Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

RockMelt Raises $30M More for Social Browser. But Could It Be More Than Social?

RockMelt tonight is announcing it has raised $30 million in Series B funding, a considerable amount for a company with just hundreds of thousands of users and gigantic and fast-innovating competitors.

The funding came from new investors Accel Partners and Khosla Ventures along with existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Bill Campbell, First Round Capital and Ron Conway, and brings Accel’s Jim Breyer and Khosla of Khosla Ventures in as board observers.

RockMelt has been especially embraced by young users, said CEO Eric Vishria. Fifty-six percent of active RockMelt users are age 24 and younger, and most of them use the browser’s chat feature on a daily basis.

Rockmelt has for most of its short life been known as a “social browser,” given its deep sharing and chat integration, especially with Facebook. But the company’s ambitions are broader than that, Andreessen — co-creator of the first Web browser — said in an interview.

“When we created the browser 15 to 20 years ago we had no idea what the killer apps would be,” Andreessen said. “Had we known about these things we would have built it very differently.”

The first killer app for the browser — for function — was search, Andreessen said. I asked Andreessen if he thinks the current ubiquitous browser business model — revenue sharing from search toolbars — will change if user activity becomes less about search and information retrieval.

“I think search continues to be very important,” Andreessen said. “Google had a billion uniques last month. But social is next.”

After search and social, Andreessen said, he envisions a half dozen more killer apps for the browser — basically, all the stuff we do online all day. Some examples might be daily deals and phone calls. “How much better could it be if that were built straight in?” Andreessen asked.

But back to RockMelt’s other challenges: What about the not-so-little issue of competition from other browsers? Khosla said in a separate interview, “When a browser changes from an information retrieval tool to a social media tool it’s probably some new company that’s going to figure it out … When shifts happen I sincerely believe start-ups are the best at entering the new market.”

Facebook and RockMelt recently worked together to create a custom Facebook experience when the site is visited from the browser. As for potential competition if Facebook were to build its own social browser, both Andreessen and Khosla shrugged it off. Khosla’s take: “These things [browsers] are not easy to do.” Andreessen’s: “I’m in a conflicted situation as a Facebook director so don’t want to speak on Facebook’s behalf. But as a RockMelt director, RockMelt is thrilled with our relationship with Facebook.”

Vishria said the new funding will be used for marketing, business development and hiring. Mountain View, Calif.-based RockMelt employs 40 people now, which he expects to double within the next year.

RockMelt’s first round of funding came in September 2009, just over a year before it put out a product.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik