Posted on Tuesday, Jul 20th 2021
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When we spoke with Founder Mark Lancaster in 2014, very few technology companies had been built from the UK. ARM and Autonomy come to mind. Here’s the story of a company called SDL.
Sramana: Mark, let’s start with the beginning of your personal story. Where are you from? What is the backstory of the SDL story? Mark Lancaster: I was born and raised in the UK. I studied engineering and computer science at the university. I started my career as a software design engineer at Satchwell Control Systems and Lotus Development Company. Fairly early on, one of the biggest issues I saw at companies was the need for coders or programmers to engage effectively with management.
I decided to move into management and I took a position with Aston-Tate where I was the international development director. They did a lot of database work and were based out of California. I started spending a lot of time in California. I also worked for Lotus, which had one of the first spreadsheet applications Lotus 1-2-3. They were an American company and I worked for them from Cambridge. I was fortunate to fall into both of those companies in my early years and also fortunate to get involved with a lot of project management activities.
All of that occurred well before the Internet. Around 1990, I decided that with the world being global and the complexities involved made language a big requirement. To my surprise, a couple of the VPs that I worked with at Ashton-Tate told me they would put some money into the company. They were my angel investors. They put in what I felt was very large sums of money, but by today’s standards, their contributions were very small. I think we started the company off with about $70,000 of investment from two people.
Sramana: Were you still based in the UK when you were starting this? Mark Lancaster: Yes. I was about 25 miles outside London in Maidenhead. Sramana: So you raised $70,000 from two VPs who you had worked with previously. What did you want to do when you started the company? Mark Lancaster: We started off as a language company. We wanted to take small and medium-sized enterprises in the US and take them into global markets. Before you can go into global markets, one of the first things you have to do is get your products into the native languages of those markets. This was in the days of the disk operating systems before Windows. There was quite a lot of work to enable all the code to receive all of the foreign characters. There was a lot of technical complexities around it. We started off with a few people working out of my house. For the first few years, things were pretty lean. Sramana: What year was that? When did you start the company? Mark Lancaster: We started the company in 1992.
Our conversation continues
here. This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to an Exit . Why is Bootstrapping Important? . How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently? . Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings . Excess is NOT Required for Success . Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later . Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies . The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit . Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to Unicorns More »» . Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million . Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue . Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million . Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy . How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million . Bootstrapping with a Paycheck . How Algo.ai CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan . Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses . How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million . Bootstrapping with Services . How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million . How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana . How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million . Death by Overfunding . How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+ . How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck . TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage . The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance . BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering . Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania . Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million . SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida . Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million . Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK . Ownership Matters . Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado . 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