Friday, September 25, 2009

Larry Ellison interview - insight into a bootstrap founder/CEO

Larry is the cofounder of Oracle and incredibly, has been at the helm of his company for 30+ years. Longevity, both of companies and founders, is a hallmark of bootstrap ventures.

Along with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, he's one of the old school bootstrap tech founders who continued to be at the top of their game for that long. In this far-ranging interview at the Churchhill Club he expounds on many topics. While the interview is insightful and entertaining in its entirety, below are some highlights. To get a perspective into Steve and Bill, check out the excellent interview from the WSJ D Conference two years ago.

The first part offers an insight into how he approaches both his business and other pursuits, chiefly sailing. Larry is a competitor whose efforts have always been focused with a worthy competitor on hand. Later on he explains how important it is to pick the right competitor because you often become just like them!

He goes on an entertaining rant debunking "cloud computing" (45:50 to 50:11) and the overall faddishness of the computer industry. I'm reminded of Clockspeed, by Charles Fine, a deeply insightful book on the repeating cycles of all industries, which pulsate between periods of specialization and integration. Fine argues that the bicycle industry is the "fruit fly" of business: due to its fast cycle time, it allows researches to identify the larger trends within all sectors. Larry makes a good case that the computer industry also travels quickly through its cycles. (A similar theme emerges from the Gates/Jobs interview.) Regardless of the trends, he clarifies that fundamentals always remain the same.

Beginning at 51:48, he discusses network computing and how it needs to be as simple as other networks like water and electricity, where the complexity is "within the network" and hidden from any device (like a top or plug point) that connects to it.

When asked about Microsoft (55:00) we get an insight into how he sees the technology landscape and competitors (and why MSFT is not Oracle's primary competitor; rather it's IBM). This response also shows how Oracle continues to focus down into its core QUEST(ion), even as it expands with many acquisitions, including SUN. BTW, what is Oracle's QUEST(ion)? It shows up early in the interview with his discussion of sailing and continues throughout.

Other snippets:
  • One decision he'd take back: 1:02:55
  • Advice to entrepreneurs starting out: 1:03:45
  • On his legacy: 1:06:45 - he doesn't see the end of the QUEST(ion), it just continues, another theme echoed in the Jobs/Gates interview
His response at 1:16 and again at 1:21, shows his continued and deep expertise in the minutia of his business. Larry, as with all great bootstrap founders has a deep passion and knowledge of his field.

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