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Oracle was born into the Precambrian era of computer software. The insight and acumen of its founder have since made it one of the great, enduring technology stories of all time.

Don recalls intersecting with a young Larry Ellison and the kernel of his idea.

Don Valentine
Sequoia

Larry understood software better than anybody we were ever exposed to. In the vernacular, he gets it. And to me, he’s the best manager in the history of Silicon Valley.

Don Valentine

When I was introduced to him, the company was called Relational Software, and their product name was Oracle. Which suggests that Larry has more than a faint sense of Olympian success.

Don Valentine

They were in the software business, doing custom development — which is sort of renting yourself out by the hour. And we invested on the premise that I would spend time on marketing, where the highlight of our early conversations was: Why are we in the business of custom software, selling time by the hour? Much better would be to figure out a category of product, develop it, and sell it broadly to a whole bunch of hardware makers.

Don Valentine

Now, the computer business then was very simple: You had IBM and everybody else. People were despondent about entering the business because of IBM's dominance. It was perceived to be like going into the gladiator pit without a sword, and so big corporations and startups were not interested.

Don Valentine

But this was the minicomputer financing boom, so we said, “Let's figure out what the minicomputer manufacturers have in the way of software, and see if there's not a void we can fill.”

Don Valentine

And they hit upon the idea of doing what IBM was good at, but in a space IBM didn't sell into, which was the database software — and in Larry's case, the relational database software model that he and Bob Miner evolved.

Don Valentine

You have to remember that software then was never called an app, and it never sold for $1.99. It sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus an installation fee, plus an annual upgrade. It was a huge product, a huge category of things you had to do for the customer that no one could resolve except IBM. And Larry effectively did an end run going to the minis, where they had nothing by comparison.

Don Valentine

It was a market from heaven, and they jumped into it without a lot of competition, and just kept evolving the relational database product.

Don Valentine

Larry is a very peculiar concept guy. He doesn’t want to talk about accounts receivable and that kind of thing. He's the guy who knows the future evolutions of software from a customer point of view, and he backs that thinking into his huge development department.

Don Valentine

There was no obvious promise that he’d be so visionary when we engaged as an investor. But that was 30-some years ago, and he's still knocking it out of the park. Still coming up with astonishing organizational ideas.

Oracle is the world’s second largest software company by revenue. Its business has grown to encompass the entire enterprise technology stack, and Oracle remains — after nearly 40 years — the global leader in database software. The company went public in 1986.

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Oracle
Enterprise information management software.
Milestones
  • Founded 1977
  • Partnered 1983
Team
  • Larry Ellison