Some Nostalgic Reminiscences in Honor of Pythian’s 15th

Sep 7, 2012 / By Paul Vallee

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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:

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

15 Responses to “Some Nostalgic Reminiscences in Honor of Pythian’s 15th”

  • Lise Galuga says:

    We really enjoyed reading this brief history of Pythian. We are proud of you and all you’ve accomplished, Paul (and the entire Pythian team)!

    Looking forward to celebrating these achievements with you!

  • Hi Paul, congratulations on 15 years. You created a very special organisation.

    Not sure about your original logo – a pimped Star Wars TIE fighter?

    Cheers

    Patrick

  • Fahd Mirza says:

    Pythian is certainly all about hard work, care, knowledge, respect, and progress. Not only Pythian has loved the data of its customers, it has loved its employees too. Pythian is a magic wand, which turns dust into gold, and this is what I am telling from my experience.

  • Gwen Shapira says:

    Love the stories, love the fact that the heros of the stories are still part of the team, and proud to be part of it myself.

    I also loved the closing quote.
    Pythian surely has genius, power and magic in it. And it goes back all the way to the beginning.

    Awesome stuff.

  • Andre Araujo says:

    Pythian is really an exciting place to work. So many talents and great people! I’m proud to be part of this team and this moment in the company history.

    Thanks for sharing these stories, Paul, and for bringing all of us together!

    Go Pythian!

  • Paul,

    I really enjoyed reading, and took a walk along on the memory lane. It’s been 1 and half year I have been with Pythian, and, to be honest, with all respect, I love working here. Despite of being Remote employee I never fell working remotely, with bunch of excellent DBAs, and managers and peers. The most beautiful thing is people that we are working here in Pythian, believe me, in my career of 13+ years, this is the best people I am working with. Each one pay respect to each other and accept them how they are, and provide space to speak, to listen and to improve where they needed. I wish that, we always keep progressing like the way we are doing at this moment.

  • Eric Grancher says:

    Paul,

    thank you for sharing the story of Pythian, impressive. Knowing some of the emloyees, there must be something very positive!

    cheers and to the plesure of seeing you at OOW
    Eric

  • Pat Breen says:

    Congratulations Paul and the Pythian team! Of course I am very proud of all your successes, and wish you many more to come.

  • Julia Fare says:

    Congratulations and kudos to an illustrious team! Thank you for the history and best wishes for Pythian’s next 15 years.

  • Baskar L says:

    Paul,

    I follow Pythian for the amazing and wonderful People who are all part of this Great Company.

    Congratulations Paul and to the great team of Pythian.

    Thank You,
    Baskar.l,GE.

  • I was Pythian’s 2nd salaried employee, as of October 1999, just after we moved into the first corporate offices on Albert St., although I had been working as an intern before that at 1692 Laurelwood… I was present when the logo was developed, and I (having an graphic design background) was also mystified about what it was supposed to be, until Steve informed me that it was supposed to be a stylized “P G” for Pythian Group. Visual design was never one of Steve’s stong suits; but, I wasn’t about to shout down my boss’ artistic expression! ;-P Nonetheless, I left the company even before Steve, following the birth of my eldest daughter. We’re still friends with Paul & Nicole and our kids play together occasionally. :-) Since then I have become the Vice-president of the Canadian Go Association, and an insurance and investments Advisor with Sun Life Financial Services.

  • Mandy Moore says:

    Congratulations on 15 successful years!

  • David Gill says:

    Little Brother
    Watching from the sidelines, all I can say is that the most important part of it all -is the SMILE that you continue to have had on your face all the way through – and the irresistable enthusiasm that you share and infect the world with.

  • I can’t say that I miss overnight paging duty. :-) But as I look back there’s *allot* that I miss working there. It’s a good company you built there with allot of good people, both professionally and personally. I owe allot to Pythian, the 4 years and half I spent there were very formative. I still impress my colleagues with my MySQL skills.

    After having been through a few organizations (Pythian was my first employer after graduation) I can say it is definitely one that has its “ducks lined up” so to speak, in part thanks to Roger Hatch who did very good work as COO.

    Good job everyone and a special salute to the MySQL teams!

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