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The Waterfox wunderkind

Words: Jack Flanagan

Alex Kontos has taken on the internet browser behemoths with the creation of Waterfox – and he’s eschewed Silicon valley to establish his company in Jersey AMONG MODERN FAIRY tales – the personal assistant

who becomes the global brand, the single mother who writes a bestselling series of novels – it is the child who, by toying with lines of code, starts his own successful company and becomes a business leader, which is perhaps one of the most inspiring. Alex Kontos was one such child. At just 12, he tentatively began to experiment with programming, inventing small games and apps. By the time he was 16, however, his hobby had graduated into an obsession and he crafted an advanced web browser. He dubbed it ‘Waterfox’ – presumably in elemental opposition to Mozilla’s popular internet browser, Firefox. “It started out as a hobby, but gradually I got more and more into it,” Kontos, now 20, says of Waterfox. “The web was new to me, and I was interested in building my own computers. I especially wanted to learn how to make computers run faster. Then I discovered that the software we use has a long way to go before it can make use of all the hardware that is available to it. That’s when I found out about 34-bit computers, source code and the potential for faster versions of Firefox.” Kontos developed Waterfox with the aid of an online community, and after some initial work the project began to develop with the encouragement of those who valued high speed and efficiency in a way that mirrored his own. “I posted it on an online forum, basically saying: ‘check what I made and let me know what you think’. People were amazed that there was someone who was building this. It made it so that every time Firefox released an update, I had to release one too.” It was Kontos’s father, himself a programmer, who encouraged his son’s early interest in programming. But it’s still a leap from a ‘pet project’ to conceiving the browser as a business. Last year in March, Kontos attended Pitch@Palace – a regular event created by HRH The Duke of York

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to recognise the best digital startups – as both a coder and a businessman. Kontos, encouraged by the careers team at the University of York, where he studies Electronic Engineering, won the Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award. But the event provided him with far more than simple prestige. At the event Kontos met Andrew Crossland, a veteran digital entrepreneur. According to Kevin Taylor, a close colleague and now the CEO of Waterfox’s managing company Storm Technologies, Crossland was immediately attracted to both the idea of a new, competitive browser, and its savvy entrepreneur. “It was obvious that here we had a very clear guy. The pitch was very convincing, and showed a very competent and capable entrepreneur,” says Taylor. “Often in these pitches, you see the entrepreneurs overwork and try too hard to apply a gloss to their product, when really investors want to see what’s underneath. In Alex’s case, the gloss wasn’t there, and Crossland saw what he wanted to see.”

FROM DREAM TO REALITY Crossland and Kontos immediately began plotting a business course for Waterfox. At the time of the pitch, Kontos’s platform had three million downloads, with users in 180 countries out of a possible 194. Kontos remembers the initial conversation about turning Waterfox into a business as a nervous one. “I was a bit cautious, a bit suspicious – it was all a bit too good to be true. But the more I sat down, the more I saw the infrastructure [around Waterfox] that they were building.” Crossland, Taylor and a new team had to first solve the problem of monetising the browser. They created a project – a search engine, Storm – and created a space within the business in which Waterfox and Storm could affiliate with charities. These charity partners can utilise the browser with their own branding – ‘white

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BL Magazine Issue 39 July/August 2015  

Our summer issue of BL Magazine in which we review the main regulatory changes affecting the Channel Islands, take a look at the challenges...

BL Magazine Issue 39 July/August 2015  

Our summer issue of BL Magazine in which we review the main regulatory changes affecting the Channel Islands, take a look at the challenges...