Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Magnolia

In theory, I would have had 10 years to write this blog post, right? But in reality, I am writing this just days before we want to publish it. Things are busy. So this is it: it's been exactly 10 years since the first release of Magnolia, back on November 15, 2003 - my brother's birthday. No coincidence, like so many things we do at Magnolia. People are important here. "Here" initially was Basel, Switzerland, a unique place on the corner of Switzerland, bordering Germany and France, with the river Rhine flowing right next to our office.

Magnolia started as an experiment, the idea that we could build a CMS that would work better than any other CMS on the planet. When we released version 1.0, it certainly didn't. But in life, it is important to know where you want to go, and then take the first step. Releasing a software product into the wide open www was unprecedented for us, so it did not matter so much what we released, it mattered that we released. The first step was taken, and as you all know, many more would follow.

Things have changed. 13 years ago we were wearing ties.
We started Magnolia development with a small team - four people were involved in the first release. Pascal and myself guided and communicated the process; Sala and Sameer implemented. We thought it would be cool to release our own product, and let me tell you: it was – and it still is.

We couldn't have imagined that we would still be here 10 years after that,  working on fulfilling our original vision of a highly usable, highly flexible content management system for the enterprise. Like the river Rhine that flows through Basel, the market is in a state of constant flux. We have seen the rise of social, mobile, cloud and many other trends. With it, Magnolia has evolved from its early days, both as a company and as a product.

The barn where it all started. Our office on the first floor. Note abundance of windows.
What hasn't changed is the unique relationship between Pascal and myself. As anybody who has ever met us will readily confirm, we are two very different characters. And it is this combination that has made us strong. We always approach a challenge from opposite ends, and are forced to understand whatever we want or have to do from different perspectives. I believe that this leads to better decisions. Having somebody to discuss with, who shares your experience and history is invaluable. Together we have weathered incredible stunts, and we came out stronger every time. In one of the presentations before Magnolia's time, Pascal was standing in front of about 20 people giving a product demo. Standing in the small server room above the presentation room, I had to restart the server every time the demo got stuck – which was pretty much after every second click. In frantic but secret communication we needed to coordinate our actions to ensure the presentation was a success. It certainly made us trust in each other's abilities when it comes to presenting under stress ;-)

In our early years, survival of the company was under constant threat. We were a small,  local web agency with technology knowhow, and our revenue came from building websites, custom software, hosting and managing infrastructure. But we kept working on Magnolia, cross-financed by our services. In these early years we didn't grow - in fact, we had to lay off staff until in 2006, only 4 people remained on board – and our sole focus became Magnolia. At the time, survival meant things like not paying wages and selling the Apple shares that I had bought in times of plenty. The great thing about hitting rock bottom is that from then on, things can only get better. And getting better they did.

Retreat to Ticino in 2006 – here, Pascal and I came up with the idea to sell a Magnolia Enterprise Edition. It changed our future.
As they say, the rest is history: these days, there are about 60 members of staff, and "Here" has become a lot of places – our software is used around the globe, and we have staff working in the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and China. Our focus on people hasn't changed – and we are humbled by and indebted to all the Magnolians who have made and continue to make Magnolia such a great place to work at. I for one am looking forward to the next 10 years, hopefully with a lot of you coming along for the journey. Thank you.

Magnolians enjoying lunch on the terrace. Pascal and Boris occasionally cook for the whole team, an event known as "Chefs as Chefs".