An Interview with Karl Van den Bergh, Chief Marketing Officer at DataStax
It seems like every leading company today is talking about moving to the cloud – and for many good reasons. But there still seems to be a major challenge, especially for companies that really want to change the way they do business and interact with their customers. The challenge is having a database that is truly capable of massively scaling in today’s new world of cloud computing.
Karl Van den Bergh discusses the unique needs and demands on a database in a cloud environment and how he sees the transformation of cloud computing evolving in the future.
HostAdvice: Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
I actually have a somewhat unusual background for a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). I started my professional career in software development but soon moved into product marketing. I then worked for quite a while at SAP, in various marketing roles for the Business Objects product. I was ultimately the General Manager for the company’s new SaaS (Software as a Service) business called Information on Demand.
I left SAP to join a SQL startup company, and then an open-source company. While there, I spent a lot of time in analytics and learned a lot about the open source community. I then started and ran the cloud computing business at TIBCO.
HostAdvice: You have only been at DataStax for a couple of months. What attracted you to join the company?
In addition to feeling that I was a really good fit with DataStax CEO Billy Bosworth and the entire executive team, I was attracted by the huge opportunity I see for the company. The traditional IT application stack is currently in a process of major transition and transformation. As we move increasingly more to the cloud, the data layer must be completely rethought. DataStax is an emerging leader in this area and I see the opportunity for DataStax to become the standard for that new data layer.
HostAdvice: Your product DataStax Enterprise (DSE) is a database platform for cloud applications based on the open-source Apache Cassandra™ database. I’d like to break that down into a few different parts. First of all, what is unique about a database for cloud applications?
We are in a world where our application requirements are changing drastically, regardless of whether you are in the business-to-business or the business-to-consumer market. The buyer’s journey has changed – it is now basically virtual (online). Buyers are doing a lot of preliminary work and research online, no matter where or how they end up making their purchase. As a result, businesses today must rethink how they interact with customers across the entire process.
Today’s consumers and users have a high level of expectations from their online experience and interaction. It is already taken for granted that a web site and/or application will be:
- Always On
- Available anywhere
Application developers need a database that can support all of these requirements – which traditional SQL databases were never designed to handle.
HostAdvice: You have bet your business on the Apache Cassandra™ database. Why? What exactly is Cassandra?
Apache Cassandra™ is an open source database that was spun out of Facebook. Jonathan Ellis, one of the co-founders of DataStax, took Cassandra while he was at Rackspace, and then built up a new company around it. Perhaps its two most distinguishing characteristics are the fact that (i) it is a NoSQL database and (ii) it is massively scalable.
HostAdvice: What is the added value that DataStax is providing with the DataStax Enterprise platform?
DataStax takes a great, scalable database and then adds additional layers of features and management tools on top of it.
We actually offer two versions of DataStax Enterprise (DSE) – DSE Standard and DSE Max.
In DSE Standard we add features such as:
- Enterprise-Class Security
- Tiered Storage
- Advanced Monitoring
In DSE Max we add more sophisticated features to help enhance the user experience, such as:
- Advanced Indexing and Search
- Powerful Real-Time Analytics
- Multi-Model and Graph Capabilities
HostAdvice: How do you define your target market?
Our market is comprised of companies going through a digital transformation who want to improve the customer experience. Which means that our market is very broad. We do not focus on any particular verticals – we are relevant across all industries.
What our customers and/or potential customers have in common is that they are either re-inventing themselves (or their business models) or they are a startup trying to be disruptive in their market.
We normally engage with two different sets of personas within a company. In terms of strategy, we will usually deal with the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and/or the VP of engineering. In terms of technology, we’ll normally work with system architects and/or developers.
HostAdvice: Who do you see as your biggest competitors?
Quite honestly, our biggest competitor is the status quo. That means that most companies just continue with business as usual, don’t realize that this option is available, and don’t invest in new technology.
But if you want me to name names… When we first started out there was a lot of talk about NoSQL databases and MongoDB was the leader and very popular. MongoDB is still very popular with developers for smaller applications, but it is not nearly as scalable as our solution.
Today, although AWS (Amazon Web Services) is emerging as a great partner for us in terms of infrastructure, we need to be watching them very closely in terms of the data layer.
HostAdvice: How many active customers do you have today? Where are they mainly located?
We currently have about 500 customers. We started in the US and still have a good amount of customers there, but our customers are widely distributed over 50 countries.
HostAdvice: Who are some of your biggest customers?
Here are a few of our featured customers:
You can find detailed video case studies about them and many others, including Cisco, Comcast, IBM, Macys, Microsoft, and Travelocity, on our web site.
HostAdvice: What do your sales/evaluation/implementation cycles look like?
For starters, anyone can download DataStax Enterprise and try it out for free for as long as they wish, in a non-production environment. We also provide a lot of free education and help via DataStax Academy, our online training program.
After that, when a customer is ready to engage further with us, we have the typical enterprise software sales cycle and support tools, in order to work with the customer to understand their requirement needs, deployment options, etc.
Although it varies, I would say that a typical evaluation period will run about three months.
HostAdvice: I couldn’t find pricing information on your web site – did I miss that?
We don’t discuss pricing publicly.
HostAdvice: In addition to your platform product, you also offer various services and consulting. Do they make up a large part of your revenues? Or are they really just to support sales of the DSE?
Yes, those services are mainly to support sales and to help make customers successful with our software. They are a very small part of our business.
HostAdvice: I see that you have a special program to support startups – the DataStax Startup Program. Tell me about that.
A lot of successful companies started out as small companies and then became big companies. That is the beauty of DSE’s ability to scale as needed.
The program is pretty simple – if you are a company with less than $5 million in revenues and have taken less than $50 million in capital, you qualify to use the software in a production environment for free. Once you exceed one of those thresholds, you’ll have to pay the standard licensing fees for the software.
HostAdvice: At the other extreme, I also see that you have a very close relationship with Microsoft.
Yes, Microsoft is a huge partner for us. We won the Microsoft Alliance Global Commercial ISV Partner Award this year, which is pretty impressive for a company of our size competing with all of their many, many other partners.
We are also a very strategic partner for Microsoft. Our database is capable of running massive workloads on Azure which is a great way for Microsoft to drive their cloud business.
HostAdvice: How do you see the distributed database and the cloud computing markets evolving in the coming years?
We are really only at the beginning of the transformation that I mentioned earlier. We will continue to see a shift to cloud computing – both public and private clouds. It is becoming more common to see a hybrid of the two.
I expect that we will also see a lot of efforts focusing on abstracting the transactional data layer.
HostAdvice: What are the future plans for your DSE?
Unfortunately, all I can say right now is “stay tuned.” We are working on a number of very exciting things that we are not quite ready to reveal yet.
HostAdvice: How many employees do you have today? Where are they located?
We current have about 430 employees. Although there is a concentration of employees at our headquarters in Santa Clara, California, I have to say that this is one of the most distributed startups I have ever been at, with employees throughout the US, Europe, and Asia Pacific.
HostAdvice: How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
As I recently told my team, I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life! Like any Silicon Valley startup executive, I generally work about 12 hours a day.
Still, I am a big believer in work-life balance, so when I am not working, I spend a lot of time with my family. I grew up in Europe and lived in many different countries, so I love to travel and see new places. I am also a big food and wine buff – that’s where I spend a lot of my discretionary income [laughs]. It is also very important to me to stay fit – so I can eat and drink more – so I also exercise and meditate on a regular basis.
HostAdvice: If you were asked to give the graduation address to the class of 2016, what would be your message to them?
Sure – I am a philosopher at heart…
Simply seek out what you love to do and you’ll be great at it!
HostAdvice: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
At DataStax we focus on customers and business. We believe that we have “cracked the nut” for the data layer in the new world of cloud technology, enabling a lot of new and great scenarios.
My final word would be our tag line from the Cassandra Summit:
“Build Something Disruptive”