Marten Mickos: Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

November 22, 2011
Stanford eCorner
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Marten Mickos: Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself [Entire Talk]

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Marten Mickos, the CEO of Eucalyptus, talks about his experiences and learnings as an entrepreneur. He emphasizes the importance of having a belief system and believing in something bigger than yourself. Mickos also highlights the need to believe in oneself and have someone who believes in you even more. He shares personal stories of how he was supported by his mother, chairman, and colleagues throughout his entrepreneurial journey. Mickos also discusses the importance of company culture, the value of distributed offices, and the need for open communication and a shared mission.

Questions & Answers

Q: How important is it for an entrepreneur to believe in something bigger than themselves?

Believing in something bigger than oneself is essential for an entrepreneur. It gives a sense of purpose and motivates them to make a difference in the world. This belief gives them the drive to overcome challenges and keep pushing forward.

Q: Why is self-belief important for an entrepreneur?

Self-belief is crucial for an entrepreneur because it gives them the confidence to face challenges and pursue their goals. It allows them to convince others, withstand self-doubt, and stay focused on their vision. Without self-belief, it becomes difficult to convince others and achieve success.

Q: How important is it to have someone who believes in you more than you do?

Having someone who believes in you more than you do is incredibly important for an entrepreneur. This person serves as a source of inspiration and support during difficult times. They remind you of your capabilities and encourage you to keep going, even when self-doubt creeps in.

Q: Can you share a specific example of when someone believed in you and helped you overcome a challenge?

One specific example is when I joined MySQL as CEO, and we faced a critical situation that could have derailed the company. Our chairman, John Wattin, believed in me and motivated the team to double down instead of giving up. This belief and support were crucial in overcoming that challenge and achieving success.

Q: How does company culture impact the success of a business?

Company culture plays a significant role in defining and driving a business. It sets the tone for how employees interact, make decisions, and work towards common goals. A strong culture fosters collaboration, innovation, and a sense of purpose, ultimately contributing to the success of the organization.

Q: What specific aspects of culture did MySQL focus on building?

MySQL focused on openness, sharing, and collaboration. They believed in open communication, sharing problems and financial numbers with employees, and including everyone in decision-making. They also emphasized having a contrarian culture and fostering a sense of fun and enjoyment in the workplace.

Q: How did MySQL create a sense of unity despite being a globally distributed organization?

MySQL used technology to connect employees and foster a sense of unity. They had communication channels, such as email aliases and online platforms, where people could share updates about their lives. They also organized virtual events, such as Christmas parties, to bring everyone together.

Q: What are the downsides of a distributed office or working from home?

Working from home or having a distributed office can have downsides. Some people may struggle with self-discipline and motivation when working remotely. Collaboration and communication can also be more challenging, requiring additional effort to stay connected and aligned.

Q: How often did the MySQL team meet in person, and why was face-to-face interaction important?

The MySQL team met in person during all-hands meetings or specific project-focused gatherings. Face-to-face interaction was essential to strengthen relationships, have immediate low-latency communication, and foster a sense of team spirit. These meetings helped build trust and camaraderie among team members.

Q: How does the culture at Eucalyptus differ from the one at MySQL?

The culture at Eucalyptus is different from MySQL due to its nature as an innovator rather than a disruptor. Eucalyptus focuses on building complex distributed software, requiring a more serious and structured approach. The founding team and their values set the foundation for the culture, and the CEO's role is to build upon it while making necessary changes.


Marten Mickos shares valuable insights from his experiences as an entrepreneur. Believing in something bigger than oneself, self-belief, and having someone who believes in you are all instrumental in overcoming challenges and achieving success. Building a strong company culture, with a focus on openness, sharing, and collaboration, is essential for fostering a unified and purpose-driven organization. Distributed offices and working from home can be successful with the right culture, structure, and communication. Mickos also highlights the importance of face-to-face interaction and leveraging technology to stay connected in a globally distributed organization. Overall, his learnings emphasize the significance of belief, culture, and relationships in entrepreneurial journeys.

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