I returned to Ireland in 1998 after 12 years working in London. For the previous few years I had watched in awe as the Iona behemoth had hoovered up technical talent from all over the globe, to create the single largest pool of super smart geeks Ireland has probably ever known.
A year before I arrived back they had gone public with some fanfare and there are plenty of good friends of mine still living in houses bought of the back of cash from options converted and exercised in the early boom years of 1999 and 2000.
The premise was connecting disparate lumps of a software together, a kind of philosophers stone that would glue your mess of corporate systems together.Â The Object Management Group (OMG) defined a standard (called CORBA) and Chris Horn, Annrai O’Toole and Sean Baker along with some willing helpers built the first commercial implementation.
When you look at the founding members of the OMG, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Apple Computer, American Airlines you realise that straightaway Iona’s product had its market sector defined for it.Â All they had to do was man the phones and the orders flooded in.
Consider this, in a much more stringent capital market, with no Irish VC industry to speak of, Iona managed to take a company public without raising any venture capital whatsoever. The old saw at Iona was that to double sales you just needed to double the number of people answering the phones.
Once public they had their ups and downs and sailed up on the back of the dot com boom, unfortunately their fall was a might as everyone else’s and they never really recovered.
Where did it go wrong for Iona? They found it impossible to separate themselves from their CORBA legacy and as a result missed the boat on Java, EJB (they apparently turned down an opportunity to buy WebLogic at one point) and finally the Web itself.
But without Iona, where would the Irish Software Industry be today? Iona people form the backbone of a whole new generation of Irish software companies.
Here’s hoping we see similar success from this generation.