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I regret not taking it. Hummer-Winblad really wanted to give us some money but I couldn't figure out what they brought to the table. In retrospect, it was marketing, the money could have paid for marketing. And because they were invested they would have insisted on marketing.

Did I mention we needed some marketing? We really needed some marketing.

So, while it's very common to ask about taking investment, also look hard at the whole picture and see if there is a part of it that you'll (perhaps secretly) admit that you don't want to do. If you are in complete control you can kid yourself that you'll get to that part and never do it. Or, in our case, not do it until it is too late.

Investment can be viewed as adding some adult supervision. I screwed up by not taking it, I was so worried about the dreaded VC's screwing up my company that I didn't consider the possibility that they could also help. Well I did, but was too stupid to value the marketing part (I'm a hard core engineer at heart).




This is a problem that a lot of engineering types fall into. We as technical people think that the best technology will win, but that's not true. The best technology that the most people have heard of for the most reasonable price will win.


I used to think the best product was key. Over the years I've realised I'd prefer a standard product with a brilliant distribution channel than a brilliant product with a standard distribution channel.

Obviously the goal is to develop both!


The best technology where "best" means it actually does something useful for people, rather than whatever we, engineering types, think it is.


I find it interesting that this is the first answer, so I started an alternate Ask HN: Do you regret not taking investment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14258278


Interesting -- what company was this for? Maybe you can market it on HN :)


BitMover/BitKeeper. Nice idea but too late, the market has gone to git.

Which chaps my hide, git is an awful design, it's a tarball server pretending to be a source management system. Source management is basically an accounting program for programmers, it's suppose to faithfully log what you do. How does git do that when it has no concept of a file? Answer: it guesses about renames. And blame is slow because there are no file create or file delete events.

It was trivial for us to create a bk fast-export command and make it work incrementally. It's next to impossible to do it the other way incrementally because git doesn't have a versioned file object.

It's like a file system that has no inodes. To me, it makes no sense. But it won. Yeah. Not.


Thanks for the background. There are indeed awful things about git's design, but I think it would have been very hard to out-market git.

Git is both free AND viral. It's viral because if you want to use someone else's code, you have to use their source control system. Linux using git is a big deal in that respect (and yes I realize the kernel used BitKeeper :) ).

Also, Github as company and git the open source project are pretty complementary. It's hard to house both entities under the same roof, and you need that for ecosystem to succeed. Github is basically a UI/app company, and git is systems plumbing.

It's analogous to some PaaS companies wanting to make their own web framework. No actually that's a huge amount of work and you underestimated it. For all its faults, rewriting Rails is not something anyone can do. Heroku ended up being one of the early success stories because they just took your rails app and ran it.

Likewise everyone thinks they can rewrite Github, but that's pretty hard. It's at least 10x more work than you think, and you can get it wrong. If a tool isn't open source, there's much less incentive for a company like Github to come around and "popularize" it.

It seems like it's very hard to make money in developer tools in general, because so much is open source. And honestly they should be -- I would be a hypocrite if I said I didn't choose tools because they are open source. I guess Github and Atlassian are the outliers.

Anyway, my overall point is that I wouldn't necessarily chalk it up to marketing :) I do think open source got much bigger in the last decade, and it's hard for me to imagine that it wouldn't be built around an open source VCS.


>Git is both free AND viral. It's viral because if you want to use someone else's code, you have to use their source control system. Linux using git is a big deal in that respect (and yes I realize the kernel used BitKeeper :) ).

And BK is (was, until last year [too late]) closed software that requires a paid commercial license to use. Pretty much a show stopper for open source contributors donating their free time.


Yeah, too late. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. There's some nice code in there though, I wish people would steal our libc stuff. Some really nice ideas in there. And a pleasant license so you can use it where ever you want.


I believe you. I've never used BK, but I did do some research before posting my comment. Couldn't find a single complaint on the technical end of things. Literally not one.


It would make it much easier to steal if you mention (that is, market) which ideas in there are worth stealing ;)


I've long thought I should do a blog on it and submit it here, just haven't gotten around to it. Until then...

The "lines" data structure. This is a list library that scales down to a very small thing and up to pretty decent sized things. Think perl arrays and the ops on them. lines.h snippet below.

    /*
     * liblines - interfaces for autoexpanding data structures
     *
     * s= allocLines(n)
     *      pre allocate space for slightly less than N entries.
     * s = addLine(s, line)
     *      add line to s, allocating as needed.
     *      line must be a pointer to preallocated space.
     * freeLines(s, freep)
     *      free the lines array; if freep is set, call that on each entry.
     *      if freep is 0, do not free each entry.
     * buf = popLine(s)
     *      return the most recently added line (not an alloced copy of it)
     * reverseLines(s)
     *      reverse the order of the lines in the array
     * sortLines(space, compar)
     *      sort the lines using the compar function if set, else string_sort()
     * removeLine(s, which, freep)
     *      look for all lines which match "which" and remove them from the array
     *      returns number of matches found
     * removeLineN(s, i, freep)
     *      remove the 'i'th line.
     * lines = splitLine(buf, delim, lines)
     *      split buf on any/all chars in delim and put the tokens in lines.
     * buf = joinLines(":", s)
     *      return one string which is all the strings glued together with ":"
     *      does not free s, caller must free s.
     * buf = findLine(lines, needle);
     *      Return the index the line in lines that matches needle
     */

The stdio stuff. We have a way that you can "push" code on top of a FILE. Some layers we implemented were compression and CRC and XOR. The compression is lz4 (we may still have gzip); the CRC stuff splits the file up into "blocks" (size is uniform in a file but it varies by overall file size), crcs each one. The XOR stuff adds an XOR block at the end.

The result to a user is if they

    fpush(&f, fopen_crc(...));
then the file will be crc "behind the scenes". That fpush is the only new line of code to get the crc stuff. Ditto for compression.

It gives you compression and hardened files under the stdio API and it's super fast. Like GB/sec fast.

There's other stuff as well, like the spawn() code (I haven't called fork() in a decade or more) that brings a form of Windows spawn to Unix (since you can't make fork() work well on Windows). All of the code is Windows/Unix portable.


you probably could have captured a significant commercial marketshare but i highly doubt you could have beaten git in the open source world, since it was created by your highest profile customer who also happens to be the highest profile open source author (linus torvalds) in direct response to your licensing situation.


Yeah, well. We did what we could. I've been beat up about the licensing and eventually saw the light, the whole thing is open source under the Apache v2 license.

As to the "direct response" stuff, so do you have that straight from Linus? Because that's not what he said to me and we were very close at the time, emailed or got on the phone daily.

I'm a little tired of the licensing stuff. It wasn't as bad as people made it out to be but I get it, it's a more fun story when someone is the bad guy. Can I ask you to let it go or is that too much?


no, of course not. i'm a nobody. but that's the impression that's out there. i don't really care, tbh, it seems like it was just bad timing.

anyway, glad to hear you are retired by the sea in norcal, that's not exactly a sob story, which is why i feel comfortable commenting about it (and you're on a public forum).


I was a nobody and am again. Don't sell yourself short, if you are hanging here and you know the licensing stuff you are paying attention. With that much energy my feeling is you can do stuff. Go do it. If I can help let me know.


What I wrote is going to be super harsh but I'm being purely analytical and this is not to be taken personally:

You definitely don't sound confident at all and I feel like your problem is much deeper one where taking VC money or not isn't the issue.

It's clear from reading you would've spent the money on non-marketing as the hindsight speaks for itself.

Marketing is a small part of the equation but shouldn't be most of the funding goes. Depending on your business and industry, it will vary greatly.

I really don't see any negative impact on you. It might feel that you missed out but maybe it was never a good fit.

Of course, today, you are wiser and know exactly what to do with it, so consider it a lesson that can't be taught in schools.


I'm plenty confident, in fact, too much perhaps. After all, I founded a company that has lasted 19 years (and technically still exists, we have some money in the bank).

That company changed the world. No, we didn't win, but all the distributed source management systems came after us, we were first, they are copies of our model. We invented that space, clone/pull/push/commit are our verbs. We invented, in effect [1], the concept of a changeset. Before us, there was CVS. No binding of a set of related files in a commit. I'm good with that, we changed the world for the better. If you are a programmer your world is better on a daily basis because of us.

As for "my problem being much deeper", not sure where you get that from. I'm retired, I'm fine. Do I have some regrets? You bet.

- I wish Git, since it won, was a pure clone of our stuff, we have a much better architecture, both for accuracy and for performance (try running Git on NFS, then try our stuff. Try running Git with a 4GB repo and then try our stuff.)

- I wish I had made enough money that my team could also retire.

Other than that, I'm good. I've got 4 dogs that I love, live in the Santa Cruz mountains with an awesome family that I also love, I've got nothing to complain about. Well, maybe some health stuff but I'm old so that is par for the course.

[1] One of my guys, Rick Smith, knows way more about this stuff than I do, and he tells me that Aide-de-camp had some sort of changeset concept. So perhaps we were not first. But nobody knew about it. Back when dejanews was a thing you could search usenet in a time range. I remember searching going backwards from the time that we introduced the changeset concept, there either 6 or 9 hits in over 2 decades of Usenet posts. The fact that everyone knows what a changeset is traceable to us far more than Aide-de-camp.

Edit: formatting


Hi Larry,

I for one thank you for your contribution. Hacker News can be a bunch of jackasses at times.

You are absolutely right: distributed version control led to git, which completely changed programming. And though Satoshi didn't cite it by name it was almost certainly also part of the inspiration for Bitcoin and the blockchain, which has led to another $30B in collective market cap.

If you want a suggestion for what to do next, or what to advise, you can probably have a lot of impact (and make money) by getting involved in some of these new distributed ledger/ICO projects. You have the technical ability and it's now possible to monetize at the protocol level. Here are some links if you're interested:

https://www.smithandcrown.com/icos/

https://startupboy.com/2014/03/09/the-bitcoin-model-for-crow...

http://www.usv.com/blog/fat-protocols


Hacker news hasn't cornered the market on jackasses, my opinion is that this place has one of the least amounts of jackasses. But yeah, I get your point.

I'm pretty retired but I'll check out your links. I kinda feel like a useless dinosaur but if there are places where I can help move things forward I'm 100% up for that. I just don't feel like I have that much value to add at this point.

Edit: one thing I really wish would happen, and if I could help with this I'm in, is /etc and any other config file is under version control. 3-way merge/3-way diff and merge is way way better than 2 way.

For that matter, I wish drop box was versioned. Same reason. It's always blown my mind that nobody has done a file system that was versioned so you could merge stuff. Maybe that's because BitKeeper merges so much better that the others. It's possible to automerge a lot more if you have the history.


>>>For that matter, I wish drop box was versioned. Same reason. It's always blown my mind that nobody has done a file system that was versioned so you could merge stuff. Maybe that's because BitKeeper merges so much better that the others. It's possible to automerge a lot more if you have the history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Files-11

(A little facetious here...no merging, but come on, it was the 1980s.)


VMS style versioning is not at all what I meant. What I meant is the OS implements the inode just like a versioned file in an SCM.

Consider the /etc stuff. You wack apache's config, so does debian, you do an apt-get upgrade and it either automerges or you get presented with the 3 way merge in $EDITOR or our graphical file merge.

In many cases, the system can just automerge it (BitKeeper has a pretty sophisticated way of doing, it's better than other answers in a lot of cases) and when it can't you get access to the full DAG and can use all the SCM tools to merge.


I meant more from the investors angle. I definitely don't get any sense of confidence from the business point of view but I can see there is little doubt in your technical execution.

But there lies the problem. You are deeply attached with your ideas and product. You said yourself, you spent 19 years changing the world in this area but not satisfied. It makes sense why you would point to marketing as being the fault. I hope you can see it from a passerby's point of view and not take offense at what is being said like the other guy below reacted.

When I spent a good chunk of my 20s writing software that I thought would change the world, I was defensive, had a huge ego ("My idea changed the industry and I feel like others with VC money have stolen the lime light"), and just refused to let things fail.

I admire that you've found happiness in life. There's more to life then just running a business and making money. I think it's definitely ignored in our world.


So we did pretty well on the business side. We were first, or very darn close to first, to realize that leasing software is smarter than selling it. That was me, that's my confidence.

I did all the sales for the first ~8 years, 16 hours a day on the phone. During that time I ran what I called "Larry's dating service" which was when I was talking to someone crazy smart I would go "Do you know ...." and then hook them up. It's not Tinder but I made a pile of really smart people get to know each other. That's confidence. I think.

Etc. I get that you are trying to tell me something but I'm not sure what it is. If I've come off as not confident that's sort of a mistake, there was a time when I was in my groove and I felt like Steve Jobs, I knew what the world wanted before they knew it. I had to push to get that stuff done, everyone said they didn't want that stuff and then they did. That takes a shitload of ego to keep going.

I'm just not sure where if I were more confident we would have been better. I suspect if I had been less confident we might be better. So I am not arguing with you or trying to disrespect you, I just don't get the not confident thing.


> so consider it a lesson that can't be taught in schools

You do realize you condescend Larry McVoy, right?


I think you mistook me for someone else. My name is not Larry McVoy.


No, that's me. Maybe I should change my login.


Naw, keep it, it's a cool handle. Maybe just add your name to your profile (I know who "BitKeeper Guy" is, but there are almost certainly some users on HN who are literally younger than Git).


Wow, way to make me feel old (reality sucks). But you are right, took your suggestion. Thanks.




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