My Life History On One Page
An edited version of this article appeared in MIT Spectrum
magazine in 1997 so it is somewhat out of date on the Infoseek stats (in Nov 1998 we had
over 600 people and over 35M pageviews a day).
Steve Kirsch's first job was repairing pinball machines. "They
always break," says Kirsch, who at 15 was earning $30 an hour. "I had a contract
with the local pinball place near my high school; I was much cheaper than the union
Today the 40-year-old entrepreneur of Sunnyvale, CA, is chairman of
Infoseek, one of the most widely-used search engines on the Internet. It now has 160
employees and is visited by 1.5 million people a day.
"When I left MIT, I wanted to change the world" says Kirsch,
who earned a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1980.
Just before leaving MIT, he invented the optical mouse. "It was
clear to me that in 1980, the world didn't need a better mousetrap. What the world needed
was a better mouse. So I built one."
Heeding the advice of friends who advised him to license his idea and
get some business experience, Kirsch began his career as a software engineer at ROLM
Corporation in Santa Clara, CA. Six months later, he licensed his mouse patent to a
company which failed to market it. Frustrated, he quit his job at ROLM and in 1982 with 2
friends, began Mouse Systems, sinking in $40,000 of his own savings. "I figured that
if I failed, I could always get another job." The optical mouse was chosen for the
Sun Microsystems workstation, and continues to be marketed successfully, though Kirsch
sold the company to a foreign firm in 1990.
Four years after starting Mouse Systems, he got an idea for desktop
publishing software, founding Frame Technology, which produced FrameMaker. Frame was
acquired by Adobe Systems in 1995 for $500M. In 1993, Kirsch began Infoseek on the idea
that information on the Internet should not only be available to everyone, but should be
easy to access and virtually free. Starting another company meant more of the same
routine: long hours, little sleep, and virtually no life outside work.
"Only mediocre people start companies; the really smart ones know
better, " he reflects. "It's really hard - a new company is such a fragile
thing. It takes a lot of hours and dedication to be successful. I guess you could compare
it to raising a child, which is how I explained the long hours to my wife...not that it
did any good."
To succeed, he advises: "You need to be passionate, to believe in
yourself and to persevere. When you run up against road blocks, you have to find solutions
in spite of all the obstacles."
His strength is dreaming up creative ideas, but the toughest part, no
question, he says, has been developing necessary people skills. "I came out of MIT
with more technical skills than I ever would need in a lifetime, but my people skills
weren't improved at all. I improved because I had great people at work who helped me
develop my interpersonal skills."
Kirsch deeply values his work. "I could be doing anything right
now, which is why I am doing this. I love it. Helping people find information to enrich
their lives is motivating and very rewarding. I mean, I could be playing golf now."
He laughs. "But golf is too frustrating."
Back to my home page