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Scaling a Platform for Device-Agnostic Web Interfaces: Michael Mullany, CEO of Sencha (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Dec 20th 2012

Michael Mullany is the CEO of Sencha, a leading provider of open-source web application frameworks and tools to major enterprises and developers and a leader in HTML5. Michael has held product and executive marketing roles at influential Silicon Valley startups Netscape, Loudcloud, and VMware. At virtualization leader VMware, he served as the vice president of worldwide marketing during its break-out into server computing. He holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Harvard College.

Sramana: Michael, let’s start with the beginning of your story. Who are you and where do you come from?

Michael Mullany: I am originally from Ireland. I came over here for college when I was 18. I loved the country and environment, so I stayed. I got interested in technology in my mid-20s. I moved to California to get my MBA at Stanford, and my first internship was at Netscape in the 1990s. I have been involved in creating new technologies and getting them to market since the mid-1990s.

Sramana: When did you intern at Netscape?

Michael Mullany: It was the summer of 1997 when the company was shipping Communicator 4.0. It was the beginning of the end for Netscape. I got to see a lot of things go wrong in technology companies at the very beginning of my career. I saw companies amass too much technical depth, drive people too hard, and the results of not having a rational product management portfolio.

Sramana: One way to summarize the Netscape problem is to examine what happens when you have a lot of valuation without having revenue.

Michael Mullany: Exactly. The issue was also that they had tons of very focused competitors in each product line that they entered. Their theory was that by being a sole source of Internet technologies of every kind would be to their benefit, and that customers would want to purchase everything from a single source. That certainly was the case in the beginning. Their competition, however, was the various smaller companies which were very focused. They had better scale in their niches, and Netscape got beat.

In the end they got bought for $5 billion in 1998. It was not a complete failure. It was getting picked off by smaller companies. There was a huge amount of competition, and then Microsoft came and choked up the browser market through agreements with PC manufacturers. The company had $400 million run rates before it was sold. However, it was not profitable.

The story of Netscape is a story of very smart people making decisions which all appeared correct when they were made based on market data, yet ultimately, turned out to be the wrong decisions.

Sramana: What did you do after Netscape?

Michael Mullany: I joined Loudcloud, where the goal was to create a dominant cloud computing company. I joined them at the beginning of 2000. It was an exciting vision to put everything to the cloud. The challenge was that the company was too early for its time. It was trying to build a huge cloud computing platform with technologies that were not quite there yet.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Scaling a Platform for Device-Agnostic Web Interfaces: Michael Mullany, CEO of Sencha
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