As a high school student in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, Steve Kirsch was interested in computers. He earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering/computers at MIT in 1978 and completed a master's degree in 1980. The most interesting job offer he received that spring was from Rolm in Santa Clara, working on software system products.
He wanted to make a bigger impact on the world than he thought possible from a large company, so two years later (1982) he took $40,000 of his own savings and founded Mouse Systems. The company is based on an idea he had while at MIT--an optical computer mouse which has no moving parts and which reads its position from an electronic mouse pad. (It has the look and feel of an ordinary mouse, but doesn't wear out or give jerky motions on the screen.) To start a company with so little capital, he arranged to have a contract shop actually manufacture the product and concentrated on marketing--at first as OEM equipment under other company's labels and later under his own company name.
After four years with Mouse Systems, he came across an idea for desktop publishing software. He combined with the author of the software, left Mouse Systems, invested more of his savings, and founded Frame Technology. Six years later, Kirsch was again looking for something new and different. Frame Technology was sold to Adobe and he founded Infoseek, the widely used Internet search engine.
Kirsch is now on his third company--a pattern not uncommon among MIT-related entrepreneurs. He says with a laugh that "Only mediocre people start companies; the really smart ones know better." Why does he do it? The lure of something new and exciting, the challenge of a new problem to solve, and the conviction that you can do a better job than others.
Although Kirsch is a native Californian, he came to Silicon Valley because that was where his best job offer was. MIT-related companies are in California, he says, because MIT trains so many people in computer sciences and because so many of the companies that need such people are in Silicon Valley.
Kirsch believes that like the Boston area, Silicon Valley is a good place to start high-tech companies. He can visit 30 venture capitalists in one location; it's easy to find consultants, to buy equipment, and to arrange for contract manufacture. He reports that it's becoming harder to recruit in Silicon Valley as the area is getting crowded and the best prospects get many job offers.
To succeed in computer businesses, he says, you need dogged determination, a clear vision of where you want to go and how to get there, and the flexibility to adapt to the unexpected.
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