Successes like Black Duck Software are few and far-between. (Entrepreneurs: You know that this is more than a cliché.) It takes a unique vision, the right people, a whole lot of work, the right sources of capital — and unquestionably, lots of luck — among many other things.
Black Duck (named after a childhood pet) was conceptualized on December 27, 2002 (almost 15 years ago) on a beach in Cancún, Mexico. My vision was that one day, open source software would be used extensively in large, medium and small businesses — and even in government. To get there, the company would use a subscription model to provide the latest software and code prints of open source projects directly and also offer some consultants to customers. In the beginning, almost everybody found fault with my vision and Black Duck’s business model.
Back in the day, the first generation of open source code repositories, licenses (especially GPL) and applications were already in place but evolving. All that was required for ubiquitous corporate use was a platform designed to handle license compliance, code management, and code security.
I led Black Duck for its first eight years, evangelizing code experiments and navigating a change in positioning to focus on lower software development costs, improved open source license compliance, adding code security, vertical applications and many other themes. This audience knows how hard it is to sell nascent technology and communicate an initial value proposition, especially when you are aiming to change old ways of doing things.
But the team got us through. My admiration is boundless for everyone at Black Duck over the years. This includes: engineers, the sales force, QA and documentation personnel, marketers, our international team, managers and executives (Lou Shipley, in particular, was awesome), and this should not surprise you: our VC.
Venture capital firms’ involvement was planned from the beginning. At the time, research indicated that VC outcomes were better when the business potential was based on a “big idea”. Also, I knew the total capital required, operating costs and exit opportunities were too great for a ‘bootstrap’ approach. Black Duck — a remarkable, noble but stubborn waterfowl — could not build a great business alone. So, over a weekend in mid-July 2004, the company did a Series A round as we had a substantial “early-stage” buy-out offer.
We brought on Larry Bohn and General Catalyst as the co-lead investor. (Flagship Ventures was the other co-lead.) Over the course of time, Larry did a myriad of things for the company. He was a fantastic cheerleader, an amazing networker, a great negotiator, effective on the Board and much more. In GC, we found a true partner in building the business. They treated me like family and not like the guy who brought them a “coding deal that was named after a duck.”
The reader might think these are the ravings of a “fan boy” but people know I’m very discerning and sedulous. GC was great, period. Further, my admiration is deep and abiding because of extensive experience with many startups, angels, corporate investors, VC, others in finance, and as a VC investor myself. (Buy me a beer or coffee sometime and I will tell you some funny and chilling stories about VC.)
In closing, it’s clear that this is the end of one chapter but also the beginning of another. Thanks to everyone who contributed to and supported the Black Duck Software vision and company, especially my family: Susana, Jedd, Ariel, and Fran.
Now it’s time for the Black Duck to fly on to new places. Fare thee well!
— Doug Levin, Founder and former CEO, Black Duck Software
Today, Doug Levin serves as COO of DJ MicroLaminates, a microelectronics materials science company, and a partner at TechCXO, the management consulting firm. While he is best known for founding and being formerly CEO of Black Duck Software, he also helped found and serve as COO of LucidWorks in 2007 and CEO of three other startups. He also is on the Board of Directors of MassVentures and is a frequent lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Previously, he held senior management positions at Microsoft Corporation.