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An Interview With Kevin Mallon of FileMaker

If you’re looking to speak with someone who’s been with FileMaker since its inception, look no further than Public Relations (PR) Manager, Kevin Mallon. A modest man well known for being on the forefront of a number of technological innovations, Kevin’s journey with FileMaker commenced in the early days of Claris, shortly after being a part of the release of the world’s first commercial spreadsheet and the first ever laptop computer.

Now, nearly 25 years later as Kevin prepares for his forthcoming retirement, we had the opportunity to chat with him about his impressive career with FileMaker, the release of FileMaker 15, as well as some of his favorite memories from working with the company. Throughout our conversation with Kevin, we found ourselves getting excited and revved up about the same things that intrigued Kevin and his colleagues – learning about the unique ways that companies from nearly every industry use FileMaker to streamline operations and boost overall productivity. From Hollywood blockbuster films like Star Wars and Titanic, to non-profit organizations that aim to put a stop to child slavery, Kevin surprised and delighted us with a series of FileMaker success stories that left us thirsting for more and absolutely thrilled about what’s in store for the future of FileMaker.

We interviewed Kevin via telephone at his office in Santa Clara, California, on July 7th, 2016.

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  • For those who are unfamiliar with you Kevin, can you explain how you got involved with FileMaker? When did you join and how did that come about?

I came to work with, then Claris in 1992. I joined the PR team and was specifically working on FileMaker at that time. My experience in PR up to that point was working with a number of software clients, such as Lotus and so forth, on the Lotus Notes roll out work. So I was pretty familiar with databases before coming on board with then Claris and the FileMaker line of products.

At that time, it was an interesting transition period for FileMaker in ’92 - I helped launch FileMaker 2.1 – that’s the version when it went cross platform and that was the first strategic move on behalf of the company, moving FileMaker onto the Windows platform. One of the advantages of me working on that was that I already knew many of the Windows press and my job as a PR guy is basically to represent the company to the press, however that may be – it could be live, it could be through press releases, it could be through briefings and events, that sort of thing.

So I was able to leverage my contacts in the Windows media community to help introduce FileMaker onto the Windows platform. And I would say that many of the press were already familiar with FileMaker, but really saw it as a… How did they used to describe it? “That little database toy that runs on the Mac.” You know, they really did not have a high opinion of the product. They saw it as a nice, cute little software application that was just used by a handful of Macintosh users. We knew differently. So I had a few challenges to face and the company had a few challenges to face in terms of media perception of FileMaker, especially in the Windows press.

  • And you’d say that’s changed quite a bit since then?

Yes, I’d say the picture is quite different! We don’t have specific numbers, but we know that there are probably more Windows users of FileMaker than there might be Macintosh and that mirrors how the PC community is distributed.

  • How has your team changed since you began with FileMaker in 1992?

I was the only PR person working on FileMaker at that time. When the company was known as Claris, there was quite a sizable PR team. We had numerous software titles in the market. Not only FileMaker, a lot of people might remember Mac Write Pro. Or they might remember Claris works - the suite of our products. There was Claris Resolve and then we had a publishing unit also, called Claris Clear Choice, which republished applications created by other developers and we did the marketing for that. There were quite a few and so that required a pretty sizable PR team and marketing team at that time.

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  • Let’s talk about FileMaker success stories Kevin. FileMaker has benefitted companies from a variety of industries. We’re certain that you have a ton of FileMaker success stories. Can you tell us a bit about a FileMaker success story that, “caught you off guard,” or, “wowed you,” so to speak?

Well, I think that happens to us all the time here. I think if you ask anyone who works at the company, we are always floored & excited & delighted to learn about ways in which we could never have imagined the product to be used. You know, really, that is the fun part of the job. If anyone was to ask me about where I get the most fun out of my job, it’s learning about how customers are using FileMaker.

For instance, it’s always interesting to learn about how Hollywood uses FileMaker. We know that the product is used very extensively, even today, by all the studios. We know that the entire Star Wars set of characters - and of course you know, there are thousands of Star Wars characters, within all the Star Wars sequels and prequels and whatnot. All of the characters that you see on screen, no matter how small or how large, are all tracked on a database that LucasArts or now Disney, maintains. And there was a write up of that whole database years ago featured in Wired Magazine. And just a great story! It’s the kind of thing that when you sit there and watch a Star Wars movie and if you’re a big fan, it probably has occurred to you at some time - and everybody is a geek who likes Star Wars - and I’m sure it’s occurred to some of the geeks who are watching, you know, how the heck do they keep track of who’s who, who died when, and so on? And that’s really the purpose of that database - to keep track of all that - the continuity of those characters. So they know and they can do a quick search and find out that so and so was shot, but maybe came back in another prequel. It’s pretty fascinating stuff!

And there are many other instances within the film community that we’ve heard of and the entertainment community that we know where FileMaker is used and I think that they are the stories that people get an extra kick out of because they’ve got some appeal and some glamour to them. And these are projects that people throughout the world are familiar with, when it comes to movies.

  • That’s really neat to hear because when the story came out earlier this year about the FileMaker application being used to track the seating plan for the Oscars that just totally wowed us, and so we thought it would be great to ask you if there were any intriguing FileMaker stories that you could think of… And that Star Wars story is awesome!
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I can remember another one. Everybody remembers the film, Titanic, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. And this is typical - this is not just a case of the Titanic – many, many, especially large production movies, will use FileMaker to keep track, as the Titanic did, of the props that are used in the movie. So if you remember back, of course you know, it’s the Titanic, so there were thousands and thousands of props in the film. From fancy dishes, to silverware, to table settings and chairs. You name it! Anything that you can see that was pictured in the movie [was managed in FileMaker]. So, it was an asset database, but it was really a way of keeping track of their props. So that’s kind of a fun story.

  • Kevin, you’ve been with FileMaker for more than 2 decades. We know that small businesses use FileMaker, large corporations, independent users and so on. Over the course of your history with the company, is there any group that stands out as the niche area that has really taken hold of the FileMaker platform and has benefitted from it more so than other groups?

The answer is simply, no. There is no niche or specific niche where FileMaker has lived. It goes all across the board. And that’s really one of the cool things about working here and representing the product to press because it goes all across any niche you can think of. And that relates to the previous question about the diversity of our customers. Because it is an app tool, because it can be used in so many different ways by so many different kinds and levels of users, there is no one particular niche.

Now we do know that our sweet spot is within small businesses of 1 to 100 users and in small workgroups within large corporations. Why? Because there are a lot of similarities between those the two groups - they’re all mostly self-sufficient and that’s where FileMaker plays so well, in that folks can take control of their data. They can roll their own apps that not only work on a Mac, it works on Windows, it works on the web, it works on their iOS phone and it can even be accessed by Android phones on the web. That’s why. It’s a DIY world today. And in the FileMaker world, it’s always been a DIY world, a “do it yourself” world. It’s just that the rest of the world is now discovering that they can do things on their own with apps like FileMaker.

  • Absolutely! Now Kevin, you’ve been a part of a ton of technological advancements. In particular, we’ve noted your involvement in the launch of the world’s first laptop computer with Data General (DG). Can you tell us a little bit about that?

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Well, of course it’s disputed whether Data General released the first one in those days, which was the early 80’s. A lot of companies were making those claims and wanted to be known as, “The first.” The "DG One" was certainly one of them. I think we plugged it as the first luggable laptop computer because in those days, the “laptops”, and I put that in air-quotes, could weigh up to 8 to 10 lbs. And those who know about those days, also know about the shoulder pain!

  • That’s nearly your entire carry-on bag right there!

Yes, the entire carry-on! They were fun days because there were so many vendors who were in that race. Everyone knew it was moving to mobility and you know, gosh, here we are nearly 30 years later and mobility is still a hotly costed area.

  • At that time, did you get the sense that you were working on a project that was going to be this huge? Did you have an idea that it was going to have this much of an effect on our day to day lives?

Well, I don’t take that much credit, but I think we all knew that mobility was the direction. To use the word “trend” wouldn’t be accurate. It’s what people wanted really. They want mobility and they want to be able to access their information. It’s not about the hardware itself, as we know now. Back then there was more of a heavy focus on the hardware because it was the shiny new thing. But, really it was all about getting to your data. And once again that has carried on to this very day.

  • Awesome! Thanks Kevin! More recently, FileMaker released the 15th version of the FileMaker platform. What are you most excited about in the FileMaker 15?

Image of the FileMaker 15 new features

FileMaker 15 has a lot of really cool features! Again, in terms of pushing the boundaries of mobility, there is a feature in the product where we support iBeacon. iBeacon is a location detection system that will work with FileMaker to help anyone who is trying to keep track of things or places. The iBeacon is a small device that you can locate anywhere within a particular facility. And with the scripting in FileMaker, you can create a database that will describe the item that is associated with that iBeacon. I think we’re really at the very beginning of seeing how companies and organizations are going to be using that. Again, there are customers who are going to be using that technology and feature in ways we would have never ever dreamed of.

  • And that’s the exciting thing, right? Finding out that people are using features in ways that you had never envisioned. It must be fun to hear about those stories.

Yes! I mean, we have a demo that shows how a fitness center could use it. When, let’s say a personal trainer is taking a client around to the different stations. As you approach each station, iBeacon would register that particular station and associate that station with a client and bring up a history of the client’s development using that particular device. It’s all really cool stuff!

I think there’s clear value in it. First off, any professional developer should be interested in learning about the latest capabilities within the product and within the best practices of the product. As a developer, whether it’s an independent developer or a corporate developer, ensuring that you have the latest information and knowledge of the product - that alone should be reason enough for getting certified. But beyond that there’s nothing wrong with getting the recognition of being a certified FileMaker developer, just as it’s great to have the recognition to be certified in any particular service or product, be that a Microsoft product or an Apple product. Ultimately, a potential customer or your management are certainly going to look very favorably on someone who has gone to the trouble, the extent and expense, of getting certified versus someone who has not. So we see there is competitive advantage & career advantage to certification as well.

Image of Kevin Mallon of FileMaker
  • Kevin, looking back on your career, starting with the early days of Claris up to the most recent release of FileMaker 15, what are you most proud of during your time at FileMaker?

Firstly, I think FileMaker is one of those evergreen products that continues to get better all time. When you think about it, there aren’t many other apps that have lasted as long as 30 years, as FileMaker has, and for all I know, it will probably continue well past another 30 and more.

But when I’m asked about some things I’m most proud of, I think of organizations who just could not exist without using FileMaker. And in terms of their mission, more recently, we learned about an organization called GoodWeave. GoodWeave is a non-profit organization out of New York and they are battling child slavery, which doesn’t get a lot of play in the media these days. Just every once and a while you might hear about the problem. And even today, especially in third world countries, there are companies making things like carpets and other goods that are sold in the first world, using child labor. Well, GoodWeave is out to eliminate child slavery and they’re using FileMaker in the field to document companies that are using children as labor. And there’s nothing that could make me feel more proud than knowing that FileMaker could help eliminate that problem – and it’s a big one.

  • So what is it about FileMaker that’s given it its staying power over so many years and where do you see the future of FileMaker heading?

[FileMaker’s staying power comes from] the fact that it continues to meet the needs of users who need to manage their data themselves. We’re always at work on first listening to our customers and evolving FileMaker based on their needs. We see the ability to access information anywhere and anytime as a key trend.

  • Kevin, what’s your favorite memory of working with FileMaker?

Over the years, I’ve loved working with the media to represent FileMaker and the FileMaker community to the public. Secondly, it’s always been fantastic to work with FileMaker developers. They’re on the front lines and have always helped us to better understand what customers want. Last but not least, working with FileMaker staff has been a great experience. They’re all amazingly talented and dedicated!

  • With your retirement from FileMaker just around the corner, what are your plans for the future?

My plan is to be a connoisseur of life. You know, I like to travel and that gets me in a lot of trouble and takes me in a lot of different directions. I may continue to do some PR consulting now and again, but you know, primarily travel. And like I say, a little bit of consulting and a little bit of enjoying life.

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Kevin, from all of us at CoreSolutions Software, we thank you immensely for your dedication to and passion for the FileMaker platform. You are truly, “On fire about the promise of technology!” We wish you all the best in your future endeavors, as you continue to explore this beautiful world.

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