Sramana: You were very quick to realize the ability of the Internet to enable entrepreneurship anywhere in the world.
Roman Stanek: In a world with the Internet, you can be an entrepreneur and do whatever you want. This was when I started NetBeans, well before Google. When I told people about stock options, they looked at me like I was crazy because they had never heard of them. I had once visited Silicon Valley and met some investors, so I reached out to them and asked them to fund my Prague-based company. I was told by one investor that he would never fund a company east of Palo Alto.
Sramana: It’s funny you say that; a lot of people still have that mentality here.
Roman Stanek: I know. In today’s perspective, building an Internet startup is completely different from what it was in 1997. I find it funny that some of that mentality still exists. We had 100,000 downloads of our tool set by 1999. That is when I got a call from Sun Microsystems, which ended up purchasing NetBeans.
Sramana: How much did you sell that company for?
Roman Stanek: We sold it for just over $10 million.
Sramana: At this point you had a substantial amount of cash in hand. What did you do next?
Roman Stanek: In 1990 I was making a dollar a day, and I now had substantial amounts of money. Sun bought too many companies, so they had too many managers. On one hand they wanted me to stay on board for a while, but on the other hand they did not have a place for me. I had enough from selling my shares that I was able to go do another startup.
Sramana: The entire landscape was changing around 1999. What was your thoughts for another startup?
Roman Stanek: When I started NetBeans, Java was a new development language. I made the assumption that the language would require development of tools. By the time we sold to Sun, we had put businesses like Borland and Symantec out of the tool development business. In 1997 I had the idea that Java was going to change the world and that they would need developer tools, so I started NetBeans.
In 2001 I had another big idea. I thought that software would stop being monolithic. I thought that companies would be able to build a value chain of software. One company’s software service could call another company’s software service in place of actually owning that software. Today when I want to embed maps into my application, I can just use Google Maps and embed it that way. I don’t have to go out and purchase a mapping application. In 2001 I was envisioning a future world full of what ultimately became known as web services. We built a web service company that was ultimately bought by HP in 2006.