Marc Fleury's best day ever

He gave me a t-shirt, inspired by the movie Napoleon Dynamite. "Vote for JBoss," it reads, then on the back, "and all your wildest dreams will come true."

Marc Fleury September 2005It was a coincidence that my luncheon interview with JBoss Founder and CEO Marc Fleury came on the same day JBoss announced a partnering agreement with Microsoft that will deepen JBoss support for Windows Server, and assure interoperability for its Java-based middleware.

A cursory look at the release might cause you to skip over it. Nearly half of JBoss' customers deploy JEMS on Windows Server. Microsoft needed to acknowledge its enterprise customers' Java needs, without surrendering .Net to it in any way.

The deal was a simple win-win, the kind you see every day.

But to Fleury it was much more. As he sat down to a big steak at Bone's, Atlanta's premier meat space, he noted with wonder that he had just finished a nine-month growth plan, confident the revenues would be there to meet his costs.

He worried a bit about how "the community" might feel about the deal, about whether he was selling out. But he felt more comfortable around Microsoft, which he noted was built by software developers, than around IBM, built by salesmen. The deal felt right in his gut, and now he was feeding that gut with one of Bone's 22-ounce chunks of cattle, along with some asparagus and, for starters, carpaccio. (Diet Coke to drink. It was lunch, after all.)

Not your average businessman's lunch, I thought. But this was not an average businessman's day. This was security, for the "star programmers" Fleury had attracted to Atlanta. It was validation, for open source and his developer-driven business model.

And it was a good time to look back. You know why JBoss is in Atlanta, he asked? "My wife's family is from here." Five years ago, he and Nathalie (who now runs the firm's internal public relations effort) had made a deal. She would support him for two years, he would pursue his dreams, and if it didn't work he would get a job.

So he wrote a course on Java, and offered to teach it, one week in a hotel ballroom, $3,000 per student. The first course drew a class of 20. Then he took it to London and got 30. He could afford his own place, and within a short time he found some great partners who believed in what he was doing. CTO Scott Stark came on board, originally, for what amounted to living expenses. Vice president-strategy Bob Bickel shepherded a VC financing, not for the money but for the expertise, the knowledge, what Bill Gates would call the "bandwidth."

There were tough times. Developers left, publicly. Fleury felt himself torn between two churches, the open source monks who shunned money and the corporate types who wanted to keep developers poor.

And now, this. JBoss is a leader in Java-based middleware for large enterprises, a force riding the wave of open source, a company Microsoft must deal with.

After lunch Fleury showed off his offices in Atlanta's Tower Place, including his view of the downtown skyline, and revealed that he's planning to take on more space. He also gave me a t-shirt, inspired by the movie Napoleon Dynamite. "Vote for JBoss," it reads, then on the back, "and all your wildest dreams will come true."

Some wild dreams have indeed come true for Marc Fleury these last five years, for JBoss, and for open source generally. So I left him there, a smile on my own face, with this piece of advice from Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger. Dream other dreams, and better.

Or, when you reach your goals, set new ones.