Some Nostalgic Reminiscences in Honor of Pythian’s 15th
Sep 7, 2012 / By Paul Vallee
In honor of our fifteenth anniversary, I have assembled a few nostalgic items from our earliest years in business.
On September 7, 1997 I went to the Ottawa U public library to come up with some names for the company Steve Pickard and I wanted to found the next morning. The goal was to choose the company name, register the dot-com, and then go incorporate it. I really felt that I lucked out when I discovered the word Pythian, which means “about the Pythia“. The Pythia was the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece. (Remember that we launched as an Oracle ecosystem services company, and our other practices came afterwards with MySQL launching in 2002 and SQL Server launching in 2005).
I was also delighted that the Pythian Games were also hosted by the Pythia, and those were the most important ancient games after the Olympics. They were also the very most intellectual of the games of the ancient world what with competitions of poetry and musical excellence.
Most of all, I was excited that the dot-com was in fact available (since my other possible names for the company were nowhere near as good).
So the morning of September 8, 1997, Steve and I met, picked the name, registered Pythian.com, and walked over to Industry Canada where the person at the counter smiled at us and handed us a form. And just like that, Pythian was incorporated. As my first item of nostalgia, here’s a scan of the original, one-page, hand-written articles of incorporation on the baseline form… We did not involve any lawyers or accountants, and that address that Steve listed served as our offices and headquarters until summer 1999.
For a sense of what I looked like on that day, here’s a picture of me and my sweetie Nicole taken just a few weeks before then. I was 25 years old:
Incidentally, Pythian was funded through what I often jokingly refer to as the “abject poverty funding method”. I had no income whatsoever from early 1998 through March of 2000. Instead I split only the income that my partner Nicole brought home from her (then) temporary job as an editor. Thank you very much, Nicole, I will always be grateful to you for believing in me and in Pythian.
Although we incorporated in September of 1997, at first Steve and I both contracted for our existing customers under the company banner as we were saving enough to get started. My client was TMI Communications, which through mergers and renamings has now turned into LightSquared and curiously, they are a customer of Pythian’s today! Here’s a link to my resume at the exact moment Pythian existed, but we had not yet started to build the company in case you’re curious!
What I did with my time was recruit Michael Abbey and write the very first draft of the Offering that would eventually make Pythian famous. You can have a look at that link if you are curious about what our vision for the service was as of late spring 1998. Steve and I also worked on the first draft of our logo, and I happen to have this ancient scratchpad we worked on to create it. Can you guess what it was meant to be?
By the fall of 1998, we had our first clients, and on March 1 1999, Pythian publically launched its service offering. By then, we had worked out the kinks and lined up three early customers with quote support and a great launch partner in Red Creek Communications, a VPN hardware manufacturer that was eventually purchased by Sonicwall and then by Cisco. Interestingly, at the time of Pythian’s launch, there was no such thing as a client/vendor Extranet use case for VPN technology. We were as far as we (or Red Creek) knew the first to adopt that technology for that purpose, and the very word “Extranet” did not exist at the time. Here are some cool related links:
- Pythian’s web site as it would have looked on the day of our launch (It was actually scraped a bit later; unfortunately our logos did not survive.)
- Our launch press release
- Our supporting press release from Red Creek (We saw the future: “RedCreek Technology Enables New Internet-Based Industry” and was that ever true!)
As I was mentioning, my very first recruit after starting Pythian was Michael Abbey, who by then was already a highly recognized Oracle Press author, having co-written Oracle A Beginner’s Guide, Tuning Oracle, and Datawarehousing with Oracle. Thus began our long history of recruiting outlier talent and making our primary business differentiator the fact that we make that talent available to our customers and amazingly, available on-call.
I dug up the old emails I wrote to a confidant to explain how excited I was to have Michael join the team:
“I have recruited one of the best DBAs in the world to provide our remote dba
services – this guy is famous, written 6 books on oracle, to give you an
idea. We should have no problem selling these services – if we can’t sell
with this guy, then the business model doesn’t work, period.”
Much has changed in our business since then, but this strategy remains 100% intact… I wrote that in July, 1998.
For a quick illustration of how we’ve always promoted our special talent as the heart of our business, this picture featuring our then Vice-President of Sales Wendy Knight-Agard was taken at a New York New Media Association event in 2000. No, she’s not selling books. She’s selling THE AUTHOR of those books! (Note: You might find it easier to guess what the original Pythian logo was meant to be based on the final revision that is in this picture… Then again, maybe not!)
Trivia: We signed on a customer at that conference, Netcreations, and that customer was eventually acquired by Return Path. Return Path remains a customer to this day; however, they are not our longest-standing customer. That honor belongs to Palm Coast Data, who we first signed on in the spring of 1999 and has been a customer continuously ever since.
As we made progress building out our service, we needed to hire some people. Our first service delivery team was made up of Michael Abbey, our very first full-time salaried employee Greg Leger (Michael started out as a contractor), Babette Turner, Joel Laforest, my co-founder Steve Pickard, and myself. Of that group, Greg, Babette, and Michael are all here today (along with me as well). Steve Pickard left the company in 2005. I am enormously proud of what we six got done through 2005.
We needed a quick and dirty index of all the tickets we were working on, and trello.com was not available yet, so in an early example of agile development we took a sharpie to a whiteboard and made this ancient ticket allocation whiteboard that we saved even after our team became much larger than six:
That’s Greg Leger and I in a picture taken about an hour ago!
To everyone who reads this through to the end, thank you for your indulgence as I dredge through these nostalgic memories of our first years scraping by. Believe me, no-one knows better than I that this company was built through the blood, sweat, tears, and countless sleepless nights of many. It is certainly not the work of a single person, least of all me.
To everyone who has been a part of Pythian, either as a client or as an employee, please know that I am enormously grateful for the multitude of talents and the depth of trust that has been placed in us. This company is the materialization of a vision that we have held a long time: that of creating an institution that is the employer of choice of the world’s leading specialists in data infrastructure management, and as a result, that of creating an institution that is the vendor of choice for the world’s most valuable data infrastructure.
The fact that you have believed in this vision, helped it grow and mature, and even claimed it as your own is something that I find incredibly humbling. Thank you.
To budding entrepreneurs who might trip across this post, I leave you with this quote:
‘But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’
-W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951
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