Mitch Kapor made many contributions to the computer industry through Lotus, On Technology, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
He has been a leading figure in the computer industry for 20 years. He was the founder and CEO of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1-2-3
Mitch has been at the forefront of the information technology revolution for a generation as an entrepreneur, investor, social activist, and philanthropist. For the past 15-plus years, Mitch has been an investor and advisor to high-technology start-up companies including founding investments in UUNET Technology and Real Networks.
If you knew Mitch Kapor directly after graduating from college, you would probably never have guessed that he would grow up to be one of the most successful innovators in the computer software industry. Kapor used his talents to not only create several successful businesses, but to also create a powerful public interest group. By capitalizing on the need for easy to use computer software and by becoming active in shaping public policies that affect acceptable use of computer systems, Mitch Kapor will go down in history as one of the more influential computer professionals of the 1980's and 90's.
Mitch Kapor was born in 1951 to Jesse and Phoebe Kapor of Long Island, heir to their cardboard box business, Corrugated Paper Products Inc. of Brooklyn. As a young man, Kapor fit the stereotype of the 1960's, reckless and carefree. He dabbled in LSD and other illicit drugs for a number of years and always was searching for some sort of "enlightenment."
Kapor graduated from Yale University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. While at Yale he studied psychology, linguistics, and computer science, specializing in Cybernetics. It was during these years that his interest in computers first surfaced. After graduating Yale, Kapor drifted between jobs ranging from Disc Jockey to stand-up comic. After four years of floating, Kapor still felt like something was missing. At the age of 25, he was at the end of a four year marriage and self-admittedly, a mess. At the age of 25 Kapor moved to Switzerland for what had been advertised as an "Enlightenment-or-Bust" course. This course included as much as 14 hours a day of meditation and was intended to teach him how to levitate. Needless to say it never worked and Kapor soon discovered that this is not where he would find the enlightenment he had been looking for.
After returning to the United States, Kapor spent several more years trying to find himself. In 1978, he completed a Masters program in Psychology at Beacon college. He also worked at a mental institution as an attendant doing what he described as, "the psychic equivalent of emptying bedpans." It was during this time that his interest in computers began to consume a lot of his time. Drooling over the new products at the computer store became a frequent hobby for him. In 1978, Apple cut the price of the Apple II to $1500 and Kapor scraped together enough money to purchase his first computer. Several days after purchasing the Apple II an unemployed Kapor happened upon a young man. This man was talking to a salesman trying to justify his purchase of a new computer. Kapor walked up to the man and said, "I think I can help you.". Kapor began to tutor the man in computers for 5$ an hour and in very little time he was billing himself as an independent computer consultant. Shortly thereafter he began to attend MIT's Sloan School of Business Management in a vain attempt at a Masters in Business Administration, but he soon dropped out.
Several months later, after a short period working with a Silicon Valley startup, Kapor met the inventors of Visi-Calc, the first spreadsheet software available. It was during this time that he had the idea of a related application that would plot and graph the results of a spreadsheet. He and a partner joined forces to create Visi Plot. Visi Plot became an instant success and the royalty checks for Visi Plot soon reached over $100,000 a month. After less than a year in business, Kapor and his partner were bought out for 12 million dollars. Kapor had created his first successful business.
After a spending a short time working as a software product manager, Kapor realized that the only way he would be happy was if he was running his own business. In 1981, Kapor and partner Honathan Sachs, decided to try and raise capital to start another company. To name this company he reached back into his past days of transcendental meditation and call it Lotus. He wanted to create an application that was similar to Visi Calc and Visi Plot combined, but would also have other features.
In 1983, Lotus Development Corp. released its first product, Lotus 123. As promised the product combined the features of Visi Plot and Visi Calc but was also much quicker and had other features. This product was also the first to provide the user with on-screen help, and come with a tutorial on disk. They even had a customer support department which was all but unheard of in 1983. At this time the most popular software program on the market was grossing approximately $12 million a year in business. Kapor predicted that Lotus 123 would do between 2 and 3 million its first year. Lotus ended up making $53 million dollars its first year, $156 million its second year, and soared to $258 million in revenue its third year. It is also interesting to note, that Lotus ended up purchasing Visi Calc only a year after Lotus 123 hit the market. Until recently, Lotus 123 was the most widely used software application in the world.
In 1983 there were only a few giants in the software industry. Certainly Kapor was equivalent to the likes of Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple. It would appear as if Kapor had found his niche. Stability is not something that Kapor was known for, however, and four years after releasing one of the most successful pieces of software in history, Mitch Kapor bailed out of Lotus. Kapor is quoted as having said, "I just bailed. I hated it and I hated myself. I liked starting things, the hands-on aspect of it. But the job was different now. I couldn't handle the responsibility and I didn't like the power. I said to myself, 'Quit, go find out what you want to do with your life.' " Kapor again exhibited his insatiable need for something new.
It appeared as if Kapor had retired from the business world when he accepted a job as a visiting professor at MIT's center for cognitive science. This would not keep Kapor occupied for long, however, and he quit teaching not even a year later.
Returning to the business world, Kapor started On Technology Corp. and served as its President and Chief Executive Officer for three years. On Technology's goal was to produce software that would work with and support networks. When On Technology was first introduced the public expectations were quite high because of its founders reputation. On Technology did not take off near as quickly as Lotus had. It took several years for it to become successful, but now in 1997, 10 years later, On Technology is a successful business that has offices in several countries and hundreds of employees.
In 1990 Kapor and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow created the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit interest group devoted to defending the civil liberties of hackers. It initially provided legal support for several hackers who had been caught illegally accessing certain computer systems. The EFF is often characterized as the ACLU of the computer industry. It is particularly interesting to note that in 1990 the World Wide Web did not yet exist, and global telecommunications were in its infancy. Kapor saw the future and became concerned with the possible implications of laws governing it.
Kapor has gone past his initial role of defended the civil liberties of hackers to more of a political player in Washington DC. While EFF was originally funded by Kapor and a couple of other millionaires, it is now supported by the likes of Microsoft, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Apple, and many other large businesses. EFF has been instrumental in the creation of public policies for computer and communication networks. He frequently testifies as an expert witness at congressional hearings and is often quoted in reference to the Information Infrastructure Al Gore speaks so much about. In fact Gore has given much of the credit to Kapor for the drafting of the blueprint for the National Information Infrastructure. Kapor often works hand in hand with Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the chair of the House subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance. He and the EFF have access to the Clinton administration and influence . Between the years of 1992 and 1993 he chaired the Massachusetts Commission on Computer Technology and Law, and as of 1994 he sat on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
Kapor is now using his knowledge of the computer industry to create his own venture capitalist firm. Kapor Enterprises, in Cambridge, Mass. Kapor Enterprises was one of the early investors in two successful Internet Access providers, Performance Systems International (now PSINet) and UUNET Technologies. Kapor also currently sits on the board of Progressive Networks, the developer of the well known products, Real Audio and Real Video. He once said, " I look for companies doing development that can get some kind of sustainable advantage, so they can survive the inevitable competition that will come if they have got something good. In particular, the longer I do this, the more convinced I am that having a smart, aggressive, and experienced management team to complement terrific ideas and technology is incredibly important." Kapor again has proved his ability to recognize products that will be important for the future and taken advantage of them.
How have Mitch Kapors contributions shaped the computer industry of today? Certainly Kapor contributed much towards making computers easier to use and more useful with his Lotus 123. The features included in the product such as online help, and a customer support department set the standard other software makers had to live up to. Kapor's more notable contribution to the computer industry would probably be his creation of the EFF. In a time when few understood the rules and bounds of computer networks, he stepped in to insure that people were treated fairly. His role in the shaping of public policy has also limited the scope of government involvement in the creation of the information infrastructure and resulted in a less regulated, more free online society. Now Kapor is working hard to identify new ideas and technologies that will shape our future by helping struggling young technology businesses with his investment firm. In recent years, his investment firm has produced several businesses which have been instrumental in bringing the Internet to everyone. It is probable that Kapor will continue to help bring new innovative ideas to the marketplace and continue to shape the world we live in.
Kapor has, time and time again, proved that he has what takes to be successful. As a businessman he created three profitable companies. He has created EFF, the most notable public interest group working for the civil liberties of people in information technology. In every one of his experiences he has seen the future years ahead of the competition and taken advantage of it. While Kapor might not be as notable as Bill Gates, he certainly deserves recognition as one of the most successful innovators in the computer software industry.
with fellow digital rights activists John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore, he co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and served as its chairman until 1994. The EFF is a non-profit civil liberties organization working in the public interest to protect privacy, free expression, and access to public resources and information online, as well as to promote responsibility in new media.
In 2001 Kapor founded the Open Source Applications Foundation, where he is now working on a modern personal information manager using open source tools and methods. The group is working on Chandler.
Kapor has been the Chair of the Mozilla Foundation since its inception in 2003. He founded the Mitchell Kapor Foundation to support his philanthropic interests in environmental health. He also co-founded and is on the board of the Level Playing Field Institute, a 501c(3) dedicated to fairness in education and workplaces. Kapor is also Chair of the Board of Directors of Linden Lab, a San Francisco-based company which created the popular virtual world Second Life.
Kapor is an Adjunct Professor at the School of Information at UC Berkeley.
He is married to Freada Kapor Klein and they reside in San Francisco.
1971 B.A. Psychology
and linguistics Yale University
His writings have also appeared in Scientific American, Forbes, the Harvard Business Review and the New York Times.
Honors and awards
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Footnotes & References
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