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Unicorn in The Making: Ross Mason, Founder of MuleSoft (Part 2)

Posted on Sunday, Dec 21st 2014

Sramana Mitra: Were you working with other clients? Of course, you had deep insight into the problem with your experience but did you also work with other clients at that time?

Ross Mason: The way it came about was in 2003, I decided to leave the company I was working at and go traveling through South America to Australia. Before I went, one of the partners called me and said, “I heard you just left. I know you want to go traveling, but do you want to earn some money before you go? We have a project we’d like you to do.” I had a couple of months, so I figured why not.

They essentially were building a campaign management system for charity donations. This was back in the days of early SMS. The idea was you could donate right here and right now at the spur of a moment. It seemed like a pretty interesting model to play around with. I helped them build the system that would process these transactions. They could come through email or through SMS. They also have follow-up marketing campaigns. They had a way of defining how the campaign would behave over time.

I built that for them but I told them I was going to build this other thing under the covers, which was MuleSoft that was going to utilize this architectural concept. I was going to open source it but the IP would be assigned to me. They were happy with that. For the next three months, I built this donations campaign management system for this company and Mule at the same time. By the way, it almost killed me because I ended up building way more software than I was planning to. The result was worth it.

Sramana Mitra: How much were they paying you for this project?

Ross Mason: It was basically the equivalent of a four-month salary in two months. In the region of £40,000.

Sramana Mitra: In that four months, your first version of Mule was ready and you put it out in the open source domain?

Ross Mason: Yes. I did it right towards the end of the project. The project was registered on SourceForge on April 20.

Sramana Mitra: Do you remember who were the early adopters of the Mule code?

Ross Mason: I don’t remember the early guys. I released this open source and I went traveling. I went quiet for a few months.

Sramana Mitra: But the code was live on SourceForge?

Ross Mason: Yes. While I was traveling, I didn’t have any connectivity. The whole time I was writing notes of stuff I wanted to do around the platform. Every three of four weeks, I could get to an Internet cafe to check email. I remember telling my wife, “I don’t know if anyone’s using this.” It was getting downloads, but I wasn’t getting questions on the forums.

When I got to Australia, I had extra time, so I started investing more into it. I started doing more releases. Even then, I wasn’t getting any feedback. There wasn’t much happening in the forums. That went on for about nine months. I was just convinced people weren’t using it. At this point, I was enjoying building the software. I found other uses of it but I didn’t feel that it was getting traction.

It wasn’t until probably six months later that I realized that people were using it and were getting results with it. They just weren’t having any problems. If people like what you’re doing, they don’t necessarily tell you but they go and use it.

Sramana Mitra: That’s interesting. All this while that people were using your open source software, you were living on savings?

Ross Mason: In the beginning, I was living on travel money. Then I went to work at Atlassian to do the project management software. I worked with them in Australia. I was employee number six there. I didn’t get any soft options. I continued building with them. They were pro-open source. They liked the fact that I was running an open source project. That’s one of the reasons why they wanted me on the team working with them. I continued working on the project in my spare time while working with Atlassian.

Sramana Mitra: We do cover Atlassian. We know the story quite well. It sounds like it aligns very well with your travel. How long did that go on?

Ross Mason: I was there for about six months. Quite honestly, my wife had a Master’s in Law but she couldn’t practice in Australia. I really loved Atlassian but in terms of remuneration, I had to find something that was going to bring more money in so we could go traveling while we were in Australia.

There was a couple of companies who kept courting me even after I was working at Atlassian. Eventually, I went to one of them. There, I worked my days with that company. In the evenings, I’d work on MuleSoft. I did that for a year and a half. Then we started to get traction and hit some bigger names. I realized it was time to head back home and create a company around this software.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Unicorn in The Making: Ross Mason, Founder of MuleSoft
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