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Bootstrapping a Language Product Company Using Services from London, Then Taking it Public and Scaling It to $450M: SDL CEO Mark Lancaster (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Sep 3rd 2014

Very few technology companies have been built from the UK. ARM and Autonomy come to mind. Here’s the story of a lesser-known company called SDL.

Sramana: Mark, let’s start with the beginning of your personal story. Where are you from? What is the backstory of the SDL story?

Mark Lancaster: I was born and raised in the UK. I studied engineering and computer science at the university. I started my career as a software design engineer at Satchwell Control Systems and Lotus Development Company. Fairly early on, one of the biggest issues I saw at companies was the need for coders or programmers to engage effectively with management.

I decided to move into management and I took a position with Aston-Tate where I was the international development director. They did a lot of database work and were based out of California. I started spending a lot of time in California. I also worked for Lotus, which had one of the first spreadsheet applications Lotus 1-2-3. They were an American company and I worked for them from Cambridge. I was fortunate to fall into both of those companies in my early years and also fortunate to get involved with a lot of project management activities.

All of that occurred well before the Internet. Around 1990, I decided that with the world being global and the complexities involved made language a big requirement. To my surprise, a couple of the VPs that I worked with at Ashton-Tate told me they would put some money into the company. They were my angel investors. They put in what I felt was very large sums of money, but by today’s standards, their contributions were very small. I think we started the company off with about $70,000 of investment from two people.

Sramana: Were you still based in the UK when you were starting this?

Mark Lancaster: Yes. I was about 25 miles outside London in Maidenhead.

Sramana: So you raised $70,000 from two VPs who you had worked with previously. What did you want to do when you started the company?

Mark Lancaster: We started off as a language company. We wanted to take small and medium-sized enterprises in the US and take them into global markets. Before you can go into global markets, one of the first things you have to do is get your products into the native languages of those markets. This was in the days of the disk operating systems before Windows. There was quite a lot of work to enable all the code to receive all of the foreign characters. There was a lot of technical complexities around it. We started off with a few people working out of my house. For the first few years, things were pretty lean.

Sramana: What year was that? When did you start the company?

Mark Lancaster: We started the company in 1992.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Bootstrapping a Language Product Company Using Services from London, Then Taking it Public and Scaling It to $450M: SDL CEO Mark Lancaster
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