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Joe kraus doesn't mind when people call him phone boy.

When Excite was founded in 1993 out of a Cupertino, Calif., garage, Mr. Kraus was the only one of the six recent Stanford grads with a non-tech background. He took to the phones, trying to drum up financial backing.

"I would talk to anyone who would listen," Mr. Kraus said, of his cold-calling skills that earned him dual titles of phone boy and founding president.

Flash forward to 1998 -- Architext Software has long since changed its name to Excite, Mr. Kraus having stepped aside in January 1996, so that George Bell, former senior VP of Times Mirror Magazines, could be CEO.

"We knew from the very beginning we'd have to bring in adult supervision," Mr. Kraus said, noting that Mr. Bell was his mentor.

Mr. Kraus is now senior VP in a jack-of-all-trades position.

"It's this in-between-the-seams glue role," he said, that ends up touching everything from marketing and dealmaking to finding out how consumers perceive the Excite brand.

In the last year, Mr. Kraus has helped steer Excite through uncharted territory, including adding free e-mail, chat, content channels and personalization options.

Excite's rapid growth hasn't erased Mr. Kraus' startup memories though. He recalls stealing office chairs from Oracle Corp., brainstorming over cheap burrito meals and heating the garage with a clothes dryer. The founders, who met while living in the same freshman dorm at Stanford, started hammering out a business plan in their senior year. He said he never considered anything but a startup.

"At Stanford, you can't help but be deluged with the entrepreneurship flowing through the valley," he said. "It's cool to be in a two-person company struggling to get your product out the door."

Betcha didn't know: Mr. Kraus plays drums in a funk band called Where's Julio? with fellow Excite founders Ryan McIntyre and Mark Van Haren. They performed at a Los Angeles Internet World party in January.

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