Oracle's public image may be that of a sharp-elbowed sales competitor and insatiable eater of terrified companies. But during speeches kicking off the enterprise software vendor's annual OpenWorld conference in San Francisco Sunday night, the company showed a funnier, more humane side.
In a pair of keynotes by cofounder and CEO Larry Ellison and president and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz that were collectively called "Sunday Night Live," the two, especially Ellison, waxed nostalgic about the now-30-year-old company's origins, especially its own Silicon Valley "start-up in a garage" days.
Ellison started Oracle's predecessor, Software Development Laboratories, in 1977 with $2,000 of his own money. Its first office was on the famed Sand Hill Road in California, near Stanford University.
Things back then were done by the seat of Ellison's (and everyone else's) pants. One early employee, Stuart Feigin, reminisced via video how when Bank of America, which Ellison was approaching for a start-up loan, demanded a balance sheet, neither he nor Ellison knew what one was.
"We had to go and study some annual reports to figure it out," he said.
Feigin, who worked at Oracle for 20 years and is now a venture capitalist, also recalled stuffing all of Oracle's early receipts into a shoe box.
Safra Catz was not chosen to be Oracle's first accountant because, unlike the other candidate, according to Ellison, "she didn't have a car."
At an early meeting with a firm bidding to become Oracle's European sales representative, Ellison recalled discovering "that they were trying to hide the fact that they were a four-person company, while we had been trying to hide the fact that we were a seven-person company."
Unlike Google, which is known for fetishising its employees' academic records to the point of asking middle-aged candidates what their college grades were, Ellison, himself a college dropout, touted Oracle's unconventionality."It was well-known that we were an MBA-free zone," he said. "I am only half-kidding."
The keynotes were interspersed with skits by former and current Saturday Night Live cast members, including Kevin Nealon, Victoria Jackson and Darrell Hammond.