Often, it takes a long, long time for a company to hit its stride. Read Allan Wille’s journey of great perseverance.
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?
Allan Wille: I was born here in Canada. Before I turned one, we moved to Switzerland. My father is Swiss and my mother is Canadian. I spent the first 14 years of my life growing up in Switzerland. My dad was a banker. Later on, we moved back to Canada because he wanted to start his own business. That has certainly influenced me.
Sramana Mitra: What age were you when you moved back to Canada?
Allan Wille: I was in grade six. I would have been 13.
Sramana Mitra: You finished your college in Canada then?
Allan Wille: I did high school in Canada outside of Toronto in a place called Oakville. I’ve always been interested in being an architect. Even as a young kid, I always designed logos. I had this love of the creative and also the business side. I started summer businesses. There was always an angle of creativity to it. As a result, I actually did industrial design in university. I loved it. I loved creating and designing products that were amazing to use.
There was something about designing a product that would make a big difference for a lot of people. I studied industrial design in Ottawa. Ottawa, of course, has a tremendous amount of technology. When I was going through university, it was called Silicon Valley North. We had all the major network and infrastructure companies here.
I got pulled into the user interface side of things. I took my design sense that I had learned through industrial design and I started becoming closer and closer to the software side of things. That really excited me. There is something new and massive about it that I was excited about. I actually worked for a number of Ottawa-based companies for a couple of years.
Two of my friends decided that we were going to start a company in 1996. This is my first company. In 1996 if you were in high tech and started a software company, it didn’t take long before venture capital paid attention.
Sramana Mitra: That’s right. It was a very unusual period in history when you could actually finance with PowerPoint slides.
Allan Wille: It was quite fake. Myself and the other two founders at that time were really green behind the ears.
Sramana Mitra: You raised this money in Canada?
Allan Wille: In part, we raised it in Canada. We had Greylock from the States.
Sramana Mitra: What were you going to do? What was the game plan of the business?
Allan Wille: It was very ill-defined. We had developed some Java technology at that time. It was probably the smallest runtime in the world. As such, it was being adopted and talked about by some of the embedded device manufacturers like cellphone manufacturers and in-car applications. At that time, even the technology was somewhat new. It was ill understood. The g- to-market was ill understood. But we had tons and tons of money being thrown at us and we took it. Of course, it produces head count that potentially we didn’t need. It produces a product roadmap that we probably didn’t need.