Redgate, in the words of the founders

Neil and Simon

We founded Redgate* in 1999, and, until recently, we ran the company as joint chief executives. Simon is now the CEO, with responsibilities that include developing the leadership team and making sure everything runs smoothly day-to-day. After sharing the CEO role for over 12 years, Neil is taking time off from shipping software to return to full-time study. You can find out more about his plans from his website.

Nearly 300 people now work at Redgate, and we’ve been repeatedly recognised as a great place to work. We’re privately owned and financed, we have no debt, and we almost always earn more than we spend.

Video: The making of Redgate’s 11th birthday photo

Our products have hundreds of thousands of users across the world, and most household-name organisations use at least some of our tools. Our testimonials give a better feel for what our customers think of us than anything we can say here.

We make products that solve complex problems. Our tools are technically challenging to create but really intuitive to use – a philosophy we call “ingeniously simple”**.

The early days

When we founded the company in 1999, we had the following goals in mind:

  • Working together to do something that we both found personally fulfilling.
  • Creating software that made a technical contribution to the market and to the working lives of our users.
  • Building a company culture that represented our moral values and who we are as people – this was in reaction to having worked in places where the humanity of the organisation’s employees was seen by their managers as an annoying inconvenience.

We missed out something really important when we set out these goals, though, and it took us an embarrassingly long time to spot our mistake.

Our first product was Aardvark, a bug tracking tool which we worked on for about a year. In April 2001 we started work on our second product, ANTS Load – a load testing tool that targeted web applications written in .NET. We worked on that for another year or so before starting work on ANTS Profiler – a code profiling tool for .NET applications, and our third product.

At the start of 2003 we had three tools. They really were the best solution available for some specific problems, but they were very much Version 1 efforts. Each tool was a good enough idea individually that we could have built a bigger company than we have now by focusing our energy on any one of them. But we blew every opportunity we had.

We blew those opportunities because of our inexperience, myopia, and confusion. Because we’d been blinded by our early financial success. We were chumps.

We were chumps because we hadn’t ever visited a customer. We were chumps because we never asked our users to solve their problems using our software while we sat there and watched. We were chumps because we didn’t listen to what our sales team told us our customers were saying about the products. We knew very little about the market, about what our customers needed, about who they were, and how we could help them.

This was the big thing we’d missed.

Because we didn’t listen to our customers, we didn’t push on with our bug tracking product, and we failed to capitalise on the problem that Atlassian ultimately solved so brilliantly with JIRA. Because we didn’t listen to our customers, we didn’t make load testing as simple as it could have been, and ANTS Load was never the blockbuster it deserved to be. Fortunately for us, no one else got to the profiler market first, and we eventually got around to making a great version of ANTS Profiler – but only after we’d let it get close to death.

The thing that we’d missed when thinking about our initial goals as a company was any understanding of our customers and their experience of our tools.

You’re probably wondering how we survived. Firstly, we were very lucky. Secondly, we managed to do a couple of things right:

  • We produced fantastically engineered products. Even the flawed first versions of our early products sold, purely because they worked well and were well written.
  • We hired exceptionally good people, treated them well, and did everything we could to get the best out of them.
  • We sold and marketed our software with integrity.
  • We came up with a potential blockbuster: a product called SQL Compare, which Neil had coded in his spare time.

A turning point

In February 2003, we got together as a company to brainstorm what we should do next. We thought it should be something new – we’d managed to do the old stuff right, after all. There were ten of us in total, and we threw paper airplanes around to get our creative juices flowing. But the brainstorm yielded no good ideas.

This failure is the most important moment in our entire history. It was the moment we stopped being a mediocre company and started trying to become a great company – by focusing our attention on our users rather than ourselves.

We decided to work on a new version of SQL Compare. We thought it was already pretty good, and that it wouldn’t be too difficult to improve. Wrong again. Our earliest users had bombarded us with all the reasons why we were wrong, and – when we actually sat down and listened to their feedback – it was impossible to ignore. We discarded the original code and started again from scratch.

Version 3 ended up 100 times faster than previous versions. The UI was radically simpler and far easier to use than Version 2, and it worked in a much wider range of cases. It sold incredibly well, and became the cornerstone of our business; it was our first experience of making something better than it had been before by involving the end-user in the improvement process, and it was a legendary experience for us.

Ten years later, we have user-experience engineers who work alongside our developers and test engineers on every project we run, making our release and feedback cycles ever-faster. Five years ago, we’d ship two or three times a year; now we ship weekly (or, in some cases, daily), and product prototypes ship every hour.

We’ve also become less conceited over the years. We don’t toss paper aeroplanes around meeting rooms in despair any more, and we no longer build everything ourselves from scratch. Some of our best tools were bought from other people, and we believe that our job lies as much in figuring out how to make them as useful and usable for as many potential customers as possible as it does in building our own products from the ground up. So if you’ve got something interesting that you think we could buy from you and take to the next level, please let us know – we’re always interested.

Redgate today & tomorrow

We took a long look around recently and saw that – while we may not be very strategically minded – there’s a clear theme to what we’ve focused on all along.

We’ve grown from offering two products in 2003 to offering nearly 40 today, and each of those ingeniously simple tools, in one way or another, helps us and our customers to ship better software. It’s clear to us now that to get better at what we do – making technical problems and processes less painful – there are a number of linked challenges we need to address: how to ship software ever more easily, how to continuously improve the code that you’re shipping, and how to ensure that no data gets left behind in the process and that no systems go unmonitored. We also want to make it much easier to access our technology from the cloud wherever that will make the life of the IT professional easier.

For us, it’s as much about evolving the way we work in project teams, and how tooling in the wider sense makes teams better, as it is about a single tool’s ability to solve a problem. And we plan to remain on the cutting edge of software development by making our tools as useful for us as we want them to be for you.

Accordingly, we need our customers’ input more than ever, so please give us your feedback – whatever it is – and we’ll do our best to take it on board. If for whatever reason you’re not getting an answer, please write to us directly. We’d rather you hurt our feelings now than run the risk of being chumps again.

* Redgate is named after the street where Neil lived in Florence, Italy.
** If you’d like to know more about what we believe in and how we work, check out the Book of Redgate.