Back at the end of the dot-com era, when consumer ruled, I joined Netezza, a still-unknown data warehousing startup. Not only was data warehousing a stodgy, consolidated market that hadn’t seen innovation in over a decade, but enterprise infrastructure (and systems companies in particular) also looked pretty boring and un-hip. It was extremely fun to up-end the analysts and talking heads by showing them that it was possible to create a new category and challenge the large incumbents (Oracle, IBM, et al) head on.
Fast forward to 2015, when consumer again rules for venture capitalists, young entrepreneurs and the media. Much of the attention for big money and talent has been flowing towards the next “sharing” concept that can disrupt an entire industry. Young entrepreneurs, coming out of school and looking for something exciting to build, tend to gravitate towards innovation “up the stack,” or at the application layer. Often, technology is a relatively small (though important) aspect of what they’re building.
This is because just as with authors trying to write a new book, founding teams tend to “write what they know,” or focus on solving a problem they have seen personally and understand well, such as waiting for a cab or looking for a place to stay. There is much less interest in going “down the stack” to innovate around deeper infrastructure problems than even took place pre-2008, before the financial meltdown, when we saw a spurt of renewed interest in enterprise-focused startups.
Young engineers and product managers in particular are less likely to start careers in systems-level technology, and hardware seems interesting mainly if it can be used to build robots or home monitoring devices. The rise of the cloud has made infrastructure seem less relevant as well for many startup teams, since they can assume compute, storage and networking resources are available on demand and provided by someone else.
However, back in the world of enterprise IT and application development, the need for innovative infrastructure solutions has only grown larger; cloud adoption and big data are creating huge bursts of scale and complexity, while at the same time security breaches and the need for data center consolidation are putting pressure on existing solutions. There has simply never been a better time to create a new solution and company to take advantage of these massive technology shifts and market challenges.
That’s why we at ClearSky are excited to focus specifically on solving the next generation of enterprise infrastructure problems, and to challenge long-standing assumptions and incumbents. We know it’s critical for a startup to do one thing exceptionally well, and we’ve gathered a team that’s passionate about living “down the stack.” We’ve noticed that in addition to some of the more experienced team members from our personal networks, we’ve already found many younger engineers to join us -- they like the really complex, systems-level challenges and problem-solving required to build a truly disruptive offering. As we continue to build the team, we welcome the next generation of talent to enterprise IT: this is the time to ride the next big wave.