Web pioneer invents software to control home, yacht

Netscape founder Clark has raised $11.7 million to test it on the market

June 25, 2005|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - James Clark, the Internet pioneer who co-founded Netscape Communications Corp., plans to start marketing computer software that he developed to automate his two yachts and Florida mansion.

Clark formed closely held CommandScape Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., to determine whether there's demand for the software. He put $6.7 million of his money into CommandScape and raised about $5 million from investors for the company, which Clark estimates may one day generate revenue of as much as $50 million.

"I don't have in mind a massive consumer play here," Clark, 61, said in an interview. "There is a potential to build a nice, tidy little business."

Clark created the software to control everything from the navigation to entertainment systems on his 156-foot sailboat. He later adapted the code for his home in Palm Beach. CommandScape will use part of its revenue to finance upgrades of the software, and pay technicians who provide support to installers and users.

Netscape, whose Web browser opened up the Internet to multimedia, was sold for $9.8 billion in 1999. Clark's stake was valued at about $1.36 billion at the time. In 1981, he founded Silicon Graphics Inc., whose computers helped create the images of dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park.

CommandScape Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wood has bigger expectations than Clark. He said he envisions "hundreds of millions" of dollars of annual revenue following a five- to seven-year startup phase.

Possible rivals include Home Automation Inc., Honeywell International Inc. and JDS Technologies, all of whom make home-automation systems and software. Worldwide home-networking revenue may reach $5.3 billion in 2007, up from $1.8 billion in 2002, according to estimates from In-Stat, a research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Jim Clark is someone who has tremendous vision about opportunities and has demonstrated that numerous times in the past," said Dan Levitan, managing partner of Maveron LLC, a Seattle venture capital firm that funded EBay Inc.

"For home automation to be adopted on a large scale, it has to be incredibly simple and highly reliable."

Clark was a Stanford University professor before founding Silicon Graphics. He began writing the computer code for what became CommandScape's software in 1998 with three former Silicon Graphics engineers.

The software integrates and automates systems on Clark's yacht called the Hyperion, allowing the crew to control its navigating equipment, engines and stateroom temperatures from a single station.

CommandScape's software makes a sailboat easier to operate and maintain, said Michael Koppstein, U.S. representative for Royal Huisman Shipyard BV, the Dutch company that built the Hyperion as well as Clark's other boat, a 295-foot schooner.

"It's an exceptionally good system and it's certainly the way of the future," said Koppstein, who's based in Algonquin, Maine.

The programming team later reworked the software to control the lighting, air conditioning and entertainment systems in Clark's Florida home.

Pitching the concept to other homeowners may prove difficult, said Joe Dada, president of Smarthome Inc., an Irvine, Calif., manufacturer and distributor of home-automation products.

"For many years now, there have been developers trying to bring together all the systems in the home into a single device," Dada said.

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