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Citizen Plain

 

 
CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 11, 1996, William Randolph Hearst III
Citizen Plain
By Jeff Pelline
Staff Writer, CNET NEWS.COM

People are often intimidated by Will Hearst's name, but rarely by his presence.

A forceful public speaker, Hearst is mild, almost shy in conversation, glancing down frequently at his loafered feet. Hearst wears the inescapable mantle of his grandfather's legend and his family money as though he's a little embarrassed by his good fortune. If the money and the attention aren't luck enough, Hearst has recently found a way to parlay his lifelong passions, computers and newspapers, into a new career.

Hearst is now vice chairman of @Home, a start-up that last week began piping

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Internet content to home PCs via cable television systems. @Home will compete with ISPs and telcos in the Internet-access wars.

Hearst made his move from the old media to the new media last year when he left behind a decade-long stint as publisher of the Hearst Corporation's flagship newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, to become a partner of the Menlo Park venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He also still sits on the board of the media empire built by the William Randolph Hearst, the man who inspired the Orson Wells's epic Citizen Kane.

"I think he would have been in this Internet business," Hearst said of his grandfather. "He was in radio and television at the very beginning and in motion pictures when they were going into sound. You cannot be interested in the media and not be interested in the Internet in the 1990s."

Hearst's latest adventure is decidedly low tech. He's looking for a Tandoori oven to use at the family ranch in San Simeon, adjacent to the Hearst Castle. A barbecue fanatic, Hearst wouldn't mind installing one at home, too, on San Francisco's Russian Hill.

NEWS.COM: How did you get involved with @Home?
Hearst: I got involved because I was the new guy at Kleiner Perkins. Normally an entrepreneur comes to a venture capital firm and pitches an idea to get funding.

This was a case where the firm had the idea, and management was going to be recruited to run the company. It's almost a tradition at Kleiner Perkins for partners to go in and run these companies to get them started, and then recruit somebody else to come in.

NEXT: The @Home experience

 
William Randolph Hearst III

  Stats
Age: 46

@Play: Home on the family ranch in San Simeon, barbecuing, or Net surfing.

Latest adventure: Finding a Tandori oven to round out his love for barbecue.

Hearst's Law: It's the team, stupid.

 
CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 11, 1996, William Randolph Hearst III
The @Home experience

How did the concept for launching @Home come about?
The idea for @Home was inevitable because the cable television industry has fat, high-bandwidth pipes into the home, and it was time for a data service--a two-way service--to be put onto that infrastructure.

But it is an idea that has occurred to other people, including other cable television operators. I think maybe what is different about @Home is that the actual method for doing it is a little more complicated than just running a wire from the cable television (box) into the Internet.

There is some infrastructure, and the idea of building a national backbone really belongs to (former NASA researcher) Milo Medin, who is the senior technical person. He did the architecture.

What will distinguish @Home from other Internet access services?
Several things will distinguish it. Primarily it will be reliable, high speed, and provide access to the Internet as an alternative to a ISDN and a ASDL. That's kind of a pain today when you have to wait for things to download. @Home has worked on that problem.

In terms of price, the basic offering is in the $30- to $40-per-month range. The cable operator has the right to set the price sort of like the way a retailer goes from a suggested retail to the final price on the shelf.

How many people are going to sign up?
Millions. Yeah, tens of millions. I see no reason why that won't happen. You get a strong sense of demand. I think the company has to focus its energy on execution rather than seeing if anybody is interested in the product.

What was your rationale in hiring Tom Jermoluk (formerly president of Silicon Graphics) to be @Home's CEO instead of yourself? What will your role be?
I'm going to stay on the board as vice chairman. The reality with T.J. is that it's very hard to find really great executives. The partners at Kleiner Perkins, myself included, spent a year and a half looking to find somebody who had the right background, the right temperament, and the right leadership skills. And it took us a while to find T.J. and interest him.

I think it's the best thing for the company. It lets me go back and do what I'm doing, as an investor and venture capitalist. And I hope for T.J. it's a change to a new industry.

What was the rationale for signing up Comcast and Cox besides TCI as investors?
The primary rationale was that they are the largest cable operators, or among the largest, after TCI. So you get an opportunity to introduce the @Home product into a lot of different cable systems.

Of course, there's also the motive of fund raising and getting an economic commitment and keeping the lights on.

Was that always part of the business model?
Yes. It was always part of the model to roll out beyond TCI.

NEXT: What makes him tick

 
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CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 11, 1996, William Randolph Hearst III
What makes him tick

Why did you go to Kleiner Perkins?
I just thought there was, to coin a clich?, convergence in the media business and the computer business. I thought it would be a better place to find out what's going on and participate.

The beauty of the venture capital business is that you talk to all the smart people and they tell you what they're doing, and little by little, you get a stronger sense of what's going to happen.

Have you made any mistakes so far in getting the project up and running? If so, what?
Tons of them. I don't know where to start. One of the things I have found out about all these entrepreneurial businesses is that the people really matter the most. You can get very focused on process, very focused on technology, but if you don't build a team, you really can't get anything done.

If I had to do it again, I'd probably think more about things like recruiting than I would worrying about engineering issues where I'm not the expert anyway.

What have you learned from this experience, and how is it different from the newspaper business?
This phase of the business that I was involved in was really a start-up, while the Examiner was really a business that had been there for a hundred years. So there's one thing that's very different: the pace and the daily change.

On the other hand, the Examiner was more of a content business, and I spent my day not only thinking about presses and trucks but also thinking about stories, headlines, and pictures.

I think when @Home gets deployed in front of millions of people, then there will be a similar group of folks inside the company that are talking about the content of the service and what can be delivered through this distribution channel.

What did you learn from this experience?
I've learned that all of these start-up companies rely more on talent than they do on engineering or patents. There's engineering talent, there's marketing talent, and there's accounting talent. If you pull the right people together and lead them well, you have a much better chance of success than trying to come up with some perfect business plan.

What would your grandfather have said about this business?
I think he would have been in it. I look back and read history, and I see that he was in radio at the very beginning, and then television at the very beginning, and in motion pictures when they were going into sound. You cannot be interested in the media business at large and not be interested in the Internet and data business in the '90s.

If there's a Moore's law, what would be yours: in essence, Hearst's law?
It's the team.

It's been said of the Hearsts that ink runs in their veins. What sort of legacy would you leave future Hearsts? What will run in their veins?
Probably electrons.

 
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