Bryan Cheung is the CEO and co-founder of Liferay. Drawing on his technical experience, understanding of customer needs, and a passion for end users, Bryan leads Liferay in meeting its commitment to deliver focused and effective business solutions to its customers and its community. He graduated from the University of California Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and is a frequent keynote speaker at industry events such as JavaOne, JAX Asia and Europe, and Open Source Meets Business.
Sramana: Let’s go back to the beginning of your story. Where do you come from?
Bryan Cheung: I was born in Los Angeles in 1977. I have lived in California pretty much all my life. I went to school in Southern California. When it came time to go to college, I was choosing between Berkeley and UCLA and my parents told me that Berkeley was a great school and would give me a lot of opportunities, so I took their advice and went there.
I explored a lot of different fields. My personal leanings are on the humanities side, but I always did well in math and science classes. Berkeley was well known for its computer science program, and I ended up majoring in computer science because I felt it was more practical when it came to career options. There was also an intellectual interest that it provided in terms of coming up with elegant solutions to different problems, whereas humanities often came down to two people’s differing opinions.
Sramana: What did you do after college?
Bryan Cheung: During college I thought about a lot of different options in terms of how I was going to spend the rest of my life. I graduated in 1999, which was the height of the dot-com bubble. Most of the people around me were starting companies or joining startups and making tons of money. New graduates were being offered cars as signing bonuses. I got caught up in that, but I was not sure which of the many opportunities I wanted to explore. I had done an internship with Andersen Consulting and I really liked the idea of being able to touch a lot of different industries, so I started may career with their global CIS group out of Palo Alto in 1999.
Sramana: So you had a firsthand view of dot-com events.
Bryan Cheung: I did. I stayed there for six months and left because it bored me to tears. Their business model is very process driven. They hire smart people out of college and then put them into a process where they hope to get dependable results from a strong average. They hire college grads and put them all through the same training program followed by engagements at client sites where there is not always enough work to go around.
I felt that it was a crucial time and things were moving too slowly where I was. I was recruited to work for another company which was an Internet-based consulting company. These consulting companies were seeing incredibly ridiculous valuations, but they were also doing interesting work and moving at the speed of the bubble. I joined a small company called Groundswell which was based in San Francisco. That moved changed my life, but not because of the company itself.
Sramana: What changed your trajectory?
Bryan Cheung: Brian Chan is the creator of Liferay portal, and I met him at Groundswell. I remember that he was a very scrappy-looking guy who wore a five-year-old t-shirt. He was very blunt, and initially I did not like him much. We ended up working on a bunch of projects together and spent a lot of time together. Groundswell was a good example of how to not run a company. They had $50 million in private equity capital, and they burned through $42 million in the course of three years. Most of that was spent on real estate leases and salaries for VPs and account managers. Brian and I saw that, and we both felt it was irresponsible to spend the money until you have someone paying the bills.