How Rambler pulls Igor Sysoev’s hobby

The main question in the Nginx case is whether the web server sold for $ 670 million was an official work or a personal project of system administrator Igor Sysoev.
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How Igor Sysoev ended up in Rambler

Nginx creator Igor Sysoev became an entrepreneur at 41. Prior to that, he worked as a system administrator all his life: for seven years in a certain “company involved in the sale of petroleum products”, for six months in the online store and, finally, in Rambler: from 2000 to 2011.

Sysoev described his work as follows: “The task is to make oneself unnecessary. So that everything works without [my] intervention. ” Having adjusted the process, the system administrator tackled the problem to which he had a “strong personal interest”: the creation of a web server.

“He solved the problem that he set himself without deadline,” Sysoev recalled. - It was a hobby in its purest form, I could always stop and think carefully, before moving on ... Two weeks are written, and then a month well, it just does not go. The brain refuses to work. ”

In one form or another, Sysoev in almost every interview highlights this circumstance: work on the project from which Nginx grew up was a hobby for him: “In addition to the direct work of the system administrator, I started writing programs in my free time. It should be noted that programming was not part of my job responsibilities. ”

The fact that Sysoev has his own project was known to Rambler. “When hiring Sysoyev - I hired him in 2000 - it was specifically agreed that he has his own project, and he has the right to do it. It was then called something like mod_accel, ”says Igor Ashmanov, the former executive director of Rambler.

“Sysoev worked on his project on his own, without instructions from management, in his spare time from the main work. Moreover, he was not, as far as I know, a software developer, so this project could not be entrusted to him in any way, ”says Denis Kalinin, the former general director of Rambler.

The founder and CEO of Postgres Professional Oleg Bartunov, who was then working at Rambler, recalls a little differently. “Sysoev was a typical sysadmin: he sat in his closet, looked at the servers,” says Bartunov. “Then he noticed that Apache, the web server we used then, was very busy on our servers.” And Igor wrote his mod_accel (first name Nginx). But you need to understand that no one told him to do this and did not order. He wrote a new module, made it open source and posted it for everyone. ”

How Rambler began using Nginx

According to Sysoyev, Rambler started using Nginx in 2004: “At the beginning of 2004, Rambler launched the service, and one of my colleagues, Oleg Bunin, asked me to complete the request proxy functionality in Nginx to start fully use it, including on the Rambler photo service. ”

By this time, Nginx was already used, for example, by the projects and Interestingly, the founder of Sonya Sokolova at the same time worked as a project manager for Rambler.

“Sounds has existed since 1996, as a co-founder and editor-in-chief of Sounds, I was invited to the post of director of advertising for, and later transferred to Rambler,” says Sokolova. “For Sounds, as for a non-profit humanitarian project, using open source was the only option available, so I, of course, gratefully accepted Igor [Sysoev’s] proposal to test the web server.”

In the early 2000s, staff shortages in the industry were so great that Rambler, in order to hire stars, had to agree that many had their own pet projects, Sokolova explains. Denis Kalinin agrees with her: “Rambler hired the best of the best, and the stratum of people with good experience is still thin enough, and then it was thousands of times more complicated. The Internet was small, and everyone who came to us, most likely, did some kind of their own project. For example, when I started working at the company, I continued developing software for space equipment for one of the physics institutes. Some continued to develop FreeBSD, others - Postgres. ”

Oleg Bartunov says the same thing: “It was taken for granted: everyone who worked then [at Rambler] had their own interests and could deal with them in their free time ... And we must understand that in general the whole Rambler was built on open source technology. We were very proud of this, everyone tried to give something there. ” Postgres, which Bartunov did in Rambler, is an international open source project, one of the most popular database management systems. Bartunov participated in its development before he got into the Rambler. When he left, he built his own business around Postgres.

“It was extremely profitable for“ Rambler ”- the best product in the world, and even the developer in the office: it was Sysoev who benefited the“ Rambler, ”says Ashmanov. - The same story was in Rambler with Postgres, FreeBSD, etc. Free platforms, the key developers of which were in the company, could support and develop them. Awesome. "

Perhaps this freedom is due to the fact that in "Rambler" in these years, leadership has constantly changed. From 1999 to 2005, when the company held an IPO in London, its main shareholders changed three times. The founders of Rambler left the company back in 2001. In 2006, Vladimir Potanin bought a large block of shares in Rambler. In 2013, he combined this asset with the projects of Alexander Mamut. Then Mamut became the sole shareholder of the company for several years. In the summer of 2019, Sberbank bought 46.5% of Rambler from him.

How Sysoev resigned from Rambler and founded Nginx

Potential investors drew attention to the Sysoev project in 2008, when the web server had 0.5% of the global market. “Investors - mainly American mid-tier funds - offered to meet and discuss the opportunity to do business, but usually I didn’t answer anything because I did not know what to answer,” Sysoev recalled. - Firstly, I always had enough money. There is a car in the family where to live - too. What else does? And secondly, it was necessary to get used psychologically to the fact that a new opportunity appeared. ”
The founder of the Runa Capital venture fund, Sergei Belousov, had to almost persuade Sysoev to take money from him and leave Rambler, Forbes magazine said. Belousov did not answer the questions of The Bell by the time this text was released.

After Sysoev left, Rambler continued to use Nginx. “It is important to understand that Sysoev left Nginx an open project, with an open license, that is, he did not close it, he did not sell it and he did not profit from it,” notes Bartunov. “This is an open source product that anyone in the world can use; any developer can modify it and even sell it.”

Nginx is still a project with an open license, anyone can use it. The company founded by Sysoev earns on support and custom solutions - this was done, for example, for Netflix. In addition, Nginx clients include Adobe (Photoshop), WordPress, and BuzzFeed. Nginx is paid mainly by large companies for which the uninterrupted operation of servers is critical. In 2018, Nginx had about one and a half thousand such clients. Revenues amounted to $ 26 million.

Bartunov has developments, the rights to which belong to Rambler, since he worked on them on behalf of the leadership: “I was the author of a search engine. We registered this development and gave us certificates, which said: all exclusive rights to the works belong to the company. Everything that was developed and ordered by Rambler was drawn up in this form. If this was not the case with Nginx, it is not clear where the complaint comes from. ”

The former head of the legal service of Rambler, Natalia Sukhareva, is sure that “there was no contract of the author’s order, nor a job assignment”.

The fact that Nginx was ordered by Rambler is stated in the criminal case file. None of the former Rambler employees have yet confirmed this. Sysoev’s direct supervisor Andrei Kopeiko, who was a witness in the case, told the investigation that “he didn’t give any job assignments, either oral or written, either to develop mod_accel or to develop Nginx.”