The story of Raygun

| 4 min. (737 words)

I enjoy telling stories – anyone that works at Mindscape will tell you that! Today I wanted to share a few words about the creation and history of Raygun.

The Early Days of Hammer Factory

Hammer Factory was the original code name for a project that revolved around “something to do with exceptions”. I’d been banging on and on about wanting to do something to help teams manage their software once in production, and we were well aware of how poor error tracking was – particularly on the .NET platform (although we now support every major language and platform). Reflecting upon it at the time, I remembered when I worked at a large IT services company (who now use Raygun), you had two sorts of developers:

  1. The ones that cared enough about the quality of their work that they’d hook up the global exception handler to email them a stack trace when something went wrong.
  2. The other developers who were comfortable with blissful ignorance (until an angry customer got in touch).

I was one of the former so I remembered all of the problems this caused me:

  • Lots of junk errors occur that you don’t care about (like from spam bots).
  • Due to lots of errors you don’t care about, you slowly get desensitised to error notifications and start missing the occasional important error.
  • You had no trend understanding about the health of your system.
  • If you had a big outage you could fill your entire inbox and stop receiving emails (this was in the days of 200MB exchange inboxes).
  • There is no user management. If you left the company or had a holiday, those emails went into a black hole.

These were just some of the problems. To make matters worse, we’d followed the same approach to errors once we started Mindscape. It was time for something better!

False starts

We started doing some research into how you could create reliable identities for exceptions, as this would form the basis of error grouping. I remember making some rough mock-ups on paper about what I wanted the interface to look like. I even made a relatively long list of the features I thought there should be in the first version. Soon after I’d completed some initial designs, we got busy with other work and the Hammer Factory got shelved.

Getting back into it

About a year passed between putting down Hammer Factory and starting work on Raygun in earnest. I was still super eager to build a hosted service with a SaaS business model to compliment our existing products – as well as have a better system for our own error tracking. We set ourselves a goal – six months between starting on the project and shipping. I’m pleased to say we had beta customers paying us before that date came around! No matter how many times we build a product, the first paying customer is always exciting.

What’s with the name?

I wanted the name Raygun for this product, but where on earth did that name come from? It really goes back to naming Mindscape in late 2006. Being the nerds that we are, we made a spreadsheet with a bunch of names that we liked, and then a column for each of us to score each name. We then summed up the scores and picked the highest scoring name – Mindscape. What always made me chuckle however was that Jeremy, my business partner and good friend, had initially put the name ‘Rail Gun’ into the spreadsheet. I thought that would be a terrible name for a company – so much so that it always stuck with me. As time went on, I realised the importance of branding with a name people didn’t forget easily. The fact that Rail Gun had stuck with me from that list resonated strongly. I just tweaked the name to call it Raygun instead. So when it came time to name the product, I suggested Raygun, but really you can thank Jeremy for it.

A business is a complicated beast – there’s always different challenges and interesting things happening. I could chew your ear off telling you random stories about our experiences, so I’ll stop here for now. Having said that, if you’re curious about an aspect of the Raygun story, or Mindscape, drop a comment below and maybe I can write a post about that too 🙂