How Larry Elison Launched Oracle From Nothing
A technology rag to riches story from California to Texas
Oracle is one of the original technology giants to paint the technology landscape back in the 1970s. Headquartered in 1977 in Redwood Shores in California, it has since relocated to Austin, Texas, like many startups.
Oracle itself sells database software and technology as well as enterprise resource planning systems. In general, it's one of the incumbents in each of the technology spaces it is in, and since 2020, Oracle is the second-largest software company by revenue and market capitalization.
But how did Oracle come to be, especially from its founder who has been at the company since its inception? Let's take a look at Larry Ellison and Oracle's history.
The History of Larry Ellison and Oracle
Although Larry Ellison may seem like an extravagant spender, including purchasing 98% of a Hawaiian island called Lanai and many assets like private jets, he actually comes from humble roots.
He was born on August 17th in 1944, in New York City. Ellison grew up in a working-class Chicago family of Jewish immigrants, with an unmarried mother and without a biological father. His mother gave Ellison to relatives to raise early on, and his adoptive father repeatedly abused him about not being good enough.
“I was raised on the South Side of Chicago,” he said in an oral history for the Smithsonian Institution. “I remember Look Magazine called it the oldest and worst black ghetto in the United States.”
After growing up, he attended both the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. He would drop out of both colleges and work odd jobs before picking up a programming job at Ampex Corporation, helping build a database for the CIA. Since he never learned computer science formally, he had self-taught himself through reading books.
In 1977, he and a few other co-workers decided to leave Ampex Corporation to start their own database company called Software Development Laboratories (SDL)
When they first released their product, they decided not to name it a ‘Version 1.0 product’ but instead a ‘Version 2.0’. Unlike today’s startup landscape, having an incomplete or new product could leave you without customers back then.
The decision paid off, and Ellison secured his first big customer, the CIA. SDL changed its name to Relational Software, Inc (RSI) in 1979, then again to Oracle Systems Corporation in 1983, to align itself more closely with its flagship product Oracle Database. At this stage, Bob Miner served as the company's senior programmer.
Oracle and its IPO
On March 12, 1986, the company had its initial public offering.
This would eventually catapult Oracle into one of the world's biggest tech giants at a current valuation of around 173 billion dollars. Over time, much of Oracle's product suite has come from many of its acquisitions. Although predominately known as a software company for decades, in 2010, Oracle made a huge acquisition of Sun Microsystems that put the big tech company in both the software and hardware space.
In 2014, Ellison decided to step aside to make room for two co-CEOs, Mark Hurd (a close friend of his), and Safra Catz.
Ellison himself is worth a nice 54 billion-dollar fortune, which he admits he never foresaw. Today he still remains as Oracle's CTO and part of the executive team.