Benjamin Mestrallet is the founder and chief executive officer of eXo, a company that helps other companies connect their employees through social intranets, websites and dashboards. Benjamin started the eXo project in 2002 while still a student. He holds an advanced master’s degree in management science from the University of Paris IX Dauphine. In this interview he describes his journey with eXo, which started in France and has expanded to several other countries, and talks about the different facets of the open source industry.
Sramana Mitra: Benjamin, where are you from?
Benjamin Mestrallet: I am from France.
SM: Where did you grow up in France?
BM: I grew up in Africa, actually.
SM: Where exactly?
BM: Djibouti, Madagascar, Togo, Ivory Coast.
SM: When did you come to France?
BM: When I went to college, when I was 17 years old. I first went to Paris and then Bordeaux. That is where I studied computer science. Bordeaux is not only about wine. There is some computer science there as well. That is where I started the project I am still working on 10 years later.
SM: How did you start?
BM: I studied computer science, and I started learning Java and other languages. We had to do an internship for school. So I decided to work on my own company, because I didn’t want [to work] for someone else. Then I started a Java project that was put on open source. We were quickly contacted by a couple of journalists and customers who asked us to work for them. This is how we created the company. The customer at that time was the Department of Defense – Joint Forces Command – in the U.S.
SM: Tell us about that project.
BM: In the enterprise portal world at the time, you had two or three big players like IBM or Plumtree. Plumtree was more in the .NET world, but in the Java world you also had Vignette and the WebLogic portal. When you were creating an application for one [portal], it was not portable to another. There were ways to standardize application development so that you could standardize and deploy it on all those portals. I was the first one, together with two other people, to implement that specification and make it portable.
SM: How did you come up with that?
BM: I wanted to work on something that could be reusable on another project I had. But we ended up just doing this one, because we didn’t have the time to do anything else. The first project was very exciting.