by Peter High, published on Forbes
Tom Reilly has had an illustrious career of joining high growth companies and putting them on a path to continued growth and significant events such as an initial public offering (ArcSight) and acquisition (ArcSight by HP and Trigo Technologies by IBM). For a little less than three years, Reilly has been the CEO of Cloudera. Reilly describes Cloudera’s business as developing “open-source software for a world dependent on Big Data. With Cloudera, businesses and other organizations can now interact with the world’s largest data sets at the speed of thought — and ask bigger questions in the pursuit of discovering something incredible.” With investments from the likes of Greylock Partners, Ignition Partners, and Google Ventures, Cloudera has achieved a valuation of over $4 billion, allowing it to join the upper ranks of the so-called unicorns.
Among the largest unicorns, the CEO is typically a founder of the company. Tom is an exception to that rule, though co-founder and former CEO Mike Olson remains with the company as chief strategy officer. Reilly describes a productive relationship with the co-founders, and his goal of continuing their success. In this conversation, he also describes the future plans of the company, including speculation on the company’s public offering, the sectors they focus on, the methods he has used to attract and retain talent, and how he thinks about strategic planning in such a dynamic environment.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this podcast, please visit this link. This is the third interview with CEOs of the so-called “unicorns.” Past interviewees have included Sebastian Thrun of Udacity and Marc Lore of Jet.com. To read future interviews in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Cloudera is an organization that allows others to store, process, and analyze all their data all in one place, which has been a challenge that a lot of organizations have had in recent years. Could you talk a little bit about where the company stands now, its current iteration and evolution, and your current priorities and strategic plan.
Tom Reilly: Let’s talk about the initial value proposition. Traditionally, enterprises have always had a lot of data to grapple with and liked to have it all in one place, but it has become exacerbated in recent years because the world has become interconnected. There is a whole new set of data in volume and complexity that enterprises have not seen before. So our value proposition is to help enterprises and corporations capitalize on all this new data that is coming from the connected world. If they can get this new data they are going to have better understanding of their customers and will be able to service them better, they will be able to introduce new data-driven products and services, and increasingly we are seeing that they will leverage platforms such as ours in gathering more data to mitigate risk and address regulatory pressures. So the theme of that statement there is that our value proposition is to help enterprises transition and transform to this new, interconnected world, which is different in the last ten to fifteen years. That is why technology such as ours is of great interest to these enterprises.
Now what is different today than if you and I talked two years ago is that enterprises now understand the use cases they need to work on to maintain a competitive advantage in this connected world. We are seeing high value business applications come to market at a feverish pace, and that is what is exciting. Two years ago, I think people were still trying to understand: What does this connected world mean? How is it going to affect my industry? What are the technologies I have available to me? And we have seen a fast shift in the last two years to industries transforming.
High: I cannot help but thinking as you say that, Tom, that the path towards developing and combining all of one’s data in a single place is going to be much more complex for an older organization that has been gathering data for years – versus those newer organizations, digital native organizations, for instance, or those created in more recent times, where that complexity is not quite the same. Having collaborated with companies in both of those buckets, can you talk about the path towards success for one versus the other?
Reilly: I will frame it this way. There are what traditionally are called the Web 2.0 companies: the new, modern companies like Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook. These enterprises are gathering data and using data to their competitive advantage and the core part of the services is why they are so successful. I think that a lot of what we are doing in this market that we call Big Data, or we like to think of ourselves as delivering the modern data management analytics platform, is to help traditional enterprises become more like those modern enterprises. The challenge traditional enterprises have is the different silos of systems. When they were doing automation twenty years ago, it was all process-centric, application-centric. Today we are helping them become more data-centric and more information-driven than more process-driven. That is our role in this. I often say we are helping traditional enterprises transition and look more like Google. If we can help them do that – whether it is an insurance company, retailer, bank, telecommunications company, or healthcare provider – and make them operate more like Google, Yahoo, or Facebook, they are going to be servicing their customers better, and are going to have more competitive products and services. There are just tremendous advantages.