The Browser Company, a New York-based software startup being considered a potential competitor to the popular Google Chrome browser, recently raised a $5 million seed round from a number of Silicon Valley heavyweights. This group of high-profile investors included Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn, Ev Williams of Medium, Akshay Kothari of Notion, Dylan Field of Figma and Jason Warner of GitHub.
By building a browser that incorporates the more flexible features seen in modern web apps, The Browser Company is not seeking to replace Chrome but rather to target a portion of the Chrome userbase that could be better served by the startup’s customization options. As stated on the company’s website, they are building “a browser equipped for the way we use the internet in 2020.” Although there has been rapid innovation in software and the way we use the internet, the browser itself has not evolved much from the early days of the internet. Thus, the company is building a modernized browser with faster speeds, better collaboration tools, and the ability to work across a wide variety of devices, versions and locales. The browser’s backend is based on Chromium, an open-sourced project maintained by the Chromium Project started by Google in 2008. Chromium based browsers have the advantage of building upon the project’s source code while avoiding the complexity of building the foundational elements.
The company’s founder and CEO Josh Miller previously founded another startup called Branch in 2011 as a student at Princeton that was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $15 million. Branch, a link-sharing service and discussion platform, originally raised money from influential investors including the co-founders of Twitter and Buzzfeed. The Browser Company’s co-founder, Hursh Agrawal, was also a co-founder of Branch. Miller is currently an investor at Thrive Capital, the venture capital firm founded by Josh Kushner. In addition to his entrepreneurial experience, Miller served as the White House’s first Director of Product during the Obama administration.
With less than ten employees, The Browser Company is remaining under the radar for now and avoiding getting too specific in describing its eventual product. The company’s goal is to begin beta testing the software in late 2020. There are a number of browser startups seeking to upend Chrome’s dominance in the space, many with more sizable resources. The Browser Company has ambitions of being a disruptive force, or as Miller describes it, becoming the “Tesla of web browsers.” Building upon the auto analogy, incumbent players such as Chrome and Safari could be viewed as the Toyotas or Hondas of web browsers in that they are practical, simple and reliable products. The lack of innovation in web browser technology relative to the overall level of innovation in internet technology that has occurred over the years is partly attributable to the fact that the revenue models of companies such as Google are built on search ad revenue, which favors a one-size-fits-all browser design.
Google Chrome is by far the dominant market player in the web browser universe, holding approximately 68% of the market share. Competitors like Firefox and Internet Explorer trail Chrome in users by significant margins, with Mozilla Firefox holding around 8% market share as the second largest browser. Despite its dominant position with billions of active users, Google Chrome’s dominance is vulnerable to issues stemming from its lack of customization options, privacy concerns with its data collection practices, and the resource-heavy nature of having a one-size-fits-all product that slows down the browser. These weaknesses have created openings for a number of startups to jump in with improvements. Some alternatives that have gained ground include Vivaldi, Brave, Microsoft Edge, Torch, Opera and Epic Privacy Browser. The majority of these alternative browsers are based on Chromium. For example, Microsoft Edge released enhancements in January 2020 that features integration with Office 365 and comes with enhanced privacy and security features.
Despite the uncertain economic outlook resulting from the pandemic and the coronavirus lockdowns, venture capital fundraising levels remained steady through the second quarter of 2020. While overall dealmaking and exit activity slowed during Q2 2020, the venture capital ecosystem exhibited resilience. However, a breakdown of the numbers demonstrates that fundraising disproportionately went toward late-stage mega-deals rather than early-stage financings. Over half of all VC fundraising value for the first half of 2020 was supported by the ten largest funds. It is particularly noteworthy that VC mega-funds, defined as raising more than $500M, have closed over 100 deals so far in 2020 and are on track to surpass the total 2019 deal count.
The long-term implication of the COVID-19 disruptions leading to an extended economic decline is that early-stage VC fundraising activity might take a while to rebound as VC funds instead allocate their resources toward late-stage deals viewed as safer bets. In Q2 of 2020, angel activity remained on par with prior years but first-time financings and completed seed deals markedly declined.