Spotlight on: the OpenGamma Platform
Inside the London-based startup working to expose the finance industry to the open source revolution.
—The idea for the OpenGamma platform originates from several years back when Wylie was working on in-house software similar in function. “I was in New York for a project kickoff meeting, for a project that architecturally looks not dissimilar to OpenGamma today,” he reminisces. “It was 3am, [I was] jetlagged, and it dawned on me that we were about to spend a minimum of ten man-years to build something that delivered absolutely no proprietary value to the company whatsoever. “We may as well have flushed that money down the toilet, because all this was, was plumbing. It was just the stuff you have to do – everyone was doing it.” Wylie, a self-confessed “complete Silicon Valley, pain-in-the-ass prima donna programmer”, had previously met Moores and third co-founder Elaine McLeod met while working on internal finance software in Smartspread. It wasn’t until the three found their services “no longer required” by their employers in the aftermath of the 2007 crash that they begun seriously considering the business model that would eventually become OpenGamma. “We spent about eight months doing nothing but architecture and business model and market research and lining up potential customers and dealing with funding and all that,” says Wylie. “So the official start of August 2009 had eight months of pretty solid business plan work behind it before we even got there.” One choice made during this planning period was to code the majority of the OpenGamma platform in Java. Why Java? “We get that a lot,” says Wylie. “Jim?” “It’s a combination of factors, really,” responds Moores. “It’s a robust, stable, modern language. It doesn’t have all the cutting-edge features that some people might want, but I think it’s generally accepted in the industry. We had to make a decision, really, about – were we going to go with something really cutting-edge, and choose, I dunno – Scala or Ruby -” “Go!” shouts Wylie. “Something crazy like that,” continues Moores. “The reason we didn’t go for that end of the scale really was, y’know, there’s not the maturity there. Customers would get scared off by it.” “One of the advantages of open source,” adds Wylie, “is that people can read, and understand, and parse and change the source. And if we do it in a language that our target userbase isn’t allowed to use at work, then what’s the benefit?”
—In an interview with The Kernel earlier this year, Wylie was quoted as being “annoyed” that OpenGamma is “ignored” by most tech commentators, despite raising $23 million in funding already. He says he was misquoted, and that his annoyance stems not from OpenGamma being ignored specifically, but a relentless focus on a specific brand of technology startup. “I think the point is that it misrepresents the tech industry in London,” agrees Moores. “The relentless focus on consumer internet stuff sends the message to people that could be entrepreneurial that that’s the only way to go,” says Wylie, giving the example of software for aerospace companies, a niche he sees as underexploited. “What I don’t those guys to say is, ‘if I want that entrepreneurial lifestyle, if I don’t want to work for the aerospace companies, I have to give up my domain expertise’.” “By having all this press attention on the one space, government policy might then follow that precedent,” adds Colebourne, “but actually it should be following the far more bigger-employing, bigger-impact enterprise-based stuff.” Still, ignorance of OpenGamma by the wider press doesn’t affect the company’s bottom line. “Would an article with my photo on page 14 of the Daily Mail result in a flood of people calling in saying, ‘I would like a quarter-million dollar-a-year support contract on your open source derivative trading software? No’,” jokes Wylie. “We get the attention of the people we need to get attention of.”