Picture this: six guys in the garage of a suburban home on Lockwood Drive in Cupertino, Calif. Burrito wrappers litter the floor below six framed college degrees from prestigious Stanford University.
It was their penchant for cheap Mexican cuisine that set the stage for the idea that ultimately led to the creation of Architext Software, later incorporated into Excite, Inc. For as the six guys – founders Mark Van Haren, Ryan McIntyre, Ben Lutch, Joe Kraus, Graham Spencer, and Martin Reinfried – sat in Rosita’s Taqueria in Redwood City on the evening of February 28, 1993, the idea came to them: Create a software tool to manage the vast amount of information available on the Internet. "We knew that we didn’t want to work for any big company," explained then-president Kraus to Red Herring magazine in early 1995. "We wanted to work together and do something entrepreneurial." And so they did.
The five hackers and one poli sci major set off at once for the Stanford library to research the best way in which to fill the information search-and-retrieval void. While simultaneously holding down income-producing jobs, the hackers agreed upon their plan of attack, got busy at their Sun workstations, and the poli sci major – Joe Kraus &150; cut off several inches of hair and became "Phone Boy."
Armed with a software product that combined search-and-retrieval with automatic hypertext linking, subject-grouping and automatic abstracting (the Excite Search we all know and love today), Phone Boy began calling all up and down Sand Hill Road, the mecca for West Coast venture capital firms. Response was initially ice cold – Architext even received a letter of rejection from a company they had never sent a proposal to. It was not until more than a year and a half after the landmark evening in Rosita’s that the guys would hit paydirt. But in December of 1994, paydirt came in the form of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, and Institutional Venture Partners. Chief supporter Vinod Khosla of KPCB even wooed them right off the bat with a badly needed $4,000 hard drive. "We just met the man and he bought us a hard drive. That went a long way," explained Kraus.
And thus it began – the guys were off into the world of business plans, contracts, and the reality of turning over increasing amounts of control to their VC benefactors.
In October of 1995, Architext launched the Excite suite of services, found at excite.com, and the company gained a fast and furious momentum. Exclusive distribution agreements were signed with Microsoft Network and Netscape. The company officially changed its name to Excite, Inc., and soon after went public with an initial offering of 2 million shares at $17 per share.
At the time of the April 1996 IPO, the company had grown to 65 employees, now housed in a 19,000 square foot office in Mountain View, and had hired veteran media powerhouse George Bell to be its CEO. Architext had blossomed into an honest-to-goodness real live technology company, with business cards, letterhead, and plenty of Odwalla around the office to substitute for the standard meal of burritos. It wasn’t that burritos were too expensive – there just wasn’t time to go get them.
1996 was a huge year for Excite. The 13 advertisers they had at the end of January grew to 370 by the end of December; revenues rose from $145,000 to $14.03 million; they brought in experienced senior-level management from an impressive list of established companies; and acquired two of our search and navigation competitors, Magellan and WebCrawler. Excite launched its first national advertising campaign with the theme of Jimi Hendrix’s "Are You Experienced?" and introduced several new products: Excite City.Net, Excite Live!, ExciteSeeing Tours, and Excite NewsTracker. Along the way Excite got a new look, with the introduction of Excite 2.0 in March 1996.
1997 saw several major events for the company as well. Two were nearly simultaneous: the early April consolidation and move to a new 88,000 sq. ft. facility in Redwood City – right down the street from Rosita’s, no less – and the launch of Excite 3.0: Excite Channels, formerly code-named Purple Haze. Excite’s employees numbered around 200, and the Odwalla intake has soared to an astounding 2000 bottles per month.
Summer saw the company through its $40M investment and partnership with Intuit, as well as a multi-year, multi-million dollar advertising buy from Amazon.com.
1998 started off with a bang when Excite and Prodigy announced a broad alliance wherein Excite provides customized co-branded content and services to Prodigy Internet subscribers. Now with more than 700 employees worldwide, Excite is really on a roll. The press releases tell the story – the momentum continues.