Farväl

hingo's picture

It seems January and February were just completely taken up by customer engagements. I don't know if it is due to the recession or what, but we who are selling MySQL are just very busy right now. Towards the end of February I finally got on top of my life again, and on the bright side, I took almost a full week off from work, just to get even with all the overtime I accumulated.

This is old news now, but I still want to make a note of these historical events for my own blog too. If you're like yawn... then don't read it. OTOH, seems like I'm in good company commenting on this this week :-)

So some weeks ago we were hit by the surprising news that Mårten will leave Sun, just a few days after Monty had decided to do so too.

Let's make some comments in ORDER BY DESC chronological order.

While Monty's departure surprised nobody, Mårten's surprised me. Of course it is not unusual that such things happen, but Mårten had at least me convinced he was in it for real. The publicly quoted departure email sheds some light:

It's a personal decision that I made without anyone influencing me one way or the other (except perhaps my wife).

My personality is such that I love the challenge of an unproven value proposition, and I love being the top policymaker,

So one way or another, at some point towards the end of last year, he probably changed his mind after having been first genuinely excited to be part of Sun. Maybe it was just death by meetings. Maybe it was frustrating for the first time in a decade to have a set of bosses whom you now have to explain things to and wait for approvals - even worse, those bosses were changing in re-org, so then you have to convince new people just to get to the point you already established with your previous boss. Maybe there was some real disagreement in policy - as could be hinted by the "I love being the top policymaker". I simply wouldn't know - of course if I knew I couldn't write this kind of speculative blog anyway. In any case, Mårten was very professional about this. He has never said anything bad about working as part of Sun, whether before or after this decision was public. Maybe he did so with his closest aide's but not to a wider audience. This is what is expected when you are a leader, yet it creates the contradictory question: So if everything is so fine, why are you leaving us? Of course, if I was in his shoes and even half as smart as Mårten is, it wouldn't take long to ask yourself: Heck, I'm rich now, if this isn't fun anymore, why should I keep doing it? You've certainly done your part Mårten, you do deserve a break if that's what you want.

And I can verify that while working for Sun certainly is interesting, it isn't as fun as working for this sexy startup called MySQL Ab. There's a lot of bureacracy to live with, a lot of weird things that you don't really understand the point of, things that only can - and always do - happen in a big corporation. It isn't that difficult to understand why someone would choose to leave. (No, I'm not considering it, I didn't own anything of MySQL Ab, so I still need a day job and as day jobs go, Sun is still pretty good.)

I just want to say this about Mårten: Being a person interested in Open Source business models, Mårten is my hero. In my mind Mårten is the number one Open Source CEO. Sure, Red Hat was bigger than MySQL Ab in market cap and revenues, but they had several CEOs. And to some extent I consider a Linux distribution business being more obvious to invent than an Open Source product business - on the other hand in the 90's it wasn't obvious at all you could sell Linux, Red Hat invented that too. And of course, we should note that from what I've heard and read, Mårten didn't personally invent either of MySQL's main business models. (Dual licensing was in use when he joined and MySQL Enterprise Mårten himself attributes to an initiative by Zack Urlocker.) But still, the CEO is always the CEO.

...

Monty leaving Sun was just a matter of time. His friend and co-founder was quick to resign already last summer, but Monty was more determined to find a meaningful role in the worlds biggest Open Source company. In the end he decided he can do more outside of Sun than inside - and I'm sure that is true. I'm myself struggling to discover the right "rythm" of working efficiently in the giant Sun machinery, I am certain Monty would have been at odds with it no matter how hard he tried.

The fun part of Monty's departure is that he intends to continue working on MySQL and in particular the Maria storage engine. One discussion point is that MySQL Ab's growth nearly starved the external MySQL developer community in the process (most community members got hired, plus some other reasons I won't go into here). Now with Monty himself outside of Sun, plus some developers who decided to follow him into the new company, and all the independent community members we indeed have outside of Sun already, that should definitively not be a problem anymore. On the contrary, now we will see for real whether Sun can keep up with its own community. I don't see it as a big threath yet, but let's just say I really hope someone in Sun management is paying attention to this, I'd hate to see MySQL end up like OpenOffice - and I don't believe it will.

An interesting aspect of Monty's new company is that he says:

Monty Program Ab will be a true open source company, with the additional goal of being a smaller family oriented company (10-30 employees) where everyone can be owners of the company, where we care about our employees and strive to have fun together and share the profit we create. You can find more about this at: http://zak.greant.com/hacking-business-models

I had the privilege of talking about those ideas also with Zak Greant some years ago when he was visiting Finland and they had just written this with Monty. I intend to write some comments about that document in a separate post, but for now, it will be interesting to follow how the ideas apply into practice. (I believe Zak's own company - while practicing those ideals - is still a one man company, so there isn't much to analyze yet, unfortunately.)

Meanwhile, out of the "extra-curricular" activities Monty listed in his departure post, it is cool that he is investing in so many interesting startups, giving them a chance. Too bad I'm too comfortable/coward to become an entrepreneur, maybe now would be a good time to seek funding :-) But personally I can't wait how his database driven restaurant will work out! He promises a discount to database developers. I guess since I'm in sales, that doesn't apply, hehe :-) OTOH, selling MySQL is such a pleasure - and lucrative! - I guess I owe Monty a dinner instead!

***

Finally, while Mårten and Monty are among the rock stars we often write about, I'd like to extend a thought also to the many others who have left the MySQL team since after the acquisition. As I said, I consider MySQL to be the success story of Open Source business models so far (everybody cannot be a Linux distribution) and like we concluded above, it wasn't Mårten or any other single person who brilliantly deviced the success of MySQL. Many key and long time people left quite quickly after the Sun acquisition, others more recently. While from Sun's point of view it is certainly a loss, from an Open Source point of view these people will probably be a valuable infusion of unprecedented experience into the ecosystem.

I could argue that a subset of building a successful Open Source business is to build a successful business. In that respect it is widely agreed that the MySQL sales organization was an excellently tuned machinery, led to an almost scientific accuracy.

The book "The MySQL Story: A brief history for MySQLers, Part I 1997-2007" details the early history of a dedicated MySQL Sales organisation, which can apparently be summarized as "Larry Stefonic, joined by some great people he knew: Joe Pendleton, Kerry Ancheta, Patti Curtin, MAtt Fredrickson, Christen Spangenberg...". But I was a late comer to the party, to me Larry was just a silly guy based in Japan, whom I met in a bus in Orlando.

The MySQL Sales organization was eventually led to its ultimate perfection by Mark Burton. While talking to the Scandinavian MySQLrs was like we had been childhood friends (I knew none of them before joining), I didn't meet Mark much personally but even from a distance I felt a respect that there was some brilliance to his ways leading sales meetings and such. Eventually, just shortly before he would resign, I had the privilege of spending one day with Mark on a customer visit in Stockholm. My last memory of him is leaving him in a taxi, explaining to his sales team the technical differences of Extract-Load-Transform tools vs migration tools. This was Mark, a senior executive, very strong to the point of being scientific in developing the sales process, but better yet, still in command of going deeply into the technical substance questions. Personally - being an engineer - I've always respected those of my managers who can show a deep technical excellence, in addition to the qualities you actually need to have for being a good manager.

Just to make this point clear, as an engineer, I didn't really appreciate the point of sales managers before. At best, I thought they were just executing sales transactions of this nice product engineers had made that obviously was more or lessing selling itself, at worst they were like those friends you have who call you to sell some cosmetics as part of a pyramid scheme. But having worked in MySQL Sales myself, I've learned so much about sales and all the value it brings to the organization and customers too.

After leaving Sun, I've spotted Mark becoming chairman of Zend Technologies (the creators of PHP) and member of Board of Directors at Infobright (a very sexy datawarehouse storage engine for MySQL). I'm sure this is a good example of how the Open Source business community actually benefits more than we at Sun lose from these departures. Open Source is still a quite new business, there isn't many places you can go to recruit people with any experience with it. MySQL certainly couldn't in its time - no, these are the people who invented it.

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