Sometimes Dragons

An Unofficial History of RedMonk: The first 20 years

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Graphic showing an abridged timeline of RedMonk from November 2002 - November 2022

My colleague Steve majored in history. Thus far he and James (who has a background in philosophy and journalism, among other things) have done an excellent job of cataloging some of RedMonk’s milestones:

However, sometime between 2017 and when RedMonk turned 20 earlier this month, James and Steve became less than eager to talk about RedMonk in chronological terms. As Steve writes in his Birthday Surprise post (a reaction to the #20YearsOfRedMonk hashtag that mysteriously emerged on Twitter):

You have to understand that for years we have had one rule at RedMonk. One simple rule. The first rule of RedMonk is that you never, under any circumstances, talk about how old RedMonk is. If RedMonk got old, after all, how old would that make us?

For years then we’ve deflected questions during introductions with vague replies like, “well, we’ve been doing this longer than we care to admit” or similar platitudes.

With our founders doing everything they can to avoid uttering the phrase “20 years” the rest of the current Monks have taken it upon ourselves to put together a very unofficial (and by no means complete) history of RedMonk so far. And because I am a medievalist trained to deal with very old formats and narratives, we decided to put this on my blog. But make no mistake: this was a team effort (except for any typos or errors, which are mine alone), and we even got Steve and James to talk about what it was like founding an analyst firm two decades ago.

In true (neo)medieval(ish) bricolage fashion, what follows is part chronicle and part list of links, with some interview excerpts and photos thrown in. Many thanks to all the Monks for their contributions to this effort, and to our alums, friends, and larger community for helping us to celebrate RedMonk’s 20th birthday.

2002

Steve takes a job at Illuminata, where he joins James’s team. For various reasons (mostly macroeconomic), James and Steve decide to strike out on their own. On the origin of the company and its name (as told during an all-hands call on Nov. 2, 2022):

James: We’re at an IBM event with a guy called Steve Mills, who did a fair bit to help create the modern software business, certainly turning IBM into a business that had a software business. And he was talking about their rivals, their arch rivals. IBM always saw themselves rivaling Microsoft. And so you had Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond (WA) and then IBM was founded in Armonk (NY). So I took Redmond and Armonk and I just went: call it RedMonk. And we’ve got a company name now, so we should totally do a company.

Steve: We’ve got to provide the proper color for that comment. In other words, James had done all the hard work and heavy lifting of coming up with the name and the justification, everything else. And he came to me and said, “Hey, I think I have this name: RedMonk. We should discuss it.”

And I said, “Great.”

He went, “Wait, what? You don’t even want to talk about it?”

I said, “Dude, I just came out of a bunch of dotcom era startups with weird spellings. In every client meeting I was in it was like, ‘What are you?’ No, not doing that anymore.”

James wanted a discussion about the name. And I didn’t care. I’m a practical person. We can spell it. Great.”

November 2

James and Steve quit their jobs and file the paperwork to incorporate RedMonk.

December 2

RedMonk is officially incorporated.

While we could not track down a year for the current design of the RedMonk logo, a bit on its origins:

2003

April

The earliest RedMonk blog posts and website materials that we could track down date to 2003. A few snapshots (courtesy of Rachel Stephens and the Way Back Machine):

What is RedMonk? RedMonk is a new kind of analyst firm dedicated to understanding and building the narratives that define technology marketing and purchase. Great IT companies listen to their customers and deliver products accordingly. So why do so few vendors actually take this approach? The IT industry is full of great technologies and ideas in search of a purpose. But with current market conditions, that approach is no longer viable. Narratives allow users and vendors to level set — to map future directions and strategies while choosing technology that meets today’s, not tomorrow’s, requirements. Learn more about our approach to IT industry analysis or contact us now to start working with RedMonk.

How RedMonk is Different RedMonk is a new kind of industry analyst firm dedicated to understanding and building narratives that underpin product marketing and purchase. Understanding technology is crucial to understanding the industry, but is by no means sufficient. The best technology rarely wins—rather, the best marketed technology does. VHS trumped Betamax in the 70s. Wordperfect and Lotus 1-2-3 invented “personal productivity” in the 80s but are now footnotes in history. Oracle trumped Sybase and Informix in the early 90s through aggression and marketing. Microsoft has repeatedly triumphed against strong market incumbents not on the strength of its products but its marketing. The question becomes bigger than technology - it's about context. RedMonk covers the industry by looking at integrated software stacks, focusing on business and operational context rather than speeds and feeds and feature tick-lists. Our primary thesis is that IBM and Microsoft are the leaders in a fast consolidating industry and this assumption underpins our model for understanding the industry, now and in future. Of course vendors such as CA, HP, BEA, Oracle, SAP, and Sun are hugely important companies in their own right, and RedMonk will cover them closely, just as we will cover the vendors and technologies in our coverage areas that drive the market through innovation. Trying to understand the dynamics of the industry without understanding, for example, where and how Java fits in, and who the key players are, would make no sense. Ditto for open source technologies. In terms of sheer scale, reach and breadth however it is hard to argue that IBM and Microsoft are not the main centers of gravity.

May

The earliest post we can find from Steve (and it is about dinosaurs): Pandora’s Box, Jurassic Park, and DRM

June

The earliest post we can find from James: Peoplesoft & JD Edwards: An IBM Narrative

2006

February

Michael Coté (Analyst, 2006-2011) joins the team

July

James drops a post about Dave Lidell (then at IBM and important to the RedMonk origin story): On Building a World Class AR Team, David Liddell, and Lessons in Business Ethics and the Entrepreneur Mindset

2007

RedMonk at JavaOne (photo courtesy of Michael Coté via a since-deleted tweet):

People with laptops gather around a table

2008

January

Marcia Chappell (Operations Manager, 2008-present) joins the team, originating the Operations Manager role

One of the best parts of the RedMonk origin story that we heard during our all-hands call on Nov. 2, 2022 was about how integral Marcia has been to RedMonk’s survival:

Steve: [Marcia] came on board and I literally walked over with a box of receipts that I think there were invoices. And I said, “Can You help with this?”

Marcia: Expense receipts. Everybody just kept all the paper receipts.

Steve: Yeah, I used to mail checks. I had to physically mail checks to James and Coté. We had no idea what we were doing. We started the business. And then you’re trying to keep the business running. And particularly the early days, you’re trying to run lean and not acquire a lot of help. And a lot of things we take for granted now–software as a service at the most basic level, but also part time assistance for a lot of back office type tasks, you know, things like TaskRabbit–none of that stuff existed. You had to either hire for it or figure it out yourself.

[…]

James: I can’t even imagine. I’m so glad because this is the thing.  I mean, if Steve is bad at these things, then I’m bad at them to a much, much deeper level than than Steve is.

Steve: I remember talking to somebody–maybe it was Marcia?– and they asked, “Are you doing this stuff because you’re better at it?” And I said, “No, I’m slightly less bad at it.” That’s about it. That’s why we have hired Marcia and other people over the years to try to take care of the things that I’m just slightly less bad at.

James: Regarding hiring Marcia: I can’t think of a better decision in any field or walk of my life than hiring Marcia. So it was fantastic. Because of all of the things that me and Steve are absolutely terrible at.

May

Tom Raftery (GreenMonk Analyst, 2008-2016) joins the team and GreenMonk is born

c. 2009/2010

We could not find a precise date for this photo (courtesy of Michael Coté via a since-deleted tweet) so this is an approximation: Tom, James, Steve, and Coté at an IBM event

Tom Raftery, James Governor, Steve O'Grady, and Michael Cote at an IBM event

 

2010

Kate Lynch O’Grady begins dispensing always sage advice as RedMonk’s General Counsel (c. 2010-present); she will also be integral to the creation of The Monktoberfest

2011

October

The Monktoberfest logo

The Monktoberfest is born (from a tweet)

(photo courtesy the rab)The crowd gathers for #Monktoberfest in the Portland Maine

December

Donnie Berkholz (Analyst, 2011-2015) joins the team

2012

February

The first Monki Gras

(Photo courtesy of Laurel Ruma)A beer glass branded with the 2012 Monki Gras logo is half full of delicious beer

September

The RedMonk Programming Language Rankings takes its current form; earlier iterations:

2013

March

Steve publishes The New Kingmakers: How Developers Conquered the World

Cover of The New Kingmakers

Juliane Leary (Account & Engagement Manager, 2013-2021) joins the team, originating the Account & Engagement Manager role

December

The first ThingMonk

Photo from the first ThingMonk (courtesy of Crispin Veall):

People gather around a table with laptops and various fragments of hardware

2015

May

Steve publishes The Software Paradox: The Rise and Fall of the Commercial Software Market

Cover of The Software Paradox

October

Rachel Stephens helps coordinate The 2015 Monktoberfest (jump to May 2016 to see what happened next)

Kelly Fitzpatrick attends her first Monktoberfest, meets Rachel and the Monks, and decides that she would consider working at RedMonk just to be able to go to Monktoberfest every year (jump to September 2018 for the rest of this story)

August

Fintan Ryan (Analyst, 2015-2018) joins the team

2016

May

Rachel Stephens (Analyst, 2016-present) joins the team

2017

Steve, James, and Rachel at Monki Gras 2017 in London (photo courtesy of Claire Giordano):

Steve, James, and Rachel at Monki Gras 2017

2018

August

James solidifies his thoughts around Progressive Delivery, a term he helped coin.

September

Kelly Fitzpatrick (Analyst, 2018-present) joins the team

2021

October

Morgan K. Harris (Account and Engagement Manager, 2021-present) joins the team

2022

January

Kate Holterhoff (Analyst, 2022-present) joins the team

August

Lily Townsend (Project Coordinator, 2022 – present) joins the team and originates the Project Coordinator role

October

The 2022 Monktoberfest, where Steve, Lily, Rachel, Morgan, Kelly, and James got to meet up in person (photo courtesy of Rachel Stephens):
Pictured at Monktoberfest (from left): Steve O'Grady, Lily Townsend, Rachel Stephens, Morgan Harris, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and James Governor smile for the camera

November 2

Twitter celebration (while Twitter is still a thing) of #20YearsOfRedMonk

A few tweets from our amazing community (thank you!)

And from some current and former Monks (also thank you!)

Photo credits: are listed in the written timeline above. The timeline graphic at the start of this post is the brainchild of Dr. Kate Holterhoff.

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