Kapor, Mitchell D
KAPOR, MITCHELL D.
Mitchell D. Kapor is the founder of Lotus Development Corp. and co-developer of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, considered the first "killer" software application. Many analysts credit 1-2-3 for being the catalyst that sparked widespread use of personal computers (PCs). Kapor served as CEO of Lotus until 1986, when he left to pursue other ventures, including the creation of network-utilities developer On Technology Inc. Kapor also went on to invest in several startups that evolved into major Internet players, including Uunet Technologies Inc, PSInet, and Real Networks.
After earning a degree in psychology from Yale University in 1974, Kapor worked as a disc jockey for WHCN-FM. In 1976, he began pursuing a graduate degree at the Sloan School of Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kapor started developing his interest in computers at this time, and he purchased an Apple II machine. While working as a diskette librarian, he began tinkering with his first software product, a time series analysis application for the Apple II. Dubbed Tiny Troll, the program was modeled on the Troll mainframe system used by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Through friends Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston—developers of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet application for computers—Kapor met Dan Fylstra, founder of California-based Personal Software, which marketed VisiCalc products. Soon thereafter, Kapor decided to forgo his graduate studies. He moved to the West Coast and took a management position with Personal Software which eventually paid Kapor millions of dollars for his Tiny Troll program.
Kapor moved back to the East Coast in the early 1980s. He founded Lotus in 1982 to develop software programs for PCs. The following year, Kapor took Lotus public, selling more than 2 million shares for $18 each and raising nearly $41 million for research and development. That year, Jonathan Sachs and Kapor developed the first version of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. The program quickly surpassed VisiCalc as the top selling spreadsheet, and Kapor eventually bought out VisiCalc's founders. In fact, in less than a year, 1-2-3 propelled Lotus, with revenues of $53 million, to second place in the U.S. software manufacturing industry. Th impact of 1-2-3 was farther reaching than many realized, wrote Computer Reseller News columnist Lee Pender. Although the program offered the fastest and simplest calculation capabilities of any spreadsheet application to date, "1-2-3 would really come to mean much more to the industry. Its popularity would launch IBM Corp.'s fledgling personal computer, a device that had lacked the kind of practical application it needed to take off. 1-2-3 was the answer, and it and the applications that followed would put a PC on top of every desk in the business world."
As the growth of Lotus intensified, Kapor realized he needed management help. As a result, he hired James P. Manzi as president in 1984, retaining the position of chairman. That year, Lotus broadened its focus. For example, the firm began working on Symphony, which brought word processing and database management programs together with 1-2-3 in one of the first integrated software "suites." To develop Symphony, Kapor hired Ray Ozzie, agreeing to finance an idea of Ozzie's that would later evolve into the blockbuster Lotus Notes messaging system.
Because Lotus grew into a firm larger than he cared to manage, Kapor resigned from the company in 1986. His activities in the 1980s and 1990s included running various non-profit foundations, establishing new technology firms, and helping to fund Internet startups. In January 1999, venture capital firm Accel Partners named Kapor a partner. The technology pioneer also continues to publish articles in Wired, Forbes, and other leading publications.
Hazlewood, Sara. "Lotus Founder Quietly Busy in the Venture Capital Arena." The Business Journal, February 11, 2000.
"Lotus Development Corp." In Notable Corporate Chronologies. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1999.
Pender, Lee. "The Killer App Comes Alive—Lotus 1-2-3." Computer Reseller News, November 15, 1998.
Taft, Darryl K. "Mitch Kapor." Computer Reseller News, November 16, 1997.
SEE ALSO: Killer Applications; Lotus Development Corp.