In Conversation with George Fraser, CEO, Fivetran

One of the biggest recent trends in the data world recently has been the rapid emergence of the “modern data stack”.

This stack is largely centered around the cloud data warehouse, with its massive scalability and elasticity capabilities. Snowflake’s blockbuster IPO this week, and the underlying performance of the company, demonstrate the level of excitement from both customers and investors about the data warehouse.

But the modern data stack is more than just the data warehouse, there’s a whole pipeline involving other technologies, where data gets collected, stored and analyzed. Downstream from the data warehouse, you find business intelligence solutions, as well as some machine learning platforms, to analyze the data. Upstream from it, you find solutions that focus on extracting data from various sources and loading it into the data warehouse (ETL/ELT).

This is where Fivetran comes in. A fast-growing company with a unicorn status, it automates data integration from source to destination, through a large library of connectors.

It was very fun to host Fivetran’s CEO, George Fraser, at our most recent Data Driven NYC event. We had a great conversation, both very approachable for a non-technical audience but also interesting for more technical folks.

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From Student Project to Unicorn: In Conversation with Alexander Rinke, CEO, Celonis

Celonis was founded in 2011 by three students who didn’t know they wanted to start a company, but fell in the love with a school project.

Today, Celonis is a Forbes Cloud 100 company, and the leader in a very interesting category, enterprise performance acceleration software, leveraging a company’s data exhaust to understand which processes work and which need to be be optimized, through process mining technology.

It’s also a unicorn startup with $367 million raised to date, most recently at a $2.5 billion valuation from investors such as Accel, 83North, our friends at Arena Holdings (who kindly introduced us to Alex) and Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith, who spoke at Data Driven NYC a few years ago, and then famously went on to sell his company, Qualtrics, to SAP for $8 billion.

We had a really fun chat at our most recent Data Driven NYC, with Celonis co-CEO Alexander Rinke:

  • How Celonis started as university consulting project when the founders were 21
  • How Alex waited several hours outside the VIP area of a tech event, until he was able to talk to the founder of SAP, which resulted in a transformative partnership
  • How the company was bootstrapped for 5 years before taking any VC money
  • What it takes for a startup to successfully expand internationally
  • What is process mining software and how does it work
  • Go to market strategies – horizontal vs vertical
  • And a lot more

Here’s the video, and below is a full transcript of the chat:

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In Conversation with Nate Stewart, Chief Product Officer, Cockroach Labs

While we miss the special energy of having 350+ people in a room every month, it’s been fun to settle into the routine of hosting the online version of Data Driven NYC — our 19,000 person community focused on all things data, AI/ML and enterprise software. Our events are free and open to all, and having them online has enabled many more folks around the world to attend them live – to the point that my co-organizer Jack Cohen and I have been mulling renaming the event “Data Driven Global”.

At the most recent event a few days ago, we had the pleasure of hosting Nate Stewart, Chief Product Officer, and newly appointed Board Member, at Cockroach Labs.

Cockroach is an exciting, fast-growing startup. Named to the 2020 “Future Unicorn” list by CB Insights and Fast Company, it is the company behind CockroachDB, a distributed database with standard SQL for cloud applications. The company has raised $195m to date, from a long list of great investors such as Benchmark, GV, Index, Redpoint, Altimeter, Tiger, Bond, Work Bench – and our firm FirstMark, since the very first round of funding.

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Facebook as an AI company: In conversation with Jerome Pesenti, VP of AI, Facebook

While AI may seem like a futuristic goal for most companies around the world, Facebook has already been there for a while. “There’s pretty much a deep learning system in every single Facebook product and they are very much at the core of them” says our guest Jerome Pesenti, VP of AI at Facebook.

Jerome leads the development of artificial intelligence at Facebook, and oversees hundreds of scientists and engineers whose work shapes the company’s direction and impacts our world.

We had had the pleasure of welcoming Jerome at Data Driven NYC in October 2017, in his prior role as CEO, BenevolentAI, and we had chatted about using AI for drug discovery.

It was wonderful to welcome him back in his new capacity at our first **online** Data Driven NYC, courtesy of the coronavirus. It was a fascinating, in-depth conversation.

Below are: a) the video, b) some highlights and c) the full transcript.

AI, Data, Culture: In Conversation with Ben Horowitz, GP, a16z

Photo Credit: Jack Cohen.  Bottom left picture:  Amr Awadallah (VP Developer Relations, Google Cloud), Matt Turck (FirstMark), Ben Horowitz (a16z), Michael James ( Founder and Chief Software Architect at Cerebras Systems)

Ben Horowitz resoundingly falls in the category of “needing no introduction”: a highly successful entrepreneur who navigated a perilous situation with his business (Loudcloud, which became Opsware) to a $1.65B acquisition by HP, he’s also the founder of premier Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (aka “a16z”), and the best selling author of two books: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and the newly-released “What You Do Is Who You Are”.

It was a special treat to host Ben for a fireside chat at the most recent most recent edition of Data Driven NYC – a great evening that included two other terrific speakers: Amr Adwallah, now VP of Developer Relations at Google Cloud, and previously co-founder and CTO at Cloudera (NYSE: CLDR) and Michael James, co-founder of AI chip Cerebras.

We spent a good hour with Ben and covered a bunch of topics, loosely organized in two parts, first AI and data, and then culture an his new book.

Below are two videos covering each part, as well as a FULL TRANSCRIPT for anyone who prefers to read.

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Building a $12B Public Company: In Conversation with Olivier Pomel, CEO, Datadog

By any measure, Datadog is an incredible entrepreneurial success story. The company went from a tiny startup in 2010 that had trouble raising money, to a public company that, at the time of writing, has a market capitalization of $12.5B. It was a pioneer in the category of DevOps and observability, and it’s now a clear leader. With revenues hovering around $350M, it has 1,300 employees across 31 locations around the world.

Perhaps improbably, the founders built the company out of New York, which many people over the years have thought of as a hub for adtech, media and commerce startups only. Along the way, they faced a lot of skepticism: “Whenever we pitched West Coast investors it was sort of seen as a form of mental deficiency to be based in New York and doing infrastructure“, says Olivier. I wrote a few months ago about the significance of the Datadog IPO for the ecosystem and beyond. Ironically, out of the three top public tech companies in New York today, two are infrastructure software companies (Datadog and MongoDB).

Not one for gratuitous self-aggrandizing, Olivier has given surprisingly few interviews over the years, and it was a real treat to sit down with him for a fireside chat in front of a packed house of 350 attendees at our most recent Data Driven NYC.

We had an in-depth conversations and covered a lot of topics.

The first half of our conversation was focused on Datadog itself, starting with a high level overview of the observability and DevOps space to make the discussion approachable by people who don’t know the space.

The second half of the conversation was focused on all sorts of lessons learned along the way of building a major company- sales, marketing, fundraising, etc.

Below is the video. We have also provided a full written transcript to make the content easy to scan through (many thanks to Karissa Domondon for her help with this).

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The Power of Open Source: In conversation with Mike Volpi, General Partner, Index Ventures

Our most recent VC guest at Data Driven NYC, Mike Volpi of Index, has had a pretty amazing last couple of years, with three of his venture investments going public:  Zuora, Sonos and Elastic. 

Before becoming a VC, Mike ran Cisco’s routing business where he managed a P&L in excess of $10 billion in revenues, and acquired over 70 companies (note: probably a pretty good way to make a lot of friends in Silicon Valley).

A partner at Index Ventures in San Francisco, Mike invests primarily in infrastructure, open-source and artificial intelligence companies, so he was a perfect guest to have at the event.  In particular, he invested in two prior presenting companies: Confluent and Cockroach Labs (in which FirstMark is also an investor). 

We had a really interesting conversation about open source, AI and venture capital.  Here’s the video below, and l have jotted down a few notes as well, below the fold. 

Notes from the chat:

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The Killer App for Machine Learning: In Conversation with Pedro Domingos, Head of Machine Learning, D.E. Shaw

Best-selling author, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington, recent recipient of the prestigious IJCAI John McCarthy Award for excellence in artificial intelligence research (among other awards) and Head of the Machine Learning Research group at D.E. Shaw:  Pedro Domingos has one of the most incredible resumes in the world of AI, and we were thrilled to host him for a fireside chat at our most recent Data Driven NYC. 

We covered a bunch of things, including why finance is a killer app for machine learning, his much-lauded book, ‘The Master Algorithm’ and what’s truly scary about AI (hint: not the Terminator).

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The Cambrian Explosion of SaaS: In Conversation with Sarah Guo, General Partner, Greylock


Last year,  Sarah Guo made news by becoming the youngest General Partner at Menlo Park firm Greylock Partners, and we were delighted to host her at our most recent Data Driven NYC.  

Greylock is one of the oldest firms in venture capital, notable in particular for its investments in Facebook, LinkedIn and AirBnB.  Greylock has also actively invested in the data ecosystem, including in a number of companies that presented at Data Driven NYC over the years: Cloudera, Sumo Logic, Trifacta, Instabase, etc.

Sarah is mostly focused on enterprise, SaaS and security investments, and we got into a bunch of interesting topics during this conversation.

Here’s the video, and below are some notes.


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AI’s Trust Problem: In Conversation with Gary Marcus (Video + Book Notes)

Should we be worried about the prospect of AI superintelligence taking over the world?

“In the real world, current-day robots struggle to turn doorknobs, and Teslas driven in ‘Autopilot’ mode keep rear-ending parked emergency vehicles […].   It’s as if people in the fourteenth century were worrying about traffic accidents, where good hygiene might have been a whole lot more helpful”.

This is one of my favorite quotes from “Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust,” a new book by Gary Marcus – scientist, NYU professor, New York Times bestselling author, entrepreneur – and his co-author Ernest Davis, Professor of Computer Science at the Courant Institute, NYU.

Gary did us a big honor recently: he chose to speak at Data Driven NYC on the evening of the publication of the book.  He also signed a few copies. Our first book launch party!

Particularly if you’re trying to make sense of the still-ongoing hype around AI, including predictions of global gloom, Gary’s book is a fantastic read: a lucid, no-nonsense and occasionally provocative take on the current state of AI, that distills complex concepts into simple ideas, and includes plenty of interesting and often funny anecdotes.

The book builds on Gary’s earlier assessment of deep learning (see Deep Learning: A Critical Appraisal), and advocates for a hybrid approach to AI.

Below is the video of his talk at the event, plus a notes I derived from both the talk and the book.  I’ll keep those brief as the book is worth reading in its entirety.

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Decoding the Human Nervous System: In conversation with Thomas Reardon, CEO, CTRL-labs

In its largest acquisition since Oculus in 2014, Facebook just announced last night it acquired CTRL-labs, a 4 year old startup based in New York, for a reported $500M-$1B.

Coincidentally, CTRL-labs CEO, Thomas Reardon (who goes by Reardon) was our guest at Data Driven NYC just a couple of weeks ago. Reardon is a particularly compelling entrepreneur, and this was a fascinating fireside chat, where we dove into machine learning, neuroscience, VR and all sorts of cool topics.

CTRL-labs builds what it calls “neural interface technology”: algorithms that decode the activity of individual motor neurons and turns that into control over machines, thereby completely redefining the interaction between humans and machines. Because the technology captures your intentions without requiring any physical movement, you can do things that you could never do by moving, and you can start “imaging experiences where you would have 20 fingers… or 8 arms or legs”.

The video (below) is well worth a watch in its entirety, including the audience Q&A at the end, and I’ve jotted down a few notes as well, for a quick review.

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Data Science at Massive Scale: In Conversation with Solmaz Shahalizadeh, Shopify

Shopify (NYSE:SHOP) is one of those unlikely success stories that entrepreneurial dreams are made of.

In 2006, co-founder and CEO Tobias Lutke was a 24 year old German autodidact programmer who had followed his girlfriend to Ottawa, Canada. He partnered with an older entrepreneur, Scott Lake, to start an eCommerce business selling snowboards, Snowdevil. As Tobi realized there was no decent out of the box framework to build an e-commerce store at the time, he started building the Daredevil snowboard store from scratch, using the then nascent Ruby on Rails. Word spread out within the community about the quality of his work, and the duo decided to focus on the software platform, rather than the snowboard store. A world away from Silicon Valley, Shopify was born.

Fast forward to today , with many steps along the way, including a Series A round of financing in which our firm FirstMark invested: Shopify is a ~$34B public company that’s grown extremely fast in recent years and helps SMBs outfit their stores with a variety of essential tools. Shopify powers the online stores of more than 800,000 merchants in over 175 countries.

As tends to be the case for all major Internet franchises, Shopify recognized early the transformational power of harnessing and using data. Data science and machine learning were used in one product, then the next and over the years have become a cornerstone of the company.

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The Path to a $2.7B Unicorn: In Conversation with Zach Perret, CEO, Plaid

“We are, by far, the earliest company here”. This how Zach Perret, CEO of Plaid, started his talk at his first appearance at Data Driven NYC, back in February 2013. “We are basically three guys, coding 24 hours a day, and building developer tools…”.

Fast forward to today: the company was valued at $2.7B (“allegedly”, says Zach) in its most recent $250M round; Plaid has integrated with 15,000 banks in the U.S. and Canada and 4,000 fintech applications. One in four people in the U.S. have linked an account using Plaid. And they have just acquired New York based competitor Quovo for $200M (“reportedly” as well).

Not bad for a self-described “data plumbing” company. As today’s consumers expect to live fully digital financial lives, with their phone at the core, Plaid provides the financial infrastructure that enables developers in fintech companies to build great applications, and have consumers connect those to their bank accounts – basically Plaid is the connective tissue between the app and the bank, and takes care of moving all the data back and forth in the background.

It was a lot of fun having Zach back at the event 6 years later. Here’s the video of our fireside chat, and my notes are below the fold.

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Go to Market Strategies for Enterprise Startups: In Conversation with Martin Casado, GP, Andreessen Horowitz

What is the number one mistake technical founders make? Why is pricing so important? Should entrepreneurs avoid at all costs having a service component to their business? What is fundamentally new and different in go to market strategies for modern enterprise software startups?

A self-avowed “failed physicist”, Martin Casado is a General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and previously was the co-founder and CTO of Nicira, a pioneer in software-defined networking and network virtualization that was acquired by VMware for $1.26 billion.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Martin through the board of ActionIQ, a great NYC startup in which we are both investors.

Martin joined us for a fireside chat at the most recent edition of Data Driven NYC. The conversation centered largely around one of Martin’s favorite topics, go to market strategies for enterprise startups. There’s plenty of interesting thoughts and directly applicable advice for entrepreneurs in there, as Martin spoke as much from his previous founder experience as he did as a VC.

Here’s the video, and my notes from the chat are below the fold.

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From 0 to $200M in Revenues in 7 years: In Conversation with Ben Uretsky, Co-Founder, Digital Ocean

 

Who would be crazy enough to compete head-on with AWS?

The question was almost as obvious seven years ago than it is today.  Yet in just a few years since its founding,  Digital Ocean, a cloud infrastructure startup based in New York with data centers around the world, has managed to build a very impressive and fast-growing business, successfully competing with the giants of cloud computing.

Ben Uretsky, co-founder of the company (with his brother Moisey and 3 others) and its CEO from 2011 to 2018, stopped by for a chat at Data Driven NYC to tell the story of the company and share some lessons learned.

Here’s the video, and below are my notes from our great chat.

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