The Frenchman behind the messaging tool that could disrupt the financial data industry
SEPTEMBER 18, 2015 by: Ben McLannahan in New York
David Gurle cut an assured figure on stage at a trendy New York hotel this week. The 48-year-old Frenchman had spent the past 20 years and more at Microsoft, Reuters and Skype, trying to develop a must-have messaging tool to bind companies and their customers into secure and seamless online spaces. And now, with Symphony, he thinks he has done it.
The son of two diplomats and a graduate of the elite Esigetel engineering school in Paris, Mr Gurle set up the business in San Francisco three years ago, and sold it to a Goldman Sachs-led consortium of investment banks last October.
Now in his role of chief executive, Mr Gurle is taking Symphony global, hosting a series of events in New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore. The first goal is to displace email or other basic tools that companies use to ping messages to each other. The ultimate goal: for Symphony to topple Bloomberg, the undisputed champion of the $26bn financial data industry.
Like a lot of Silicon Valley salesmen, Mr Gurle has a tan, a tight-fitting suit and gleaming teeth. But his pitch in New York had substance as well as style. He evoked Metcalfe’s law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users in the system. He stressed that the first deals to supply content — including with Dow Jones and McGraw Hill — were just the beginning. He also said that New York’s Department of Financial Services, which launched a very public probe into Symphony’s claims of “guaranteed data deletion” a couple of months ago, had been satisfied that the company was no menace to the system.
“He has that kind of perpetual optimism,” says Robert Rubino, a private investor in Symphony who used to live down the road from Mr Gurle in Summit, New Jersey. “I’m totally betting on the jockey.”
But even with the backing of Goldman and a dozen other fixtures of Wall Street, weaning traders off their Bloomberg terminals will not be easy. The company offers hundreds of functions other than messaging, and continually adapts the best features of its competitors to mould into its terminal at no extra cost.
And for many brokers who do not sit in glass offices around the edges of trading floors, Bloomberg’s iconic keyboard and screen is a marker of status which will not be surrendered easily. That is why the company has got away with charging the highest prices in the industry — $1,850 per month per user, more than 120 times the cost of Symphony — while preserving, even extending, its market share.
Mr Gurle was born in Istanbul and lived in Syria and Lebanon before settling in Cannes at the age of 13, when his father retired. The constant moving around bred a self-confessed “introvert” who liked to set himself problems and dreamt of becoming a pilot. He finally got his wings in 2011, and does at least one flight a month in his Cirrus SR20, a five-seat monoplane which he keeps near the Palo Alto home where he live with his wife Valerie, an internist.
“I like it because of the freedom, and because the end game is not straightforward,” he says. “I like to be in an environment I need to know and control and run in the most efficient way.”