07 May Interview: Billpoint Founder Jason May on eBay, Open Source
ePrairie:How did you get involved with computers and Internet programming? Is tech still an exciting space to work in?
Jason May: My first experience with computers was an introductory programming class in 1979 using the TRS-80 model 1. I discovered e-mail, Usenet and the fledgling Internet when I started college in 1985. There have certainly been enormous changes since then, but I find computers, programming and the business of information technology as interesting and exciting as ever.
eP: Was Billpoint your first commercial endeavor?
JM: Prior to Billpoint, I worked as a consultant for Cambridge Technology Partners, which was the first of the “new breed” of technology consulting companies that arose in the 1990s. CTP was later acquired by Novell. I left CTP in 1998 to found Billpoint. The experience I gained at numerous CTP clients – from established corporations to start-ups – certainly paid off later at Billpoint.
eP: Why do you think Billpoint was successfully acquired by eBay while many other dot-coms failed?
JM: Billpoint was the first online payments company with a solid product and a focused founding team. From the founding of the company, Billpoint had a clear business model that allowed for easily measurable performance and a roadmap to profitability that didn’t rely on miracles. Few other dot-com companies – then or now – could identify such concrete targets. eBay recognized that clarity of purpose when the company acquired Billpoint in mid-1999.
eP: Did Billpoint raise outside funding at any point? Where any funding sources located in the Midwest?
JM: Billpoint obtained venture funding from Sequoia Capital (one of the top Silicon Valley VC firms) in February 1999. eBay bought Billpoint in May 1999. Billpoint was a Sequoia record in terms of the pace at which the VC firm got a return on its investment. I don’t know if that record has ever been matched.
eP: What do you think about Chicago? Why did you depart for the Bay?
JM: Though I was born in Chicago, I left at the age of two and don’t have any memories of it. Since then, I’ve lived on both coasts but never in the Midwest. My wife worked briefly for a Minnesota-based company in 2001 when it acquired the San Jose, Calif. company where she was employed.
eP: Why does the Bay dominate the Internet space? Does the Midwest have a role?
JM: The Bay’s preeminence as a technology nexus started in World War II with the huge investments in aerospace. The resulting concentration of science and engineering talent plus the presence of several world-class universities made the area ideal when the computer and Internet industries exploded in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, Bay salaries and real estate prices are among the highest in the country, making it incredibly expensive to start a business compared to almost anywhere else. Technical skills are much more portable than real estate, and while the weather is certainly a great benefit, overall quality-of-life measures are not so different across the country. As the economy recovers (we all hope), I expect to see a more balanced geographical distribution of new business than we saw during the bubble. The Midwest will certainly be a part of that.
eP: Why did you choose Perl as the programming language for Billpoint?
JM: I’ve been a Perl programmer and great fan since 1991. When we founded Billpoint, money was tight and speed to market was essential. No other programming language could have allowed us to build and launch a solid product at the pace we achieved. Since that first release, we found that our architecture allowed us to continue scaling up by many orders of magnitude without ever needing to consider a change in our choice of programming language. Perl was clearly a significant technical factor in our success.
eP: We have heard great things about Perl 6. Can you clue us in on it a bit?
JM: There are a couple fascinating projects going on. The Perl 6 language will be a complete redesign of the existing Perl 5 syntax with numerous new capabilities. Parrot is a standalone virtual machine that will be able to run byte code-compiled programs in many dynamic programming languages (not just Perl 6). Both projects are well advanced. I expect to see solid alpha releases by mid-2004.
eP: Are you excited about the future of MySQL? Do you think it can compete with the Oracles and Microsofts of the world?
JM: MySQL already does compete with Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server in a number of areas and will continue to do so. As an open source advocate, I’m excited by the upcoming MySQL (and InnoDB) features that will bring it closer to key feature parity with the commercial databases.
For platform selection for large enterprise IT database implementations, there are many other concerns that come into play besides technical features. I expect that Oracle, Microsoft and IBM will continue to dominate the corporate market for several more years, though we’ll see MySQL and other open source products take a major share of the low-end market.
eP: What do you do for fun outside programming? What are your plans for the future after eBay?
JM: At the moment, my primary source of fun is my 10-month-old son, Gabriel. I’m looking forward to taking some time off to spend with him. I’m already exploring a number of options for my next move in the technology field.
Interview by JOSH SCHNEIDER, Staff Writer of ePrairie.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org>.