The identity space is heating up, especially because of the explosion in cloud services in the market. Ping Identity is at a $100 million annual run rate already. Read the story of Andre’s entrepreneurial journey.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Andre Durand: I was born in Seattle. My father was a newly minted PhD in Math teaching at the university. A year after that, we moved down to Southern California where my father got a job at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I grew up in Santa Barbara.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do for college?
Andre Durand: I went to local public schools. I ended up at the University of California, Santa Barbara where my father taught for the best part of 40 years. I studied first in Biology and finished a degree there with a pre-med emphasis. Then I decided that I wasn’t ready to take the test. I skateboarded around the campus and in an afternoon, signed up or an Economics degree with an emphasis on Accounting. After five years and four summers of school, I graduated with two degrees.
Sramana Mitra: What happened after that? What did you do after you graduated college?
Andre Durand: Here’s where the story begins. I received an offer to work at KPMG in Los Angeles right out of school. I was a staff accountant in the auditing practice. I moved down to Burbank, California and started to commute daily to downtown Los Angeles to do my two years pre-CPA work. On the side, I had hooked up with a developer who was also a Psychology major.
At that time, we were working on a bulletin board. In essence, it was a bulletin board software to do for commercial real estate what the MLS listing services have done for residential real estate. We had taken some bulletin board software that was highly customizable and tweaked it to build an online service. It was the first software venture on the side. This was 1991 to 1993 when I was down in LA. In the summer of 1992, I had developed a relationship with a gentleman who I was trying to sell software that we didn’t actually have. We had a bulletin board but we really didn’t have software.
We just developed a relationship over the phone. I would guess that the gentleman at that time was a good 20 years older than me. He took a liking to what we were doing. At one point, he said, “I’m not sure I’m going stay at my job forever. In my experience, nothing happens until you commit. Maybe someday I’ll quit my job, and if I do that, you should quit your job. We’ll get serious about this software company that you’re spending your weekends and nights working on.” On January 4, 1993, I’m in the bullpen in the 24th floor of the City Court building eating lunch when I got a call from this gentleman.
After pleasantries, he said, “I quit.” There was this long pregnant pause where I was assimilating what it meant and reflecting on a conversation with a person I had never physically met. Suffice it to say, I said, “Okay.” I turned in my resignation. Two weeks later, I moved back to Santa Barbara into the guest bedroom of my parents house. That was the beginning of my first software company in 1993.
Sramana Mitra: What was the software that you were going to be selling?
Andre Durand: We actually invented what, for a very short of time, became known as the online photograph database. Back then, if you use terminal software to dial up to a bulletin board and download a photograph, you would have to shell out from the terminal program to view the photograph. There was no way in DOS to just click a link on a database entry and view a photograph.
We invented both the server software as well as the terminal program that would let you view images in the terminal program without leaving the program. You could search for a car and view an image of a car. It sounds so funny to even be talking about this today. It was pre-www. It was pre-Mosaic. It was the online photograph database. It exploded.
It turns out everyone wanted to build dating sites and build car finder sites and quickly became the provider of the online photograph database. Later on, we went to develop the first Windows client server bulletin board right about the time that the web, Internet, and the browser changed everything. It was a short-lived window for us.
Sramana Mitra: During this time when you were doing this work, what was your business model?
Andre Durand: We were selling software. From literally two weeks in that software company, we shipped our first eight versions of this photograph database if you will. We took credit cards over the phone. This was back at the time when it was hard to get a merchant account. We had completely run out of money. We were down to $300. It was pay rent or close our little office and call it a day.
I took an advertisement on a newsletter that said online photograph database and the phone started ringing. Over the course of probably 15 days, I collected 10 credit card numbers. I didn’t have a merchant account. I ran it through a local Chinese restaurant. I called everyone back and said, “Don’t worry about the $1000 charge, that’s me.” That’s how we got off the ground. We charged for the software. That’s the business model.
Sramana Mitra: You charged $1,000 for the software?
Andre Durand: I was a bit of a used car salesman. I charged whatever I could get for the software.