|Role||CTO & Co-Founder|
Instaclustr has four founders – how do you know one another and how’d you get Instaclustr started?
I first worked with Doug Stuart (Instaclustr CMO) and Peter Lilley (COO) at the infosec consulting and testing firm Stratsec, now part of BAE Systems. This was during college, and after a while, I felt the itch to build something. Adam Zegelin (SVP Engineering) and I were college friends who, along with Peter and Doug, founded relational.io – somewhat of a precursor to Instaclustr. While there we began using Apache Cassandra and saw its value first-hand for implementing the infrastructure required to support and deliver datasets.
As we were building tools to help us better operate and manage Cassandra, we began wondering if other businesses out there might be interested in what we’d developed. We then launched an early version of Instaclustr with minimal expectations but had five customers in-production soon after – and quickly realized the market demand if we turned our attention there.
What sparked that initial interest in Cassandra?
I actually had limited exposure to Cassandra throughout my time at Stratsec; this was still the early days of leveraging data technologies to perform analytics on traffic patterns. Later, when we were gearing up for Relational.io, I went to a conference hosted by Palantir where I learned how they were casing and storing data from disparate sources using Cassandra – and with a technical approach similar to what we were doing with our data marketplace. That tripped our interest in using Cassandra for our project.
What’s a day in the life of the Instaclustr CTO look like?
A typical day for me is completely booked with meetings. I’m more of an external-facing CTO, which you see in a lot of technology and infrastructure companies. I don’t directly manage our engineering team or our product design, at least on the day-to-day level. I spend a lot more of my time interfacing with customers, talking about their needs and what they’re trying to achieve.
I also try to put a lot of effort into speaking at conferences and industry meetups. Gives me a great opportunity to talk about what we’re up to and to hear how other companies are approaching data problems, and then to let that insight inform how we build our solution.
What’s your personal history with open source software?
I first used open source software at Stratsec, where it was the difference between being able to do a pen test with available and accessible tools versus those you have to pay thousands of dollars for. But at that time, all I really understood was that it allowed me to get my job done faster and easier.
Later at Relational.io and Instaclustr, being a developer makes it clear how much open source enables and empowers you. It allows broader strategic decisions to be made, such as cloud portability, where you run your workloads, and how quickly teams can adopt a technology and get up and running.
I certainly wouldn’t claim to be a diehard open source evangelist from day one. I acknowledge that open source purists might like it for different reasons than I will, and some reasons I like it are a little more capitalist than what they might have in mind. And those are admirable values. But my eyes were opened simply in terms of how much open source can empower businesses versus proprietary or commercialized open source alternatives.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a founder?
The most rewarding part has been seeing Instaclustr grow because of demand for what we offer and looking at everything our team has achieved to get us where we are so far. I’ve really come to believe is that a founder’s job isn’t to build a company – it’s to build a team of people who can build the company. I have a small part in that, but I’d say that Doug and Peter and Adam have been amazing at attracting some really high calibre talent who are also great to work with (which is no easy task).
Is it hard to relinquish responsibilities as the company grows?
I have approached hiring with the thought of “How do I put myself out of a job?” That’s how you build a team. I’ve done tasks within Instaclustr that needed to be done, but not necessarily because it was what I was good at. So, I’ve genuinely enjoyed relinquishing control. When I see someone at Instaclustr pick up the reins and do a job that’s like a million times better than what I was doing, that’s a particularly enjoyable feeling.
What’s your strategy or process for adding new managed open source technologies to Instaclustr’s growing Open-Source-as-a-Service platform?
It really comes down to two things. First, listening to what our customers are doing and what they want. Second, paying attention to see what the industry-as-a-whole is excited about. That informs the questions we ask our customers. It’s one thing to hear about an exciting new technology or database, but you always need to put it through a filter of making sure everything we do is customer-based. We speak with existing or potential customers to learn, “Is this something you’re interested in? Is this solving a problem for you? And is that solution something you’re willing to pay for?” That’s not to say that we only build the things that our customers explicitly tell us to – we also pay attention to broader trends in the industry.
If it’s something we’re seeing good adoption of, we’ve got to check that trend against our sales pipeline and our customer base. We’ve got to think, “How can we work with this?” And then we go down that journey from a product management perspective, does it fit within our portfolio, or is it something that we build on top of, or partner with, and so on. That’s our process.
Being originally from Australia but now living in the United States, what’s been the biggest cultural change you’ve experienced?
Definitely, the level of word intensity that Americans use to describe certain things. If a U.S. native tells me “You’ve got to try this restaurant – it’s amazing, it’s life-changing, it’s without a doubt the best food I’ve ever had, ever” I’ve now learned that this means it’ll be a decent eatery. And it goes the other way. If I’m asked how I’m doing and say “I’m alright,” they’ll respond with “Oh no, what’s wrong?” So, have definitely had to learn how to amp up how I speak when talking to Americans – and that translates into business meetings and presentations because it dramatically changes how confident and excited Americans think you are.
What’s unique and cool about the culture within Instaclustr?
Call me biased, but I think a big part of it is the Australian influence – we are fairly laid back, which I think has translated to our U.S. office environments being more relaxed and casual than most. I think that can put people at ease and help them find their feet within Instaclustr.