Loris has specialized expertise in building Open Source companies. Read how he has done it twice.
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?
Loris Degioanni: As you can tell from my accent, I wasn’t born in the United States. I was born in Italy. I was born in a unique part of Italy. I was raised in a little town called Menaggio in one of the mountain valleys connecting Northern Italy and Southern France.
The closest city is Turin, but actually the city on the French border is closer. It was a very small town. I very often say my path to entrepreneurship involved many more steps than your average American kid who studied at MIT or Stanford.
Sramana Mitra: Did you study in Turin then?
Loris Degioanni: Correct. I moved to Turin for university. I did my PhD at a Polytechnic of Turino, which is a technical university in Northern Italy. While there, I specialized in computer networks. The university there is where my career started. My first visible and successful open source project was my Masters thesis project.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after you finished your engineering education?
Loris Degioanni: While I was at the university, I had this successful open source project. My graduation thesis was a project called WinPcap. It was a tool that allowed people to collect information from computer networks in a way that you could only do with expensive tools called network analyzers. It was a project that was started by my Computer Networking professor.
The best way to learn computer networks is to observe them and see what’s happening. Network analyzers were too expensive. We started an ambitious project of creating one for free. I was part of this ambitious project. I started working on this specific component. It’s the one that you use to plug into the network and collect packets.
I decided, together with the professor, to release this as open source and let people around the world use it. This was in 1999. I graduated in 2000. These were very early years of open source. There were no established guidelines or communities. I just released the project and put it online.
Within six months of completing my thesis, there were 80,000 downloads this project. We started getting inquiries from companies, sponsorships from Microsoft, and just a lot of buzz. We managed, for the first time, to let people get access to networks in a way that was completely open and didn’t require expensive software. In a way, we democratized something. I was 20 something.
Sramana Mitra: You were still in Turin then?
Loris Degioanni: Yes, I decided to keep on working and doing my PhD with the same scope. I wanted to continue working on this. I was very excited. It’s part of why I’m an entrepreneur. I really love creating something. I love that people find it useful. It always gratified me a lot. It has always been one of my motivations.
I decided to stay in the university, so I can keep working on the project. I did my PhD for three years. During these three years, I spent most of my time in Turin, but I had a couple of opportunities to travel all around the world to do research or internships. One of the opportunities was in New Zealand. During the second half of 2003, I ended up working for a few months in New Zealand.