Sramana Mitra: Was it bootstrapped? How did you get this off the ground?
Mike Morris: It was self-funded. The majority came from the Chairman Jack Hughes. He was the Founder and Chairman of Tallan. He had a lot of capital. There were other people, myself included, who invested in the early stages of Topcoder. To be honest with you, our business model was very inconclusive.
We, as technologists, knew that if we built this community fo the best developers out there, there would be a ton of value in that. If we had gone to a VC and explained our business model, we wouldn’t have gotten any funding. Today we might because the virtual model is hot. We knew the value of good developers and if we could build a community of them globally, there would be a value on top of that.
Sramana Mitra: How long did it take you to launch it?
Mike Morris: We officially launched in April of 2001. Before we launched the company, we had built it as a side project. It was a small team that came from the Tallan group. We just built it in that bootstrapped mode.
Sramana Mitra: When you launched it, how long did it take for the community to actually start participating in a meaningful way?
Mike Morris: It was quick. Within four months, we got pretty good traction. It was clear to us that it was growing. We did a couple of things. One is, we went to universities and followed the ACM model. We didn’t create chapters necessarily, but we recruited people in the Computer Science department to post banners and tell people about these things. We gave them budget to run a party and bring people in to tell them about Topcoder. We did it at either colleges we had relationships with or the best technology schools in the US.
We tapped into that network of ACM competitors and international Olympiad competitors. It started to spread through that network. After the first year, we ran a competition called the Topcoder Open. We brought in the best competitors for that year. That was a key thing; this concept of a profile. Every time you competed, you got statistics. Just like an athlete, you had a profile that said how good you are.
We did very rudimentary versions of that in the beginning. Then some of our competitors said, “We can give you a much better algorithm for this.” We modeled this after the International Chess Foundation. We felt that it was a successful community. The common language there was chess and for us, the common language would be code. After about a year of running this, we realized that we were successful because people from Russia knew the other people from the United States. The person from MIT knew the people from Duke because they had all participated in other competitions where they ran into each other.