Sramana: What specifically do you mean when you say application development? Are you talking about web applications or mobile applications?
Derek Roos: Both, actually. When we say applications, we are talking about business applications. The Mendix app platform means web and mobile at the same time. Our vision for applications is that it should not matter how the application is accessed, be it via a phone, tablet or web browser. It should work on any device and it should be tailored to the specific device.
Sramana: You decided to do this as a platform company. Why?
Derek Roos: Our vision for Mendix was to be a platform company and a leader in what we thought was going to be a huge and rapidly growing market.
Sramana: How did you validate this concept? Did you do any kind of customer validation before you built the product, or did you go straight into building the product?
Derek Roos: We absolutely had some validation first. We had to go talk to customers out of necessity. We did not have any venture capital early on, so we had to sell the product in its very early stages. We validated the product very early.
My role in the very early stages of the company was to go out and talk to potential customers. Almost everyone I spoke to thought we were crazy. We were claiming that we could build apps in days without writing code. We promised to deliver an application on time, on budget, exactly according to a specification which had not been defined at the start of the project. Everyone told us that what we were promising was impossible and that what we were describing was the Holy Grail. That told me we were on to something disruptive.
As a technology startup I think you want to be disruptive. You need to look for the edge. That is when you know you are on to something.
Sramana: It sounds like you did selling right from the beginning. That is something that we highly recommend. We absolutely want our entrepreneurs to do as much selling right away as possible.
Derek Roos: I could not agree more. I was still working at another company, and the day I quit that job I started Mendix. I started as the head of marketing and sales with two developers. It was my job to find a customer. I started with the phone book on my lap.
I read a story about a large postal service company in the Netherlands. They were rapidly changing their internal organization, so I figured they needed a flexible platform to build their applications. I called up the CIO and he invited me in for a pitch. I pitched and he said that what I had was a fantastic story that he could not believe. However, he loved it so much that he gave us some money to go and prove what we were talking about. That became our first success story as well as our first reference in the market. All of our other successes were built off that initial opportunity.