Ross Mason is aiming for MuleSoft to be the next Cisco of application networking.
The digital era has exploded in a haze of apps, devices and data led by the oh so common industry buzzwords of mobility, cloud, big data and the Internet of Things. This digital era relies on one key aspect of technology – connection.
However, I cannot help regard the maturing connected world as a somewhat oxymoronic concept – those connections which are so vital, are hard to connect.
One only need look at the many fragmented Gartner magic quadrant sectors to see how the complexity of connection is compounded by the offerings of vendors big and small. There is, however, a San-Francisco based Brit who may hold the open source solution to business connectivity – Ross Mason of MuleSoft.
Sitting in the company’s new flagship EMEA office in the heart of the city of London, Mason told me how MuleSoft was borne out of frustration experienced in his past-life in investment banking.
"I couldn’t find anything that was easy to consume, that my guys could actually work with. It all felt very opaque. There were 7 systems being integrated back in 2001, 7 systems which took €30 million, over 100 people and a year and half to do. It just felt wrong; it felt broken on all sorts of levels. So originally I started with making connectivity easier, starting an open source project called Mule."
Mason’s decision to go open source was based initially on the fact that he was ‘one person trying to take on a big problem.’ The decision to go with open source has not just matured the software, but also added to, and bolstered, the culture and philosophy of the company.
"Open Source is a fantastic distribution model – if you run it the right way. The reason why I went with open source is I didn’t think I could figure it out all on my own, I would have to bring other people in and open source just seemed like the right place to start.
"That was a big part of the philosophy early on; the code was open, the IP was open and so people could actually see what we were doing. It also gave companies a lot of comfort because before open source, if you bought from a vendor, you had no recourse if it went sour.
"[Open Source] has been good for the culture of the company, it has set some values which you probably wouldn’t get in a closed organisation. Developers love to work for companies who have open source, which is one of the reasons why you see a lot of these vendors pushing it because developers are attracted to companies that allow them to work on things."
At this stage in the evolution of MuleSoft, Mason veered off script and bucked the established start-up trend. Unlike many start-ups whose goal it is to develop a feature or product just to sell to a Google-like giant for billions, Mason built MuleSoft as a company.
"I think what made us different [when founding MuleSoft] is that very early on we wanted to be a company. Back in 2007 it was all about open source computing monetisation and people were selling services on the back of open source – that’s not a very scalable business model and eventually it just runs out of runway.
"So we realised pretty quickly that we have to offer real value and then take that value to market. That’s how we evolved and probably why we feel a bit different because we started with that mindset from the beginning – we didn’t stumble across it."
Talking to Mason, while it is obvious he is a Brit, there is no mistaking the slight American twang and the Americanisms (couch) which sneak their way into his speech. Mason’s acquired accent comes from the fact that Silicon Valley is MuleSoft’s home, which was the result of a risk-adverse London tech scene when Mason was founding the company.
"Late 2005, I spoke to VCs in London and basically they were very risk adverse. They wanted me to have so many things aligned that it became clear that there was no way I would raise money to invest in the idea. The US, in contrast had a much better early-stage pool of investors, which of course has gone crazy in the last 10 years.
"They really invest in giving people lots of avenues to explore their ideas, with the bet that one of these ideas is going to explode. They just hope that they will be a part of the one that explodes and defines an industry."
The decision to head to the States made good on its return, with the company recently valued at $1.5bn. The $1.5bn value, of course, lies in the success of MuleSoft’s software.