Tonight, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View hosted a fabulous event with the four founders of Sun - Vinod Kholsa, Scott McNealy, Andy Bechtolsheim, and Bill Joy. If you enjoy history and technology, I encourage you to come to future events and to support the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection and preservation of the software, documentation, hardware, images, and personal histories that represent the innovation and advances in IT.
The wonderful reality about the technology industry is that a significant number of IT industry pioneers and innovators are not only still with us (Jobs, Joy, Bechtolsheim, etc), but also remain vibrant participants in the economy they helped to create. Tonight really was living history with the people on stage recounting the founding of Sun in 1982 and the adoption of open systems, Unix, RISC, Java, network based computing, the constant ying and yang of fat vs thin clients, and the MSFT vs Sun world views.
Sun's sales in the first six years - $8.5m to $1bn- testify to its force as disrupter, and yet I have to tip my hat to the company and founder's staying power. Here we are 24 years later and 50% of the founders remain employees and Sun remains a force in the market place.
WRT disruption, it is instructive to note that open systems were lightly regarded by the investment community in 1982, which is very similar to Marc Benioff's experience raising money for SaaS-based CRM in the late 1990s. The common elements in both examples appear to be a price/performance ratio improvement and an alignment to the customers' interests that the competition's business model did not allow for. Yet the investment community, in both instances, reflected the incumbent's world view. It seems to be a truism that large companies in technology can innovate (Xerox Parc being the poster child) but that they remain vulnerable with respect to brittle cost structures, business models, and organizational dynamics that make it difficult to use the very technologies their research labs are innovating. Perhaps the best answer to "why can't a large company do what you do Mr Start-up," is to say they probably can but they can't afford to - history, that is living history, says that's true.