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Andrew Busey understood the Internet was here to stay before most people did.

In 1993 he formed a company called Virtual City which was based on the notion of online communities and chat. Although he couldn't find any financial backers for the company, Mr. Busey never shelved his idea.

After a stint with Spyglass marketing the first-ever Mosaic browser-which later became the model for popular Internet browsers-Mr. Busey resurrected his Virtual City concept and launched iChat, a venture based on the same principles of chat and community.

Since its launch two years ago, iChat has licensed its chat software to Web giants including iVillage, Progressive Networks, Time Warner's Pathfinder, Universal Studios and Yahoo!.

Quickly becoming the darling of the online advertising world, chat is predicted by some analysts to generate up to $1 billion in ad revenue by the year 2000. Jupiter predicts total online ad revenue to hover around $5 billion by then.

"Chat is a natural for the Internet," said Mr. Busey. "People spend a lot of time chatting online, so it's a perfect way for advertisers to reach very engaged users."

iChat, arguably the biggest provider of chat application software to Web sites, recently moved to much larger headquarters in Austin, Texas, to house its staff of more than 75 employees. The company also has sales offices in Boston, London, Los Angeles and New York.

This year's focus: selling its software to even more sites and targeting the intranet and extranet markets.

"Lots of multinational corporations out there need chat functions so that their employees can keep in constant touch," said Mr. Busey. "Chat allows people to harness the opportunities of the Internet-building community, sharing information and allowing for instant communication."

Kim Cleland

Betcha didn't know: Mr. Busey can see fellow-Austin resident Michael Dell's $10 million mansion from his own balcony in Austin. "I'd like to start meeting with [Michael Dell] once a month, just to shoot the breeze and talk about entrepreneurialism," suggested Mr. Busey, who has yet to meet the

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