Sramana: Phil, let’s start with your background. Where does your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Phil Fernandez: I’m from Ohio but I grew up all over the place, although I spent a lot of time in California. My entrepreneurial journey started in a serious way in the 1970s while I was in high school in Phoenix. Today kids learn to program all the time, but back then I had a unique opportunity to learn to program and got a job in high school as a computer programmer, which was a pretty serious position.
It immediately became clear that I was in love with computer programming and that my career would be in that direction. I went to Stanford in 1978 and I knew that I would be computer programmer. The great thing about Stafford is the flexibility to study anything, so I studied history which was a passion of mine.
Through my connections in Phoenix back from my computer programming, days I got a connection with the company in Sunnyvale called Masstor Systems. It was a hot climbing venture-funded startup that had began in the late 1970s. The company had about 30 people when I joined in 1981.
Sramana: What did they do?
Phil Fernandez: They had built a system which was designed for very large data storage needs and had a lot of defense customers using it. All computing was mainframe back then. PCs had not come out yet. Masstor served the needs of very large companies such as Shell, NASA, and very large banks. They then branched into a second business which was high-speed data networking. They did a lot of the things that we take for granted today on the Internet, and they did it a long time before any other networking products came around.
Sramana: What did you do there?
Phil Fernandez: I started as a computer programmer. I’ve always had a business mind and have always been a business guy. As a result, I had an interesting journey there. The company had signed a very large contract with General Electric to revolutionize the way GE did computing. I somehow got a hold of the program and was put in charge of it. A year and a half after joining I was a director running a 35-million-dollar-a-year program for General Electric.
Sramana: What happened after that?
Phil Fernandez: The company went public in 1983 and had their IPO. Before I worked there I had no idea about the IPO world. Suddenly I was in a venture-backed hot startup that went public in 1983, so I developed a taste for the entrepreneurial dream. I got the bug of building companies and I have been doing that ever since.