Jim Starkey’s career as an entrepreneur, architect, and innovator spans more than three decades of database history from the Datacomputer project on the fledgling ARPAnet to his most recent startup, NuoDB, Inc., based here in Cambridge. Through that period, he was responsible for many database innovations from the date data type to the BLOB to multi-version concurrency control (MVCC). Starkey has extensive experience in proprietary and open source software.
I know, database software isn’t the most sexy industry going, but it just might be the one with the highest potential. Why? Because every company needs databases! Starkey understands this, as does his long-time friend and confidant, Barry Morris.
So, if you’re Morris, and Starkey, who architected five databases and realizes he found the holy grail of database system solutions, calls you to be a part of that solution, you come out of retirement to do so. And that’s precisely what happened some five years ago.
“I had known and respected Jim for many years through our days in the database world,” Morris, now NuoDB’s Executive Chairman, told me. “When he called me and said he had a solution to a problem I knew existed – something we call distributed database – it was an easy sell.”
In July 2010 Starkey and Morris (and the team dog) began digging into Starkey’s then prototype code and idea on solving the challenges associated with cloud computing and the rise of global application deployments.
The NuoDB Offering
While Starkey and Morris joined forces in 2010, it wasn’t until early 2013 that the product was actually in the market.
NuoDB is a scale-out SQL database for the cloud and the modern datacenter. It is the next generation SQL RDBMS designed to meet the needs of cloud-scale apps and over 50 billion connected devices that are coming online worldwide.
NuoDB resolves geographic challenges typically associated with databases by enabling customers to distribute a single, logical database across multiple geographies with multiple master copies and true transactional consistency.
Yes, the product is very technical, but think of it like this; NuoDB gives companies the technology to house their data centers wherever they want and need.
For years, data has been stored in one location. So, as Morris explained, if you’re running a social network, you might store all user data in California, but when that data is needed in Tokyo it takes time (and money) to travel across the globe. Performance and disaster recovery efforts are sacrificed with this model.
With the explosion of the Cloud and Internet of Things, having databases in one location just doesn’t make sense any longer. NuoDB is changing this and major corporations around the world are taking notice, including Europe’s second largest ISV, Dassault Systèmes, along with many other leading software, telecommunications, and financial services organizations.
Before Dassault, of course, there were many, smaller, wins along the way.
Morris discussed with me that, in the world of databases, companies typically carve out a budget and test a small project on a new offering, such as NuoDB. However, Morris recalled “company after company looking at NuoDB and jumping all-in. They were ripping out their old system and completely replacing it with ours.”
That’s when they knew they had to let go of the leash.
Soon after the 2013 launch, NuoDB landed AutoZone, a Fortune 500 company. From there, more and more companies began to make the full system overhaul.
“We turned to our board and said, ‘we have a $40 billion market here, exploding with the Cloud, we need to hit the gas,’” Morris said.
In early 2014 the company raised more than $16 million in Series B funding – adding to an initial $2 million from 2010, which Starkey and Morris used to get the company off the ground (and into a Cambridge office) and a $10 million Series A in 2012. Earlier this year, they added another $9.5 million to the Series B, bringing the total raised to $40 million to date.
Rapid growth isn’t exactly new territory for Morris and NuoDB. The company, currently headquartered in the Athenaeum Building in Cambridge, a space they’ve now outgrown, has a team of 85, up from 60 to start the year. In June of this year, the database software company announced the opening of its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) development center in Dublin, Ireland and a new office in Belfast, Northern Ireland – designed to tap into the region’s pool of dynamic and highly skilled talent to help fuel this growth phase. I was also told NuoDB is experiencing 3X revenue growth year-over-year.
ENTERING A NEW PHASE
Today, Starkey remains involved with NuoDB as a strategic Advisor, but he has actually been out of day-to-day responsibilities since before the official product launched, retiring in 2012. Morris led the company as CEO until July of this year when he took on the role of Executive Chairman, where he will dedicate a majority of his time on fostering customer relationships and forging new partnerships. Bob Walmsley, formerly the EVP of Sales and Services, has taken over as president and chief executive officer, responsible for day-to-day operations and growing the business.
“We’re at a point where we have built all the basics. We have a phenomenal product, lots of customers and worldwide reach. Next will be a rapid growth phase. I want to build relationships with customers and partners and drive the front end of our growth,” said Morris.
Morris, who is known to play some guitar in his limited spare time, is a native of Cape Town, South Africa, but has been in Boston since his days with IONA Technologies, one of the most successful tech companies to ever come out of Ireland, for whom he opened a U.S. office and helped guide a valuation of over $2 billion.
“I’ve been in Boston for a long time and you can’t beat the talent we have here. Databases are very complex challenges for engineers and we expect the best of the best. There’s no better place to call home than here.”
Morris called Boston the database center of the world - something he credited Michael Stonebraker (now of Tamr) as a driving force. He sees the industry as a whole as going through a bit of resurgence with exponential opportunity. It’s that potential, that drives Morris every day.
“What gets me out of bed every morning is seeing the impact technology is having on civilization and me wanting to be a part of that. I can’t stop myself from trying to accelerate our growth and becoming a bigger part of that impact.”
This isn’t just talk from Morris, either. This resurgence around database technologies stems from the 1980’s when there were four major players in the space, Oracle, Sybase, Informix, and Ingres. Betting on NuoDB’s success, 3 of those 4 have invested in the company.
While NuoDB isn’t putting out a product that many of us use or would interact with on a daily basis, they are quickly becoming a global leader in a $40 billion industry. For Boston’s tech ecosystem, having NuoDB’s present can only help, by creating jobs, helping our city own another category and attracting talent. Hopefully that talent, which Morris says is the best of the best, eventually begins to spin off some startups and game-changing products of their own.