What I Was Looking For In My Next Role
Okta was a great learning experience and I was lucky to have spent the last five years there. I learned how to scale an enterprise SaaS business through IPO, define and own a new market category, and build a successful GTM machine. More importantly, I learned that anything is possible with an amazing team that has a shared vision of the future.
At Okta, that vision was that all companies would eventually move to the cloud. Though it’s hard to imagine an organization today not using SaaS apps, this was not obvious even five years ago. Most businesses early on were skeptical of moving their applications, let alone their identities, to the cloud. However, for our CEO and co-founder, Todd McKinnon, who led engineering at Salesforce when it was only a team of 15, it was clear that cloud adoption was inevitable. He saw that once you started adopting the cloud, you would never go back on-prem. (Fun fact: Okta is a meteorological term that measures cloud coverage so the more cloud coverage an area has, the more oktas.)
As I was looking for my next role, I optimized for organizations that had as many of the same characteristics that I saw make Okta successful: a strong team with a shared vision of an inevitable future whose problems they uniquely understood and could solve. This is what led me to Rockset. I was introduced to Rockset by an ex-Okta co-worker and was immediately intrigued. A few things stood out to me.
The first was the strength and experience of the co-founders. Venkat Venkataramani (CEO) and Dhruba Borthakur (CTO) have both built their careers in solving the hard problems of scaling data systems in high-growth organizations. Venkat led engineering for all of Facebook’s online data systems and his team was responsible for ensuring Facebook never went down as it grew from 50 million users in 2007 to over 1.5 billion in 2015 when he left. Dhruba was the founding architect and engineering lead of Apache Hadoop while at Yahoo and the founding engineer of RocksDB while at Facebook. RocksDB continues to be the foundation of how Facebook manages their data and has also been adopted by other data-heavy organizations including LinkedIn, Uber, and Netflix.
Combined, they have over 40 years in the data space working in the most sophisticated companies. They acutely understand the unique challenges of building data systems and have acquired the particular set of skills over very long careers to solve them. They are the Liam Neeson of data analytics.
In addition to the team, I was impressed by their investors, Greylock and Sequoia, who were also early investors of Okta and critical to its growth. Both have incredible track records of cultivating some of the most iconic companies over the past half century and both are three-peat investors in Rockset from Seed to A to B, which I took as a signal of their conviction in the company. Here are Jerry Chen’s (Greylock) and Mike Vernal’s (Sequoia) investment thesis on Rockset.
And finally, what drew me to Rockset was the potential. Rockset is a data analytics company. I wanted to learn more about the data analytics space because it’s clear to me that the greatest companies of the next decade will be ones that best use data as a competitive advantage. This is more than just knowing your customers better, but also accelerating product development, optimizing financial models, and building flexible and nimble operations. In the past, data was scarce and managing it was straightforward, but with the proliferation of technologies such as mobile and cloud, data has exploded and analyzing it all has become a significant challenge. The next cohort of successful startups are the ones that can help these companies unlock their data, easily and quickly.
Ultimately, the reason why I joined Rockset is their vision. Rockset believes the world is moving to real-time data. They believe that, similar to moving to the cloud, once organizations start to build with real-time data, they won’t go back to batch data. Rockset wants to be the data platform on which all companies will build real-time applications.
Today, most data is processed in batches: every few hours or longer. This is because it’s hard to collect, store, and analyze data quickly. Popular data tools such as MySQL, MongoDB, and Snowflake were not designed to perform complex analytics in real time on large amounts of data. Recently, new data streaming technologies such as Amazon Kinesis and Apache Kafka have grown in popularity making it easier to collect and process data in real time. Still, there is no good solution to instantly analyze that data. The existing data infrastructure is complicated to set up and you need a team of data engineers to decipher it all.
Venkat and Dhruba both saw this first hand at Facebook where they had to build new ways to serve the real-time data for products such as News Feed and Instagram. They saw that the next-generation products being built by FAANG and others were powered by real-time data, but were also limited to companies who could hire sophisticated data engineering teams that could manage that data. What if they could take what they developed at Facebook and make it so simple to use that all developers could build using real-time data? This is what started Rockset.
Now a few years later, with hundreds of customers and a rapidly-growing team, Rockset continues to think about how they can bring real-time analytics to the masses. The next couple years will be critical as it cements itself in the market, but Rockset has the tech, the team, the investors, and the vision. I’m excited to help build the next iconic data company.