JDJ: Can you describe Penumbra software? How it's organized, its officers and its major product or products?
MM: We are a relatively small, privately held company. The officers include myself, Glenn Fromer, who is the Chief Financial Officer, and Fereydoun Taslimi, who is the Chief Technology Officer. Penumbra has been in business since February of 1996.
JDJ: Who does your development work?
MM: If I had to characterize the company right now, we are still extremely heavy as a technology company. We have five programmers who do the development work. Everything is done in-house. We don't farm anything out.
JDJ: And it is all done in Java?
MM: All of our software is done in Java. Basically, our mission is to produce a Java tool and objects that go into that tool.
JDJ: And that's Super Mojo, right?
JDJ: Could you describe Super Mojo for those readers who may not have seen the review (JDJ, Vol. 1, Iss. 3)?
MM: Super Mojo is a rapid application development environment. It has a GUI front end with a visual interface where you can drag and drop components and add functionality. It also has a back end coder. The Coder is an integrated development environment for accessing your code and programming within the environment.
A developer can rapidly create sophisticated Java applications and Bean components without coding. Bean components can then be visually modified by setting properties and adding functionality through events and actions. With something we call "Visual Scripting" the developer can drag-and-drop commands, logic, and calls to other scripts. In addition to being a Bean factory, Super Mojo can consume a Bean or component. The "Visual Scripter" can then be used to add functionality and enhance the capability of an imported' Bean.
While the Designer and Visual Scripter provide an environment for rapid application development, the integrated Coder provides complete access to all underlying code so a developer can easily modify a component or its associated actions and properties. In addition, the developer can add entirely new code and easily build new components. The Coder features a sophisticated code editor, class browser and visual project hierarchy.
JDJ: How did Penumbra get started?
MM: Penumbra started in early 1996. At the time, Fereydoun Taslimi and myself were working for another company that we had founded ten years earlier. A couple of very bright programmers, recent graduates from Georgia Technology, approached us with an idea they had for a Java programming tool. They were looking for some support and cash to start a new venture. We had known these guys for several years. Java was in the very early stages of something that we felt might be big. After presenting their idea, Fereydoun and I discussed the investment opportunity. A few weeks later we put up some money to start the company. That was in February of 1996. These two guys went off and locked themselves in their homes for three months and worked nonstop to produce a new tool which was first presented to the Java community at Java One, the Sun event that was held in San Francisco in May of 1996.
JDJ: That is why we call these success stories, by the way. How about your history and background. How did you get interested in technology, computers, Java and software?
MM: I have always been interested in technology. It goes back a long time. In school, I studied math and the applied sciences. My graduate studies were in law but I always wanted to be in business. When I finished law school, I got involved with a startup company in telecommunications. After working there for three years, I went off on my own. After several months I linked up with Fereydoun Taslimi. He had the technology background. I had the marketing and administrative background. It was a good match for a couple of young entrepreneurs. So, we started a company called Enhanced Systems, Inc.
This was in 1986, when PCs were just being introduced to the world. We took a look at the current state of the telecom market and, in particular, call accounting systems. These are specialized database applications that collect information from phone systems and then massage it into reports. Existing hardware-based systems were selling for $10,000 or higher. Some equipment cost tens of thousands of dollars. We thought we could use the PC, which was relatively inexpensive, as the hardware platform and build a software-based product to do the same thing at far less cost. That is how we got started. We eventually developed a product line that included voice processing systems, interactive voice response systems and voice recognition systems. We sold the company in 1995.
JDJ: How has Penumbra grown since you introduced Mojo and Super Mojo? I know that since it is a privately held company you don't publish your financials, but in terms of your user base, how has it been?
MM: Our user base has expanded dramatically. When Penumbra introduced this product at the Java One show in May of 1996 we were surprised at the welcome reception. In June we placed a demo version of the product on a Web site and in a period of 90 days we had approximately 10,000 downloads. Our download rate has steadily increased since that time.
In the lifecycle of the software we are halfway through what I consider a three-year marketing plan and the company is still heavily a research and development company. In fact, the company didn't even start any marketing efforts until January of 1997.
JDJ: Are you planning on introducing additional products or is this pretty much it for the company right now?
MM: We are planning on introducing additional products. As a matter of fact, in our strategic plan the development environment, which is Super Mojo, has never been an end for the business. It has really been a means to the end in our marketing plan. We see Super Mojo as a means to gain credibility in the eyes of the Java community. We see it as a means of recognition for our company. But in our marketing plan, the development environment itself is not the main source of revenue. Our revenue is derived from what we call solution packs, which are add-ons to the development environment.
The solution packs are specialized packages that include components, middleware, wizards and special instructions for building applications. For example, one solution pack that is on the market right now is called the Super Mojo Enterprise Solution Pack. That product is designed to allow users to connect legacy data bases to the Internet. In the future, we have plans for many more solution packs.
Another way we get our revenue is from consulting contracts. A certain number of people who use Mojo don't have the internal resources to do their Java development and turn to us for help.
JDJ: How do you see the future developing for Mojo and Super Mojo and the Internet? It's going to increase, of course, and become more sophisticated and hopefully Internet addressing and infrastructure will become better, but how do you see Super Mojo and Penumbra participating in that development?
MM:I agree exactly with what you said. I think that today the state of the industry is immature. Infrastructure still needs to be built and standards need to be agreed upon before this technology really takes off. So I think in terms of what we are looking at we are only seeing today the tip of the iceberg. We hope that Super Mojo will remain a technologically leading edge product and that it will be used by a wide number of Java developers to develop Java applications for the Internet.
Our role, apart from the development environment itself, is to create solution packs to allow developers to more easily bring their projects to life. We have many solution packs that are scheduled for development. One is the Enterprise Solution Pack. But there are others for catalogs, sales functions and Corba support. We hope we will be able to bring these to market over the next twelve months to help developers build and deploy real-world applications for the Internet.
JDJ: What would a typical Super Mojo user be like? Or is there such a thing?
MM: Actually, there is no typical Mojo customer. These are people who are doing Java development work. In general, I would say that Mojo supporters are the ones who see the benefit of working on objects and components, as opposed to building applications in a flat file type of format. That is one of the strengths of Super Mojo. It helps programmers think in terms of the object-oriented paradigm. Super Mojo is a pure object-oriented development environment.
JDJ: Can you describe some of your more interesting or unique customers?
MM: First, I'd like to say something about Mojo itself. In a way we are our own customers. After introducing Mojo 2.0 in October of 1996, we made a decision to rewrite the entire product in Java. After all, here we were preaching the merits of this new programming language. At that time, we felt that Java had reached a state of maturity where this endeavor could be undertaken successfully. Of course, we needed a development environment ourselves. So, we chose Mojo 2.0. Super Mojo is the only RAD tool available today that is written 100% in Java. And it was done with our own first generation tool. It runs cross-platform and it is comparable in speed to other JDEs.
Our customers are using Mojo to do everything from enhancing Web pages to porting legacy databases to the Internet to producing new and exciting Web-centric applications. One project I am aware of involved writing an on-line student registration system for one of the largest universities in Mexico. Another project, in the works, involves medical claims processing.
JDJ: What advice would you give to our readers? Remember that these are people who are developers and who are always thinking of starting their own companies in the Java world like you did.
MM: If I were giving advice to somebody who wanted to start a Java company or start a software company, I would say three things. One would be to make sure you've got plenty of money, especially enough cash to keep you going through the hard times. The second thing I would advise is to find the right partner. Nobody in this business today can do it all. Some companies are good at infrastructures. Some are good at building applications. Others know how to market products. To be successful, it is important to find the right partners. The third thing that I would advise is that you run as fast as you can. Don't look over your shoulder. Just assume there is always somebody right on your heels.
JDJ: Is there anything unusual or unique about your corporate culture? Is there anything different that you do down in Georgia?
MM: Yes, one thing is unique about this company. At Enhanced Systems, we found the software developers to be the nicest bunch of guys you can imagine. However, being under one roof with the rest of the company became a disadvantage, especially when we had projects to get out and deadlines to meet. Invariably, people from other parts of the company, in sales or technical support for example, would knock on the developers' doors asking questions and advice. These guys were being continually interrupted and distracted from the effort at hand.
To solve this problem at Penumbra we did something special. We separated the sales and administration from the development. Sales and administration is located in a high rise office building pretty typical of what you might find at any software company. But the engineering and technical effort, where most of the company centers today, is done out of a house. We bought a three-bedroom ranch house about a mile from our offices. The developers live in the house and the company provides them with room and board and all other services as well. The guys live there seven days a week. They work on Super Mojo all hours of the day and night. The bedrooms are theirs to do with as they see fit. We added an area in the back of the house which is a workroom. It has all the hardware they need to get the job done Ð PCs, Sun Workstations, Dec equipment, NT servers, Novell servers. We finished off the space with a Ping-Pong table and lots of whiteboards. It is a place where the developers can work hard and relax as well. The developers live there. It's their home and they have become kind of a family. It has worked fantastically well. It is the type of environment that stimulates creative thought and energy. If you were looking for something special or unusual about our company, that would be it.
JDJ: Do you provide housecleaning services?
MM: We do. A housecleaning service comes in once a week. We bring pizzas and other food in as well. All of those kinds of needs are taken care of. The developers are young, very bright and very aggressive. They love this atmosphere.
JDJ: That's great. Is there anything else you would like to add to the interview? About either where you see Penumbra going or the future of the Internet or where you see anything, education? You can even put in a plug for additional new people who might be interested in hiring on.
MM: Well, sure, we would love to have new people on board and Penumbra hopes to be a force in this new object Web as it matures and evolves. I think that if there were anything I would like to add it is that riding the Java technology wave has been incredibly fulfilling to me and to the other people involved in Penumbra. It is not every day that a small company like Penumbra has the opportunity to participate in and to help shape this type of market. If there is anything I would like to add it is just to express the excitement in the opportunity to be part of what is unfolding.