1995. Three Scandinavians create MySQL, a database that runs as a server providing multi-user access to a number of databases. In 2008, software giant Sun Microsystems Inc. acquires MySQL AB. The price tag? $1 billion. How did it happen?

The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce San Francisco presents the inside story below, as told by the former CEO of MySQL, Mårten Mickos. Mickos was lunch speaker at the March luncheon of the active chamber out west.
by Wilhelmina Douglas

Ever wonder what’s powering many of the world’s most high-traffic and massive storage Web sites like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Yahoo? Who’s delivering the ads on Google and how is online transaction processing possible? Well, what was started by Swedes Allan Larsson and Michael Widenius and Finn Davis Axmark is now a key provider for the power of the global digital marketplace.
MySQL has become one of the world’s most popular open source databases and challenges three huge companies in the core market: Oracle, Microsoft and IBM. The guests at the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce San Francisco’s monthly luncheon got the inside story from the man who’s the main force behind the success, Finn Mårten Mickos.
In 2000, MySQL was rapidly growing and in need of a CEO. “I was probably the only one they knew who’d been a CEO in every aspect of business … so I guess that’s why they called me,” Mickos explains, smiling.
Back then, MySQL had already become the most popular open source database, but the company itself was kind of “messy,” as Mickos put it. He was compelled by the idea of MySQL as “the IKEA of databases, fast and cheap due to smart production and smart distributors.”
Being well positioned for a career before taking the job with MySQL, part of the challenge lay in the disruption of old economic models and the market, to do something that shouldn’t be done, like “serving the unserved.”
Along with that Robin Hood-like business model came, of course, the challenge to convince old fashioned CEOs to embrace this new type of democratic software business where there are 1000 nonpaying users for every paying customer. Mickos saw the value of the democratic notion of MySQL. Giving away your product free of charge and having an open source code so people can complain have been essential to being able to challenge the worlds’ biggest software companies, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM. “The power of the crowd where everybody can participate also means that everyone can complain. If someone is not complaining, you’re too small. It’s a good sign that you’re in a good spot,” Mickos says. “Most software people in the world are young men, and young men are always angry. They’re constantly helping MySQL to improve, we just sit back and say 'thank you. Now we know what to fix.'”
Mickos' leadership philosophy, which simply is organizing the company with a global distributed workforce, is key to the success of the company. 75 percent of the 500 employees at MySQL, located in 35 countries across 18 different time zones, are working from home. During the years Mickos has often been asked how he knows if the employees really are working? He always answers back: “Well how do you know if people are working in your office? Offices are so last century, you can do anything from home, from a café, restaurant, anywhere ... and you will get productive and happy employees. Every person counts.”
So when SUN Microsystems Inc. acquired MySQL about a year ago, it was very rewarding for Mickos to see that the team-distributed workplace that he had been a part of creating, was still working. “That hadn’t been done before.”
So that’s the seven year story, $1 billion later, from Helsinki, Uppsala and Stockholm, to the Bay Area.

Facts (sampled from Wikipedia, which runs on MySQL databases):
Mårten Mickos (born November 6, 1962 in Espoo, Finland) was chief executive officer (CEO) of MySQL AB. He served as chief executive officer from January 2001 to February 2008, when Sun bought MySQL AB. He served as senior vice president of the database group at Sun Microsystems until February 2009. Mickos has been rewarded with awards like the Audemars Piguet "Changing Times Award: European Entrepreneur of the Year 2006" and the Nokia Foundation Award.

For more info, see www.mysql.com and for upcoming San Francisco lunches and other events: www.sacc-usa.org/sf or www.nordstjernan.com/calendar/