David Flynn’s journey through the tech industry is nothing short of extraordinary. From his formative years in Alabama to his pivotal role in the creation of Fusion-io and Hammerspace, David’s story is a testament to the transformative power of innovation and unwavering determination.
His venture, Hammerspace, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like ARK Investment Management, Prosperity7 Ventures, and Samsung Electronics.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The journey from self-taught programmer to tech visionary exemplifies the power of passion and hands-on experience.
- Fusion-io’s pioneering work in solid-state storage revolutionized the industry, earning it a multi-billion-dollar valuation.
- The transition to CEO demonstrated a strategic prowess and unwavering commitment to the company’s vision.
- Hammerspace, the latest venture, liberates data from traditional storage systems, promising unparalleled flexibility for businesses.
- Advice to the younger self emphasizes the importance of confidence in one’s strengths and staying hands-on in areas of passion.
- Hammerspace’s innovative approach to data orchestration is poised to redefine how businesses interact with their critical data.
- Inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs, showcasing the boundless possibilities at the intersection of vision and technology.
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About David Flynn:
Hammerspace founder and Chief Executive Officer David Flynn is a recognized leader in IT innovation who has been architecting disruptive computing platforms since his early work in supercomputing and Linux systems.
David pioneered the use of Flash for enterprise application acceleration as founder and former CEO of Fusion-io, which was acquired by SanDisk in 2014. He served as Fusion-io President and CEO until May 2013 and board member until July 2013.
As the CEO of Fusion-io, David oversaw all operations, was responsible for the company’s strategic direction, and was the visionary behind the company’s innovative technology and market strategy.
Preceding his position as CEO, David was the technical founder and CTO of Fusion-io, where he created the company’s foundational research and development efforts, as well as the development of short- and long-term technology roadmaps.
Previously, David served as Chief-Architect at Linux Networx where he was instrumental in the creation of the OpenFabrics stack and designed several of the world’s largest supercomputers leveraging Linux clustering, InfiniBand, and RDMA-based technologies.
Also, David served as Project BlackDog’s Chief Scientist and Vice President of Engineering. He has also held positions at Network Computer Inc. and Liberate Technologies, a spin-off of Oracle Corporation, developing thin-client solutions.
David holds more than 100 patents in areas across web browser technologies, mobile device management, network switching, and protocols to distributed storage systems.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Brigham Young University and serves on boards for several organizations and startup companies.
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Connect with David Flynn:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have an amazing founder you know founder that has done it before that really understands what it takes to go into building scaling financing and even taking companies public. So you know we’re gonna be learning quite a bit. We’re going to be very inspired with his journey I can assure you that and without farther ado I like to welcome our guest today David Flynn welcome to the show.
David Flynn: Thank you, Glad to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally from Florida born in Florida but we see your formative years in Alabama give us how walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
David Flynn: Yeah, so didn’t live very long in Florida my dad went to duke and got a ph d and then taught for a while at the University Of Kentucky and ended up in the missile interceptor program. Back in the early eighty s mid 80 s the star wars program they’re in Huntsville Alabama big into Rocket Science so that’s where I got technology exposure even though I was growing up in the southeast.
Alejandro Cremades: How did you teach yourself computer programming. How do you? How do you land into into the love for computers.
David Flynn: Yeah, well I started by riding my bike down to the local trs store and made a deal that he would let me sit there and and program on the t r s eighty so the radio shack store. Um. And if if if I would show it to folks when they came in so so I started on the t r s eighty there at radio shack but we finally got our own home computer with the commodore 64 but this the story is there I had to confess to Steve Wozniak who was my chief scientist at fusion io Apple founder Steve Wozniak I had to confess to him that ah that we were too poor to own an apple they were too expensive so we had a commodore 64 so I taught myself programming on that basic and then assembly language and I built. A ah wire frame real-time 3 d rendering you remember like the old battle zone that wire frame stuff I wrote assembly language software to do that rendering on on that computer and it ended up getting me a job. Working for computer science corporation building a flight simulator for an army missile system. My junior and senior year in high school so that of course was with better hardware than the commodore 64 but it was the c sixty four that I learned on.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. So then in your case you know you ended up going and studying computer science and right from there I you know you you got your you you did cut your teeth. You know when he came to let’s say tracking you know flight paths and things like that on an oracle database. But 1 of the coolest things you know a pivotal moment in your career was working for Larry Ellison you know for 1 of the stars that he was developing so tell us about that.
David Flynn: That’s right? Oh and interestingly enough it was Mark Benioff um that I interviewed with and it was his team at oracle that I went to work for Larry had asked him to go and build web browser back in the early days of the internet. Um, but that quickly got shelved when it became clear nobody was ever going to make money with web browser technology when Netscape and Microsoft internet explorer got into open warfare so that whole team. Ah at oracle. Where I was for less than six months that whole team got spun out into Network Computer Inc Larry Ellison was going to go poke Microsoft and Intel in the eye by building a smart terminal that wasn’t based on either the x Eight six processor or much less. The Microsoft Os so we took ah netbsd because this predated linux being considered viable from a corporate perspective so we took netbsd and built a platform and basically wrapped up the market sun used it Ibm used it. Um, interesting story. There is this is around the same time that. The java java became all the rage and sun proposed Java Os and the Java station which was a terrible idea. Java is not a language to write an operating system in so we saved their bacon by building it from a real os basically the precursor to linux at the time.
David Flynn: Bsd and made a smart terminal. But even that turned out to be a very small market. So the company changed focus and name became liberate technologies and was focused on interactive tv because presumably the tv was going to become. You know the smart terminal at home isn’t funny how it developed the other way around. Now our piece laptops are the are the replacement for the Tv.
Alejandro Cremades: It is unbeliev now I and and I wonder like how was the experience of um, you know getting the opportunity to to have those exchanges with with people like Mark Benov or Larry Eliison I mean ah Ah, so people that have changed. You know everything.
David Flynn: Yeah, well you know I started a satellite office in Salt Lake City that grew to 30 people first starting at Oracle then Nci liberate and. We got to keep our heads down and build cool technology. So that’s what I was focused on most. Um, but yeah, you know it’s it’s a bigger deal looking back even now like um, Dave Limp who’s running blue origin now he was one of the principals there at liberate. Um, so you know it’s well if you’re as old as I am and and been around then then you’ll run into people like that but to have a chance to have worked with Dave Limp who’s now running blue origin or or Mark Benioff or or Larry Ellison yeah it’s it’s um, it’s it’s been fun.
Alejandro Cremades: It’s un bolio. It’s unboliable now in your case you know, obviously you know after that you did a a couple of things you know after you know, really experiencing to the bubble bursting but but but in the end. That led you to 1 thing to the next led you to create your first company fusion io so how was the experience. What were the sequence of events that needed to happen for you to say hey I think I’m going to go at it on my own. So.
David Flynn: Um, yeah.
David Flynn: So um, well when so liberate liberate technologies had a very successful ipo but it was like six months before the bubble burst. Um, but it was my first taste of being at a company through an Ipo and gave me a little bit of financial independence. Um, but. As soon as that blew up some of the engineers that I had brought into the team said you know you got to come work for this outfit. That’s building supercomputers um where they had worked previously and they went back to because it was um, big in in government business which was great when the when the bubble burst. So went into building supercomputers and this was around the time infiiband was a new thing a new type of networking and so I became an expert in using infiniband to build supercomputers and we built some of the world’s largest supercomputers and the first ones to use Infiniband. For the us department of energy and then later you know several other departments and private private companies like boeing and the like um but I came across an entrepreneur who had built a networking company. Named phobos sold a sonic wall back in the day and I think that’s Nell part of Dell. It had been a relatively successful exit and he convinced me to jump ship here I am an engineer um and doing the funnest thing an engineer could ever imagine doing building supercomputers. Ah and.
David Flynn: He’s like you got to come with me I’m I’m doing this project that was a security device so I went from doing ah smart terminals and and ah interactive Tv which uses very low powered devices to building supercomputers. Back to a security device that was using embedded linux and naned flash and he he convinced me to go to this startup. Um that um, you know unfortunately was a bit ahead of its time and when that wrapped up ah we got to throwing out ideas and I said you know this this flash device. That we’re using. It’s become a commodity in the consumer electronics world in the world of cell phones and Ipods flash had gotten to very high density and I said but people aren’t using this in. High-end computing. This should be everywhere in the supercomputing world in in the in the big web monsters and yet if you looked at solid state disks of that era they were pathetic. They were slower than regular hard drives. So I said somebody’s doing this wrong. Let’s design it right? and and we built fusion I o and made. You know the first truly high-performance. Solid state storage devices and the first truly enterprise grade reliable and we went from first revenue to nearly a quarter billion a year in less than three years Facebook
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
David Flynn: If you talk to the early principals at Facebook they will tell you that it was fusion I o hardware that allowed them to scale their service to support a billion users overnight and um, they purchased in the end over a billion dollars of product from fusion io um. Apple ran Icloud on it Microsoft with bing um and now this type of flash. It’s become standardized nvme and it’s going to be It’s already a quarter trillion a year industry. It’s soon going to be a half a trillion a year industry ah
Alejandro Cremades: And I was just I was just gonna ask you there too for the people that are listening to to get it. What was the business model there of fusion I O I mean how are you guys making money.
David Flynn: So yeah.
David Flynn: So um, this was a hardware company even though I’m a software guy. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up in in doing it. Um, and ah we were unique in that we built what otherwise looked like a component but we didn’t sell it through. Other ah systems vendors. We didn’t put it into storage systems or what we sold it directly to end users but a new class of end users. The web monsters the big hyperscale companies who they don’t want to pay the markup of a systems vendor they want to use very um, ah. Ah, capable components and build their own systems and so we had a very unique. Go-to-market model in that we went direct to the end user the end user in this case being the web monsters and bypassed the systems vendors the storage systems vendors. And to some extent even the the computer server systems vendors but we had a good relationship with the server vendors. Um like dell they oemed the product hp Ibm all of the major server vendors ah oemed our product but mind you.
David Flynn: Because they had to because we sold to the end users and they pulled it through so they never would have pushed the product. It was too much of a premium I mean one of these devices cost like 5 times as much as the whole server. So so and then people would put dozens of them in a server. Um, but this was it was kind of. Ah, bit poetic um using fusion I o in a couple of servers you could get 10 times the performance of an entire oracle exodata. Um, you know multi rack ah database system. Um. Just by putting these devices into regular servers so we kind of busted open the systems. The fallacy of the systems’ world by building devices that at least the bleeding edge guys like the web monsters could integrate at scale much more cost effectively and get.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case, you were the Ceo but you’re also a technical guy. So what have you learned there about not stepping out of the engineering or technical side of things completely and just serving the business side.
David Flynn: Much higher performance from it.
David Flynn: So yeah I I started at fusion io as the cto and it wasn’t until 2 years in and we had already gone through 2 different ceos that um Mark Andreessen of NetscapeFain he convinced me that I should step up as Ceo. Um, you know here I am you know technologist uber technologist but but he has a really strong belief in technical founders as the Ceo especially of tech companies and he said um. If you step up a Ceo then we will invest. Ah in Andreessen Horowitz and they did come in in the third round um of investment along with um you know excel ventures who had funded Facebook for example and um, and. I ran the company then for 2 2 more years as a private company. We did our ipo on the New York Stock exchange and I ran it for 2 years Well just under 2 years seven quarters never missed a quarter. We always met our forecast. Um I only had to guide it down once. And that’s because when Facebook went public. They became much more conservative and found that thanks to the capability of our product. they didn’t need to put in a third data center to serve the us they could serve the us from just 2 and they didn’t need the third so all of a sudden we had a.
David Flynn: Ah, $200000000 hole in our revenue pipeline for the year because we were so disruptive they didn’t even need to put in a third data center.
Alejandro Cremades: And at the um at the pick of the valuation. It was three point two billion you know which is remarkable to build a company of that size and and eventually the company got acquired by sun disk which allowed you to explore greener pastures. So so what happened what happened next.
David Flynn: Um, correct. So well I said you know what’s the biggest challenge um in the world of it and frankly, it’s it’s data and how it relates to storage. Um. You know Data is a higher level abstraction and yet it is a prisoner to the storage systems that house it and um and that’s upside down it means infrastructure is the boss and platform is you know subordinate. So We set out to build a way for data to be independent of the very storage that stores it. Um, this is not dissimilar from how compute is now independent of the computers running it by using virtualization. And now containers and and containerized microservices so you could say hammerspace is doing for data what vmware did for the compute decoupling it from the actual hardware underneath and allowing you to use it in a way that’s independent and we talk about this as data Orchestration. So I set out with this vision. To decouple data from storage by making it something that’s presumed to always be in motion and its existence is not coupled to any specific storage and it can flow freely between data centers where you can consume it at the highest levels of performance. Um, but without it being.
David Flynn: Dependent upon any specific piece of storage infrastructure. So this is a pure software play sold as a subscription. Um, ah 1 year three year five year subscription. So it’s not even a saas company I don’t have any.
Alejandro Cremades: And how do you guys make money here. Okay.
David Flynn: Any Infrastructure cost because it’s pure software. Our customers run our software in their own environment on their own infrastructure and it creates a data service for them that allows them to consume and manage data Across. Ah, across the universe of different infrastructure across different facilities across different types of storage so it is a um, it’s a software subscription model.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case, you know like the way that that you’ve gone about capitalizing The business has been a little bit Unique. You know in this case, you have invested quite a bit of money yourself so talking about you know, putting skin in the Game. So I Guess how much have you invested into this business. And then Also why did you decide to go this this way around.
David Flynn: So um, at this point I’ve put nearly 20000000 in myself. Most of that was in the earlier end have had support later. Um and some of the early investors at fusion I o. Who made a very good return. We returned to our angel investors at fusion io we returned 500 times their money in less than 4 years 500 times so 50000% return well um.
Alejandro Cremades: My god. Well hopefully they invited you to dinners hey after that unbelievable.
David Flynn: You know they they were quite supportive of the next venture they were playing with house money at that point. Um, but so the success of fusion I owe allowed me, you know the the financial wherewithal to see this one through um and ah.
David Flynn: And you know it is the the technology that we’ve built it. It is at its heart a new type of file system a file system that can it doesn’t live inside a computer or even an an appliance on the network. It’s not like a filer. It’s a file system that lives as a disembodied software service across everything. And can move and manage data everywhere. So it is kind of the ultimate progression of file systems from the early day of computing to where an ounce a file system that can span the cloud um, and that was always going to be a very major investment in engineering and I I went and recruited that. I can truthfully say the top talent in the world because there’s only one linux os and our cto is the guy who owns that part of the linux kernel appointed by Linus Torvalds himself so tron micklebust our cto is very distinguished and we’ve built an awesome team and it’s It’s been the fact that linux is so dominant in the in the data center that has allowed us to build this very sophisticated technology because it’s sort of standing on the shoulders of giants. So ah, yeah, not your typical kind of funding. Not your typical kind of team and. Frankly, it was a much more ambition ambitious effort than vcs would generally take their investment window is maybe four or five years which is a whole hell of a lot better than quarter to quarter like wall street.
David Flynn: Ah, but it’s still not enough to do something that requires you know very deep foundational engineering.
Alejandro Cremades: Now recently you opened it up to to other folks to come in and invest I think that recently you raised 55000000 so what trigger you know you to say hey you know what I’m going to open it up for for other folks to come in. So.
David Flynn: Are. Well we got to the stage where we needed the extra leverage from financial partners and we also got to the point where the valuation was meaningful for that where it wasn’t too dilutive for the company so you know this is this while it was our first round of of outside capital. It was really equivalent to a third round a c round of investing an expansion round. So the early and mid-stage Vc role is what I did along with some of these let’s call them superangels um and only in this third round did we bring in institutional investors along with and even then. It’s a different class of investors. The the folks that we’ve brought in here are actually folks that play in the public markets and ah, they’re investing in hammerspace. Um, many of them because they have built vehicles for investing in the private markets in advance. So. We’ve been thinking of this more as let’s get the shareholders that we want to have when we’re public. Let’s just get them now that way we don’t have to worry about shareholder turnover when we go public and so that’s been the case with like Kathy Wood and arc investments. Of course they’re mainly playing in the public markets.
David Flynn: Um, but they now have an interval fund that allows them to invest in private companies the same with peer eighty eight which is a similar focused group and our lead investor prosperity 7 that’s actually Saudi Aramco and they’re obviously a long-term shareholder because they’re trying to find good places to put.
Alejandro Cremades: Now obviously with investors. It’s a little about vision. So imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight David and you wake up in a world where the vision of hammer spacece is fully realized what does that world look like.
David Flynn: Capital right.
David Flynn: Um, we kind of already live there from a consumer point of view when you when you replace your phone. You don’t even think about your data. It’s on the next phone you don’t think about it right? when you go between your phone and your laptop or to a tablet your data is just there. Consumer data has already made this leap of being orchestrated for you in a way where it’s independent of the devices is it in the cloud is it on the device. It’s kind of a mix of both. You don’t care. Well what we’re doing is that same thing. But for the foundation data of data-intensive businesses drug research ah space research I mean Jeff Bezos blue origin is is a client using this. Um, the you know folks designing microchips making movies. You know anything where data is the heart of the business. Well we want to make it so that data um is independent even of these big enterprise storage systems and cloud services so that you can use it anywhere so they can go from. This data center in this cloud they can go to this other cloud vendor they can go to on-prem so things like hybrid cloud multi-cloud multi-region across the cloud. You ought to have that same experience of just having the data be there even though it’s this massive amounts of of you know petabyte scale data.
David Flynn: You know instead of the gigabytes that you have ah you know personal data so to to an extent. We already live there from a consumer electronics and this this I have found to be a very successful recipe look at what what is changing in the consumer electronics world. And what opportunity does that present to disrupt more stodgy more protected markets like enterprise id um and that was the case with fusion I o and the solid state storage devices flash chips that are used in. You know your. Back then Ipods and the initial smartphones and be able to use that in the enterprise it and now we’re saying this concept of data orchestration that we’re used to from a consumer world. How do we introduce that same concept of decoupling of data. You know so it’s not localized in any specific piece of hardware. How do we do that in the. And the corporate it world.
Alejandro Cremades: Now we’re talking about the future here but I want to talk about the past and doing so with a lens of reflection. So imagine I was to put you into a time machine David and I bring you back to that moment in time where you were thinking about doing something of your own right? branching out right before.
David Flynn: Okay.
Alejandro Cremades: You started fusion io and let’s say you had the opportunity of having a chat with that younger David and being able to give that younger David one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be NY given what you know now.
David Flynn: Um.
David Flynn: Um, well ah, going back to something you you mentioned in passing. Um, ah, stay confident in your strengths and um, you know. Nobody’s going to care as much as you are as an entrepreneur so stick to your guns and your vision and know where your strengths are and um, go with them. Yes, you have to delegate and working to delegate to very competent people but I like to say. Like to hire very competent people and give them the kind of stuff that I don’t like to do so that I can spend my stuff on the things that I do like to do so um, you know I I think I throughout my career ah wasted time and effort and set the business Back. By not staying as hands-on in the areas where where I am ah you know where I have a passion obviously on the very technical side in the engineering side in my case. Um, so I think I could have saved myself a lot of effort if I’d known that from the beginning that you know, um.
David Flynn: Just because you make people uncomfortable ah by being still ah highly involved in it. Um, you know and and and I have um, you know it’s that’s always been a challenge in my career because I um I have been. From the beginning you know very deep into engineering and engineers like to butt shoulders and so forth. But I’ve I’ve learned to not be afraid to stay highly involved in that and yes, you have to surround yourself with very competent people who can who can. Withstand that when you’re you know when you’re the Ceo of the company. Um, but there’s just no way around it. You can’t tippy-toe around it. You got to hire really competent people that can stand on their own right? So that you can stay just as involved because if you back off. Because the people are too fragile to have you involved then it’s kind of a double loss.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for the people that are listening David that would like to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so. So.
David Flynn: Ah, welcome to reach out to me at hammerspace. Ah so hammerspace dot com our website. My email is up there but David Dot Flynn at hammerspace.com welcome to reach out.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well hey David thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been and on earth to have you with us.
David Flynn: Um, thank you my honor.
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