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March 23, 2020

The VentureFizz Podcast: Justin Borgman - Co-Founder & CEO at Starburst

For the 169th episode of The VentureFizz Podcast, I interviewed Justin Borgman, Co-Founder & CEO of Starburst.

As you’ll hear from this discussion, data is the new oil. It is what runs businesses and the amount of data that is created daily is exploding. Every business is trying to figure out to harness and leverage this data and there are a never ended amount of use cases.

Justin’s entrepreneurial journey has focused on helping companies with this challenge. While at Yale, where he received his MBA, he connected with a team that went on to create Hadapt, which focused on Hadoop and was acquired by Teradata. 

His next company is called Starburst which is on a mission to modernize big data access and analytics. The company raised $22M in Series A funding towards the end of last year and it is centered around an open source SQL query engine called Presto. Starburst is providing enterprise grade features and services around this open source initiative, which is certainly a business model that has been successful for other companies like Red Hat, Acquia, and many others. 

In this episode of our podcast, we cover:

  • A discussion around the massive growth of data and how it affects businesses.
  • Justin’s career path which started out in engineering and moved to product management. 
  • How Justin got into entrepreneurship while at Yale and the story of Hadapt.
  • All the details on Starburst and how they were able to achieve significant traction before raising capital.
  • Lessons learned from his first startup that he has been able to apply the second time around.
  • Advice on selecting the right VC’s to partner with when raising funding.
  • And so much more.

Interview Transcript

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Justin, thanks for joining us. 

Justin Borgman, Starburst

Thanks for having me. 

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So we have a lot to talk about your serial entrepreneur. So we're going to talk in detail about the different companies that you've started, of course, what you're up to now. But before we get into that, Justin, let's, let's talk about data, right? There's so much data out there in today's world. I mean, it's just fascinating how much data is at the forefront of businesses. And there are so many different use cases of how companies are actually harnessing and leveraging that data. So I thought it'd be interesting just to get your perspective on, you know, the world of data now and how that affects businesses and their ability to use that data effectively.

Justin Borgman, Starburst

Yeah, sure. I mean, it's becoming maybe even cliche, but data is the new oil, right? It's sort of what runs businesses and, and increasingly... even, you know, enterprises they've been around decades are becoming really data driven software companies and so, I think everyone no matter, no matter who you are, is sort of trying to figure out how to leverage data to improve the experience that they provide for customers how to attract those customers, how to keep those customers happy, and how to run the business more efficiently. So, you know, it's sort of a necessary competency for everyone in particular as more and more people will talk about AI as a  sexy sort of trend. You know, understanding your data and having access to your data is really a prerequisite for even doing any of that more advanced work in the first place.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Yeah, I mean, it is so fascinating when you get things like, you know, cloud computing has really helped advance the ability to harness that data and to do something with it from artificial intelligence and machine learning. I guess, you know, so many companies that I could give as examples, but one in particular that I love in Boston is PathAI and how they're leveraging data for pathology and really, you know, hopefully trying to help find a cure for cancer. It's just amazing what they can do now versus probably 10 years ago, they couldn't do what they do now.

Justin Borgman, Starburst

Absolutely, absolutely. And in fact, you know, sometimes we have that conversation in interviews with candidates over, you know, sort of what is the mission and sure, we can't point to as direct of an impact as maybe path AI or, or healthcare tech companies in the area. But at the end of the day, we're selling tools that enable all of these companies to ultimately fulfill those missions. And it's incredible to sort of see what people end up doing it with it. You know, we have some of the leading hospitals in the country using our data for research to improve outcomes for patients, for example. So there's really, it's a necessary skill set for again, every industry.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Well Justin, let's talk about your background. So talk about your experience.

Justin Borgman, Starburst  

Sure, so I grew up outside of Boston in a town called the act in Massachusetts. You know, went to public school, went to UMass Amherst for undergrad, later, went to grad school at Yale University, got my MBA there. And that's where I started my first business, which was really around doing big data analytics on top of the technology called Hadoop, which was an open source technology, gaining popularity at the time through, you know, 2009-2010, on to today for analyzing and storing massive amounts of data. So it was created at Yahoo. It's how they index the entire internet, and were able to make it searchable. And that technology started to spread to other industries as well. And really our idea at the time was could we allow for an analyst to gain access to that data in a very easy way using a language called SQL, SQL? And that really formed the creation of our first business. So I actually left Yale to start that company with a couple guys. One named Daniel Abadi, who was a professor there and another one being Kamil Bajda-Pawlikowski. Together we started that business, raised venture capital from Bessemer here in Boston along with accomplice, and then a venture firm on West Coast called Norwest, and ultimately built that business over four years before being acquired by Teradata. In which case, I became VP, GM of a business unit focused on emerging technologies, open source technologies. And that's where we started to fall in love with a new technology called Presto, which had formed from Facebook and was really their attempts to build their own technology for analyzing all the data that they capture, which is among the largest volumes of data in the world, and creating a fast system for accessing that and so that's what what presto was and ultimately, we left Teradata in 2017 and formed Starburst around this business along with the creators of the project from Facebook.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Very, very cool. Well, so your career didn’t  start out like you kind of talked about, you know, you went to UMass, and and then after graduation like you kind of went through, you know, a career path as an engineer into product management, right?

Justin Borgman, Starburst    

I did. Yeah, absolutely. You know, I started my career with a degree in computer science. And, you know, started writing software. I worked at Raytheon and MIT Lincoln lab. And you know, and that was great. I think it created a great foundation for me. But ultimately, I think what, what I guess led me to entrepreneurship was a desire to have a bigger impact. And I think that's what's so exciting about s tartups is the ability to sort of create something from nothing and perhaps change the world in some small way. And that's sort of what I guess, led me to Business School first to sort of learn more about how that was done outside of sort of the day to day coding that I was doing.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now, like, you know, when people think of entrepreneurship, right, they think of, you know, Stanford and MIT yet Yale has some amazing, amazing entrepreneurial alumni, right? I mean, there's Ben Silverman, who founded Pinterest, Justin Kahn, and Emmett Shear who founded Twitch. And I mean, there's a lot more than that. I mean, there's just a tremendous entrepreneurial culture there, right.

Justin Borgman, Starburst    

Yeah, for sure. I think, you know, universities are a wonderful place to sort of foster that because I think you, you come in with sort of infinite opportunity in your mind and maybe a courage to go try something crazy, which I think becomes a lot harder once you've been working for a while and you have a mortgage and you have kids and all those kinds of responsibilities. So yeah, certainly, you know, Yale was a great place for me. It really created a platform from which I was able to kind of start this new direction in my career.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

And then when you went to business school is that the intent? Like, hey, I want to start my own company and this is going to be the the time to kind of figure out what type of company I want to build.

Justin Borgman, Starburst

Not Initially, I think originally my my goal was to potentially get into venture capital, I actually thought that would be an interesting place to spend some time in my career and, and it was actually for that reason that I even discovered my first business because it's so hard to get an internship in venture capital. I would say probably every MBA student would, would love to have that internship. So I thought it would be useful to try to differentiate myself and in doing so I walked over to the tech transfer office at Yale and I said, Hey, can I do a mini internship with you during the school year, looking at technologies and helping them find those that might have commercial potential along the way, and so that was really really how I discovered this paper that was written by my co founder, this Professor Daniel Abadi into this whole idea of, of sort of big data analytics was was really just chance that that was a research paper that came across my desk to sort of decide, you know, is this something that Yale could potentially license? And ultimately I sort of through meeting those guys fell in love and said, Hey, we should commercialize this. So it's funny how kind of life creates opportunities. And I think very much for people it's, it's really a question of whether you take those opportunities when presented with them or not. So I've always tried to be opportunistic in thinking about, you know, what I do next. And, and even this venture that I'm involved with now, wasn't some grand master plan. It was really, that we had gotten involved with the technology. We were all leaving Teradata at the same time and, and we were starting to see more and more momentum of people using this open source technology and felt you know, why don't commercialize this. But again, I couldn't have predicted that, you know, three or four years ago.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz  

Yeah. Well, that, so you brought up Dr. Daniel Abadi. So he was part of the team that also built Vertica. Right. So he's got another success story from the Boston tech scene.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Absolutely. Yeah. He's one of these disciples of Mike Stonebreaker. Yeah, of course, Mike's a legend, you know, Turing Award winner, one of the greatest computer scientists of our day. And, and Daniel was one of his PhD students at MIT. And it was really Daniel's PhD thesis that became Vertica, and was ultimately commercialized and obviously very successful exit about 300 million to HP A few years ago, so. So I think that's actually probably what even made him open to the idea of even commercializing the research when I met him, and, and again, you're just sort of, you can't necessarily predict how all these things work, but it's sort of like one one experience, you know, leads to another experience which leads to another experience.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Did you say Yahoo was using Hadoop? Wow!

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah they created it. So it was really based on a research paper by Google, over a topic called MapReduce, which is a way of distributing computation across a large number of servers essentially. And yeah, I read that paper and sort of reverse engineered it and turned it into this, this open source project called to do.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

And once you decided that you want to be involved in this, and hey, this is an opportunity to commercialize the technology. How do you get started from there? Like, how do you actually start building a company around a research initiative?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Um, well, it's, it's tricky, or I'll say it's a lot trickier when you're doing it for the first time. You know, somebody like Mike Stonebreaker, has probably done this five or six times now and, and he just, you know, has to make a couple phone calls. But for me, at least in the first venture, it was it was very hard. I had to sort of figure out how one even goes about doing that. And I think for us initially, kind of our first step was proving to ourselves that this was something people wanted. And we did that by trying to sell it. And I'm a big proponent of sort of trying to sell something, you know, as early as you possibly can, because it teaches you so much about what people actually want, what they don't want. You can try a messaging and positioning on them. So I think that was really, really crucial for us in the very earliest days. And then ultimately, we raised a seed round from angel investors in Connecticut, some of whom were Yale alumni, but others were just sort of retired angel investors in the in the Connecticut sort of tech community. And that really allowed us to take it off the ground. It was a $1.5 million seed that that was enough for me to to take a leave of absence from school and sort of do it full time.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

And how much of the like the product or the solution evolved from that initial going to market trying to sell This kind of, you know, research that was commercialized to you know how the company started to raise more capital and scale.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, so it did evolve. I mean, the core thesis, I think remained the same, which was essentially that people would want to do what's known as sort of data warehousing analytics, essentially analytics on all the data that they collect about their business or about their customer about their enterprise. That they would want to do that in a low cost platform. And that's really what Hadoop represented was the idea to store it all very cheaply in this free technology, essentially open source technology, and then be able to analyze it with the same kind of performance that you would expect from something like a vertica, which is also a great database system. And so if you could deliver on that performance with that cost, that was really appealing to customers. And I think that was at the core of what we offered. I think what changed dramatically over time was essentially what that stack exactly look like, you know, in the earliest days without getting too technical, but in the earliest days, we had sort of carved up a database called Postgres, and you'd put that on on Hadoop and loaded the data into that. And then then we realized it was actually better to just read directly from Hadoop and open file formats like ORC and parquet. And I don't want to go too much into the weeds for you, but there was a lot of technological evolution that took place over, you know, that four year period to ultimately get to a product that we thought was pretty good. And it was a lot of lessons that we learned over those four years that really informed the creation of Starburst in 2017.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

And as far as the initial sales, right for Hadapt, what, like, how did you get early adopter customers actually to like pay money for this? Right? Like, how did you go about, you know, that initial sales cycle?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, it's hard. You know, it for some companies, you know, maybe those that raise venture right away, there are there are a couple hacks that you can occasionally use, which is you might have friends or connections that can help open doors. For me as a first time entrepreneur, not really knowing what I was doing. I didn't have that luxury. So, for me, it was it was it was more just hustle, you know, talking to as many possible people as I could find until somebody said, yeah, that's interesting. You know, let me hear more about it. And for us, you know, we had a very large insurance company in the Midwest who ended up being a very big early customer, maybe there were our third customer, but our first like really big one. And that really kind of opened the doors for us and was a you know, validation of the idea and really attracted venture capital to the investment.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Now, the hustle part like Where'd you find success? Was it going to like conferences where these people were Generally speaking, or hanging out or just reaching out blindly or cold to people are like, well, what was effective?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, I mean events can be can be helpful. I would say also just networking extensively. And and this is maybe another advantage of being a student entrepreneur, you can immediately tap into that alumni network, and people will be so receptive to you. Probably more so when you're a student than once you've already graduated. Right? Then you're just like another old guy, but when you're a student, and you're reaching out to the alumni, I think alumni are very open to helping students sort of, you know, find their own future and, and be mentors in the process. So that was hugely helpful for me in the beginning. And then, you know, we set up a website and we just sort of collect downloads, you know, people who wanted to try out our early version of the product. And we would follow up with each of those, even if they didn't want to pay us at least the conversation was worthwhile and it's very early days.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now, now let's talk about the acquisition. So Teradata is a much larger company, yet you're running the business unit under, you know, a much larger company. So what was that experience like? Because you were there for, you know, a good chunk of time after the acquisition.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, so I mean, very different in terms of the pace and I guess, relative influence over the organization. Rright from being a small company. I mean, Hadapt was maybe 45 people at its peak. So, you know, and I was the CEO, I, we could change direction very quickly. I had a lot of influence, obviously, over our direction. At Teradata, it was like 11,000 people when we were acquired, and I was a VP. So I had pretty good visibility into what was going on. But I was also the new guy on the block, the youngest executive by quite a quite a lot, and didn't really have necessarily that same level of organizational authority. So, you know, major culture shock I would say, in terms of our ability to sort of push an agenda, get things done at the pace that we want it to. And then also you get sort of sucked into normal big company bureaucracy and processes on on everything. And we tried to insulate our engineers as much as possible from that. But, you know, at the end of the day, it's just, it's just a much different experience. And I think for a lot of folks who work in startups, I think this is this is why you see a very high turnover rate post acquisition, you know, as soon as the retention mechanism runs out, whatever that may be. People want to go do that thrilling sort of early stage thing again, even though it's much harder. I mean, startups are way harder than then working for a large company. But there's just something extra rewarding and exciting about about that, and being able to have that level of contribution. I think that's what's what's motivating about it.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

So you got to the point where you're like, Okay, you know, it is time to go do this again. 

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, exactly, exactly. I mean, I think that was pretty clear to me pretty early on. And that's no disrespect to Teradata. I learned a lot there, and it was a great experience for me. But, you know, startups are what gets me excited, I don't think I will ever willingly take a job at a big company. You know, hopefully, if I'm lucky enough for the rest of my career, I think this is this is what I want to do. And it's just a lot of fun.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Well, hopefully, Starburst is the next big company that you're acquiring other companies. Well, let's talk about Starburst. So this is your latest company. So what are you doing? And like, what is Presto?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, so Presto is like a database, except it's a database without storage. And that's what makes it so different. So that means the data can live anywhere. And we can analyze it and query it, regardless of where it lives. And that's really the fundamental difference between Presto and really anything else on the market. Traditionally If you think of, let's say Vertica, just because another Boston success story, or Mateesah, which was another Boston success story, those are traditional database systems where you would take the data and you'd have to load it into the database to be able to analyze it. So there's that load step, you're going to move all that data in. And that's the way databases have been built for 30-40 years, basically, since the beginning of time. But in this case, what's so interesting is Presto can do all of the things that a database can do, but access the data in other databases or in other forms of storage, and particularly as people move to the cloud, and s3 becomes the cheap place to store data, or GCS on Google or Azure Data Lake on on Microsoft Azure. You know, this is a great tool for accessing all of that data, regardless of where it lives. And I think that's what's driven its popularity. It was created, like I mentioned at Facebook and for them, they had Hadoop and they had my SQL, MySQL ran the site. That was kind of the front and then every time you change your profile that was getting updated in this MySQL database. But then they would take that data and they'd have to move it to Hadoop to store it for for sort of archival purposes and to be able to analyze it after the fact. So those are their two data sources. They created Presto, to be basically a fast means of accessing that data in both of those places. So you could have some fresh new data that changed on the website that you wanted to analyze in conjunction with the viewing patterns, the viewing patterns of the last nine months, for example. That's it, that's the kind of query that you can do across these two data sources. So that's part of what made it very special at Facebook. It was also incredibly fast. So it quickly replaced something called hive, which was a very early sequel engine for Hadoop. Back then, and, and what we saw was while we were a Teradata, and we started contributing to this, this project and making it even Better adding more enterprise functionality to it and we just saw more and more people starting to use it. So that was why in 2017, we took the leading committers to this project leading contributors to this project and formed Starburst around that to really offer an enterprise grade offering, For Presto. So you can think of us like the Red Hat for Linux, you know, we are for Presto.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

It just seems like it's it seems like it's it's a it's an advantage when you have an open source product that has a community and people contributing to build more than commercialized like I think of you know, Drupal and Acquia in Boston, another wildly successful company formed around an open source CMS.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Absolutely, and Acquia is one of our favorites because we've hired a couple people who had experience there who understand that that sort of dual messaging of, you know, creating the open source community while also driving this commercial aspect to it. We just hired our CMO a couple months ago, her name is Jessica Iandiorio, and she was previously CMO at a company called Mirakl but before that VP of Marketing at Acquia, and I was one of the reasons we were so attracted to her was because of that, that experience. So no doubt. I mean, I think this is one of the key lessons I learned through my first business is that, you know, open source just has a viral nature to it. It's like a social media app, you know, if you'd made Snapchat, you know, a paid app, nobody would have ever used it. But because it's free, it ends up with this kind of viral adoption that spreads globally. And, and that's what we found with our project. There's, there's people using it in China and Japan and Singapore and, and Europe and South America, you know, literally all over the place.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So what is Starburst actually doing, is it like productizing like this offering or is it more services based? Is it a combo?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, it's a little bit of both. We offer extra enterprise features that come with our enterprise edition of Presto. And that is largely around security features, usability, we just make it easier to deploy. We have more connectors to different data sources that don't exist in the open source. And then we offer support for that as well. So it's basically a much more packaged up version of this open source software that allows it to be, you know, ready for deployment in a real kind of enterprise production environment. You know, if you're a big company, you need things like role based access control, where you know, one part of the organization can see different data than another part of the organization. That's kind of a must have, but that's something that only you can get through the Enterprise Edition.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now, is it very common for companies to you know, large enterprises that have they're leveraging multi clouds are using Azure and Google and Amazon?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

I would say increasingly, so. I mean, there is a gravity to data. So it is it can be costly or prohibitive to sort of be moving data back around, back and forth around between these different clouds. But I think at least strategically as they think about their long term future, they do want to have independence and keep a kind of independent stack that is applicable anywhere, whether they move from one cloud to the other, or even back on prem. So they want that flexibility. And again, I think that's core to kind of our value proposition which is basically analyze the data wherever it is, and you know, kind of lends itself to that flexibility.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now, you announced 22 million in funding last November. So what was the process like raising capital this time around you know, versus you know, the first time.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, this time was very different because we we actually didn't raise money right away. This time we decided to bootstrap originally. And and basically just sold support contracts to early users of Presto and were able to run the business as a cashflow positive, profitable business that way as we got it off the ground. And then just sort of fast forward through a couple years we started to see pretty rapid growth and it was at that point that we decided that there might be a bigger opportunity here worth exploring and you know, sort of taking on some capital to accelerate that growth. So that was the motivation so it's it's a series A but in a lot of ways you know, we're like a Series B or series C company in that we've already got revenue traction and are actually growing at a pretty fast clip. So this is really to accelerate that growth.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Yeah, so let's add in pure gas to the fire because we already have product market fit and there's revenue it's, you walk in meeting with venture capitalists this must be a dream for them. You have a repeat successful entrepreneur who's generating revenue and needs money because a product product market fit.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, it's definitely a much better situation than you know than my first go at it and trying to figure this all out. So I mean, it you know, I I hesitate to sort of say everyone should do it this way, because it's not always easy to get something off the ground, that way, sometimes it takes capital to build something before you can sell it. But certainly wherever you can, I think this certainly beats the old way. I think very often entrepreneurs think that fundraising is the goal and make the mistake of making that their sole focus and optimizing for that fundraise, when in reality, you know, raising money just buys you some time to do something. You know, at the end of the day, you have to have a real business under there somewhere and in, in bootstrapping, you get to sort of focus on that real business first, and then the capital just becomes gas and I think it's a much better way to go if you can do it.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Was there any other lessons learned from the first business that you've applied to doing things better or differently the second time around?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Oh, boy, so many lessons. Let's see. I mean, I think I learned so much about sort of managing and creating teams and kind of what to look for. And I think, for us in this venture, you know, we wanted to move very quickly and be very scrappy, and you have to find sort of the right personality for that, that is kind of what I would call startup ready. So you can't find them at necessarily any large company even though, you know, other companies certainly hire great very smart people in a sort of intellectual horsepower is not the only criteria. You have to be willing to work long hours sort of get, get the software out as quickly as you can be willing to do whatever it takes. And I think those are sort of some of the qualities that we look for that grit internally. You know, I think also just thinking through the the investor side of things, you know, in this case, we didn't really need to raise capital. So that obviously created a good situation for us. But it also allowed us to be very choosy about who we decided to work with, in our case. this gentleman Mike Volpi, not Boston's Mike Volpi, to clarify that when I'm talking to somebody in Boston, but Indexes Mike Volpi, was just such a great fit for us because of his open source experience. He was an investor in confluent, which is very successful company around open source project called Kafka. He was an investor in elastic Elastic Search, also hugely successful, you know, public company now at this point. He was an investor of Hortonworks, which was one of the Hadoop companies. So there are very few people I think, in this world who have had more experience scaling open source business models. And, you know, that was really additive experience for us and sort of taking it to the next next chapter here. So yeah, I mean, I think I think those are maybe just some of the things that we've learned. You know, we touched on open source being a very powerful vehicle for distribution. I think that's a key piece of our learnings through the first one as well.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now what what advice would you give to founders that have that, you know, I guess, luxury of having multiple term sheets, like selecting the right VC’s to partner with?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, well, I think that the key is really the partner themselves is really what you want to evaluate. I think that's another mistake that entrepreneurs make is they get caught up by the prestige of the firm. And I don't really think the prestige of the firm matters that much other than that first press release, you know, that that may, might make people you know, pay attention to you for a day or two, but at the end of the day, the one you're actually kind of marrying in the startup relationship, is that individual who is going to sit on your board. So I would be, you know, just very deliberate as you think through who that individual is. Do they add value to your board? Are there things that you can learn from them? Are they Somebody that you trust. I mean, I think that's also very important. You know, when money's involved people do bad things sometimes is this is this somebody that you can really trust to have your back in a, in a tricky period, because there's going to be ups and downs inherent to that. You know, those are, I think, some of the important ingredients, and then I would do extensive reference checking. I think this is my advice on anyone that you hire or about to start a relationship with, whether that's an investor or an employee is reference check, because I think that's where you get the most complete picture on the pros and cons of whoever that person may be.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now, what's the plan for Starburst as far as hiring over 2020?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

So yeah, it's really growth. It's all about growth. We're roughly 100 people now. And, and accelerating very quickly, I mean, that we've more than doubled, maybe almost tripled in the last six months or so. So, so growth has been pretty astronomical. A lot of it is on the go to market side right now, that's really where we're applying a lot of that fuel is hiring sales reps, marketing, inside sales, solution architects. Those are some of the key areas, always hiring in engineering, of course, as well. But, but that's been more of a consistent, you know, throughout. So those are the areas where we're focused from a headcount perspective. And then I think as a business, you know, with all those new salespeople on board, we hope to do you know, a whole lot more than we did ourselves sort of in bootstrap mode. So, hopefully, the sky's the limit, I think, you know, aspirationally, we'd like to build a meaningful pillar company here in Boston.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

What is the sales process like for Starburst, like, what's the typical, you know, is it an inside sales model? Is it a combination of inside outside like?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, it's a bit of a combination. I think, a lot of our opportunities start with a download, where again, people are evaluating Presto itself and testing it out and maybe doing their own evaluation that may trigger a conversation, which ultimately may lead to what we call a POC a proof of concept, right. And in that case, they are setting up Starburst Presto to connect to different data sources, running queries, seeing how fast it is. That's where our solution architects can get involved and be helpful and ultimately lead to a purchase. So that's, that's generally kind of the way the sales process works.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So how did you learn how to how to lead we talked about your background, you started as an engineer, moved into product management, went to Yale to get your MBA and next thing you know, you're leading a company. So how did you learn how to lead effectively?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

I think trial and error I think a lot of it comes through just experience like, I mean, you know, business school, I think sort of tries to teach some of that, but I think the reality is most of it really just comes through experience. And dealing with a lot of different situations. I think people are had. You know, I had a VP engineering in my first company say that there are no technical problems only people problems. And I think that's, that's pretty true. And especially coming from an engineering background myself, that's something that I've grown to appreciate and try to spend more time working on myself is sort of how to manage effectively. And also, as you go through different levels of scale, those management challenges change as well. When you're small, it's managing your direct report to all individual contributors. And then you grow to a point where you're managing managers and and you know, the things that you tell your managers do, they get translated to the to the contributors below them and, and so, you know, it's sort of like a never ending learning process, at least in my view. That is a craft. You continue to refine and try to improve on but it I think sort of the key things are caring about people having some level of empathy, I think goes a long way. Being honest and transparent. Those are also I think, important values so that people can trust you. At the end of the day, you want to trust them, they want to trust you. And I think that comes from for being honest and establishing a track record of, of honesty. But yeah, experience, I guess, is the short way of saying, I don't think it's the kind of thing you can learn in a book necessarily.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now, how about your time? How do you spend your time these days? You know, I know it's probably a moving target, depending on the day. But if you had to put in buckets, like how do you, you know, sort your time throughout a day, and then like how do you prioritize what to focus on?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Um, yeah, I think that's another key, key thing for any entrepreneur is choosing where they spend their time. So for me, at the beginning of the week, I sort of choose my three top priorities. And, you know, that may sound like not a lot like, only three things to get done this week? Well, I think, you know, it's always important to sort of focus on what are the three most important things so that you're not, you know, spending your time elsewhere not getting those key key three things done. So I think that's, that's something I try to do at the beginning of the week, and make sure that I'm driving towards those three, three things. You know, additionally, I would say I'm always recruiting. So I'd say maybe 20% of my time, 10 to 20% of my time, is spent on recruiting. So that's interviewing creating pipeline for different positions that we're looking to fill. You know, I spent a lot of my time in internal meetings, because I think it's important that we focus on our own execution, and then maybe another 25% of my time, kind of externally facing, whether that's working with customers, talking to investors, that sort of thing.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So what's the the overall scene in the Boston Tech Community these days? Like we talked about some great exits with, you know, Natezza and Endeca, or we didn't talk about it, but that's another one Endeca and Vertica. So what's going on in Boston these days?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, I mean, it's it's a great place to build, I think, you know, challenging infrastructure software. And, and that's obviously what we're all about. I mean, just great, smart technical minds Endeca is another incredible success story, which is obviously produced actually an alumni network of its own. It's created so many other companies like Salsify and Toast and so on. So you know, I think Boston Boston stands to benefit from from more of those right every time there is a big success. I think you see that where the the alumni sort of peel off and go do other things and just creates a very fertile ecosystem. So yeah, I think I think things are really good in Boston. There seems to be so much activity all over the place.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

And do you think you Your computer science degree has helped you, you know, to run the types of companies that you've been building.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

I do in the sense that I think it's useful to sort of understand what's involved in building a very technical product. It helps to have a greater degree of understanding with your engineering team in particular, and how hard these problems are that they're working on every day. And I think also helps with selling because you become a more credible salesman, when you know how the technology works, I find myself you know, in customer situations that I feel a little bit more like a solution architect. I'm not as strong as the solution architects we've hired, they're definitely better. But at least I can go maybe one level deeper than a than a typical sort of non technical CEO might. And I think given that we're very often selling to a technical audience. I think that's helpful as well to sort of understand the world as they see it.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So any books or podcasts that you'd recommend for I guess it could be, you know, business for entrepreneurs or could be just for fun outside of, you know, the professional realm.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

So I just bought the new book from Ben Horowitz. What You Do is Who You Are. I really enjoyed his first book, which was The Hard Thing About Hard Things I thought that was spot on for any entrepreneur. I definitely recommend that. I think that and Peter Teals book From Zero to One is are two great sort of startup books. So I'm looking forward to to his new one.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Yeah, The Hard Thing About Hard Things was amazing. And what I love about that book is the fact that his nemesis company was Played Logic in Boston.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Yeah, that's right. That's right. I forgot about that.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Yeah. So what do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Well, right now, a lot of that time is focused on our, our son, he's 14 months old now. So he's the other startup I've got going on in my life. Yeah, very busy. He's a lot of fun. I mean, for anyone who's listening who's had kids, you know, it's just it's just amazing to see the changes in the development and, you know, it's like his personality has a new wrinkle every every couple months. So it's a lot of fun to experience that with them.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Well, Justin, thanks for taking the time to walk us through your background and all the great things that you've been up to, as far as, you know, building these different companies, and obviously all the great advice for other entrepreneurs to follow.

Justin Borgman, Starburst 

Thanks. My pleasure. Appreciate the time.


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

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