Boy Geeks With Big Dreams: The Marriage of Manchester & Tech
on Thursday, May 25, 2017
They rode into town like the Four Horsemen, but instead of death and destruction, Jeremy Hitchcock, Chris Reinhardt, Tom Daly, and Tim Wilde came to Manchester to resurrect the Queen City's fading glory.
How's that for a little hyperbole?
It may sound like a stretch when you look at today's Manchester, but when you take a minute to remember what Manchester was like in 2001, you could make an argument that whether they knew it or not, these men were destined to bring a change of an almost biblical proportion to our tired old city.
In 2001 we were less than a year removed from the Y2K panic, cell phones were expensive toys for people with more money than sense, and the country was in the middle of a recession.
While most of the city was still mired in the great arena debate, the Monarchs debuted to a 6 - 3 road loss to the Lowell Lock Monsters at the Tsongas Arena, and a group of Worcester Polytech students started a little business called Dyn.
It was at the tail end of the dot.com bubble and Dyn's fearsome four didn't have a grand plan. The early days were spent eating pizza, drinking beer and working from a three-room office providing a variety of entry level tech services like domain name registration and their famous $30 lifetime DNS hosting service. It wasn't glamorous, but they filled a niche and made enough money to start taking the business seriously.
In 2005 Dyn made the move north to Manchester.
Young people were leaving the state at an alarming rate and things were looking bleak for New Hampshire's future, but Dyn's leaders were on a mission.
These New Hampshire natives knew that technology was the key to the state's future and they were bringing it home to Manchester.
According to founder Tom Daily, co-founder Jeremy Hitchcock "knew there was an existing tech workforce from the companies who left the state after the tech bubble burst," and he was sure many of those people would be happy to drive up from Nashua and surrounding towns rather than make the long commute into Boston.
Dyn's new focus was dynamic DNS, which was about as clear as mud to the non-tech world and as un-sexy as could be to wary investors in the post-dot.com era. It was also lucrative and very important to the internet's heavy hitters like Amazon and Twitter.
Over the next ten years, Dyn grew from a 15-person office to a major player in global internet services employing more than 400 people. They were active in the community and following the path of inventor Dean Kamen, they sponsored events, provided mentoring and other programs to promote technology and encourage our students to return to the state after college.
Thanks to Dyn, Manchester and New Hampshire were relevant again.
We hadn't quite recaptured our industrial-age glory, but we were getting close.
The old mill buildings lining the Merrimack became home to more than 30 tech firms and startups including big name companies like Deka Research & Development Corp., Autodesk, and Texas Instruments. Together with Dyn, they laid the foundation that made it possible for other people to see the possibilities.
While the big box stores fell victim to the internet and the Great Recession, non-tech locals started to invest their time in money in new businesses.
Coffee shops, restaurants, and spas popped up along Elm Street.
The city was thriving, and for the first time in 50 years there was as much foot traffic on Elm Street in the middle of the day as there was on a Friday night.
I had been invited to attend Exit Planning Exhange's panel discussion, "From Dorm Start-up to International Tech Company", and as I sat in the tiny auditorium at Southern New Hampshire University, I couldn't help but wonder how Dyn's recent acquisition by Oracle would affect the newly reborn Manchester.
The trio of men representing Dyn's past, present, and future carefully avoided details of future plans as they shared tales of boy geeks with big dreams.
While founding partner Tom Daily smiled broadly as he reminisced about the old days surrounded by empty pizza boxes and server racks, Kyle York, current General Manager and Vice President of Business & Product Strategy, blanched as he recalled Dyn's personal D-Day.
York is a good storyteller and he set a scene that any of the eighty or so business people in the room could relate to.
Dyn was at the top of their field, but they had reached a point where there was nowhere to go. They needed the deeper pockets and greater resources of a bigger benefactor to continue to diversify and grow.
He shared how the team worked to find the right buyer and how they went about convincing their own board that selling to Oracle was the right move.
"I went to bed that night thinking if it's an epic failure we blame Oracle if it's a success we take the credit."
There was no way for him to know he would wake up the next morning to the biggest challenge and greatest success he or Dyn would ever face.
The saviors of our city were under attack and like any great army, they went into action.
DDoS is a regular occurrence in the tech world. Sometimes it's a foreign government or malicious hacker, other times it's just some kid in Texas. While the White House and Homeland Security worried about whether it was a national security issue, the well-trained team at Dyn HQ put the Oracle deal on the back burner and did their job.
They set up a system to maintain an open line of communication to customers and investors. Dyn executives stood front and center, holding continuous press conferences with updates on progress so the engineers could focus on defending the internet.
By the end of the day, their fate was sealed.
It didn't matter what may or may not have happened if they hadn't been attacked. The team in the old brick building on Dow Street had shown Oracle and the world who they really were.
They exemplified grace under pressure. They put their faith in the systems and the people behind them and adapted to the enemy's tactics.
While Dyn was wowing the tech world by doing their job, Oracle finalized the deal and welcomed them to their family.
The panel on the dais was singularly closed mouthed when it came to questions about future plans. They cited non-disclosure agreements and declined comment, but I can't help but think it's going to be okay.
These were the men who brought new hope to our city. They faced three salvos of unprecedented attacks from Anonymous and the New World Hackers to keep the internet running while brokering a $600 million dollar deal with Oracle. They are angel investors and mentors to new techs and startups and I refuse to believe that the people who put their heart and soul into Manchester's rebirth wouldn't have a backup plan to keep the momentum moving forward.
Nobody is saying anything publicly, but I have faith that Dyn's recent acquisition by Oracle is the next step to remaking this old mill town over as a tech hub for New England and beyond.