Category Archives: Database

Kellblog Predictions for 2022

Well it’s time for my annual predictions post, a series now in its eighth year.  Before diving in, let me remind readers that I do these predictions in the spirit of fun, they are not business or investment advice, and that all of my usual disclaimers and terms apply.  I’m starting to believe that the value of this series is more about the chosen topics than the predictions themselves because my formula for creating these posts is to select interesting topics that I want to ponder, research them, and figure out a prediction for each topic along the way.

Let’s start with a review of my 2021 predictions, keeping in mind one of my favorite quotes, often misattributed (including by me) to Yogi Berra:  “predictions are hard, especially about the future.”

Kellblog 2021 Predictions Review
On my own admittedly subjective and charitable self-scoring system, 2021 was a pretty good year for Kellblog predictions.

1.  Divisiveness decreases but unity remains elusive.  Hit.  This is totally subjective, but I’d say that divisiveness in the USA has decreased a bit and that unity has most certainly remained elusive.

2.  COVID-19 goes to brushfire mode.  Hit, until recently.  Well, it certainly felt like brushfire mode until December.  As I write, it’s still early in the omicron wave, so I’m going to remain optimistic that current predictions of omicron being more transmissible but less lethal will hold true.

3.  The new normal isn’t.  Hit.  I don’t think many people believe that we’re returning to pre-Covid norms when, and indeed if, we enter a post-Covid world.

4.  We start to value resilience, not just efficiency.  Hit.  I don’t frequently write about supply chain, but I made this prediction because for years I have wondered if, in our quest to wrest inefficiency from the supply chain, we were undervaluing resilience to Black Swan events from wars to infrastructure failures to natural disasters [1].  One person’s inefficiency is another person’s insurance.

5.  Work from home sticks.  Hit.  At this point perhaps for the wrong reasons (i.e., omicron), but where and how we work has already changed and many of those changes will become permanent.  McKinsey is producing some strong content on the future of work as is my friend Dan Turchin on his AI and the Future of Work podcast.

6.  Tech flight happens, but with a positive effect.  Hit.  A lot of Californians have moved to Texas, Arizona, and Nevada — but a lot have also moved to California (i.e., from the Bay Area to cheaper parts of the state).  Florida, despite the hype, nudges out Oregon for fifth place.  My point was that this is normal and healthy:  you can long Miami and Austin without shorting Palo Alto which, by the way, would have been a bad idea in 2020.

7.  Tech bubble relents.  Miss, until recently.  My world is probably best approximated by the WCLD ETF, which opened the year at $53, recently hit as high as $65, and (as I write) is at $51.  Taking the longer view, WCLD has nevertheless more than doubled over the past 5 years, so a lot of this depends on what you mean by “bubble” and “relent.”

Towards that end, revenue multiple is a better bubble indicator than share price, so let’s take a look at the latest from Jamin Ball at Clouded Judgement.

Are multiples down?  Yes, from a median high of nearly 20x to 12x, nearly 40%.  So I’d say yes on “relent.”  On “bubble,” well, we’re still at 12x compared to what I’d say is a normal (eyeballed) range of 6-10x — so we’re still running hot by historical standards.  [2]

8.  Net dollar retention becomes the top SaaS metric.  Hit, depending on what you mean by “top” [3], but my real point was the NDR would replace churn rates as a method for valuing the installed base and I think it has.  See my SaaStr 2020 talk or my GainSight Pulse 2021 talks for more.

9.  Data intelligence happens.  Partial hit.  I’d say it’s “happening” much more than “happened” because we’re still early days in a multi-year category transformation.  My friends at Alation continue to crush it driving their vision of data intelligence extending from the data catalog [4].

10.  Rebirth of EPM.  Hit.  While the second-generation EPM vendors [5] continue to prosper (i.e., Adaptive within Workday, Anaplan and Planful as independent companies) the industry is nevertheless being reborn underneath with new firms such Cube, Mosaic, OnPlan, and Pigment blazing the trail [6].  It’s exciting to watch.

Kellblog Predictions for 2022
Well, here we go with our predictions for 2022.

1. Covid goes from pandemic to endemic.  I’m not sure we ever had a realistic chance to keep the genie in the bottle, as they did in New Zealand, but at least our actions bought us time to create and deploy vaccines.  By the way, if you look at this chart, you might argue that New Zealand, in the end, failed to keep the genie in the bottle.  [7]

See the big bump?  Yes, it does seem that trying to bottle up Covid was destined to failure.  Or was it?  Look at the scale.  Then compare New Zealand to Louisiana, which has a similar population.

The New Zealand peak is 200, the Louisiana peak is 30x higher at 6,000.  If nothing else, and since this is something of BI-focused blog, Covid has taught us a lot about How Charts Lie.

But back to our prediction.  I think 2022 will be the year we stop thinking in pre-Covid and post-Covid terms, and accept that Covid-19 will become endemic.  Much as malaria brought us screened windows and cholera brought us clean water supplies, Covid will be with us for a long time and bring with it lasting (and hopefully in some cases, positive) changes to our day-to-day lives.

2.  Web3 hype peaks.  Is web3 going to change everything because, as Chris Dixon argues, the best entrepreneurs and developers have learned not to build atop centralized platforms?  Or, as Stephen Diehl so indelicately puts it, is web3 bullshit whereby, “the only problem to be solved by web3 is how to post-hoc rationalize its own existence?”  Or are Moxie Marlinspike’s first impressions right — e.g., the missing element in “crypto” is cryptography and that decentralizing the internals of underlying layers won’t prevent centralization at the more nimbly evolving layers above?

Is web3 a ploy to put crypto bros in charge where “the promise of decentralization is just a veneer — and blockchain is, in fact, the worst kind of vendor lock-in?”  Or, did the venerable Grady Booch get web3 right in his retweet below?

Maybe Tim O’Reilly, the person who coined the phrase web 2.0, has the best take [8], arguing simply that it’s too early to get excited about web3.


It sure does feel like 2005.  There are a bunch of new ideas in circulation.  Everyone is talking about them.  People are struggling to understand them and building frameworks to organize and explain them.  And sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s foundational to the new concept and what’s trying to hitchhike a ride on the back of it.  Based on this, I think we’re building towards a web3 hype peak that should happen in 2022 [9].

I’ve always believed that blockchain was invented to support a specific use-case (i.e., bitcoin) and, unsurprisingly, is good for that use-case but has otherwise largely been a technology in search of a business problem — particularly in the enterprise.  Imagine if you went to SIGMOD twenty years ago and predicted the database of the future would be:

You’d have been laughed out of the room.  Despite that, the reality is that database (i.e., blockchain technology) is quite useful for cryptocurrency applications.  The addition of smart contracts were a very a powerful extension that came with Ethereum.  Changing from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake may eliminate the crazy wasted compute and associated energy consumption [11].

But, as I’d say with any special-purpose database — from an OLAP server to an XML database to the Hadoop ecosystem:  it’s great at what it’s built for, but why should you use it for something else?  The default answer is you shouldn’t [12].

When it comes to the decentralization argument, enterprises are inherently centralized in power and rely on centralized systems run by a centralized IT department.  Moving enterprises to decentralized internal systems does nothing to change lock-in factors of their products (e.g., network effects that lock you into Facebook).  Nor necessarily does empowering distributed networks with decentralized technologies — see the above-linked proof-of-stake recentralization arguments.  And if blockchain means automatic freedom from intermediaries, why is Coinbase worth $50B again?

I think DAOs are an interesting concept (great primer here), but the blockchain linkage seems contrived [13] — I could make a Dunbar-number-sized group with organic governance rules and run it via in-person meetings, Zoom, Slack, or of course, Discord.  (Arguably, Richard Branson did, many times.)

I don’t know why anyone would pay $10M for a CryptoPunk or $300K for a Bored Ape, but I do understand collectibles:  an ape costs $300K in part for the same reason that a 1943 bronze Lincoln cent costs $1M — scarcity.  I just thought we were going to use the Internet to eliminate scarcity, not artificially create it.

Finally, I think the self-referentiality of this ecosystem is interesting.  If you want to buy a non-fungible token (NFT) of a Bored Ape, you’re going to need to pay in Ether because that’s the currency the price is listed in.  Which in turn increases demand for Ether.  Note interestingly that while you can use Ether to buy an NFT, you can’t use an NFT to buy Ether because NFTs are not fungible, as Alexis Gay says, “in the sense that you couldn’t funge them.”

3.  Disruptors get disrupted.  When I graduated from college, Oracle (founded 1977) was a ~$30M brash upstart challenging the entrenched leader, IBM, who no one ever got fired for selecting.  I watched Oracle aggressively grow to $1B in revenues, flail several times trying to organically expand into applications, give up on building applications and instead acquire them, inexplicably get into hardware with the acquisition of Sun, and eventually plateau at $40B, effectively having become IBM in the process.  As the saying goes, we become our parents.

Salesforce (founded 22 years later) is well into that cycle, going from brash disruptor to organic grower to M&A-driven grower, though they do a better job of preserving the entrepreneurial spirit if not growth (both were growing at ~25% at the $20B mark).

This is an ongoing pattern driven by Clayton Christensen’s cycles of disruptive innovation.  If you watch this cycle long enough, you can see the disruptors get disrupted — e.g. Siebel was disrupted by Salesforce who was disrupted by Zendesk who is being disrupted by Freshworks.  What drives these disruptive cycles:

  • Feature creep, which leads to market overshoot over time.
  • Management changes, as leadership teams drift from a spirit of value creation for customers to value extraction from them.
  • Specialization, as market leaders build breadth with integration of good-enough products, an opportunity is created for great, point solutions (which often later expand to challenge the core product).
  • Technology platform changes, which antiquate previous architectures, allow new solutions to be built more quickly, and enable entirely new classes of applications.

For several reasons, I believe in 2022 we are going to see many disruptors get disrupted.  Why?

  • Change to cloud-native.  First-generation cloud solved a deployment problem; second-generation solves a development problem as well.  When I build new apps, I can rely not just on my previously developed or open source modules, but on live, running services.  Upstarts can stand yet again on the shoulders of giants.
  • Flood of venture capital (VC).  VC is flowing at unprecedented rates driving record funding amounts at both the early company-creation stage (e.g., seed, angel) and the later growth stage as well.
  • High-growth.  The combination of Covid accelerating digital transformation and unprecedented VC financing has accelerated software company growth (aka, the Covid boost).  At the second order, I can’t help but wonder if accelerating the growth cycle hastens the aforementioned process that creates new disruption opportunities.  Software companies become their parents faster.
  • Product-led growth (PLG).  SaaS provided provided both a market disruption opportunity and a total available market (TAM) expansion in each market segment.  While I’ll cover PLG more below, I think it will have a similar effect, providing both a disruption opportunity in existing segments while simultaneously expanding their potential.

4. Venture capital continues to flow.  2018 was the first year since “the OB” (the original bubble) that we again reached 2000-era levels of VC financing.  2019 dipped a bit, but 2020 came back strong, and 2021 looks to be a blockbuster [14].

PitchBook data reveals that while total funding and mega-funding (where the round raises $100M+) are up, deal is count slightly down, meaning average deal sizes are up and consistent with my view that VC today is have or have-not market.  The haves can raise can raise a ton of money and on good terms.  But the have-nots — those who have yet to demonstrate a strong team, product-market fit, or a scalable growth model — cannot, and face a frustrating form of hunger in the land of plenty.

They keys to success in this environment are two:

  • Raise when the raising’s good.  If you can raise money, you (likely) should.  If you can’t, figure out why — dig beyond superficial, “nice” explanations into real reasons, and then go fix them.  Fast.
  • But trigger spending on business signals.  You undoubtedly raised your most recent financing on the back of an aggressive operating plan.  But don’t, don’t, don’t — for example — hire 10 sellers because they’re in the plan:  hire them because the CRO made the last 10 productive and wants to hire 10 more.

One of these years — maybe 2022, maybe thereafter — VC will be in tighter supply.  So raise money in large quantity when you can.  Fear not dilution — you’ll likely be raising at (what are, by historical standards) stratospheric valuations.  Most of all, while you shouldn’t follow my miserly great-aunt Jo’s expense strategy (whose dying words were “don’t spend”), you should spend if, only if, and when it makes good business sense to do so.

5.  The metaverse remains meta.  If you’ve not taken the 10 minutes yet, you should probably look at this Facebook/Meta, rebranding launch video, a well-produced but at times amazingly awkward metaverse concept video.

The metaverse vision has provoked a range of reactions from dystopian nightmare to dead-on-arrival to heated discussions of “reality privilege” and accusations about the new billionaire utopian boondoggle.

It’s also invited a fair bit of parody, my favorite being the Icelandic tourism board’s, Icelandverse.

Back to the metaverse, I find the vision more Oasis-style (Ready Player One) dystopia than utopia.  While I find the idea of reality privilege interesting intellectual banter, no, I don’t think the best solution to humankind’s problems is to hook everyone into an alternative, virtual reality.  Good sci fi?  Yes.  Good reality?  No. Not in the least.

  • Are virtual worlds fun for immersive gaming?  Yes.
  • Do you need virtual (or crypto) currencies in those worlds?  No, they’re just an add-on money-making opportunity like a Starbucks card [15].  You can buy an upgraded weapon in a game today via a regular credit card [16].
  • Do you need virtual museums in which to hang your NFTs?  They’re cool and I guess collectors do like to show off their collectibles, so maybe [17].  That said, CryptoPunks weigh in at a slim 576 pixels so I don’t think you’ll need fancy display capabilities for some NFTs at least.
  • Do you need virtual real-estate within your virtual world?  Second Life had a full economy with Linden dollars and real-estate, so the idea’s not new, but metaverse real-estate is setting records today.  If the key to real estate is location, location, location, that’s not really a constraint in the virtual world.  That said, a key theme of web3 seems to be manufactured scarcity (which generative NFT collections do well) and which ultimately comes down to a simple matter of trust [18].
  • Can augmented reality help business applications, like customer service?  Yes, I think AR has numerous practical enterprise use-cases and, if nothing else, all the VR technology will benefit more pragmatic use-cases in enterprise.

6.   PLG momentum builds.  While I generally have a negative reaction to hype, and I don’t like the either/or nature of the slogan below, I do think PLG is a good idea.

Let me separate PLG into what I see as two pieces:

  • PLG as business strategy, where the business is built around a model in which marketing and community relations drive end-users to try a product, hopefully like it, buy the ability to use it (or use it more fully), tell their colleagues (directly or virally, e.g., through a Calendly invite), and repeat the cycle.  While Slack, Zoom, and Dropbox are frequently-cited examples, a full list might include over 300 companies.  (You can read a great anatomy of them, here.)
  • PLG as as set of product requirements.  I think PLG brings three core, generic product requirements, none of which have frankly been common to previous generations of enterprise software:  build a product that (a) is quick to deliver end-user value, (b) is easy and even fun for the end-user to use, and (c) is built with the company’s revenue growth strategy in mind, e.g., in-built virality and carefully-selected functional and enterprise-level pay gates.

Many of the concepts behind PLG aren’t new.  Open source has always been about building a community of users who love the product, though historically composed of developers and not end-users.  Market-seeding isn’t new, though prior-generation seeders like Crystal Reports did so not through marketing- and community-driven downloads and trials, but channels of distribution [19].  Consumerization of enterprise software isn’t a new idea , but I’d argue that it’s only become real with the advent of PLG.  Velocity sales models aren’t new either, but they’re also a key part of PLG.

Some PLG ideas are new:

  • User-experience (UX) as job #1.  Only when UX became critical to business/sales strategy did it get serious commitment instead of lip service (in the enterprise at least).
  • Growth teams, subordinating functional silos to united teams of marketers, engineers, analysts, and designers working together to drive growth.
  • Digital experience tools, that go beyond useability testing labs to track what users actually do in the software with an eye towards making it better — such as Pendo, Heap, and Amplitude.

While I think it’s serious overstatement to say, “sales- and marketing-led growth is dead; long live product-led growth,” I think it’s equally dangerous to dismiss PLG along with quarter-zip sweaters as the latest VC fad.  PLG brings many good ideas that companies should consider and map to their own business models.  Despite the risk of PLG noise drowning out PLG signal, I believe companies will increasingly and intelligently apply PLG principles in 2022 — and if you’re not thinking about how to do that, you should be.

7.  Year of the privacy vault.  While I’m not an expert in this field, I am learning more, and I see a lot of exciting things happening in information security:

  • Innovations in digital identity from companies like Ory and Presidio Identity [20].
  • Innovations in cloud security and governance from companies like Cyral and Privacera [20].
  • Innovations in enterprise privacy from DataGrail [20].

The emerging and ever-changing nature of information security is a big part of what interests me, because it means that a lot of smart people with interesting ideas are attacking numerous problems from different angles.  While this leaves me in a near-perpetual state of confusion, I’ll repeat what I’ve often said about the metadata space:  anyone who isn’t confused doesn’t really understand the situation (Edward R. Murrow).  In metadata, I feel like I finally do understand the space.  In information security, well, I’m still working at it.

In the past ~25 years, there’s a particular feeling I’ve had only on rare occasion:

I’ve met a lot of great entrepreneurs and worked with a lot of great companies during those years, but only those three times did I have the immediate reaction:

  • This is obvious.  (Well, post facto obvious, once you understood it.)
  • This is huge; everyone needs this.
  • I need to be a part of this.

In Anshu’s case it admittedly took more than one drink for me to understand the idea, but what I liked about it, what made it seem so post facto obvious was this:

  • Enterprises, where possible, should get out of the business of handling sensitive information.  I know it’s not always possible, but if the data is non-core to operations, why not delegate storing it to someone else?  While hospitals need to store medical images, does TurboTax really need to store your social security number to file your taxes once per year?  It’s hard.  Let someone else do it.
  • You can replace sensitive data with tokens.  You don’t need to store someone’s credit score when you can store a token that maps to it and isolate the score to a separate database.  It’s classic indirection.  But it usually means you can’t then do anything with the data — unless you incorporate the ideas in the next two bullets.
  • You actually need an API more often than you need access.  Most of the time you don’t need direct access to sensitive data, you just need to do something with it.  You don’t need to know someone’s credit score; you need to know if you can make them a loan and at what interest rate.  That is, you can pass a token for credit score to a service that returns approval status and approved rate in a loan approval application.
  • You can encrypt data without losing the ability to work with itPolymorphic encryption lets you verify the last four digits or a social security number or return all phone numbers in the same area code without first decrypting the data.  This means you can get utility from encrypted data.  Not being a security person, this idea was entirely new and fairly mind-blowing to me [22].
  • Vaults are an existing design pattern.  Google, Apple, and Netflix have taken a low-trust, tokenized vault approach to handling sensitive information in their internal systems.

We will see if my spider sense was correct a third time.  While my sense is most developed in data and analytics, I love modularization, normalization, and specialization and this play is about all three.  To hear the Skyflow story directly from Anshu himself, watch the video here.

8.  MSDS is the new MBA.  For decades, and often contrary to prevailing fashion, I’ve counseled people to consider getting an MBA during their career journey for any of the following reasons:

  • The knowledge.  MBA coursework is generally useful in business, regardless of the caliber of school you attend.
  • The network.  At a top school, you will likely become part of a great network that will benefit you throughout your career.
  • The career-change opportunity.  The MBA offers a unique chance to switch roles or industries (e.g., from engineering into product, from consumer to enterprise).

Given the time and cost of MBAs, it’s popular these days to say that MBAs aren’t worth the trouble.  Autocomplete confirms these doubts.

While I frequently still recommend MBAs to those who seek my advice, I find myself increasingly asking them:  have you considered a master of science in data science?  Such programs can be done in as little as half the time and at half the cost of an MBA, have numerous online and hybrid options, are offered by many prestigious schools, provide superior analytical training, and offer similar career change opportunity.

While a top-tier MBA will still be de rigeur in investment banking, VC, and management consulting for the foreseeable future, I do believe that mid-career professionals will increasingly evaluate the MBA and the MSDS as alternative means to advance their careers — and that many will take the MSDS route.

9.  Get ready for social impact.  Millennials, and for that matter, many of the rest of us, increasingly demand purpose in our work.  If we’re going to spend 40, 50, or more hours per week working, then we’d like the company to provide both a paycheck and a sense of purpose.  In the workplace, according to a recent Gallup report, millennials want leadership to change its approach:

The sense of purpose, however, goes well beyond the workplace and includes the desire to address societal concerns related to sustainability, capitalism, human rights, and social justice.  While Boomers and Xers were content to Party Like It’s 1999, the next generation wants to focus on the future and solving the world’s largest problems.  Good.

This drives for whom and how they want to work, the products they buy, the brands they value, the vacations they take, the causes they support, the hobbies they pursue, the lifestyles they lead, and the money they invest.  In short, everything.

This era has brought us everything from local organic produce and forks over knives to the 1% Pledge, the B Corp, DEI, impact investing, ESG funds, stakeholder capitalism, carbon offsets, and data rights as human rights.

I think Europe is leading the US on many of these changes so, as per the famous William Gibson quote, I get a glimpse into the future through my work with Balderton Capital which has not only committed itself to a set of sustainable future goals (SFGs), but also recently announced their first annual progress report on them.

ESG momentum will build in 2022.

10.  The rise of causal inference.  For the past decade I’ve told people that data science was the new plastics — in the sense of the famous quote from The Graduate.

While I think that was spot-on, this year I have a new “one word” —  causal inference.  Why?

  • Most of the data science we do today is some sort of classification and regression.  We can group like entities, we can predict into which group a new one will fall.  We can build a mathematical model of an independent variable and make predictions about it based on dependent variables.  It’s cool stuff, but in the end, this is about correlation.  How things move together.
  • Yet, we all know that correlation does not imply causation.  We know that windmill rotation doesn’t make the wind blow [24].  We know that waking up dressed doesn’t cause headaches and that ice cream sales don’t cause drownings [25]. Yet, most businesspeople today forget that when they’re interpreting data.  We say that correlation does not imply causation and then we say stuff like, “all of the customers who churned last quarter filed more than five severity-one cases in the past year!”  [26]
  • The first-generation of data science has given us lots of data and some great modeling tools to interpret data.  The bad news is that we — not data scientists, but regular analysts and business people — are not very good at interpreting it.
  • Where possible, we need to figure not just where variables correlate but what actually causes what.  To do so normally requires an experiment (i.e., a RCT) but sometimes causal questions can be correctly answered using observational data.  The insight about how to do that, by the way, is not trivial — it won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Economics.
  • The big guys are doing it.  A decade ago the hyperscalers had data science teams and typical companies, even large ones, didn’t.  Today, the hyperscalers have causal inference teams and typical companies don’t.  To the extent you believe the big guys are leading indicators of the mainstream, you should believe that determining not just correlation, but causation, is coming soon to a business meeting near you [27].  You can get ready the easy way or the hard way.

If you made it this far, thank you!  Read the links — there’s gold in those hills.  Remember that I write this post in the spirit of fun and to force myself to research interesting topics.  Have a happy, healthy, and Rule of 40 positive 2022.

Peace out / Dave.

# # #

Notes

[1]  I did study seismology (i.e., geophysics) after all.  Earthquakes happen.

[2]  As mentioned in last year’s post there are plenty of possible reasons for this including the possibility that the companies are higher quality and/or growing faster — see last year’s post.

[3]  Some might argue growth is top — particularly if you define top as most correlated to revenue multiple.  Based on data as of this writing, the R^2 between EV/NTM-revenue multiple and NTM-revenue-growth is 0.52 vs. 0.24 for NDR.  Play around here for more.

[4]  Reminder that I am an angel investor in and sit on the board of Alation.

[5]  Who are the first-generation cloud EPM vendors

[6]  I am an investor in Planful and Cube, an advisor to OnPlan, and occasionally chat with Mosaic and Pigment, among others.  Hey, I like EPM.

[7]  Louisiana actually has about a 10% smaller population (4.6M) than New Zealand (5.1M)

[8]  Tim’s What is Web 2.0 post is well worth reading both for the history lesson and, more subtly, to beam you back to a time where something was emerging and what it looked like for people to try and understand and describe it.

[9]  Gartner has a blockchain hype cycle (that lists numerous web3 technologies) but not a web3 hype cycle.  Currently, NFTs are at the approximate peak of that cycle.

[10]  Technically, BASE as a database concept didn’t exist at the time.

[11]  Though not without its own problems.

[12]  A repeated pattern in database history — everyone wants to rule the world because it’s a big world to rule.  Most of the time, however — and relational databases are a notable exception — the new database is not a great general-purpose alternative.  The reductio argument here is there should be no general-purpose databases as every purpose is a special one.

[13]  See prior comment about hitchhiking.

[14]  Sources include Statista, PitchBook, CBInsights, and (in one case) my estimates.

[15]  In addition to providing Starbucks with consumer data, they have $1.6B in prepaid value today.  Remember a big part of how Warren Buffet got to be Warren Buffet:  float.

[16]  Yes, I understand that games can force you into their currency by providing rewards in game-units and that you can create a one-way transformation between cash and game-units (i.e., you can buy units with cash, but not cash with units).

[17]  Museums provide access as their core function but also offer security, preservation, and education (e.g., docents) surrounding their works.

[18]  Trust that the promoters will keep their promise about number and trait distribution of works and avoid the tendency to excessively extract value by minting more and/or derivative works (e.g., mutant apes) that potentially undermine the original collection and devalue traits.  Creating scarcity is easy.  Preserving it might well be hard.

[19]  In many cases because, well, the Internet didn’t exist yet.  Microsoft helped to put Crystal Reports on the map by distributing it with Visual Studio.

[20]   Disclaimers:  I’m an advisor to Presidio Identity.  Ory is a Balderton portfolio company.  I’m an advisor to and investor in Cyral.  I have done some consulting with Privacera. I am an investor in DataGrail.

[21]  Which quite happily I made.

[22]  Read up on fully homomorphic encryption which enables you to perform calculations on data without first decrypting it.  While fully homomorphic encryption is prohibitively computationally expensive, another key Skyflow insight was that many “numbers” aren’t fully treated as numbers in practice — e.g., you might verify the last 4 digits of an SSN but you’re never going to multiply two of them.

[23]  The SFGs linked come from Balderton Capital where I work part-time as an EIR.

[24]  Reverse causation.

[25]  The third-cause fallacy.  Going to bed drunk increases both waking up dressed and having a headache.  Warm weather increases both swimming rates (which increase drownings) and ice cream sales.

[26]  They also all had, e.g., brown-eyed CIOs, more than $500M in revenues, and parking lots with more than 200 spaces.

[27]  Irony alert, I’m making a correlation-based argument here!

Why I’m Advising Cyral

When I sign up to advise a company, I’ll often do a post to let readers know and discuss the reasons why I like the company.  This post is about Cyral, a cloud data security company I’m advising that I’ve been talking with for over a year.

Earlier this year, Cyral announced an $11M series A led by Redpoint, Costanoa, and others.  That was on top of a $4.1M in angel seed financing, bringing the total invested capital to $15.1M.

Cyral_logo_for_web.e28367f0

Cyral does cloud data security.  I indirectly referred to the company in my 2020 Predictions post, where I talked about a new, data-layer approach to security.  Cyral acts as a database proxy on top of every data endpoint in your data layer, watching all the traffic, figuring out (via machine-learning) what is normal, detecting what is not, and either alerting or stopping threats in real-time as they occur.

I remember when I first met co-founder Manav Mital at Peet’s Coffee to discuss the company.  He was surprised that I actually understood a thing or two about databases [1], which was fun. During the meeting a light-bulb went off in my head:  why were data breaches always measured megarows or terarows (hundreds of millions to billions of rows) as opposed say rows or kilorows?  Can’t we stop these things while they’re going down?

I initially viewed Cyral as a next-generation data loss prevention (DLP) company because I thought DLP was about stopping security problems in real-time.  But DLP was more about content than data, more about classification than anomaly detection, and more about business rules than machine learning.  DLP could do things like detect email attachments that contained source code and intercept an outbound email with such an attachment.  It had nothing to do with monitoring traffic to the data endpoints in a company’s both on-premise and (increasingly) cloud data layer, providing visibility into activity, fine-grained data access control, and real-time protection against data exfiltration.  That’s Cyral.

Here are some of the reasons I decided to work with the company.

  • Manav is not only a great guy and (a fellow) member of the illustrious Aster Data mafia [2], he is a second-time entrepreneur, having co-founded Instart Logic, which raised $140M from a top set of investors and built a strong business before eventually hitting hard times in the highly competitive CDN space, ultimately being acquired by Akamai.  It’s great to work with Manav because he has the wisdom from both his successes and his failures on his nearly decade-long journey at Instart.

 

  • I think security is a race without a finish line and thus a great and growing market space.  In addition to data-layer anomaly detection, Cyral provides fine-grained access control in a world where too many applications defeat security using shared data-layer logins.  Cyral can distinguish different users even if they’re coming into the database through the same username/password.  What’s more, Cyral provides more than just security, it provides insight by giving you visibility into who’s doing what.

 

  • New cloud data endpoints from Snowflake to Redshift to Kafka introduce complexity that breaks traditional approaches to security.  The old approach to security was largely about building a strong perimeter.  In a hybrid cloud world, that mixes traditional and cloud data sources, there is no perimeter to defend.  The perimeter is dead, long live data-layer security!

 

When talent meets opportunity, great things can happen.

# # #

Notes

[1] Having worked in technical support at Ingres (RDBMS), as VP of Marketing at Versant (ODBMS), as CMO at BusinessObjects (a BI tool, but with an embedded micro-multidimensional DBMS), as CEO at MarkLogic (XML DBMS), as board member at Aster Data (SQL/MapReduce DBMS), advisor to MongoDB (document-oriented DBMS),  and as CEO of Host Analytics (which included a multidimensional modeling engine) well, heck, you think I might have picked something up.

[2] Aster Data was an amazing well of entrepreneurship and the success of its mafia is an untold story in Silicon Valley.  A large number of companies, some of them amazingly successful, were founded by Aster Data alumni including:  ActionIQ, Arcadia Data, ClearStory, Cohesity, DataHero, Imanis Data, Instart Logic, Level-Up Analytics, Moveworks, Nutanix, The Data Team, ThoughtSpot, and WorkSpan.

 

Kellblog’s 10 Predictions for 2020

As I’ve been doing every year since 2014, I thought I’d take some time to write some predictions for 2020, but not without first doing a review of my predictions for 2019.  Lest you take any of these too seriously, I suggest you look at my batting average and disclaimers.

Kellblog 2019 Predictions Review

1.  Fred Wilson is right, Trump will not be president at the end of 2019.  PARTIAL.  He did get impeached after all, but that’s a long way from removed or resigned. 

2.  The Democratic Party will continue to bungle the playing of its relatively simple hand.  HIT.  This is obviously subjective and while I think they got some things right (e.g., delaying impeachment), they got others quite wrong (e.g., Mueller Report messaging), and continue to play more left than center which I believe is a mistake.

3.  2019 will be a rough year for the financial markets.  MISS.  The Dow was up 22% and the NASDAQ was up 35%.  Financially, maybe the only thing that didn’t work in 2019 were over-hyped IPOs.  Note to self:  avoid quantitative predictions if you don’t want to risk ending up very wrong.  I am a big believer in regression to the mean, but nailing timing is the critical (and virtually impossible) part.  Nevertheless, I do use tables like these to try and eyeball situations where it seems a correction is needed.  Take your own crack at it.

4.  VC tightens.  MISS.  Instead of tightening, VC financing hit a new record.  The interesting question here is whether mean reversion is relevant.  I’d argue it’s not – the markets have changed structurally such that companies are staying private far longer and thus living off venture capital (and/or growth-stage private equity) in ways not previously seen.  Mark Suster did a great presentation on this, Is VC Still a Thing, where he explains these and other changes in VC.  A must read.

5. Social media companies get regulated.  PARTIAL.  While “history may tell us the social media regulation is inevitable,” it didn’t happen in 2019.  However, the movement continued to gather steam with many Democratic presidential candidates calling for reform and, more notably, none other than Facebook investor Roger McNamee launching his attack on social media via his book Zucked: Waking Up To The Facebook Catastrophe.  As McNamee says, “it’s an issue of ‘right vs. wrong,’ not ‘right vs. left.’”

 

6. Ethics make a comeback.  HIT.  Ethics have certainly been more discussed than ever and related to the two reasons I cited:  the current administration and artificial intelligence.  The former forces ethics into the spotlight on a daily basis; the later provokes a slew of interesting questions, from questions of accidental bias to the trolley car problem.  Business schools continue to increase emphasis on ethics.  Mark Benioff has led a personal crusade calling for what he calls a new capitalism.

7.  Blockchain, as an enterprise technology, fades away.  HIT.  While I hate to my find myself on the other side of Ray Wang, I’m personally not seeing much traction for blockchain in the enterprise.  Maybe I’m running with the wrong crowd.  I have always felt that blockchain was designed for one purpose (to support cybercurrency), hijacked to another, and ergo became a vendor-led technology in search of a business problem.  McKinsey has a written a sort of pre-obituary, Blockchain’s Occam Problem, which was McKinsey Quarterly’s second most-read article of the year.  The 2019 Blockchain Opportunity Summit’s theme was Is Blockchain Dead?  No. Industry Experts Join Together to Share How We Might Not be Using it Right which also seems to support my argument. 

8.  Oracle enters decline phase and is increasingly seen as a legacy vendor.  HIT.  Again, this is highly subjective and some people probably concluded it years ago.  My favorite support point comes from a recent financial analyst note:  “we believe Oracle can sustain ~2% constant currency revenue growth, but we are dubious that Oracle can improve revenue growth rates.”  That pretty much says it all.

9.  ServiceNow and/or Splunk get acquired.  MISS.  While they’re both great businesses and attractive targets, they are both so expensive only a few could make the move – and no one did.  Today, Splunk is worth $24B and ServiceNow a whopping $55B.

10.  Workday succeeds with its Adaptive Insights agenda.  HIT.  Changing general ledgers is a heart transplant while changing planning systems is a knee replacement.  By acquiring Adaptive, Workday gave itself another option – and a far easier entry point – to get into corporate finance departments.  While most everyone I knew scratched their head at the enterprise-focused Workday acquiring a more SMB-focused Adaptive, Workday has done a good job simultaneously leaving Adaptive alone-enough to not disturb its core business while working to get the technology more enterprise-ready for its customers.  Whether that continues I don’t know, but for the first 18 months at least, they haven’t blown it.  This remains high visibility to Workday as evidenced by the Adaptive former CEO (and now Workday EVP of Planning) Tom Bogan’s continued attendance on Workday’s quarterly earnings calls.

With the dubious distinction of having charitably self-scored a 6.0 on my 2019 predictions, let’s fearlessly roll out some new predictions for 2020.

Kellblog 2020 Predictions

1.  Ongoing social unrest. The increasingly likely trial in the Senate will be highly contentious, only to be followed by an election that will be highly contentious as well.  Beyond that, one can’t help but wonder if a defeated Trump would even concede, which could lead to a Constitutional Crisis of the next level. Add to all that the possibility of a war with Iran.  Frankly, I am amazed that the Washington, DC continuous distraction machine hasn’t yet materially damaged the economy.  Like many in Silicon Valley, I’d like Washington to quietly go do its job and let the rest of us get back to doing ours.  The reality TV show in Washington is getting old and, happily, I think many folks are starting to lose interest and want to change the channel.

2.  A desire for re-unification.  I remain fundamentally optimistic that your average American – Republican, Democrat, or the completely under-discussed 38% who are Independents — wants to feel part of a unified, not a divided, America.  While politicians often try to leverage the most divisive issues to turn people into single-issue voters, the reality is that far more things unite us as Americans than divide us.  Per this recent Economist/YouGov wide-ranging poll, your average American looks a lot more balanced and reasonable than our political party leaders.  I believe the country is tired of division, wants unification, and will therefore elect someone who will be seen as able to bring people together.  We are stronger together.

3.  Climate change becomes the new moonshot.  NASA’s space missions didn’t just get us to the moon; they produced over 2,000 spin-off technologies that improve our lives every day – from emergency “space” blankets to scratch-resistant lenses to Teflon-coated fabrics.  Instead of seeing climate change as a hopeless threat, I believe in 2020 we will start to reframe it as the great opportunity it presents.  When we mobilize our best and brightest against a problem, we will not only solve it, but we will create scores to hundreds of spin-off technologies that will benefit our everyday lives in the process.  See this article for information on 10 startups fighting climate change, this infographic for an overview of the kinds of technologies that could alleviate it, or this article for a less sanguine view on the commitment required and extent to which we actually can de-carbonize the air. Or check out this startup which makes “trees” that consume the pollution of 275 regular trees.

4.  The strategic chief data officer (CDO).  I’m not a huge believer in throwing an “O” at every problem that comes along, but the CDO role is steadily becoming mainstream – in 2012 just 12% of F1000 companies reported having a CDO; in 2018 that’s up to 68%.  While some of that growth was driven by defensive motivations (e.g., compliance), increasingly I believe that organizations will define the CDO more strategically, more broadly, and holistically as someone who focuses on data, its cleanliness, where to find it, where it came from, its compliance with regulations as to its usage, its value, and how to leverage it for operational and strategic advantage.   These issues are thorny, technical, and often detail-oriented and the CIO is simply too busy with broader concerns (e.g., digital transformation, security, disruption).  Ergo, we need a new generation of chief data officers who want to play both offense and defense, focused not just tactically on compliance and documentation, but strategically on analytics and the creation of business value for the enterprise. This is not a role for the meek; only half of CDOs succeed and their average tenure is 2.4 years.  A recent Gartner CDO study suggests that those who are successful take a more strategic orientation, invest in a more hands-on model of supporting data and analytics, and measure the business value of their work.

5.  The ongoing rise of DevOps.   Just as agile broke down barriers between product management and development so has DevOps broken down walls between development and operations.  The cloud has driven DevOps to become one of the hottest areas of software in recent years with big public company successes (e.g., Atlassian, Splunk), major M&A (e.g., Microsoft acquiring GitHub), and private high-flyers (e.g., HashiCorp, Puppet, CloudBees).  A plethora of tools, from configuration management to testing to automation to integration to deployment to multi-cloud to performance monitoring are required to do DevOps well.  All this should make for a $24B DevOps TAM by 2023 per a recent Cowen & Company report.  Ironically though, each step forward in deployment is often a step backward in developer experience.

6. Database proliferation slows.  While 2014 Turning Award winner Mike Stonebraker was right over a decade ago when he argued in favor of database specialization (One Size Fits All:  An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone), I think we may now too much of a good thing.   DB Engines now lists 350 different database systems of 14 different types (e.g., relational, graph, time series, key-value). Crunchbase lists 274 database (and database-related) startups.  I believe the database market is headed for consolidation.  One of the first big indicators of a resurgence in database sanity was the failure of the (Hadoop-based) data lake, which happened in 2018-2019 and was the closest thing I’ve seen to déjà vu in my professional career – it was as if we learned nothing from the Field of Dreams enterprise data warehouse of the 1990s (“build it and they will come”).  Moreover, after a decade of developer-led database selection, developers and now re-realizing what database people knew along – that a lot of the early NoSQL movement was akin to throwing out the ACID transaction baby with the tabular schema bathwater.

7.  A new, data-layer approach to data loss prevention (DLP).  I always thought DLP was a great idea, especially the P for prevention.  After all, who wants tools that can help with forensics after a breach if you could prevent one from happening at all — or at least limit one in progress?  But DLP doesn’t seem to work:  why is it that data breaches always seem to be measured not in rows, but in millions of rows?  For example, Equifax was 143M and Marriott was 500M.  DLP has many known limitations.  It’s perimeter-oriented in a hybrid cloud world of dissolving perimeters and it’s generally offline, scanning file systems and database logs to find “misplaced data.”  Wouldn’t a better approach be to have real-time security monitored and enforced at the data layer, just the same way as it works at the network and application layer?  Then you could use machine learning to understand normal behavior, detect anomalous behavior, and either report it — or stop it — in real time.  I think we’ll see such approaches come to market in 2020, especially as cloud services like Snowflake, RDS, and BigQuery become increasingly critical components of the data layer.

8. AI/ML continue to see success in highly focused applications.  I remain skeptical of vendors with broad claims around “enterprise AI” and remain highly supportive of vendors applying AI/ML to specific problems (e.g., Moveworks and Astound who both provide AI/ML-based trouble-ticket resolution).  In the end, AI and ML are features, not apps, and while both technologies can be used to build smart applications, they are not applications unto themselves.  In terms of specificity, the No Free Lunch Theorem reminds us that any two optimization techniques perform equivalently when averaged across all possible problems – meaning that no one modeling technique can solve everything and thus that AI/ML is going to be about lots of companies applying different techniques to different problems.   Think of AI/ML more as a toolbox than a platform.  There will not be one big winner in enterprise AI as there was in enterprise applications or databases.  Instead, there will be lots of winners each tackling specific problems.  The more interesting battles will those between systems of intelligence (e.g., Moveworks) and systems of record (e.g., ServiceNow) with the systems-of-intelligence vendors running Trojan Horse strategies against systems-of-record vendors (first complementing but eventually replacing them) while the system-of-record vendors try to either build or acquire systems of intelligence alongside their current offerings. 

9.  Series A rounds remain hard.  I think many founders are surprised by the difficulty of raising A rounds these days.  Here’s the problem in a nutshell:

  • Seed capital is readily available via pre-seed and seed-stage investments from angel investors, traditional early-stage VCs, and increasingly, seed funds.  Simply put, it’s not that hard to raise seed money.
  • Companies are staying in the seed stage longer (a median of 1.6 years), increasingly extending seed rounds, and ergo raising more money during seed stage (e.g., $2M to $4M).
  • Such that, companies are now expected to really have achieved something in order to raise a Series A.  After all, if you have been working for 2 years and spent $3M you better have an MVP product, a handful of early customers, and some ARR to show for it – not just a slide deck talking about a great opportunity.

Moreover, you should be making progress roughly in line with what you said at the outset and, if you took seed capital from a traditional VC, then they better be prepared to lead your round otherwise you will face signaling risk that could imperil your Series A.

Simply put, Series A is the new chokepoint.  Or, as Suster likes to say, the Series A and B funnel hasn’t really changed – we’ve just inserted a new seed funnel atop it that is 3 times larger than it used to be.

10.  Autonomy’s former CEO gets extradited.  Silicon Valley is generally not a place of long memories, but I saw the unusual news last month that the US government is trying to extradite Autonomy founder and former CEO Mike Lynch from the UK to face charges.  You might recall that HP, in the brief era under Leo Apotheker, acquired enterprise search vendor Autonomy in August, 2011 for a whopping $11B only to write off about $8.8B under subsequent CEO Meg Whitman a little more than a year later in November, 2012.  Computerworld provides a timeline of the saga here, including a subsequent PR war, US Department of Justice probe, UK Serious Fraud Office investigation (later dropped), shareholder lawsuits, proposed settlements, more lawsuits including Lynch’s suing HP for $150M for reputation damages, and HP’s spinning-off the Autonomy assets.  Subsequent to Computerworld’s timeline, this past May Autonomy’s former CFO was sentenced to five years in prison.  This past March, the US added criminal charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy against Lynch.  Lynch continues to deny all wrongdoing, blames the failed acquisition on HP, and even maintains a website to present his point of view on the issues.  I don’t have any special legal knowledge or specific knowledge of this case, but I do believe that if the US government is still fighting this case, still adding charges, and now seeking extradition, that they aren’t going to give up lightly, so my hunch is that Lynch does come to the US and face these charges. 

More broadly, regardless of how this particular case works out, in a place so prone to excess, where so much money can be made so quickly, frauds will periodically happen and it’s probably the most under-reported class of story in Silicon Valley.  Even this potentially huge headline case – the proposed extradition of a British billionaire tech mogul —  never seems to make page one news.  Hey, let’s talk about something positive like Loft’s $175M Series C instead.

To finish this up, I’ll add a bonus prediction:  Dave doesn’t get a traditional job in 2020.  While I continue to look at VC-backed startup and/or PE-backed CEO opportunities, I am quite enjoying my work doing a mix of boards, advisory relationships, and consulting gigs.  While I remain interested in looking at great CEO opportunities, I am also interested in adding a few more boards to my roster, working on stimulating consulting projects, and a few more advisory relationships as well.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and above-plan 2020.

Joining the Profisee Board of Directors

We’re announcing today that I’m joining the board of directors of Profisee, a leader in master data management (MDM).  I’m doing so for several reasons, mostly reflecting my belief that successful technology companies are about three things:  the people, the space, and the product.

I like the people at both an investor and management level.  I’m old friends with a partner at ParkerGale, the private equity (PE) firm backing Profisee, and I quite like the people at ParkerGale, the culture they’ve created, their approach to working with companies, and of course the lead partner on Profisee, Kristina Heinze.

The management team, led by veteran CEO and SAP alumnus Len Finkle, is stocked with domain experts from larger companies including SAP, Oracle, Hyperion, and Informatica.  What’s more, Gartner VP and analyst Bill O’Kane recently joined the company.  Bill covered the space at Gartner for over 8 years and has personally led MDM initiatives at companies including MetLife, CA Technologies, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley.  It’s hard to read Bill’s decision to join the team as anything but a big endorsement of the company, its leadership, and its strategy.

These people are the experts.  And instead of working at a company where MDM is an element of an element of a suite that no one really cares about anymore, they are working at a focused market leader that worries about MDM — and only MDM – all day, every day.  Such focus is powerful.

I like the MDM space for several reasons:

  • It’s a little obscure. Many people can’t remember if MDM stands for metadata management or master data management (it’s the latter).  It’s under-penetrated; relatively few companies who can benefit from MDM use it.  Historically the market has been driven by “reluctant spend” to comply with regulatory requirements.  Megavendors don’t seem to care much about MDM anymore, with IBM losing market share and Oracle effectively exiting the market.  It’s the perfect place for a focused specialist to build a team of people who are passionate about the space and build a market-leading company.
  • It’s substantial. It’s a $1B market today growing at 5%.  You can build a nice company stealing share if you need to, but I think there’s an even bigger opportunity.
  • It’s teed up to grow. On the operational side, I think that single source of truth, digital transformation, and compliance initiatives will drive the market.  On the analytical side, if there’s one thing 20+ years in and around business intelligence (BI) has taught me, it’s GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).  If you think the GIGO rule was important in traditional BI, I’d argue it’s about ten times more important in an artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) world.  Garbage data in, garbage model and garbage predictions out.  Data quality is the Achilles’ heel of modern analytics.

I like Profisee’s product because:

  • It’s delivering well for today’s customers.
  • It has the breadth to cover a wide swath of MDM domains and use-cases.
  • It provides a scalable platform with a broad range of MDM-related functionality, as opposed to a patchwork solution set built through acquisition.
  • It’s easy to use and makes solving complex problems simple.
  • It’s designed for rapid implementation, so it’s less costly to implement and faster to get in production which is great for both committed MDM users and — particularly important in an under-penetrated market – those wanting to give MDM a try.

I look forward to working with Len, Kristina, and the team to help take Profisee to the next level, and beyond.

Now, before signing off, let me comment on how I see Profisee relative to my existing board seat at Alation.  Alation defined the catalog space, has an impressive list of enterprise customers, raised a $50M round earlier this year, and has generally been killing it.  If you don’t know the data space well you might see these companies as competitive; in reality, they are complementary and I think it’s synergistic for me to work with both.

  • Data catalogs help you locate data and understand the overall data set. For example, with a data catalog you can find all of the systems and data sets where you have customer data across operational applications (e.g., CRM, ERP, FP&A) and analytical systems (e.g., data warehouses, data lakes).
  • MDM helps you rationalize the data across your operational and analytical systems.  At its core, MDM solves the problem of IBM being entered in your company’s CRM system as “Intl Business Machines,” in your ERP system as “International Business Machines,” and in your planning system as “IBM Corp,” to give a simple example.  Among other approaches, MDM introduces the concept of a golden record which provides a single source of truth of how, in this example, the customer should be named.

In short, data catalogs help you find the right data and MDM ensures the data is clean when you find it.  You pretty obviously need both.

It Ain’t Easy Making Money in Open Source:  Thoughts on the Hortonworks S-1

It took me a week or so to get to it, but in this post I’ll take a dive into the Hortonworks S-1 filing in support of a proposed initial public offering (IPO) of their stock.

While Hadoop and big data are unarguably huge trends driving the industry and while the future of Hadoop looks very bright indeed, on reading the Hortonworks S-1, the reader is drawn to the inexorable conclusion that  it’s hard to make money in open source, or more crassly, it’s hard to make money when you give the shit away.

This is a company that,  in the past three quarters, lost $54M on $33M of support/services revenue and threw in $26M in non-recoverable (i.e., donated) R&D atop that for good measure.

Let’s take it top to bottom:

  • They have solid bankers: Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, and RBC are leading the underwriting with specialist support from Pacific Crest, Wells Fargo, and Blackstone.
  • They have an awkward, jargon-y, and arguably imprecise marketing slogan: “Enabling the Data-First Enterprise.”  I hate to be negative, but if you’re going to lose $10M a month, the least you can do is to invest in a proper agency to make a good slogan.
  • Their mission is clear: “to establish Hadoop as the foundational technology of the modern enterprise data architecture.”
  • Here’s their solution description: “our solution is an enterprise-grade data management platform built on a unique distribution of Apache Hadoop and powered by YARN, the next generation computing and resource management framework.”
  • They were founded in 2011, making them the youngest company I’ve seen file in quite some years. Back in the day (e.g., the 1990s) you might go public at age 3-5, but these days it’s more like age 10.
  • Their strategic partners include Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Rackspace, Red Hat, SAP, Teradata, and Yahoo.
  • Business model:  “consistent with our open source approach, we generally make the Hortonworks Data Platform available free of charge and derive the predominant amount of our revenue from customer fees from support subscription offerings and professional services.”  (Note to self:  if you’re going to do this, perhaps you shouldn’t have -35% services margins, but we’ll get to that later.)
  • Huge market opportunity: “According to Allied Market Research, the global Hadoop market spanning hardware, software and services is expected to grow from $2.0 billion in 2013 to $50.2 billion by 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, of 58%.”  This vastness of the market opportunity is unquestioned.
  • Open source purists: “We are committed to serving the Apache Software Foundation open source ecosystem and to sharing all of our product developments with the open source community.”  This one’s big because while it’s certainly strategic and it certainly earns them points within the Hadoop community, it chucks out one of the better ways to make money in open source:  proprietary versions / extensions.  So, right or wrong, it’s big.
  • Headcount:  The company has increased the number of full-time employees from 171 at December 31, 2012 to 524 at September 30, 2014

Before diving into the financials, let me give readers a chance to review open source business models (Wikipedia, Kellblog) if they so desire, before making the (generally true but probably slightly inaccurate) assertion:  the only open source company that’s ever made money (at scale) is Red Hat.

Sure, there have been a few great exits.  Who can forget MySQL selling to Sun for $1B?  Or VMware buying SpringSource for $420M?  Or RedHat buying JBoss for $350M+?  (Hortonworks CEO Rob Bearden was involved in both of the two latter deals.)   Or Citrix buying XenSource for $500M?

But after those deals, I can’t name too many others.  And I doubt any of those companies was making money.

In my mind there are a two common things that go wrong in open source:

  • The market is too small. In my estimation open source compresses the market size by 10-20x.  So if you want to compress the $30B DBMS market 10x, you can still build several nice companies.  However, if you want to compress the $1B enterprise search market by 10x, there’s not much room to build anything.  That’s why there is no Red Hat of Lucene or Solr, despite their enormous popularity in search.    For open source to work, you need to be in a huge market.
  • People don’t renew. No matter which specific open source business model you’re using, the general play is to sell a subscription to <something> that complements your offering.  It might be a hardened/certified version of the open source product.  It might be additions to it that you keep proprietary forever or, in a hardcover/paperback analogy, roll back into the core open source projects with a 24 month lag.  It might be simply technical support.  Or, it might be “admission the club” as one open source CEO friend of mine used to say:  you get to use our extensions, our support, our community, etc.  But no matter what you’re selling, the key is to get renewals.  The risk is that the value of your extensions decreases over time and/or customers become self-sufficient.    This was another problem with Lucene.  It was so good that folks just didn’t need much help and if they did, it was only for a year or so.

So Why Does Red Hat work?

Red Hat uses a professional open source business model  applied to primarily two low-level infrastructure categories:  operating systems and later middleware.   As general rules:

  • The lower-level the category the more customers want support on it.
  • The more you can commoditize the layers below you, the more the market likes it. Red Hat does this for servers.
  • The lower-level the category the more the market actually “wants” it standardized in order to minimize entropy. This is why low-level infrastructure categories become natural monopolies or oligopolies.

And Red Hat set the right price point and cost structure.  In their most recent 10-Q, you can see they have 85% gross margins and about a 10% return on sales.  Red Hat nailed it.

But, if you believe this excellent post by Andreessen Horowitz partner Peter Levine, There Will Never Be Another Red Hat.  As part of his argument Levine reminds us that while Red Hat may be a giant among open source vendors, that among general technology vendors they are relatively small.  See the chart below for the market capitalization compared to some megavendors.

rhat small fish

Now this might give pause to the Hadoop crowd with so many firms vying to be the Red Hat of Hadoop.  But that hasn’t stopped the money from flying in.  Per Crunchbase, Cloudera has raised a stunning $1.2B in venture capital, Hortonworks has raised $248M, and MapR has raised $178M.  In the related Cassandra market, DataStax has raised $190M.  MongoDB (with its own open source DBMS) has raised $231M.  That’s about $2B invested in next-generation open source database venture capital.

While I’m all for open source, disruption, and next-generation databases (recall I ran MarkLogic for six years), I do find the raw amount of capital invested pretty crazy.   Yes, it’s a huge market today.  Yes, it’s exploding as do data volumes and the new incorporation of unstructured data.  But we will be compressing it 10-20x as part of open-source-ization.  And, given all the capital these guys are raising – and presumably burning (after all, why else would you raise it), I can assure you that no one’s making money.

Hortonworks certainly isn’t — which serves as a good segue to dive into the financials.  Here’s the P&L, which I’ve cleaned up from the S-1 and color-annotated.

horton pl

  •  $33M in trailing three quarter (T3Q) revenues ($41.5M in TTM, though not on this chart)
  • 109% growth in T3Q revenues
  • 85% gross margins on support
  • Horrific -35% gross margins on services which given the large relative size of the services business (43% of revenues) crush overall gross margins down to 34%
  • More scarily this calls into question the veracity of the 85% subscription gross margins — I recall reading in the S-1 that they current lack VSOE for subscription support which means that they’ve not yet clearly demonstrated what is really support revenue vs. professional services revenue.  [See footnote 1]
  • $26M in T3Q R&D expense.  Per their policy all that value is going straight back to the open source project which begs the question will they ever see return on it?
  • Net loss of $86.7M in T3Q, or nearly $10M per month

Here are some other interesting tidbits from the S-1:

  • Of the 524 full-time employee as of 9/30/14, there are 56 who are non-USA-based
  • CEO makes $250K/year in base salary cash compensation with no bonus in FY13 (maybe they missed plan despite strong growth?)
  • Prior to the offering CEO owns 6.8% of the stock, a pretty nice percentage, but he was a kind-of a founder
  • Benchmark owns 18.7%
  • Yahoo owns 19.6%
  • Index owns 9.5%
  • $54.9M cash burn from operations in T3Q, $6.1M per month
  • Number of support subscription customers has grown from 54 to 233 over the year from 9/30/13 to 9/30/14
  • A single customer represented went from 47% of revenues for the T3Q ending 9/30/13 down to 22% for the T3Q ending 9/30/14.  That’s a lot of revenue concentration in one customer (who is identified as “Customer A,” but who I believe is Microsoft based on some text in the risk factors.)

Here’s a chart I made of the increase in value in the preferred stock.  A ten-bagger in 3 years.

horton pref

One interesting thing about the prospectus is they show “gross billings,” which is an interesting derived metric that financial analysts use to try and determine bookings in a subscription company.  Here’s what they present:

horton billings

While gross billings is not a bad stab at bookings, the two metrics can diverge — primarily when the duration of prepaid contracts changes.  Deferred revenue can shoot up when sales sells longer prepaid contracts to a given number of customers as opposed to the same-length contract to more of them.  Conversely, if happy customers reduce prepaid contract duration to save cash in a downturn, it can actually help the vendor’s financial performance (they will get the renewals because the customer is happy and not discount in return for multi-year), but deferred revenue will drop as will gross billings.  In some ways, unless prepaid contract duration is held equal, gross billings is more of a dangerous metric than anything else.  Nevertheless Hortonworks is showing it as an implied metric of bookings or orders and the growth is quite impressive.

Sales and Marketing Efficiency

Let’s now look at sales and marketing efficiency, not using the CAC which is too hard to calculate for public companies but using JMP’s sales and marketing efficiency metric = gross profit [current] – gross profit [prior] / S&M expense [prior].

On this metric Hortonworks scores a 41% for the T3Q ended 9/30/14 compared to the same period in 2013.  JMP considers anything above 50% efficient, so they are coming in low on this metric.  However, JMP also makes a nice chart that correlates S&M efficiency to growth and I’ve roughly hacked Hortonworks onto it here:

JMP

I’ll conclude the main body of the post by looking at their dollar-based expansion rate.  Here’s a long quote from the S-1:

Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate.    We believe that our ability to retain our customers and expand their support subscription revenue over time will be an indicator of the stability of our revenue base and the long-term value of our customer relationships. Maintaining customer relationships allows us to sustain and increase revenue to the extent customers maintain or increase the number of nodes, data under management and/or the scope of the support subscription agreements. To date, only a small percentage of our customer agreements has reached the end of their original terms and, as a result, we have not observed a large enough sample of renewals to derive meaningful conclusions. Based on our limited experience, we observed a dollar-based net expansion rate of 125% as of September 30, 2014. We calculate dollar-based net expansion rate as of a given date as the aggregate annualized subscription contract value as of that date from those customers that were also customers as of the date 12 months prior, divided by the aggregate annualized subscription contract value from all customers as of the date 12 months prior. We calculate annualized support subscription contract value for each support subscription customer as the total subscription contract value as of the reporting date divided by the number of years for which the support subscription customer is under contract as of such date.

This is probably the most critical section of the prospectus.  We know Hortonworks can grow.  We know they have a huge market.  We know that market is huge enough to be compressed 10-20x and still have room to create a a great company.  What we don’t know is:  will people renew?   As we discussed above, we know it’s one of the great risks of open source

Hortonworks pretty clearly answers the question with “we don’t know” in the above quote.  There is simply not enough data, not enough contracts have come up for renewal to get a meaningful renewal rate.  I view the early 125% calculation as a very good sign.  And intuition suggests that — if their offering is quality — that people will renew because we are talking low-level, critical infrastructure and we know that enterprises are willing to pay to have that supported.

# # #

Appendix

In the appendix below, I’ll include a few interesting sections of the S-1 without any editorial comments.

A significant portion of our revenue has been concentrated among a relatively small number of large customers. For example, Microsoft Corporation historically accounted for 55.3% of our total revenue for the year ended April 30, 2013, 37.8% of our total revenue for the eight months ended December 31, 2013 and 22.4% of our total revenue for the nine months ended September 30, 2014. The revenue from our three largest customers as a group accounted for 71.0% of our total revenue for the year ended April 30, 2013, 50.5% of our total revenue for the eight months ended December 31, 2013 and 37.4% of our total revenue for the nine months ended September 30, 2014. While we expect that the revenue from our largest customers will decrease over time as a percentage of our total revenue as we generate more revenue from other customers, we expect that revenue from a relatively small group of customers will continue to account for a significant portion of our revenue, at least in the near term. Our customer agreements generally do not contain long-term commitments from our customers, and our customers may be able to terminate their agreements with us prior to expiration of the term. For example, the current term of our agreement with Microsoft expires in July 2015, and automatically renews thereafter for two successive twelve-month periods unless terminated earlier. The agreement may be terminated by Microsoft prior to the end of its term. Accordingly, the agreement with Microsoft may not continue for any specific period of time.

# # #

We do not currently have vendor-specific objective evidence of fair value for support subscription offerings, and we may offer certain contractual provisions to our customers that result in delayed recognition of revenue under GAAP, which could cause our results of operations to fluctuate significantly from period-to-period in ways that do not correlate with our underlying business performance.

In the course of our selling efforts, we typically enter into sales arrangements pursuant to which we provide support subscription offerings and professional services. We refer to each individual product or service as an “element” of the overall sales arrangement. These arrangements typically require us to deliver particular elements in a future period. We apply software revenue recognition rules under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. In certain cases, when we enter into more than one contract with a single customer, the group of contracts may be so closely related that they are viewed under GAAP as one multiple-element arrangement for purposes of determining the appropriate amount and timing of revenue recognition. As we discuss further in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates—Revenue Recognition,” because we do not have VSOE for our support subscription offerings, and because we may offer certain contractual provisions to our customers, such as delivery of support subscription offerings and professional services, or specified functionality, or because multiple contracts signed in different periods may be viewed as giving rise to multiple elements of a single arrangement, we may be required under GAAP to defer revenue to future periods. Typically, for arrangements providing for support subscription offerings and professional services, we have recognized as revenue the entire arrangement fee ratably over the subscription period, although the appropriate timing of revenue recognition must be evaluated on an arrangement-by-arrangement basis and may differ from arrangement to arrangement. If we are unexpectedly required to defer revenue to future periods for a significant portion of our sales, our revenue for a particular period could fall below  our expectations or those of securities analysts and investors, resulting in a decline in our stock price

 # # #

We generate revenue by selling support subscription offerings and professional services. Our support subscription agreements are typically annual arrangements. We price our support subscription offerings based on the number of servers in a cluster, or nodes, data under management and/or the scope of support provided. Accordingly, our support subscription revenue varies depending on the scale of our customers’ deployments and the scope of the support agreement.

 Our early growth strategy has been aimed at acquiring customers for our support subscription offerings via a direct sales force and delivering consulting services. As we grow our business, our longer-term strategy will be to expand our partner network and leverage our partners to deliver a larger proportion of professional services to our customers on our behalf. The implementation of this strategy is expected to result in an increase in upfront costs in order to establish and further cultivate such strategic partnerships, but we expect that it will increase gross margins in the long term as the percentage of our revenue derived from professional services, which has a lower gross margin than our support subscriptions, decreases.

 # # #

Deferred Revenue and Backlog

Our deferred revenue, which consists of billed but unrecognized revenue, was $47.7 million as of September 30, 2014.

Our total backlog, which we define as including both cancellable and non-cancellable portions of our customer agreements that we have not yet billed, was $17.3 million as of September 30, 2014. The timing of our invoices to our customers is a negotiated term and thus varies among our support subscription agreements. For multiple-year agreements, it is common for us to invoice an initial amount at contract signing followed by subsequent annual invoices. At any point in the contract term, there can be amounts that we have not yet been contractually able to invoice. Until such time as these amounts are invoiced, we do not recognize them as revenue, deferred revenue or elsewhere in our consolidated financial statements. The change in backlog that results from changes in the average non-cancelable term of our support subscription arrangements may not be an indicator of the likelihood of renewal or expected future revenue, and therefore we do not utilize backlog as a key management metric internally and do not believe that it is a meaningful measurement of our future revenue.

 # # #

We employ a differentiated approach in that we are committed to serving the Apache Software Foundation open source ecosystem and to sharing all of our product developments with the open source community. We support the community for open source Hadoop, and employ a large number of core committers to the various Enterprise Grade Hadoop projects. We believe that keeping our business model free from architecture design conflicts that could limit the ultimate success of our customers in leveraging the benefits of Hadoop at scale is a significant competitive advantage.

 # # #

International Data Corporation, or IDC, estimates that data will grow exponentially in the next decade, from 2.8 zettabytes, or ZB, of data in 2012 to 40 ZBs by 2020. This increase in data volume is forcing enterprises to upgrade their data center architecture and better equip themselves both to store and to extract value from vast amounts of data. According to IDG Enterprise’s Big Data Survey, by late 2014, 31% of enterprises with annual revenues of $1 billion or more expect to manage more than one PB of data. In comparison, as of March 2014 the Library of Congress had collected only 525 TBs of web archive data, equal to approximately half a petabyte and two million times smaller than a zettabyte.

# # #

Footnotes:

[1]  Thinking more about this, while I’m not an accountant, I think the lack of VSOE has the following P&L impact:  it means that in contracts that mix professional services and support they must recognize all the revenue ratably over the contract.  That’s fine for the support revenue, but it should have the effect of pushing out services revenue, artificially depressing services gross margins.  Say, for example you did a $240K that was $120K of each.  The support should be recognized at $30K/quarter.  However, if the consulting is delivered in the first six months it should be delivered at $60K/quarter for the first and second quarters and $0 in the third and fourth.  Since, normally, accountants will take the services costs up-front this should have the effect of hurting services by taking the costs as delivered but by the revenue over a longer period.

[2] See here for generic disclaimers and please note that in the past I have served as an advisor to MongoDB