Sometimes the smallest investment can pay off in a big way. Oracle is the second largest software company in the world, sitting behind Microsoft. Primarily selling its own brand of database management solutions it recorded a revenue of $38.3 billion in 2014. The business can thank its larger than life CEO, Larry Ellison, for its success and the day he took a $2000 punt.
On June 16, 1977, after he had dropped out of two universities, Larry Ellison and a few partners set up Software Development Labs with just $2000. Ellison put in the biggest stake - $1200 - himself.
It was a bold move for the university dropout who’d only pick up the rudiments of computer programming in his aborted schooling attempts. It wasn’t clear in the late ‘70s that database management would quite be the cash cow it is today. All Ellison and partners had to go on was their experience building a relational database management system (RDBMS) for the CIA, codenamed Oracle, in a previous job.
To make things more difficult, in 1977, software was not sold separately from your computer and came together with hardware, It was yet to become a stand alone product. Oracle would go on to become one of the first businesses to pioneer this business model but at the time of the $2000 investment the market was non-existent yet.
Based on the CIA job, Ellison’s newly founded business developed a similar database system but with commercial applications. They named it RDBMS Oracle. Ellison’s dream was to build a database that was compatible with IBM’s System R. Unfortunately, IBM had other ideas and refused to share the code. Forced to do it alone, the business became Oracle Systems Corporation in 1982 to align it with its main product, the Oracle database.
Despite launching a business in an untested market, Ellison’s decision proved correct. For 11 years straight, Oracle doubled its sales. When it went public in 1986, the business raised $31.5 million in its initial offering. A multinational business, Oracle’s database systems can be found in the world’s major banks, airlines, car manufacturers and retailers.
It’s not just investors who backed Ellison’s investment decision. Apple’s Steve Jobs always expressed his admiration for the way Ellison worked. He was even the wedding photographer for Ellison’s 2003 marriage to novelist Melanie Craft.
As Oracle’s largest shareholder and the world’s best paid executive in the noughties, Ellison was wealthy. He once owned the eighth largest yacht in the world. In 2013, his Oracle Team USA went after the world’s most famous sailing trophy coming back from eight races down to defeat New Zealand in the America’s Cup.
Out of the water Ellison owns a house with a private golf course, picked up a role to play himself in Iron Man 2 and allegedly has access to $1 billion credit. Not bad for a $2000 roll of the dice.
Yesterday Larry Ellison was a young programmer risking $2000 on a business venture. Today he’s responsible for creating a global software business with a market cap of $185 billion.
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