- When David Mariani launched a startup in his 40’s, he struck out badly trying to raise funds from VCs — he was told he wasn’t „blue flame enough,“ as in, too old to really fire on all cylinders as a founder.
- Today AtScale is doing well, and Mariani thought it was high-time he demoted himself.
- He had to fight with his own board to let him hire a replacement CEO.
- But, he says, founding CEOs need to understand their own weaknesses and take action, rather than forcing someone else to do it for them.
David Mariani, founder of five-year-old big data startup AtScale, is happy, he tells Business Insider.
In June, he replaced himself as CEO by hiring someone he’s admired for years. And together they sweet-talked another successful entrepreneur, also well-known in the big data field, into signing on as chairman.
„It’s OK to hand the reigns over as a founder/CEO. It’s not shameful to realize and recognize where you need help and to bring in people proactively to help you versus waiting for someone to do it for you,“ said Mariani. He’s taken a new role at the company, as VP of technology.
To replace him, Mariani hired Chris Lynch as the new CEO of AtScale in June. Lynch is well-known in the Boston tech community as the CEO who sold Vertica Systems to HP for $350 million. He was also the founder and CEO of a company called Acopia, which he sold to F5 Networks for $210 million in 2007.
The outspoken Lynch had been doing the VC thing for about six years in Boston. After joining AtScale, Lynch helped talk another big name, Jit Saxena, into joining as chairman.
Saxena is a serial startup founder, best known as the former founder and CEO of big data company Netezza, which he took public and then sold to IBM for $1.7 billion in 2010.
Saxena’s personal story is a triumphant one, too. Some years after selling Netezza, he got sick and needed a kidney transplant.
In 2014 he launched an online campaign to look for a donor. Ultimately, his internet search didn’t work, but, he was matched with a donor the old fashioned way, he tells Business Insider. Today, he’s a big supporter of kidney research at Boston’s Brigham Hospital.
„It was a wonderful thing that it happened,“ he told Business Insider. „And I was lucky and am almost fully recovered from kidney issues. I hope in the future the same thing happens to hundreds of thousands of people, and I would like to help them in any way I can.“
Saxena is an angel investor in Boston and already on a number of boards, But with his health back he was willing to add another one to the roster and join AtScale.
Not ‚Blue Flame‘
Often when a founder leaves the CEO job, even for another role at the company, it signals trouble at the company or in the board room. But Mariani said that hiring a new CEO was his idea.
„I actually had to fight my board to allow me to do this. They thought, hey, everything is going great, why do you want to go and take this kind of a risk, and bring in a new leader?“ he said.
It was a good problem to have, considering how tricky it was for Mariani to raise the venture capital to start up AtScale in the first place.
In his late 40’s, Mariani went out to raise his first round from venture capitalists, he was continually rejected. This was despite his engineering background, running projects at Yahoo and Klout.
AtScale is cloud software that solves a really hard problem. It connects data from wherever it sits, be an Oracle database or an Excel spreadsheet, so companies can run big-data style analysis. Lots of companies do that, but AtScale does it without moving the data. The tech was so impressive that a who’s who of angels backed it, which Mariani thought would help in the fundraising process.
A friend of his in the VC industry explained: Potential investors were saying he wasn’t „blue flame“ enough,“ Mariani had previously told Business Insider — a reference to his age. „Blue flame“ refers to burning hot; as in the kind of Mark Zuckerberg-style young wunderkinds without families to support or other responsibilities that investors love to back.
Striking out with classic investors, Mariani took another tactic. He went to the investment arm of one of his early customers, Comcast. They bit and with one big name investor in his camp, others followed. He has since raised $45 million in several rounds.
But, „blue flame“ age or not, he was inexperienced in running a company and wanted someone who could help him.
Mariani lobbied Lynch to take the CEO job for months, but Lynch didn’t want to move his family from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area, where AtScale is based. Ultimately, Lynch took the job without moving his family. He is currently commuting, taking flights from San Francisco home to Boston every weekend.
And today, Mariani couldn’t be happier. „Along with Chris, came Chris’s entourage. The people, his contact that he worked with over the years, including Jit.“
With his classic bravado, Lynch adds, „If you look at my track record you can see that I can do anything I want in this business. And what I want is to build AtScale into a billion-dollar business.“
Source: Business insider