I have one life and I need to keep learning and trying new things. I cannot stand cumbersome processes which slow things down and lead me to doing the same old stuff while spending hours of my day in mindless tasks. Learning environments excite me!
It was early 2017 when I received an email from an executive recruiter asking me if I was interested in an early stage startup which was solving a compelling problem for data scientists and data engineers. I was intrigued as it seemed to have all the right elements; a great founder, excitement of an early stage startup, a compelling and pervasive market problem which needed to be solved. However, I had just started working on a new product at my previous company and decided to continue working on that instead.
Meanwhile, my wife and I kept talking about data science and analysis and the potential around it. She is really good with data analysis and we decided to enroll in a few online courses just to see what’s involved in this field of data science. Not only was it a huge field, but also a with a tremendous potential to give a competitive edge to businesses. We were surprised to find the kind of insights people were generating to drive not just business outcomes, but making things better for humanity. We did realize that in order to continue our learning and possibly generating insights from publicly available data ,we needed our own infrastructure setup. I considered public cloud infrastructure, but found out that not only would we have to learn about the public cloud infrastructure, but will have to set up the whole stack ourselves and keep paying for it even if we were not using it. We decided to first setup a cheap server for ourselves and ensure we were committed to the effort. Luckily, we both had a technical background, so it was not difficult for me to get a beefy server from ebay , install debian and put some docker containers in it. We realized that setting up a data infrastructure which we could continue to evolve for more use cases , was really cumbersome. We needed to continuously ingest data, store it somewhere, perform analysis and publish results. Just setting up ingestion and storage while keeping the data fresh enough was a huge challenge for us. Each time I hit an infrastructural roadblock, I would think about all the new data scientists who would need to go through this pain and most of them might not even have the luxury of many decades of programming / infrastructure experience.
Fast forward to January 2019. I received a call asking me if I would like to speak to Raghu Murthy (CEO Datacoral Inc) . We met in Ferry Building for coffee. Meanwhile, I had briefly taken a look at what Datacoral Inc was doing. I had come prepared and had already read a wired article on how he rolled out solutions at facebook to solve data infrastructure scaling issues. I had also read about Raghu’s blog on secure scalable infrastructure where he talks in detail about why he started the company. I had done my research on the investors behind the company. Both Social Capital and Madrona Ventures are reputable firms and had also blogged about why they invested in Datacoral. I could clearly see the market problems Datacoral was solving and why the investors were excited about it.
A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes — Mahatma Gandhi
We spoke for an hour about my past experience and more importantly what Raghu’s vision was and what was the problem he was trying to solve. He told me about his work at Facebook and how his team scaled the data infrastructure there. He then started talking about Data as a contract . That immediately sparked my interest. I had never really heard about that before. I had always thought about API as a contract and was curious to find out what Data as a contract really meant. Raghu took the time to explain what it meant and why it was important. We had some good discussions around it and I could clearly see his passion while talking about Datacoral. That is where I decided I want to pursue this further. Not only was I convinced about the market problem, the credentials of the founder, the investors and the board members, but what was extremely important for me was the belief Raghu had behind his idea. He had been in the data space for a couple of decades and knew the challenges well. I had my own little data science experience to backup his claims. There are many startups out there and I had already spoken to a few, none of them had the clarity and belief which Raghu had. For safe measure, I went ahead and spoke to a couple of data scientists as well. I got immediate validation from them. My gut told me there was an opportunity here to be part of an amazing journey. But hold on, this had just gotten started.
culture is the organization’s pattern of response to the problems and opportunities it encounters — Ron Westrum, Sociologist
I have one life. I need to keep learning and keep trying new things. I cannot stand cumbersome processes which slow things down and lead me to doing the same old stuff while spending hours of my day in mindless tasks. Learning environments excite me!. Don’t get me wrong, process and repeatability are absolutely important for scaling an organization , but one should always have the opportunity to try new ideas and experimentation should be an integral part of the process. Having a backing from your boss and having a culture which supports such an environment was critical for me. It was not enough for me to just speak to Raghu and align with his beliefs. So that was my next step in the journey — exploring the culture.
I was introduced to the team and met with the head of engineering, the head of sales and the head of customer success. All meetings went well. They asked the right questions and more than that they gave me a lot of time to ask my own questions. I wanted to explore what sort of challenges were they facing in their respective areas and what was the maturity level of the processes they had put in place. They were really candid and open about everything. At no point of time did I feel that I was interviewing, it always felt like we were discussing the vision and how best to solve challenges in reaching that vision. Its then that I realized that the culture was very open. I was told that there were regular Q&A meetings (a.k.a all-hands) where the CEO would personally address any concerns/questions. The company already had an OKR system put in place from day 1 of its existence; follow up on each item was done religiously. I realized in speaking with them that collaboration was in the DNA of the company, if you are being blocked on something, just speak up and you will receive help. It is this culture of openness , transparency and razor focussed OKR’s , which proved that it would be a great cultural fit. I wanted to be part of this culture, I wanted to execute and achieve goals as part of a collaborative environment. My mind was made up, but there was just one last bit left.
Raghu proposed that I meet them and it was as if he was reading my mind, because I wanted to meet them as well. I put down a list of questions for the investors and went on to meet them. They had a set of questions they had shared upfront with me as well. I really liked this model as both of us were prepared to answer each other questions. My objective was to understand how Datacoral had executed till now and if investors had any concerns. Their goal was to ensure I was the right fit to take on the challenge of moving this product forward and executing on the vision of the founders. I was expecting to be grilled on the list of questions they had shared. To my surprise the meeting was the exact opposite. Jay Zaveri from Social Capital, asked me to pull out my list of questions, went through each one by one and answered all of them. He spent 90% of the meeting time answering them and making sure I fully understood the problems Datacoral was trying to solve and why they were important. Raghu would later blog about it and spoke about it in detail. I then met Sudip (Madrona Ventures) who had a similar approach and we spent an hour discussing the problem space and how Datacoral came up with a unique approach to solving them. The care both the investors took to help me understand their rationale behind this investment fully convinced me that this was not only the right problem area I should focus on , but it was the team I would want to spend my time with in solving those problems.
My first month
It did not take me long to decide to move forward with Datacoral. I signed the offer and joined the company a week after. The first day was a management offsite, which proved extremely beneficial. We went over a retrospective and planning session which helped me understand the upcoming priorities and focus. It was the best way for me to start day 1 and it was the fastest onboarding I had ever been part of. I then met the rest of the team and was amazed by their energy and passion they put into building the product. The customer focus and obsession to make them successful was highly motivating. Fast decision making was the norm and you could easily see that OKR’s were instrumental in driving such decisions and bringing the whole company on the same page. Such clarity in each and every team member meant that each team member knew exactly what everybody else was doing, what the opportunity was and how to deal with any challenges we faced. There was no element of doubt. As a result, we executed with rapid pace, performed experiments with a defined goal and iterated rapidly to achieve outcomes. I have already run three events (Strata data conference, AWS Summit, Data Council) and have had a chance to speak to dozens of data scientists and data engineers about the market problem and how our product solves those.
I am now convinced that if we execute well, stay customer focused and continue maintaining this culture of openness, rapid experimentation, learning and execution, that there is nothing stopping us from achieving our goals. We have aggressive hiring goals this year, please reach out to us via our careers page. Look forward to new team members joining and helping us in this journey. It’s going to be a heck of a journey!