In the early 2000s, Igor Sysoev, then the system administrator of Rambler, entertained himself at work by writing a program called NGINX. By the early 2010s, she had made him a five-minute millionaire
In the corner of a large, dark, Unfurnished room, a thin man in his forties sits at a computer. His lips are tight, his eyes piercing the screen as if he wants to burn through it, and he taps the keys. Over the past year and a half, the former system administrator of Rambler has founded his own company and almost became a millionaire, but he does not have an office and a reception room with a Secretary and will not have one. Why? Sysoev does not communicate with investors and clients, does not use the phone in principle. If you believe the textbook image of a startup who knows how to captivate and convince, then Igor is a sample of a person who does not Shine with entrepreneurship at all. Nevertheless, venture capitalists have been urging him to start a business for three years, and those who are late are still trying to jump on the departing train and get at least a small package of his company NGINX (“Engin-x”). What were they so interested in?
The problem, the solution of which made Sysoev an entrepreneur against his will, fascinated him 10 years ago. The Internet then grew at a crazy pace — from 1990 to 2000, the number of users increased by about 260 times. Add to this the increase in activity of each of them. Sites could not cope with the load and died, programmers puzzled over the problem. In 1995, a group of American University students together wrote a web server program called Apache, which is able, if you explain “on the fingers”, to distribute the resources of the server so as to simultaneously serve many users coming to the sites hosted on it. But after a few years, high-load sites and this is no longer enough. What to do? All urgently to buy new more powerful servers or … to think up something new. Igor Sysoev invented. For two years, he wrote a program called NGINX, which performed a miracle: it allowed, without buying anything, to increase the number of users served by the server by an order of magnitude, and sometimes by several. Now, of the 200 million active sites on the global network, about a quarter of the most visited, including Facebook, Yandex, Vkontakte, use the Sysoev program. Apache is still the most popular web server in the world, but NGINX is growing and this year is neck and neck with Microsoft’s IIS web server, now overtaking it, then trailing by fractions of a percent. And of the several million sites Runet NGINX used more than half.
The thing is, the path from millions of users to millions of dollars in your pocket is not close and not at all obvious, especially on the Internet. Both American Apache and Russian NGINX — programs are free. Anyone can use them at their discretion and as you like to alter. And there are plenty of examples where the inventor of something superpopular in the network and remained with nothing: the same Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of the C language, which was said “if you take a microscope and look into the computer, you will see Ritchie everywhere”, died not only without getting rich, but also by accident at the same time with Steve jobs, so completely unnoticed. And Apache itself, if you look at the whole, is also not a machine for making money: the community of developers Apache Foundation lives on voluntary donations. The fact that NGINX has gone differently is primarily due to the nature of its Creator.
Alma-ATA, where Sysoev spent his childhood, was not at the forefront of technology. When Igor was 15, the first computer appeared in the house of pioneers, and students were taken to watch the curiosity. Sysoev-man restrained: “I thought: on get me this need to? However went. Nothing particularly interesting.” “Iron” Igor was not carried away, but plunged into a strange game, a harbinger of future work: he solved the problem on the calculator “Flight from the moon to the Earth” from the magazine “Technique of youth”. “You choose the speed, the direction of movement, drive into the formula — and get a few numbers on a one-line monitor. It’s your position in space. The task is not to leave the route.” “This is very interesting”, — just in case explains Sysoev. That’s how he chose a specialty.
After MGTU im. After changing a couple of jobs and making sure that there is nothing worse than to lead the team, Sysoev in 2000 came to Rambler as a system administrator. “I was told: this is a tough guy, very strong, take it,” says Igor Ashmanov, at the time Rambler’s Director of development. In Rambler programmers were given freedom: you do your job, and the rest of the time you can have fun — in their own way, in a programmer. “The task of a good sysadmin is to make himself unnecessary,” explains Sysoev. “To make everything work without his interference.” He set up work and began to have fun to the fullest: at the time he had a “strong personal interest” in the problem of high server utilization. Although the problem directly concerned Rambler, little was known about Igor’s work: “I solved the problem that I set myself without a deadline. It was a hobby in its purest form, I could always stop and think properly before going any further.” “If Rambler imagined then what would come of it, probably, would lay a paw”, – the co-owner of the small software company Alexey Tutubalin, Sysoev’s then colleague grins

“The idea was in the air, and I just took it to implement” — Sysoev explains the course of life logic, not exceptions to it. “Out of thin air”, he learned this: unlike Apache decided not to allocate a fixed amount of memory and processor power for each visitor to the site, and constantly redistribute resources depending on the situation. If, for example, the visitor has a slow dial-up, there is no need to give him a lot of power, he still does not use them. If he opened page site and went to drink coffee — the more. In 2002 Sysoev began to write — at work, at home, during the day, at night. Programmers also have inspiration, he says: “Two weeks is written, and then a month well, just does not go. The brain refuses to work.”

Sysoev found a compromise. “Apache is like a big and heavy Swiss knife, where there are screwdrivers, nail files, anything. A lot of functions, but the program is very large, – explains Andrey Alekseev, who is responsible for business development in NGINX and, since he has the gift of words, for communication with the outside world. – There were then and web servers absolutely narrow, as awl — – to them even the screw you will not Unscrew because it awl”. NGINX turned out to be compact, but versatile. By 2004, the first finished version of the product appeared. Sysoev did not promote it in any way. The first users were accidentally found out about her site owners ””, then Rambler began to apply it, and NGINX began to untwist itself.

By 2008, Sysoev’s invention without any marketing support took 0.5% of the global web server market. And Sysoev meanwhile still remained the main and virtually the only expert on its designing. Characteristic of his personal page in the Network. From “human” – sparse information that was born in 1970 in Alma-ATA, studied there, moved to Moscow. From incomputing post about changing time zones with an abundance of figures and calculations, in what form we lose more light hours. Everything else-answers to users about NGINX. But the serious questions of programmers “why did you do so, and not commercials”, the author did not answer. “I never do it,” Sysoev says with deep conviction. — To answer correctly and exhaustively, it takes a lot of time. And I can’t just answer that.” The community, usual for open source programs, around NGINX did not arise, and investors, who were interested in NGINX by that time, had to turn to Sysoev himself.

But wouldn’t the same investors have been better off doing Apache? There were once two dozen founding fathers of Apache, but gradually their community has grown to several hundred people from all over the world, from Cape town to Mongolia. “Apache can’t be commercialized, it doesn’t have a single center, and then there are just too many of us,” explains Forbes one of the developers, 55 — year-old Jacques Leroux, who lives by the sea near Marseille. But the lack of “center” does not prevent the same Leroux to live at the expense of Apache: he joined the Fund” out of curiosity ” 8 years ago and now earns, supporting and refining the Apache-based program OFBiz. And this is one of hundreds of such projects, not counting the giant Red Hat with a turnover of more than $10 billion: although one of the founders of Apache is listed among its owners, there is no direct connection of the company’s earnings with this fact.

“Investors (mostly American mid-tier funds) began to write me letters in 2008-offered to meet and discuss the possibility of doing business. Usually I did not answer anything, because I did not know what to answer, — ironically argues Sysoev. — First of all, I’ve always had enough money. There is a car in the family, where to live, too — what else do you need? And secondly, it was necessary to psychologically get used to the fact that there was a new opportunity.” The habituation went “absolutely inside”, even the wife did not guess: “I just do not devote her to such things, I put before the fact when everything is decided”.

The person who made a revolution in his mind, was, according to Sysoev, Sergei Belousov of Runa Capital. However, by the time they met at the end of 2010, Sysoev found it difficult to single-handedly support his program, and life itself pushed him to compromise.

“The logic in our conversation did not work,” Belousov recalls. — It was all too obvious from that point of view. It was about Igor’s feelings, he had to accept it all. By the way, the case is not over, he still has a lot to come to terms with in the future.” “Well, Yes, it is a complex, recognizes Belousov. — A lot of ordinary people – but that’s what to do with them?»

Sysoev decided. In the spring of 2011, together with the future operating Director of the company Maxim Konovalov, they left Rambler, at the same time Andrei Alekseev resigned from Comstar-OTS. Jumping into the unknown Igor, although skiing, does not like: even before the dismissal of future investors was signed by the so-called term sheet, which described what share in the yet-existing company they will receive in exchange for $3-million investment. With Runa Capital communication at the time was not-investors promised to act funds BV Capital (now e. Ventures) and Greycroft, specializing in digital media and at one time invested in the Huffington Post.

The funds did not undertake strict obligations. When summer programmers created company (on this took several hundred thousands of rubles own savings Sysoeva and Konovalov), Greycroft unsupportable, but instead him came Runa. The total amount of the transaction has not changed. The main investor was the Fund BV Capital, a little less invested Runa, joined the pool as a personal Fund of Michael Dell. All funds go to operating expenses: 90% – the salary of programmers (now a dozen), the next article-rent an office, a deserted apartment on Ostozhenka, where in addition to sysoevsky working corner equipped with several more of the same.

The structure of the transaction is typical for America, not as aggressive as here, admits Andrey Alekseev: “the Funds received a little more than 35%, 15-20% were left for options to employees, the rest is Igor’s share and a little bit from me and max.” Sysoev, by the way, is not the main, he is the technical Director. His task is to make a new version of NGINX-2 and communicate with customers “on purely technical issues”. And the rest of the team is working on the first version. “It was hard to take it away from Igor,” Andrei sighs. – Long fought with him on this subject-Ah all, finish it already, relax!»

NGINX’s competitor, the # 1 web server in the Apache world, cannot be commercialized because of the ideology of its developers. The most famous – Ken Coar (pictured) – lectures on the dangers of civilization and human enslavement internetvystroitsya whether the queue of customers in front of the door of the apartment on Ostozhenka? Sergey Belousov confidently talks about a billion turnover in 10 years, but he does not yet know the specific framework of the market, which WILL nginx. So far, there is not even an operating break-even — it is expected next year. Member of the “Apache Society” Jacques Leroux believes the prospects of NGINX are very good. The thing is that NGINX has not even decided whether the second version will remain free and will be distributed with open source (this is an opportunity for any programmer to modify it). Now 80% of the turnover, which is, according to Konovalov, in the range of $0.5–1 million, the company brings technical support NGINX, and the growth opportunities here are likely small. 20% – development of versions of the program for specific customers, including Netflix, a large telecommunications company and a government structure.

The task is to do the opposite: to receive 80% of revenues from development and 20% from support. The company does not rely too much on Russian buyers. “Because of our popularity in Russia, everyone here has learned too well to work with NGINX themselves. And then, the idea of “paying extra for free” for our-a cultural shock, ” – says Konovalov. However, Anatoly Lebedev, head of Yandex search services operation Department, admits: “it is important for Us that we can entrust this team with some of the tasks of NGINX revision. It is a flexible product, and the fact that we continue to use it is an indicator of our satisfaction.” And yet the main goal of NGINX is America. So far, the company has had only one employee on the North American continent, but this year Konovalov opens an NGINX office in California, where a whole group of “sellers”will work. But the development will remain in Russia.

Maxim Konovalov admits that there have been several offers to buy shares at a price several times higher than the original. “We are not millionaires,” Konovalov estimates. – But Igor, on the idea of, could would them become. If I wanted to.” However, Sysoev in his corner is finishing the second version of NGINX and is not distracted by trifles. By December, everything will be ready, and the subcontractors will not let you down, because they simply do not exist.