Neil Patel

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In a world buzzing with discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) and capital raising, Jeff Denworth, co-founder of VAST Data, sits down for an insightful interview. From his humble beginnings as a Jersey boy to helping spearhead a company with a staggering $9.1 billion valuation, Jeff shares his journey and insights into the dynamic realms of technology, business development, sales, and marketing.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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    Growing Up in New Jersey and Unveiling the Secret Salesperson

    Jeff paints a vivid picture of his childhood, growing up in a typical suburban setting in New Jersey. His average, middle-class upbringing in a beige house with four bedrooms and a two-car garage laid the foundation for his down-to-earth approach to life and business.

    Jeff’s early career was about discovering his passion for sales. Narrating an interesting anecdote from his college days, he recalls winning a competition at Xerox, propelling him into the world of sales. He recalls how an executive in the sales team came in and asked him to sell them a printer.

    Jeff competed against a few hundred people and won a multi-thousand-dollar cash prize. That’s how he landed his first job in the sales domain. He recalls selling a lot of hardware and software before the CEO of the company transitioned him into product management.

    Despite starting in sales, Jeff’s journey evolved, and he eventually became the head of marketing for a multi-hundred-million-dollar company.

    Venturing into the World of Technology

    Jeff discusses his decision to enter the world of technology, a path less trodden during this time. At the time, people graduating from business schools outside of New York eventually ended up working at top companies like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. Very few went into technology.

    Motivated by case studies on companies like AOL and Hewlett-Packard, he recognized the potential for a new type of business and industry. This decision set the stage for his future endeavors in the technology sector.

    The Foundation of Business: Business Development, Sales, and Marketing

    Reflecting on his varied roles in business development, sales, and marketing, Jeff emphasizes the importance of education in sales. He highlights the value of providing information rather than being perceived as a typical salesperson.

    Jeff explains how buyers are conditioned to be wary of salespeople, spam emails, and calls. Any salesperson trying to approach a buyer is perceived as a conman trying to take advantage or get an unfair share of money. Educating buyers is critical to change their perceptions.

    At the same time, the education offered should be credible and not just empty calories. Without credibility, no one is going to buy anything. Secondly, receiving information is appreciated, and that builds trust.

    This philosophy has shaped his successful career, which is marked by meaningful collaborations and customer engagements. At the time, Jeff was working at CTERA Networks.

    Founding VAST Data

    Jeff shares the story of co-founding VAST Data, now a globally distributed AI data platform company. The journey began with a pivotal phone call, a text message from a former boss, and a CEO named Renen proposing a groundbreaking data storage venture.

    Jeff’s initial hesitation turned into conviction when he realized the need to take ownership of decision-making in a company he believed in. He was ready to be a co-founder, graduating from the idea of learning about businesses to creating one from the ground up.

    Jeff candidly admits that he’s a secret sales guy disguised as a marketing and product person. When he joined VAST, they hadn’t started coding but were working on the software architecture. It was then that they decided to start promoting the company.

    He created a slide deck and started traveling to pitch the idea to customers but under NDA.

    Jeff remembers putting together a list of some of the world’s best data users and the world’s best data processors.

    Since customers were excited about the product, the opportunity laid the early foundation of their go-to-market, with some of the smartest customers in the world ready to provide real-time feedback.

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    Revolutionizing Data Platforms

    Describing VAST Data’s business model, Jeff explains the company’s role as a provider of a revolutionary data platform. The platform addresses challenges in scaling and costs associated with legacy distributed data storage systems.

    Jeff explains how their system is massively scalable and super affordable. One thinks about it as combining a storage layer where users put all their data in a database layer where they can organize all their data.

    There’s also a computational layer where you can basically refine raw data into something that has a structure that you can interrogate upon or query against to use business intelligence terms.

    Jeff likened VAST to other popular companies in the marketplace that offer data platforms, like Snowflake in the data warehousing space and Databricks in the data processing space.

    The Unique Approach at VAST

    The difference with VAST is that they work with unstructured data, which hasn’t been usable by enterprises for decades. VAST assists in unlocking access to valuable insights from videos, audio, and other unstructured sources.

    Jeff talks about the ongoing market event, deep learning, which is opening up access to all the world’s data that hasn’t been processable and queryable up until now.

    He points out that 95% of the world’s data is unstructured. This means that only 5% of data is sitting in business systems for business analysts to work with.

    The rest of the data is an opportunity to go and just completely open up insights. VAST is working on the design for organizations and some of the world’s largest enterprises that have real scaling challenges.

    The objective is to process their unstructured data, and some of the world’s largest service providers, particularly the ones that were born in the era of AI, are now taking their products out to market as a service.

    Some of the most popular companies include CoreWeave, which is one of the world’s largest concentrations of GPUs and is building an amazing infrastructure.

    Jeff mentions Core42 in the Middle East, Lambda Labs, and Genesis Cloud as other cloud service providers (CSPs) that are emerging to resolve a new range of issues related to building and managing AI infrastructure.

    Jeff also explains how they are unlocking access to customer data so that users can run new AI applications against them.

    Capital Raising and Valuation

    The interview touches upon VAST Data’s impressive journey in capital raising, amounting to nearly $400 million to date with a valuation of $9.1B.

    Jeff emphasizes the importance of not needing money and choosing the right investors because they are like business partners who support the company’s growth and scalability.

    He shares insights into the recent Series E funding round of $118M, highlighting the company’s financial conservatism and unique business model that generates cash. Jeff explains that the funding amounts to less than 1% in dilution to grow the valuation by 2.5 times.

    Storytelling is everything, which is something that Jeff Denworth was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

    Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

    VAST tries to minimize its cash burn, is capital efficient, and has been generating revenues over the last three years or so. It has a unique business model where it sells software on a subscription basis but in multi-year terms in terms of contract length.

    Jeffs looks back at the pandemic which they navigated successfully because they had money in the bank.

    However, the post-COVID recession triggered a series of events resulting in Silicon Valley going under and has made funding difficult for other organizations, making this new investment and valuation that much more impressive.

    The Evolving Landscape of AI

    Jeff provides a forward-looking perspective on the AI landscape, positioning VAST Data as a forward indicator of industry trends.

    He discusses the infrastructure buildout required for AI advancements, emphasizing the significant investments made by major players like Google, Microsoft, Meta, and Elon Musk.

    VAST Data’s role is seen as pivotal in supporting organizations as they navigate the complex world of AI. In the final segment, Jeff shares his aspirations for VAST Data.

    He envisions building machines capable of independent thinking and discovery, driven by recursive learning loops fueled by vast amounts of data.

    With an eye on addressing global challenges such as clean energy, cancer, food shortages, and water crises, Jeff sees VAST Data as part of a transformative journey.

    Jeff concludes by offering two pieces of advice to his past self. He emphasizes the perpetual challenges of building a great company and the importance of questioning norms to maintain a contrarian and challenger mentality.

    Conclusion

    Jeff Denworth’s interview unveils a captivating journey from a Jersey boy to a co-founder navigating the complex landscapes of technology and business.

    VAST Data’s role as a trailblazer in the AI era reflects Jeff’s dedication to innovation and his commitment to redefining the possibilities of data platforms.

    As VAST Data continues to make waves in the tech industry, Jeff’s insights serve as a compass for aspiring entrepreneurs and industry enthusiasts alike.

    Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:

    • Jeff Denworth’s journey from an average Jersey upbringing to co-founding VAST Data showcases the transformative power of ambition and determination.
    • Jeff’s early success in sales and marketing underscores the importance of education and genuine engagement in building meaningful customer relationships.
    • A pivotal phone call and a shift in mindset led to the creation of VAST Data, a revolutionary AI data platform company tackling the challenges of unstructured data.
    • VAST Data’s focus on unstructured data sets it apart in the data platform landscape, providing scalable and affordable solutions for organizations dealing with massive datasets.
    • VAST Data’s impressive valuation of $9.1 billion and successful fundraising highlight the importance of financial conservatism, strategic investor choices, and a unique subscription-based business model.
    • VAST Data emerges as a forward indicator of AI trends, showcasing the massive infrastructure buildouts required by major players like Google and Meta to advance the capabilities of large language models.
    • Jeff’s vision for VAST Data involves building machines capable of independent thinking and discovery, addressing global challenges through the power of AI, and positioning the company at the forefront of transformative technologies.


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    Neil Patel

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