Tech Leadership and Innovation

Yugabyte CEO awaits flywheel effect for cloud-native apps

Tech veteran Bill Cook is at it again with a database and managed service aimed at applications written for the cloud.


Tech Leadership and Innovation

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It’s fair to say that Bill Cook has been around a bit in the tech business. In the opening exchanges of our video call he namechecks Scott McNealy from his long stint at Sun Microsystems, another former cohort in Pat Gelsinger (now Intel head honcho) and several other Silicon Valley luminaries. Now he’s back as the CEO of Yugabyte, the company behind an open source distributed SQL database YugabyteDB, that’s squarely aimed at the very hot cloud-native applications segment.  

“I felt I had one more in me,” Cook says, modestly, but in reality this promising scale-up is lucky to have him, his deal-making nous and his far-reaching network. Ex-Sun CEO McNealy has been brought in as an advisor and Cook hopes to ride some familiar innovation waves.

“The last thing the world wants is ‘another database’ but the world does need the attributes of cloud-native scale and to be able to just turn the knob up and down on that scale,” he says. 

Yugabyte is a company that may be in the right place at the right time when there’s an ongoing explosion of data, insatiable demand for cloud platforms and lots of activity at the edge from the Internet of Things and other phenomena. Its chances are bolstered by over $290mm in funding and a Unicorn-sized valuation of $1.3bn.  

For Cook, all this must seem very familiar. “I like our positioning and timing,” he says. “With the alternative databases, these things don’t happen often but when things happen that are disruptive, it creates opportunities.” 

He has seen this movie before, starred in it, ate the pizza and mostly likely has a large stock of the collectible action figures. At Sun, he saw surging demand for bullet-proof scalability and then dotcom servers while at Pivotal Software, which he co-founded, he helped companies bring web giant-style development to mainstream incumbents and others. Sometimes, you’re hot and there’s that formula again: right place, right time.   

“Today you have these requirements of scale and it just has to be up and running all the time because with microservices you can’t predict scale or performance,” he says. 

Yugabyte is generally agnostic on hardware and underlying infrastructure. It’s offered as a managed service on multiple clouds as well as Kubernetes. The model is pay-as-you-go subscriptions but Cook expects a fully-managed service offering to be attractive to many. Customers can come from anywhere as Cook sees YugabyteDB as platform or a canvas for entrepreneurs to sketch out their ideas and run operations without hitting ceilings or dealing with downtime. 

Refreshingly, Cook says word of mouth remains a big selling point and there is undoubtedly a buzz about Yugabyte. “Candidly,” he says, “it helps that I have a lot of trust and relationships because people are drawn to a company where they feel comfortable and have shared values, not someone imposing something on them they’re not wanting.” 

Cook says the pandemic hasn’t been too much of an impediment to growth and when we spoke a month ago he was looking forward to going back to a more face-to-face world. “I do think people like to show up and enjoy getting together and we are reopening in a month or so in the Bay Area,” he says. 

Yugabyte is currently in “landgrab mode”, Cook says, as it seeks to attract devs and builds towards what it sees as a multibillion-dollar opportunity and capitalising on another wave. “Anytime people can see a path forward, people will move towards it,” he says, espousing a mantra that could almost be a single-sentence description of the tech sector he has played in for many years.

As ever there will be co-option along the way and rising tides based on ecosystems and shared values. “If EDB and Postgres wins we win, we think of ourselves as the cloud-native version of Postgres,” Cook says. 

In the meantime, Cook and co. are hiring and building out a global footprint with more offices in Singapore, Tokyo and the US. The funding and customer names such as Wells Fargo help but he anticipates that it will be “another 12 months till the flywheel kicks in”, referring to business author Jim Collins’ famous view that new companies push hard at first but then gain the benefit of momentum.   

“It takes about two years to get the technology out there, and two to find out what it doesn’t do,” he muses. But he knows that the stage that comes after all of those hard yards represent the fun and excitement of the technology entrepreneurship world.