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25 years ago Microsoft released Internet Explorer 3.0, its first real salvo in the “Browser Wars”. This launch taught taught me how a giant corporation could move at the speed of a startup. Here’s the story:
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I had joined the IE team a year earlier, at age 22. The team was only 9 people and trying desperately to grow as quickly as possible. I remember one question I was asked in every interview: “How soon can you start?”
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Netscape Navigator had 95% marketshare, and Netscape was the darling of the tech industry. They were famously working on “Internet time.” We were almost 2 years behind and we needed to catch up.
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Instead of hiring too fast, we kept a super-high bar for talent, betting that everybody would want to work for this new exclusive team at Microsoft that was so hard to get into. It worked.
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Early on, I learned a critical rule about execution. My boss, Chris Jones, told me: “There’s 3 ways to handle work assigned to you. If you say you’ll do it, do it. If you say you can’t, that’s ok. But if you sign up for work and drop the ball, the team fails. Learn to say no.”
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I also learned the value of motivation. Bill Gates wrote a memo to all of Microsoft, saying the Internet Explorer project is critical and asking every team to reorient their work to help us. Our inboxes exploded, but it made us feel important, and we worked even harder.
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We announced our plans publicly on Dec 7, 1995. Pearl Harbor Day. It was war. Despite Netscape’s lead, we said we’d match their every feature and even leapfrog them. We signed partnerships with anybody who would help us, even competitors like Apple and AOL.
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To motivate us more, I plastered the hallways with quotes from Netscape’s founder, Marc Andreessen: “Netscape will soon reduce Windows to a poorly debugged set of device drivers.” It reminded us that this new startup threatened to destroy all of Microsoft.
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The Internet Explorer team was the hardest-working team I’ve ever been on. And I’ve worked at multiple start-ups. It was a sprint, not a marathon. We ate every meal at the office. We often held foosball tournaments at 2 am, just to get the team energy back up to continue working!
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Replying to @hadip
Daniel Markham
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Daniel Markham
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When IE3 launched 25 years ago, it didn’t win the browser war, but it made a serious dent, and Netscape began to worry. Two years later we shipped IE5, which became the dominant web browser of its time.
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Tech history explains this to be about Microsoft’s Windows monopoly, which surely played a role. But it wouldn’t have been possible if Microsoft didn’t also learn how to work on “Internet time.”
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For me personally, this was the launch point for my career. I got a chance to learn from the best leaders at Microsoft, such as Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Brad Silverberg.
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Sadly for me, Microsoft broke up the IE team because it thought “we won.” As Andy Grove once said, only the paranoid survive. And Microsoft had stopped being paranoid. Years later, Internet Explorer would plummet in marketshare and become a sad joke among Web developers.
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