisor for both students [*The big venom-spouting spider that tormented Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.] [†The original name of Google.]. Attercop was a crawler that would organize the world’s inventory and help users comparison shop in an efficient way. BackRub was a crawler that would organize the world’s information and help users search it in an efficient way. Attercop would be the transaction search for the Internet and BackRub would be the information search for the Internet. The value of a transaction was tangible and the value of information was not. It would have been interesting to place a wager at the time on which company would be more valuable. Attercop went on to become Junglee in1996 and Backrub went on to become Google in 1998.

Team Attercop had started falling in love with the notion of starting an Internet company with their idea, what with the Yahoo! IPO success in the background. Ashish had finished his Ph.D. two years ago, had worked at IBM, and was now working at Oracle. As a guy with industry experience, he took the lead to go raise money from VCs. In this process, Ashish started collaborating with serial entrepreneur Rakesh Mathur. They knew each other because their wives were best of friends from IIT Kanpur. After Rakesh saw the Attercop demo, he took matters in his own hands and called his mentor from his early days in the semiconductor industry for funding. Tsuyoshi Taira, or Taira-san, saw the demo and made a few phone calls to a group of seven Taiwanese businessmen who wanted to invest in this new Internet thing but did not have access to it. Taira-san narrates, ‘I told them $100,000 each, and some said they wanted to do $200,000, and I had to calm them down. I was working hard and was underpaid. I invested what I could, which was $50,000.’ With $500,000 raised, Rakesh asked Venky to quickly finish his Ph.D. Ashish quit his job at Oracle. Rakesh and Venky urged Anand to drop out of his Ph.D. at Stanford, just like the Yahoo! co-founders had.

Anand had grown up in a Tamil Brahmin family in Chennai that emphasized the importance of academic excellence. One could only imagine the weight of the decision to quit his Ph.D. to follow some new fad. He was now at his dream university, earning the degree he had always aspired towards. Was his judgment getting clouded by a bunch of yahoos who had dropped out from his university and were already worth over a billion dollars as a publicly listed company? Was he getting swayed by Ashish and Venky, the seniors he looked up to? After all, they had finished their Ph.Ds while Anand was going to take a plunge in the deep end of the pool? He went to his advisor with his dilemma. Prof. Ullman made it easy. He said, ‘The best way to prove the value of your research is to build a product and get many people to use it. You can always come back later and write your Ph.D. thesis.’ And that is exactly what Anand did – took a leave of absence and promised to return at a later point to finish his thesis. Prof. Ullman ended up joining Junglee’s Board of Directors.

Many things in life can begin with a few beers and a hit Bollywood song. But an entirely different sort of outcome was conspired one evening as the boys gathered at Ashish’s apartment in Menlo Park, cracked open a few brews, and set talking about the name of their new company. As their collective thoughts turned to the inspiring success of Yahoo!, they were reminded of a classic Hindi film song featuring the screen idol Shammi Kapoor, who is seen quite free-spiritedly dancing around the snowy hillsides of Kashmir yelling out ‘Yahoo’, followed up by an emphatic declaration that he did not care a hoot if the world called him ‘Junglee’.

Junglee was now hungrier than ever to grow the company at the same break-neck speed as Yahoo!, Amazon and other Internet companies around them. Why wouldn’t they? They had smarter people, an explosive idea, and an ambition to match.

That word stuck in their heads. They rationalized that the Internet was a jungle of information and people needed someone who knew her way around the jungle. That would be a Junglee, and they wrote it as Jungle-E, the suffix that was only second in popularity to dot com, for new Internet companies. Anand, Ashish, Rakesh, Venky and one Dallan Quass, co-founded Junglee in June 1996. Dallan happened to work in the same lab as Venky and Anand at Stanford, and was drawn to join the fellowship. But he was always conflicted whether he wanted to be a founder or an academic. Dallan left the company after a year to pursue a career in academia.

Halfway across the globe, it was raining over Powai Lake. It was pelting down the expansive green patch connecting the campus with Vihar Lake and Borivali National Park beyond. I had bought a bucket and broom in preparation of my new life in the jungles of Powai. Like the other young freshmen, I was reading the survival guide to protect myself from trespassing leopards. Large spiders in my hostel room were spinning a web I did not know to surf. Setting up my new life in a shared hostel room, I remembered the time that I had first thought about studying at IIT. I remembered the snowy picture of Lake Tahoe in my neighbour Amit Agarwal’s room that had sealed the deal for me. And now, looking out of the window at a murky volleyball court made the snow-covered ski slopes seem like a mirage. I had cleared the IIT JEE in 1996 with flying colours and was going to study Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay.

at-a-book-reading-session-hosted-by-iitbaa-mumbai-chapter

At a book reading session hosted by the IITBAA Mumbai Chapter

Meanwhile, Amit had paid his dues at IIT Kanpur to pursue his master’s in Computer Science at his dream university, Stanford. He was attending classes in the same building where Junglee had incubated and Google was incubating. He was about to graduate in a year and wanted to join a start-up. Coincidentally, Amit was the cousin of Junglee co-founder Ashish. Amit was considering joining his cousin’s company after graduating. The brothers had talked about it a few times over the course of Junglee’s evolution, thought that mixing business with family might get a little awkward, and decided against it.

Junglee was getting good traction selling their product to newspaper companies. When the team made a demo to Washington Post, the media company was blown away by the potential of the idea. The Internet changed everything and one of the first industries to transform was the media industry. Newspapers had been scrambling to go online, publishing their print content over the Internet so they could become the chosen source of news on the web. Just as they charge for a newspaper on the newsstand, they wanted to charge for their superior journalistic content online. As some media houses started competing for traffic by giving away content for free, and supplementing them with online ads, other media houses were left with no option but to reluctantly follow. The Internet had made journalism free. The newspapers used to make good money on classified ads, especially the jobs section. They used to charge a listing fee for every ad. They started up-selling the option to ‘post online’ so advertisers could reach out to the online readers as well. However, they did not have a separate ‘online only’ option. Unlike print, the Internet could accommodate unlimited ads. With Junglee, media houses could automatically crawl the jobs sections of large corporate clients and post all the ads in the online classifieds section without being limited by space. This was a product they could charge the corporations money for. This would create a parallel revenue source that grew at the pace of the Internet. Washington Post became Junglee’s first customer and invested $5 million to buy a piece of the company. Over the next few months, Junglee was powering the classifieds section of all major media houses of the US. For each category of classifieds, they created a Personalized Advisor Locator or PAL.

A PAL was a way for a user to search a large catalogue of job listings or other classifieds to find the one that best met their needs. The key innovation here was to go beyond keyword search – the only form of search available on the web to that point – to enable search based on criteria such as location, salary, education and other fields. The Junglees had their first office behind a hair salon in Palo Alto, close to the Stanford campus. But with the Washington Post investment and the team expansion to deal with the growing business, they needed a bigger office. And the best deal they could find was in Sunnyvale, further away from Stanford, prompting Anand to fret about moving to the depths of Sunnyvale – far away from their usual haunts.

I remember doing my first Google search a few months after they had incorporated the domain google.com in September 1997. It worked like a charm. The results were stunning. It was as if the search engine read your mind.

The Junglee founders always wanted to meet Jerry Yang and do something with the company that had inspired them to start-up. A week before Thanksgiving of 1997, Rakesh gave a demo of the jobs PAL to Mike Moritz of Sequoia Capital. Moritz saw something he liked and told Rakesh that he would have Jerry Yang come and meet him. Moritz was on the board of Yahoo! and Yang came to meet Rakesh the very next day. Rakesh gave him a demo of the computer PAL. Yang had been watching the growth of online shopping and was about to partner with Amazon to add their link on Yahoo.com for buying books and music. He asked Rakesh if they could build a books and music PAL. The Junglee team went to work over the Thanksgiving weekend. Yang and team liked the demo and asked Junglee if they could launch by December. By Christmas, Junglee was powering comparison shopping in the Yahoo! Shopping Guide. A few months later, Yang made an offer to acquire Junglee for $120 million in Yahoo! stock. During the negotiations, the stock price doubled. As a result, they wanted to reduce the number of shares by half. There was a disagreement and the deal fell through. It is anyone’s guess what may have transpired had Rakesh taken the deal. Meanwhile, Junglee continued to partner with Yahoo!

Junglee was now hungrier than ever to grow the company at the same break-neck speed as Yahoo!, Amazon and other Internet companies around them. Why wouldn’t they? They had smarter people, an explosive idea, and an ambition to match. Junglee appointed a headhunter to find the best VP of Sales money could buy. Junglee wanted to sell its PALs to Internet companies like hot cakes, much like Netscape’s Internet servers. Netscape’s Internet browser was free, but their Internet server was not. It cost about $5,000 a pop to buy, and then a few thousand a year for updates and support. Internet companies and offline companies alike were racing to get their bus on the information superhighway. The Netscape web server was a tool to get them there. Netscape’s VP of Sales, Ram Shriram, became the rainmaker of Silicon Valley. Junglee engaged Ram as an advisor to start. Ram invested $25,000 in Junglee and started sitting in key meetings. Among other things, he was tasked with making Junglee the shopping button on Netscape Navigator.

Prof. Ullman shared with the Junglee board that his student Sergey’s project had progressed well. The intuition about ranking search results based on how many other pages pointed to it had worked. They had changed the name from BackRub to Google* and hosted the search engine on google.stanford.edu. The engine had now started getting lots of searches within Stanford University, both due to the quality of results and the depth of results that the crawler had made accessible [*Misspelling of the word googol, name for the number one followed by a hundred zeroes. Larry and Sergey were obsessed with the scale of the Internet and their crawler, and were looking for the largest number in the world that had a name .]. Other engineering colleges in the world, including the IITs in India, had discovered Google and started using it as the search engine of choice. I remember doing my first Google search a few months after they had incorporated the domain google.com in September 1997. It worked like a charm. The results were stunning. It was as if the search engine read your mind. I was not the only person experiencing this ‘wow’. Google created a quirky button called ‘I’m feeling lucky’, which directly takes you to the page of the first search result and still has a place on the Google home page.

Prof. Ullman shared with the Junglee board that the number of searches had started to increase and his students had now started soliciting money to get bigger and better servers to keep up. The whole thing caught Ram’s fancy and he privately requested Prof. Ullman for an introduction with the Google founders. In early 1998, Ram was among the first five people to write a 6-figure check to Google Inc. as the Junglee founders remained unaware of the development. Interestingly, there was no Google Inc. and no bank account to put the money in. A present day Google search for ‘when was Google founded’ shows a box that says ‘September 4, 1998. Google, date founded’.

The checks were eventually banked and for an exclusive license for commercial use of the Page Rank patent, its owner Stanford University got Google shares. In 2005, Stanford University made $336 million from selling Google shares. Ram made 10-figures. At the time, it was the highest returns on any angel check ever written. Ram joined Junglee in May 1998 as the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO). Rakesh continued as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Office (CEO).

The Amazon stock was flying like a kite. After the 2:1 stock split in June 1998, the company value had propelled by 3x in a month. The world was going nuts over Bezos and Bezos was going nuts over the world. He had launched music and DVDs as the next two categories. Amazon’s new VP of Corporate Business Development in charge of mergers and acquisitions was keeping busy. Amazon bought the movie database IMDB.com and added the buy button to all movie titles. Amazon bought PlanetAll.com, arguably the first social networking site on the Internet, with 1.5 million members using it to stay in touch with each other. And then in July, Amazon called Junglee to buy them out. The deal closed really fast this time. The board was not taking any chances with the high momentum stock. By August 1998, Amazon had bought Junglee for 1.6 million shares of Amazon, valuing the deal at $240 million at the time of acquisition.

Over the next year, the Amazon team was watching the behaviour of users starting their online shopping with a search. They knew that product search would be key to the growth of the company.

Ram made another windfall. At the time of joining Junglee, Ram had negotiated an accelerated vesting of a year in the event of an acquisition. Within 2 months of joining the company, he was sitting on a good chunk of Amazon stock. As he continued vesting more, the Amazon stock multiplied by 5x over the next year and a half. In one of Bezos’s camping trips to the Bay Area, Ram invited him to meet with Larry and Sergey for breakfast at his home. It seems that Bezos and Larry got into a little argument about whether they would ever put ads on their website. Bezos liked the argument and wanted to invest. Ram spoke with the Google founders and got Bezos in as an angel investor in Google, making it one of the more lucrative favours in the tech industry. Ram did not feel the need to share these developments with the Junglee founders although the partnership had originally stemmed from a conversation about Google at Junglee. When Google went public 6 years later in August 2004, one of the filing documents mentioned Ram asco-founder and CEO of Junglee although he was neither. This did not go well with the actual co-founders of Junglee. The actual CEO of Junglee brought this to Ram’s attention. He corrected the error, on paper.

After the acquisition, the Junglee co-founders were walking on water. For three Stanford Ph.D. students at the dawn of their careers, Ashish, Venky and Anand did exceptionally well to become millionaires and have their pictures on the cover of the Asia edition of Business Week magazine. For Rakesh, it was a career defining moment as a serial entrepreneur. Junglee was his third start-up and at the time of acquisition, he was 41. And as they say, when it rains, it pours. Within a year of Junglee getting acquired by Amazon, Rakesh’s previous company Armedia was acquired by Broadcom for a handsome amount. At Amazon, Ashish went on to become Director of Engineering, Anand was Director of Technology, Venky made General Manager and Rakesh was VP of Business Development.

Over the next year, the Amazon team was watching the behaviour of users starting their online shopping with a search. They knew that product search would be key to the growth of the company. Rakesh, Anand, and Shel Kaphan met the Google founders in Palo Alto in the heyday of the Internet boom, April 1999, to make a bid for acquiring the company. Amazon was willing to pay $100 million, but the Google founders imagined an extra zero at the end. The deal fell through.

Notes

1. Michael Lewis, The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: Penguin, 2001.
2. Brad Stone, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. London:Random House, 2013.

[To be continued in the next issue]

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1 comment

running singlets November 11, 2016 - 11:57 am

Nice article and as well as that T-Shirt quote – “Why write code, when you can write code to write code?”

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