jBASE Co-Founder & MultiValue Trailblazer Retires
Take us back to when you co-founded jBASE. What problems were you trying to solve? What were you working on at the time?
I was working in support and consultancy for McDonnell Douglas Information Systems and the people I worked with were developers of the Reality operating system. In 1989, Jim Idle and I decided we could do something better, and we formed our own company, which eventually became jBASE. Initially we named our new company, James Anthony Consultants, (JAC). This was simply an acronym of our middle names: that’s Martin James Idle and Clive Anthony Ketteridge. At some point we realized no one liked “consultants”, so we changed the C to Computing. Once we were more established and had a product name, we took the name jBASE Software Limited.
We won our first contract work at a bank in England, which in turn allowed us to hire our first two employees: Greg Cooper and Pat Pogson. We were young and a bit naïve as far as our business knowledge, but we knew that we weren’t going to make it “selling time.” Consultancy was only going to get us to a certain plateau. So, we decided we needed a product. We started discussing what we could develop. We looked around at what was available at the time, and it was pretty grim. If you wanted to write a product in Oracle, it would only operate on Oracle. IBM would only operate on IBM kit and so forth.
So, we discovered the problem to solve was to create a native platform that could talk to any database. With the skills of Jim, Greg, and Pat we created an innovative environment that could run any PICK application, on any database, as well as jBASE of course. Database Independent applications. Who would have thought?
The defining moment for me was at one of our development meetings in a 300-year-old pub called the Leather Bottle.
Greg drew a diagram on the back of a beer mat to show me what database independence would look like as it did not exist at the time. He explained that if we built it this way, we could write an application and deploy it on anything. We decided to use the strength of the PICK BASIC language, which is easy to write multi-user applications in, but we would use the power of the C – the most prolific procedural computer programming language — to compile it into machine code.
In short, we turned the BASIC syntax into C, and then compiled it into the code of the machine, which was unique. We knew that C could talk to anything that existed then and, in the future, and so we thought we were on to something special.
I remember the day we came up with the name jBASE
It was October 28, 1991. I had been to a meeting at Data General in London. They were a partner of Unidata, and I met with their senior management team and Dan Sapit who is a well-known character in the MultiValue industry. One piece of advice they had for me was to avoid the word “BASIC” as they believed it had held them (Unidata) back. When I got back to our office, I started writing names on the white board and Greg did a search on Unix commands to see if “J” was used. It wasn’t so we decided to keep the “J”.
We arrived at jBASE as it was internationally acceptable and implied a database. We had fun with jEDI or the jBASE External Device Interface and ditched any mention of “BASIC” but named the language jBC. Although we believed we’d find a better name later, 30 years on we never did.
Our first sale to an end user was a large manufacturer in England called The Lawson Mardon Group and the first site was in Germany. We basically replaced their Reality system with a Unix jBASE system. They told us it paid for itself within 3 months.
Our first distributor was Citadel in Sydney, Australia, and we were quite stretched but had two more employees: Alan Murphy and Ted Jolly.
I can recall going to the first Spectrum show. We had no idea how to best attend such a show and we just played it by ear. That was the first time I met Paul Giobbi. He must have been about 19 years old. At Spectrum, while some people ran away from us, others were interested in the idea of database independence, so we started to get our name around.
What was the next evolution of jBASE and how did you grow?
Fast forward 10 years and we continued to grow our company. We had hundreds of resellers and end users. We had zero outside funding from beginning to end. We managed to win enough business to grow and keep ourselves afloat.
In 1998 we were introduced to a company called Temenos who had written a banking application in InfoBasic and converted it to UniVerse. They were growing, but they hit a brick wall. Their ambition was to go public, but a relatively unknown database like UniVerse was not going to help the process and probably would prevent them from achieving their goal. We explained that if they converted to jBASE, their application could be deployed on Oracle, and they could promote their application as an Oracle solution. They liked the idea so much that they bought the entire company.
When we first met Temenos they were doing around $25 Million a year in revenue. Today, they’re a publicly traded company with a market cap of over $10 Billion. The transaction was finalized in December 1999 at which point we became part of the Temenos Group. In 2002, for the non-banking market, we handed over sales and marketing of jBASE to a distributor called the Mpower1 Group. That was until 7 years ago when Paul Giobbi literally turned up on my doorstep in England.
When did you first begin your relationship with Zumasys?
I remember it well; it was a sunny day in May of 2014. I was out on my tractor cutting my field when Paul came around my house for a visit. We hadn’t met since the Spectrum days. Paul had been growing his company, but I didn’t know too much about it. He mentioned that he had attempted to by Tiger Logic / Pick Systems a year earlier, and I thought, “Wow, you must be a lot bigger than I thought!”
I had walked over to the fridge to get us a beer each and walking back across the field I thought to myself. “I wonder if Paul would be interested in jBASE?” We had a chat and he went away for a weekend and got back in touch with me. And the rest is history.
Looking back on your history with jBASE, what are you most proud of?
When we built jBASE, money was not our focus. Customer satisfaction was our passion. We did it with only collateral we had in the value of my family house. I knew that if we kept our customers happy, success would follow, providing we could survive. We built a great team and have served every one of our customers the best we could. So many appreciated this and helped us along the way.
We had a 100% referenceable base as we built the company. In fact, there was an occasion when one of the bigger players in the MultiValue world mentioned on the early forums that we had brilliant customer support, but the downside was that we were small. And they were right! They were a $300M company at the time and we were not. But we listened to our customers and our support was second to none — that was a powerful differentiator.
How was your time with Temenos and do they still utilize jBASE?
The first milestone with Temenos was to convert the InfoBasic/UniVerse app to jBASE and then to have the data stored in Oracle. This allowed Temenos to position their application as an “Oracle solution”, which had more perceived value in the marketplace. This helped greatly with the target to take Temenos public which they achieved in 2001. Later we extended the deployment to DB2 and SQL Server. jBASE remains live at hundreds of banks and numerous micro banks.
One of the roles given to me in 2007 was to accelerate Temenos’ move from UniVerse to jBASE as fees were well over $500k/year. Today there is only one Temenos customer remaining on Universe. I expect there will be banks running jBASE for another 20-30 years. A bank runs well with the application in jBC and the data in Oracle, SQL etc., I don’t think jBASE will be retired anytime soon.
What will you do when you retire later this month?
Now that I am retiring, I will have plenty to stay occupied! I live on a small farm (no animals) which takes a lot of maintenance, which I enjoy. Also, my better half has dance-based projects and writes children’s books which I help with in a small way. I look forward to spending time in Portugal in the warmer months and skiing in France in the winter. I will not miss the endless conference calls and flights for sure, but I will genuinely miss the joy of creating new business because of what that really creates independently: jobs and wealth.
What’s the key to success?
On a good day, I’m *just* above average, but I was able to surround myself with some of the best people in the technology world. The MultiValue industry has heard of Jim and I but the guys behind the scenes are the ones who truly made jBASE happen. They include:
- Greg Cooper: A prolific developer and ideas man who went onto Cache for a while and is now working with Zumasys.
- Pat Pogson: Customer support master who is still working at Temenos.
- Alan Murphy and Ted Jolly: World class system-level developers who sacrificed their time in favor of our customers.
- Jason Dean: The second jBASE customer was Medway Hospital and there was a young man there who saw the value of the jBASE architecture straight away. Jason Dean joined jBASE with agreement from Medway and remains at Temenos today. He is a classic “Jacboy” totally loyal, dedicated, unassuming, and highly skilled.
- Martin Bailey: One of the first hires after the Temenos acquisition, and what a catch! He went on to run Temenos development and was instrumental in getting jBASE 4.1 over the line, which was an ongoing saga back in the day.
There are many more, some who sadly are no longer with us, who also contributed, but the group above are truly the people who made jBASE a success through loads of personal sacrifice.
This is only my view. I’m sure others who formed part of the journey remember things in their way.
It is surreal to think that’s a wrap after 32 years, but the legacy moves forward with Zumasys whose ethics match ours in more ways than one. It’s exciting to see where they are taking jBASE and the impact they are having in the MultiValue market.
Enjoy and check out other people profiles at www.pickmultivalue.com