The day we went public-Nov 21, 1995-also happened to be my birthday. It was before the Internet bubble-a time when all you needed to go public was a couple of quarters of profitability and a solid growth story. We had raised $12 million in two rounds of financing (with Sequoia Capital being the lead investor) and were fortunate to have Don Valentine, their legendary founder, as our chairman. He felt the “why” was an important question to ask when going public. We were growing from $16 million to $43 million that fiscal year, had created a new category in data storage called Network Attached Storage (which was being measured by the Gartner Group), and had sales momentum in the United States and a few countries in Europe. We believed that an initial public offering (IPO) would allow us to dramatically expand our global presence so we could grow fast enough to dominate that segment. Five years later, we were $1 billion in revenue and had one of the best performing stocks on the NASDAQ.
During the Internet boom, I was listening to the radio while driving in the Bay Area. On the radio, the CEO of a dot-com company was chanting “IPO” with his employees, celebrating what was to me clearly an end event. A few years later, they were gone (as were many companies that went public in the late 90s). As Don preached to us all the time, a successful IPO provides companies with a vision, the funds to fulfill it and a way to bring long-term value to your customers. There is no doubt in my mind that his sage advice helped us approach the event correctly and was fundamental to our success.
On Nov. 21, 2005, then-NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven and I were joined by Dave Hitz, James Lau and many of our local New York team to ring the NASDAQ bell to celebrate our 10th anniversary as a public company. A cool personal highlight of the day was being asked to go outside and see “Happy Birthday, Tom Mendoza” on the news ticker in Times Square.
It would be interesting to know how many companies have had a 20-year anniversary of being public on the NASDAQ. What is certain is the list would read like a who’s who of Silicon Valley’s great companies. On Nov. 21, 2015, NetApp will join that list.
I am often asked if I ever dreamed NetApp would be so successful when the company started. My answer has always been the same: “No, but I always felt it would be a company that we would be proud of for the rest of our lives.” The many people who have made and continue to make the NetApp journey possible know exactly what I mean by that and for that I am forever grateful.