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Unicorn in The Making: Ross Mason, Founder of MuleSoft (Part 4)

Posted on Tuesday, Dec 23rd 2014

Sramana Mitra: Ann actually told me that the person who first mentioned MuleSoft to her was an industry analyst from the banking sector who had heard that several banks were using MuleSoft. He told her about you and that’s when she started investigating and liked what she saw.

Ross Mason: I’m actually trying to remember his name. I had a very funny interaction with him. He mentioned that to Ann without ever speaking to me directly. I think Ann brokered a meeting with him. I think he was interested because he was hearing this name pop up and didn’t know anything about me. I stepped in and he was sitting at the restaurant. I went down to sit next to him. He looked quite confused at first. I said, “Hi, I’m Ross.” He just looked at me a bit. I looked so young and he was expecting someone so much older. He was completely confused that I was the guy that was creating this software.

Sramana Mitra: In 2006, how much did you raise?

Ross Mason: We did $4 million.

Sramana Mitra: In May of 2006, you’ve got money. What happens next?

Ross Mason: What happened was I started to think what kind of company this is going to be. What are we selling? How do we represent ourselves? How do we get noticed? How do we continue to manage an open source ecosystem and have a commercial entity behind it? There’s not many companies that have done that really well. There is a tight line you have to walk everyday. It’s a balance between keeping your community happy but also sharing real value as a commercial product.

Eventually, we came up with a commercial open source model in which you maintain the original open source projects as open source and you keep adding value to that, but we held back all the enterprise-level features. If you need security, reliability, maneuverability, and visibility, those are in our enterprise products. You can go a long way on our free products just trying stuff out, but if you want to run it in an enterprise-grade environment, you need to talk to use to get the commercial offering.

Sramana Mitra: How many customers did you have at this point?

Ross Mason: It was fun because we closed four or five fairly quickly just because I had some relations. It takes a while because this is an enterprise play. It took us a long time to really figure out the engine and how to reach these people. The first couple of years of the company, we had decent growth but you could tell it wasn’t going to be anything explosive until we’d really made a name for ourselves.

Sramana Mitra: How was the user base growing during this time?

Ross Mason: Much stronger. We literally went from 15,000 registrations to 50,000 in a matter of 18 months. Then, double that again the next year. We’ve got pretty good developer marketing. We got pretty good at developer events and really getting the word out there.

Sramana Mitra: That sounds like very solid developer community growth. Did you have a sense of what percentage of this 50,000 users were enterprise customers who would actually monetize?

Ross Mason: We didn’t back then. That was probably a mistake. We should have put in more data metrics in place. You’re at the scale where you can invest in that. It took many years later to put that infrastructure in place as we got a lot bigger.

Sramana Mitra: You were off-the-cuff during that time?

Ross Mason: To be honest with you, there was a lot of off-the-cuff.

Sramana Mitra: The $4 million you raised lasted you for a couple of years so that you could get all this stuff figured out?

Ross Mason: We raised the $4 million and then we raised another $12.5 million. I think we closed the $4 million in June. We launched the company in November. By February, we ran a user conference in San Francisco. There was a lot of interest in what we were doing. At that conference, a lot more people came than we expected, and also lots of investors came. Out of meetings with those investors at that conference, we raised another round very quickly in February.

Sramana Mitra: What was your physical location at this point? Did you already move to San Francisco?

Ross Mason: No. I’m sure you and Ann might have spoken about this. If she ever funds a technology, you’ve got to make sure the founder is where the company is going to be. My wife is Maltese. She had a business in Malta. I was living there and working remotely, which is fine when you’re building open source software. It doesn’t work so well when you’re trying to build a company. At that point, I was still commuting. Looking back, that’s probably one of my big regrets—not moving here on day one. I’ve joked with Ann that she should have forced my hand on that one.

Sramana Mitra: But she didn’t. Very few venture capitalists in this area would let you do what you did.

Ross Mason: It was 2006. In the open source space, there’s a bit of belief that you built this software globally and it gets distributed. That’s how the new era of open source companies would work.

Sramana Mitra: That’s true. There’s a lot more virtual company building going on right now.

Ross Mason: The software can be virtual if you like but the core management team can’t. You can’t build a culture that way.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s not go into that. I think you can. There are sizeable companies that are being built with a distributed structure.

Ross Mason: MuleSoft needed me there more often than I was.

Sramana Mitra: You eventually moved to San Francisco in 2007?

Ross Mason: No, in 2009. We lived through the financial slump in 2008. In 2009, we brought on a new CEO. When we talked about what the business needed, we came to the conclusion that I needed to be in San Francisco.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Unicorn in The Making: Ross Mason, Founder of MuleSoft
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