Advisor, Angel Investor, Philanthropist, Software Engineer, Retired Monopolist(!)
Ben made his first “angel” investment in 2003 and his second in 2005. Both were complete disasters. He co-founded DreamBox Learning in 2006 and sold it at a loss to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in 2010. Since 2013, Ben has invested in 16 start-up companies, 2 have been acquired for nice multiples, and the other 14 companies are still going strong (5 software, 5 biotech, 3 hardware, 1 space launch).
Ben spent 14 years at Microsoft (1985-1999), where he worked on OS/2, MS-DOS 6, Windows 95, the Java VM, and MSN. He started the Internet Explorer team in 1994 and led it through the release of IE version 3.0 in 1996. IE 3.0 beat Netscape 3.0 in press reviews and achieved 30% market share by the time IE 4.0 released in 1997. That success emboldened the US Department of Justice to file an anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft in 1998. In addition to that case, Ben was deposed for seven other lawsuits as a Microsoft fact witness, covering product defect, class action certification, copyright, contract, and patent law.
Right out of undergraduate school, Ben spent one year at IBM (1982-1983). Only five months before he started, the US DOJ had withdrawn its anti-trust suit against IBM, after 13 years and ~30 million pages of documents. Joining Microsoft, Ben thought he had escaped “Big Blue.” But his first project lasted 5.5 years: a joint PC operating system development project between Microsoft and IBM.
Ben joined Amazon.com in the fall of 1999, and in the first half of 2000 half the software engineers at the company were on his team. After “creative differences” with CEO/Founder Jeff Bezos, Ben decided to retire at age 40 and focus on his family.
Ben’s work at Microsoft and DreamBox Learning resulted in 22 issued U.S. patents.
Ben and his wife Lisa created the Wissner-Slivka Foundation in 1997 to channel their philanthropic activities (www.slivka.org).
Ben earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science and a B.S. degree in Applied Mathematics from Northwestern University in the early 1980s. Ben also served on the Northwestern University board of trustees from 1998 to 2018.