My first exit
Published by Martin Kleppmann on 30 Nov 2009.
If you’re a similar age to me, you may remember the “My first Sony” cassette players/recorders
from your childhood (see the photo, thanks to
Andrew Scott on Flickr). I actually had a
different brand of cassette recorder, but it carried the same meaning: with it, I recorded my
favourite songs off the radio, experimented with electronic sound effects, played my mother’s
“Queen’s Greatest Hits” cassette over and over, and produced a simple radio drama. It was an
aspiration, a dream, a journey of discovery.
Today we announced that
we are selling our startup to Red Gate.
Investors refer to this as an exit: at this point they typically sell their shares, so they get the
money back which they invested some time before – or rather, they are supposed to get quite a bit
more money back. I had one investor,
Peter Cowley, and in total, he got more than 15 times his money back
within 2.5 years: that’s a hell of a lot better than if he had stuck it in a savings
A few exits are huge (think Google buying YouTube), many are medium-sized, and many
are small. This is one of the small ones: although I’m getting some money out of it, it’s certainly
not making me rich. However, I am very happy with it: the hard work of the last few years is paying
For the founder (that’s me), it’s not really an exit: I have to and want to continue
working hard on Go Test It for another year or so. As Simon from Red Gate put it, they need me to
continue making the product better, and they need time to get everything out of my head and into
someone else’s head. (Do they really want everything out of my head? Even those childhood memories
of listening to the Queen cassette? Well, if they want them, they can have them.)
Anyway, the reason I started this post with a bout of nostalgia is that this is
pretty much how I feel today. It’s like a 10-year-old proudly playing back his first attempt at
making spooky ghost noises on a cassette recorder. He knows that it’s not perfect, and that his work
will change the world only a tiny little bit, but he learnt a lot, and right now, it feels like the
greatest success and the most important thing in the world.
The aspect of learning is probably the most important one for me. I learnt an
incredible amount by starting a company and taking it to exit, and I expect to learn a lot more over
the coming year: how to take a product from “it works pretty well” to “it is absolutely amazing”;
how to work with more than the bare minimum resources I have been used to; how to scale the
business, attracting and retaining lots of happy customers.
That name “My first Sony” is evocative: it is oriented towards the future. The
“first” implies that there will be a “second” and a “third”; of course they want you to buy many
more Sonies during the rest of your life. But not only that: the “first” of something signifies a
turn of events. From now on you are sonified. Before its first Sony, the child could only store
sounds in its head; from now on, it can record them on cassette. Before, it could only listen to
music and audiobooks when the parents gave permission to use the hi-fi; from now on, all available
cassettes can be listened to at any time. Even secretly under the blankets.
My first exit is a bit like that: it also is oriented towards the future. I can’t
predict what the future will bring, but evidence suggests that entrepreneurs tend not to be
satisfied with just one successful startup, but want to try it again and again. But even if I do
start another company, and even if I do have another exit, there will always be something special
about that first one. The one which proved that I can do it.
Of course, saying that I built this company is about as true as saying that Vespasian
built the Colosseum. I bet he didn’t lift a single stone himself. Therefore, at this point –
clichéd though it may seem, I mean this very genuinely and sincerely – all I want to
say is a huge round of thanks to everyone who has helped me along this journey. None of this would
have been possible without you. Thank you to:
- Simon and
Neil, joint CEOs of Red Gate: you have built a company with a
fantastic culture and great people, and I respect you deeply.
- Peter, my mentor, advisor, investor and friend;
David, who helped build it;
- Rahul, who helped evangelise it;
- Patrick, who came up with the name;
- all the open source projects which are the foundation of our work, particularly
Scala – we will show our gratitude by contributing as much as
possible back to the community;
Accidentals and the
Springboarders, who form such a supportive startup
- our clients, whose business funded much
of the development of Go Test It to this point;
- all the Go Test It trial and beta users, for your valuable feedback;
- everyone who has supported, encouraged and inspired us;
- my friends, for bearing with my obsessive-compulsive attitude to work;
- my family, because no mountaineer can reach the top without a solid base camp;
- Rita, for your endless supply of smiles.
Ok, well, that was nice and romantic. Anyway – let’s get back to changing the world!