May 10, 2011

Retrospective: Perforce's Humble Beginnings


This post is part of a series. This week is a retrospective designed to look back at Perforce's beginnings through the eyes of the company's guiding architects.

Perforce was born in the perfect storm of opportunity.

My partner and I had just emerged from employment with Ingres corporation, a database company. My seven years there had given me a bounty of experience, as during my tenure I had worked in UNIX porting and network development, all the while moonlighting on their in-house software configuration management system. The knowledge I gained fed straight into writing the original Perforce server (nee P3), my third version control system.

The market at the time had a huge gap between the free CVS and the very expensive Clearcase, and Perforce was aimed right at that sweet spot. Perforce was much more functional than CVS, much simpler than Clearcase, and much much faster than either.

And to get us out of the gate, the Internet came along to provide word-of-mouth marketing and the easy-as-pie distribution method of downloading. This was very important to my partner and me, since we were software developers without any experience in sales or marketing.

And then of course there was luck. Just about any entrepreneur will admit that luck played a critical role in their success. We were no exception, though our luck takes a different form than you might suspect.

To me, luck isn't like a lightning bolt that strikes in a flash and leaves you with riches. Rather, luck is more like a gold vein that, once you come across it, must be followed until (and unless) it plays out. We were lucky to come across a vein that has served us to this day.

What was that luck? That no one would fund us. We tried VCs and banks and assorted ex-associates, but none seemed to think enough of us or our idea to put any money behind it. We were just two guys with a program for a market no one really knew about, and admittedly when they started to turn up their noses we did the same.

The lack of funding left us independent, and that was gold. It turns out that we, and the people that we were then able to bring on as the product started to sell, all have a strong mind for doing what we think is right and letting the money take care of itself. We focused on making the product, on supporting the product, and on selling and marketing the product in ways we can be proud of, rather than ways that satisfied the investors.

For 15 years we've been able to follow that gold vein of self driven improvement, while every one of our commercial competitors has been acquired at least once. We've been able to do our best to make Perforce mature and grow, and many of the world's most fantastic products are built using Perforce. That makes us very proud.

Far from playing out, that vein of independence that we struck 15 years ago is getting richer, and we're expanding with it. As software and related content gets bigger and more complicated, Perforce is growing to scale with it. Watch us over the next year as we combine our considerable strength and independence to bolster Perforce's base and broaden its reach in what we see as another perfect storm of opportunity.