A change is taking place on the Web as the digital frontier matures into the global community its creators dreamed it would one day become. However, while the use of the Web evolves, until recently very little has changed in one of the Internet’s most fundamental tools—the browser.
“We saw that the browser hasn’t changed, while how people use the Web has really, really changed, and there seems like there is an opportunity to create a better product,” said Tim Howes, chief technical officer and co-founder of RockMelt.
Howes, along with RockMelt CEO and co-founder Eric Vishria, set out in 2008 with a vision of what a Web browser could be. They wanted something that works like today’s users work—something that would move browsers past conventions they’ve been stuck in since their emergence.
The beta version of RockMelt was released in November, though the official release date is yet to be announced. Once finished, RockMelt will give users another browser choice, directly competing with the likes of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. However, the differences between RockMelt and its competitors are vast.
“This is really the first browser that’s powered by a set of back-end services in the cloud,” Howes said. “This allows us to do things like provide a notification service to you. So we’ll watch the sites that are your favorites and we will notify you in real-time when something happens on those sites.”
Howes co-founded the software company Opsware, where Vishria served as the vice president of marketing. The company was sold to HP in 2007 for $1.56 billion. After working under HP for a year, the two were ready to move on, and the inspiration for RockMelt emerged as Howes and Vishria were trying to chart their next course.
“Interestingly, I think we both had the same view of HP,” said Vishria. “We both had big, great jobs at HP… but neither one of us was enjoying working for a 300,000 person company.”
Independently, both were considering going back to the drawing board and starting up new companies. The pair, who have worked together for close to 10 years, would pass ideas back and forth.
“The brainstorming process continued, and we hit on the same view,” said Vishria, explaining that they pursued the concept “both because it’s a great idea—very compelling—but it’s also a very big idea—very audacious, I think—and that appealed to both of us.”
The Big League
The Web browser market is dominated by some of the largest companies in the technology industry—Microsoft, Google, and Apple—with the open source Firefox project quickly gaining momentum.
“Starting a company is a very challenging experience in itself, and starting a browser company and going into a 100 percent saturated market of 2.1 billion users…where with every user you take, you are taking from someone else—is even more challenging,” said Howes.
“But we knew that was going to be the case,” he added.
Their first stop would be pitching the concept to investors. They kept their pitch simple and to the point: the way people use the Web has changed, and Web browsers have not followed this trend.
It wasn’t long before they raised $10 million.
Their board now includes Marc Andreessen, who helped create the first commercial Web browser, Netscape. Among others, they also have Intuit chairman and Apple board member Bill Campbell, and VMware co-founder and long-time CEO—the last person to build a multibillion dollar software company.
RockMelt is being spread mostly by word of mouth—particularly, users invite their friends through Facebook. Its beta version is available for free online, and RockMelt gives each user a limited number of Facebook invites they can send their friends.
Vishria noted that the promotional method helps them stay on track. “All of our growth comes from just users inviting users. That’s what we’re really focused on—building a great product so users tell their friends about it,” he said.