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from the L.A. Times

Social Web browser RockMelt lands $30 million and a Facebook investor

Rockmelt
Investors are betting big on a Web browser built by Netscape veterans for the Facebook generation.

Even though RockMelt only has a minuscule share of the browser market, some of Silicon Valley's top venture capitalists are throwing their weight and money behind it.

New investors Accel Partners and Khosla Ventures teamed up with Andreessen Horowitz to lead a $30-million funding round in the start-up. They were joined by Intuit chairman Bill Campbell, First Round Capital's Josh Kopelman and angel investor Ron Conway.

Jim Breyer, famous for leading Accel's investment in Facebook, and Vinod Khosla, the clean-tech investor making his first major Web investment in years, have joined RockMelt's board as observers.

That deepens RockMelt's connection to Facebook. Marc Andreessen and Breyer both sit on the board of the world's most popular social networking site.

The new funding comes on the heels of a product partnership with Facebook. "Facebook is the people-centric Internet and we are the people-centric browser," said Eric Vishria, RockMelt's co-founder and chief executive. "It's a natural fit working with them."

The Facebook partnership will be a model for others, he said. "Our goal is to build services right into the browser," Vishria said. Those services will include commerce, gaming and music, he added.

RockMelt, which launched to the public in November, incorporates popular social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter so users can take their friends with them as they wander the Web.

Reinventing the browser in such a highly competitive market is not for the faint of heart. 

Andreessen, who developed the Netscape browser that ushered millions onto the Internet, said RockMelt is ready for prime time. "The product is good and ready for broader exposure," he said.

Had his generation known how people would use the Web, they would have built the browser for killer apps such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter, Andreessen said. With such a fundamental shift on the Web, "the browser is going to get much smarter," he said.

Breyer concurred. "It's a fundamental belief on our part that social and mobile apps are so fundamentally different from the first- and second-generation Internet that there are opportunities to build new technologies from the ground up," he said.

Vishria and Tim Howes, RockMelt's co-founder, chairman and chief technology officer, say they are going to use the cash to spread the word about RockMelt, expand their 40-person team and build new features.

More than 1 million users have tried RockMelt, and several hundred thousand use it an average of 6.5 hours a day. Still, its stats lag behind the leaders in the browser market, which has seen the failure of another start-up building a social Web browser, Flock.

RockMelt has relied on word of mouth, which can spread quickly among Facebook friends. "RockMelt has a unique distribution opportunity. It’s the first browser with friends built in," Vishria said. "100% of our growth comes from people telling each other about the product."

But it may need something more if it wants to gain traction. Apple and Microsoft built powerful bases of users through their own computers. Google promotes its browser on its home page, one of the most visited sites on the Web. Mozilla's Firefox rekindled the browser wars in 2004. The innovative product was embraced by a passionate grass-roots community, prompting Internet Explorer and Apple to roll out improved versions of their browsers and Google to introduce Chrome. 

The renewed focus on the browser not only gave consumers speedier, more secure browsers, but it also reflected a broader shift in computer use from the desktop to the Web.

"We expect that over the next few years all browsers will have social aspects built in. They will have to to stay relevant," Vishria said.

In all, RockMelt has raised $40 million from investors. More here from Ben Horowitz on why the browser matters.

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-- Jessica Guynn

 
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