Mitch Kapor

January 27, 2010

Mitchell Kapor is the founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1-2-3, the “killer application” which made the personal computer ubiquitous in the business world in the 1980′s. He has been at the forefront of the information technology revolution for a generation as an entrepreneur, investor, social activist, and philanthropist.

Mr. Kapor was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950 and attended public schools in Freeport, Long Island, where he graduated from high school in 1967. He received a B.A. from Yale College in 1971 and studied psychology, linguistics, and computer science as part of an interdisciplinary major in Cybernetics. He was greatly involved with Yale’s radio station, WYBC-FM, where he served as Music Director and Program Director.

In the 1970′s Mr. Kapor worked as a disc jockey at WHCN-FM, a commercial progressive rock station in Hartford, Connecticut; became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation and taught TM in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Fairfield, Iowa; and worked as an entry-level computer programmer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1978, he received a Master’s degree in counseling psychology from Campus-Free College (later called Beacon College) in Boston and worked as a mental health counselor at New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts. He also attended the Sloan School of Management at MIT, taking a leave of absence one term of short of graduation in 1980 in order to take a job in a Silicon Valley start-up company.

In 1978 he bought an Apple II personal computer and worked as an independent software consultant; as the co-developer of Tiny Troll, the first graphics and statistics program for the Apple II; as a product manager for Personal Software Inc., the publisher of VisiCalc, the world’s first electronic spreadsheet; and as the designer and programmer (in BASIC) of VisiPlot and VisiTrend, companion products to VisiCalc.

He founded Lotus Development Corp. in 1982 and with Jonathan Sachs, who was responsible for technical architecture and implementation, created Lotus 1-2-3. He served as the President (later Chairman) and Chief Executive Officer of Lotus from 1982 to 1986 and as a Director until 1987. In 1983, Lotus’ first year of operations, the company achieved revenues of $53,000,000 and had a successful public offering. In 1984 the company tripled in revenue to $156,000,000. The number of employees grew to over a thousand by 1985.

After leaving executive management at Lotus, he spent 1986 and 1987 completing work on his favorite product, Lotus Agenda, the first application for Personal Information Management (PIM), and as a visiting scientist at MIT’s Center for Cognitive Science and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

From 1987-1990 Mr. Kapor served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ON Technology, a developer of software applications for workgroup computing.

In 1990 with John Perry Barlow, he co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and served as its chairman until 1994. The EFF is a non-profit civil liberties organization working in the public interest to protect privacy, free expression, and access to public resources and information online, as well as to promote responsibility in new media.

In 1992 and 1993 he chaired the Massachusetts Commission on Computer Technology and Law which was chartered to investigate and report on issues raised by the problem of computer crime in the state. He also served as a member of the Computer Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council and the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council. From 1994-1996, he served as Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab where he taught courses on software design, Democracy and the Internet, and digital community.

For more than 15 years, Mr. Kapor has been an investor in high-technology start-up companies (through Kapor Enterprises, Inc.) and an advisor to entrepreneurs. He was a founding investor of UUNET and Real Networks. He is currently a Director of Groove Networks, founded by Ray Ozzie, the developer of Lotus Notes; Linden Research, founded by Philip Rosedale, former CTO of Real Networks; and Reactivity, Inc.

From 1999 to 2001, Mr. Kapor was a partner at Accel Partners, a leading venture capital firm based in Palo Alto, California. He continues there as a venture consultant.

From 1984 until its dissolution in 1998, Mr. Kapor served as a trustee of the Kapor Family Foundation. Beginning in 1997, he created and endowed the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, a private foundation focused on the intersection of health and the environment, the social impact of information technology, and the removing barriers to full participation in education and the workplace by historically disadvantaged groups.

Mr. Kapor is a trustee of the Institute for Inclusive Work Environments, a San Francisco-based non-profit research organization, whose mission is to enhance equal opportunity in the workplace and support the values of an inclusive society.

Mr. Kapor has written widely about the impact of personal computing and networks on society. He has contributed articles, columns, and op-ed pieces on information infrastructure policy, intellectual property issues, and antitrust in the digital era to publications such as Scientific American, The New York Times, Forbes, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and Communications of the ACM.

Mr. Kapor is married and lives in San Francisco and the Boston area.

See essays by this author:
A Wager on the Turing Test: The Rules
Why I Think I Will Win