Every year is exciting when you work in a startup – VAST Data is no exception to this rule. 2019 has been a year that is punctuated by many highs and the occasional low. As we look to close out this year, I wanted to share some thoughts on our approach to building our business in an effort to hopefully help our partners and customers understand how we think about enabling their long-term success.
VAST Data: The Fastest Growing Enterprise Data Storage Company of All Time
It’s a bold claim, we know…especially for a private company whose financials cannot be publicly validated. To be clear, when discussing our relative performance we compare ourselves to previous storage success stories simply by comparing inflation-adjusted revenue. We already made an announcement about our early success earlier in the year, and we’ve continued to ramp up our selling motion since that announcement. Our business performance has exceeded every expectation in its first full year, such that we can confidently say that we’ve sold more in our first full year than any other data storage company in history, by a wide margin.
This milestone begs two questions:
1. Is the momentum expected to continue?
2. How has a relatively unknown storage company pulled this off?
It turns out the answers to these questions are not unrelated, and simply come down to defining and executing a focused number of initiatives that benefit from VAST’s architectural strengths.
Know Thine Product, Know Thyself
To answer the first question: Massive growth has never been the absolute goal of VAST Data, we built this company with a mission to simplify storage to enable our customers’ operational and application agendas. Growth is simply the fortunate byproduct of making a product that just works and knowing where to position it. Do we know if we’ll always be the fastest growing storage company…? no…but we do know that if we stay focused, good things can and do happen.
To start, I’ll share the first slide that I showed during my first board presentation in 2016:
Putting aside the ugly slide background for a moment – the message is simple: If you have built a rocket engine, you don’t outfit this into a jetski or a smart car, you need to build rockets and sell them to people that buy rockets. It’s a simple concept that unfortunately gets missed by early-stage technology companies who are forced to pivot away from their initial focus because they didn’t understand either their target markets or their product (or both) when they originally laid out their strategy.
VAST understood in 2016 that we could not win the feature war on day-one, and that a high-scale, distributed, all-flash system should be positioned only to people who could look beyond all of the features that enterprise buyers need in order to replace 10-year-old mature products. Instead, VAST focused on a class of customers who sit at the intersection of performance and capacity who want to gain competitive edge from adopting new technologies:
The critical, and hardest, aspect to this strategy is quickly saying “no”. “No” to new salespeople who enthusiastically bring deals that aren’t aligned with the product. “No” to new partners who are excited to share an opportunity. “No” may be one of the hardest words for early stage technology companies to say – but it’s also the most important part of ensuring that we don’t defocus from the customers who we can help in the now.
As we continue the development of our Universal Storage offering, the concentric circles of total addressable market continue to grow and our job is to position our product as increasingly ‘Universal’.
Spend Where It Makes Sense, And Nowhere Else
Visibility is a key aspect of building a startup launch plan, and here VAST has also bucked the trend. We made the unorthodox decision to launch the company only well after we started selling, so that we had customers and partners speaking to millions of dollars of early stage orders when we took the covers off our story in February of this year.
Well-funded startups will often spend millions of dollars to build their brand. Money flows all over the place… at our revenue level, companies have paid for dozens of sales teams, crazy analyst and event budgets, videos, swag, etc. Some of this creates value, but much of this investment can be lost as a company works to find its footing and refine its value proposition in the market. Much of this excess spending can be attributed to bolstering the egos of company managers and investors
Petabyte storage requires petabyte-class customers. You don’t need a $10M marketing campaign to get to this class of customer, you just need to understand where they are and how to get to them – and then work. No egos, just fundamentals. This year we met with nearly 1000 customers by taking the message directly to them. With this assassin’s approach to building business, we get a much more lucrative payoff of our sales and marketing investment vs. carpet bombing the IT market – most of whom will never buy.
On the flip side, all of this glitz can come at the expense of a company’s R&D effort. To solve this problem, we’ve spent as efficiently as we can on Sales and Marketing in order to invest heavily in the design and QA of a product that should just work. The thesis was and is: if the idea was cool enough, and the product could be easily deployed and operated, the product should sell itself… and this theory has thus-far paid off by allowing us to invest in our product at a disproportionately high level while our sales team hustles to make the right intros.
So – without becoming the most famous brand du jour in storage, we’re working hard to stay focused so that we become one of the success stories that other companies talk about for ages.
2019 is just the beginning for this breakout success story. Our focused approach to building VAST Data has resulted in some interesting outcomes that lay the foundation for long-term viability and customer success.
The real contributors to this early momentum are our customers and partners… so as we put a bow on 2019, we would like to extend a warm thank you to our customers and valued partners for all of the support, encouragement, collaboration and business.
Happy Holidays from all of us at VAST! pic.twitter.com/dTFZcmamKk
— VAST Data (@VAST_Data) December 20, 2019
Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday and a Successful New Year.