In the vast ocean of technological advancements, some individuals stand out as pioneers, charting new territories and building foundations for the future. Srini V. Srinivasan, the co-founder of Aerospike, is one such visionary whose journey unfolds like a captivating tale of perseverance, innovation, and adaptability.
His latest venture, Aerospike, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like NewView Capital Partners, Alsop Louie Partners, Triangle Peak Partners, and Eastward Capital.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Srini V. Srinivasan’s journey from India to Wisconsin showcases the importance of an open-minded approach in navigating the ever-changing tech landscape.
- Aerospike’s inception stemmed from the ingenious idea of leveraging SSDs, promising unparalleled performance and significant cost reduction in real-time data storage.
- Srini’s experiences at IBM offered a unique perspective on innovation within a large corporation, shaping his understanding of efficiency in the tech industry.
- During the dot-com era, startup ventures taught Srini invaluable lessons about seizing opportunities, staying agile, and embracing innovation in the face of uncertainty.
- Aerospike’s initial focus on the ad tech market and subsequent diversification into financial services and telecom demonstrates the importance of adaptability in a dynamic business environment.
- Srini envisions Aerospike playing a crucial role in real-time AI applications, becoming the backbone for precision and decision-making based on real-time data.
- Reflecting on Aerospike’s journey, Srini emphasizes the significance of focusing on developer adoption as a key factor in accelerating company growth.
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About Srini V. Srinivasan:
Srini V Srinivasan is a Founder and Chief Product Officer at Aerospike. When it comes to databases, Srini Srinivasan is one of the recognized pioneers of Silicon Valley.
He has two decades of experience designing, developing, and operating high-scale infrastructures. He also has over a dozen patents in database, web, mobile, and distributed systems technologies.
Srini co-founded Aerospike to solve the scaling problems he experienced with Oracle databases while he was Senior Director of Engineering at Yahoo.
Srini has a B.Tech in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and both an M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today we have a founder you know that has been scaling you know building and scaling. You know his company. He’s latest as baby which is a rocket chip for quite some time you know we’re going to be learning quite a bit you know about the whole process of.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, going through the through through building a database you know type of company pairing. You know the product to the idea pivoting and sticking you know to ah to your guts and vision of the business because I mean he’s been doing it for 14 years think about this fourteen years is’ like a hundred years corporate you know so unbelievable. But again you know we’re gonna be finding his journey in this episode quite inspiring so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today s shrini shrini but Srini V. Srinivasan welcome to the show. Thanks.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, thank you Ajandro It’s a pleasure to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: You so originally born in India give us a walkthrough memory lane. How was life growing up there.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, I know it was actually very I would say quiet but I grew up. It’s the south of India um, and I was interested in a lot of interesting things but 1 of the things which taught me was to be always um. Open-minded because you never know what you’re going to get you know a lot of um India has gone through a lot of changes to send even more than before but also my schooling was pretty simple. Um I surprised myself somewhat by getting into one of the top engineering schools in the country and started. But computer science which I really started loving so that’s kind of how I ended up in this field.
Alejandro Cremades: So how do you land? you know, walk us through through how do you land in Wisconsin you know what was what was what was what was what got you there and and obviously you know I’m not going to ask you how you ended up in. The whole world of engineering because you know if you speak with anyone in India they’re either an engineer or a doctor right? It is really remarkable. But in this case, you know like you ended up after you know you got your degree there in the institute of technology you decided to count to come to Wisconsin to do the ph d out of all things. So how was the landing.
Srini V. Srinivasan: A yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: You know and how was coming to America like for you.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, it was a very interesting experience. One of the things that happened during my undergraduate is I had a choice between going to Wisconsin and yale and my bent was mostly systems oriented. You know I loved c programming even in those days. And that made me decide to go to Wisconsin which is more of a system school turned out in hindsight that was the perfect decision for me. The 1 thing which was kind of unexpected because I never even checked the weather in Wisconsin I decided to go there and I come from a really really warm, warm place in India. Chenai which is typically the lowest temperature you see is like ° ° and the coldest middle of the night and then Wisconsin of course the can go negative. Um thirty Forty windshill and so on so that was an interesting experience and they moved there but I really loved the um. The systems bent of the computer science department in Wisconsin especially in operating systems and databases.
Alejandro Cremades: Now What would you say that makes building a database so complex and why does it take so long and then also why were you so excited about it because I mean it was a. Also quite the shift from from from where you were going I mean obviously it was the topic you know and and so forth. But I mean you’ve dedicated you know a big chunk of your life to it. So why.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Well I first when I when I was in grad school I started with operating systems I even had a paper in one of the symposiums of operating system principles. Um, but because of the people in Wisconsin then you know. Dave Dewitt Mike Carey and so on they were leaders in the database field I kind of got attracted to the exciting work that was going on so database became a passion for me and that’s the area where I completed my Phd in after that.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, so keep going keep going. Please.
Srini V. Srinivasan: And go ahead. So after that um I realized when I graduated that a lot of the great database work has already been done. This was in thirty years ago so I switched over you know I worked for work at Ibm for a few years but I then switched over to. Ah, building apps on top of databases for almost like 15 to 16 years and this is what I did in a couple of startups one in interactive tv other one in mobile ending up in Yahoo to run scalable mobile systems on top of existing databases which essentially were not working out that great. So we needed to invent new databases and that kind of got me back full circle into building a new database from scratch because that’s where my passion was earlier and then I came back to it because I felt that it was time to build these new databases to satisfy. Ah the.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Evolving requirements brought on by the internet based and mobile-based applications.
Alejandro Cremades: So in in your case, you know after this, you ended up joining Ibm you know out of all place I mean quite a remarkable company and obviously quite different from what you would encounter after you know, really going at it with a startup land right? But they.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, right.
Alejandro Cremades: But how is that journey to you know we think a bigger player because I you know that gives you perspective Now you know you are able to see how a really successful large company operates and then you’re able to reverse back engineer to where you are at you know, maybe with a startup So what kind of worldview or or perspective would you say the.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, journey with Ibm gave you.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, that’s a great question because um, when I went to Ibm I just completed my Phd and I didn’t know really what working was so I also didn’t know what working in a large company meant. And I was fortunate that I joined a group called the database technology institute which was run by an Ibm fellow called Don Haderley who happens to be actually an advisor to aerospike but in his team we were allowed to look at. I would say innovative ideas and apply them to products. That’s what it was supposed to be in between research and product and the database technology institute enabled us to do that and as a result in the four years I was there I was part of a very small team. 2 to 8 people and we shipped three products in just 4 years so we almost behaved like a startup inside Ibm and the resources of Ibm were tremendous as you can imagine you know and this actually gave me an interesting perspective that. You do not have to be slow in doing anything ah in a large company and that that perspective it took with me when I went to a real startup where I felt that could be even faster and that’s what my first experience. My first startup is with 6 people.
Srini V. Srinivasan: We did something we would have taken 20 people and 3 years to do in the startup we did it with 6 people and six months and mainly because there’s a overhead was less and that was like ah I always carry that with me, you don’t need a lot of people to build ah great systems software.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Alejandro Cremades: Now that that company actually was quite the wild ride which was liberate technology So how how wild of a ride was that.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, yes, no it was it was quite while in multiple ways number 1 is um, ah before liberate it was called never computer. It was a merged company from oracles Nci.
Srini V. Srinivasan: And another company called Naviu which is where myself and also my cofounder in aerospike joined and in those days we actually had a team which built a product which was deployed in various um, cable companies and so on and. Really didn’t have to be profitable in that the the ride was really wild in the dot com phase you have a product which is running then you can go Ipo. So basically we went ipo and and then um and the stock just kept going up I still remember you know I helped remodel my house and all that. Ah, you know I don’t think and then it came down fairly fast after that and it was it was ah and then so we I saw essentially a full lifecycle of a company from being a startup going big and also failing which I think took a lot of lessons from that I left before the full failure happened. But ah, it was clear to me that when an opportunity exists you got to take advantage of it and not wait for things to happen because then failure is what happens and you know you know how technology moves and it’s moved several cycles after that.
Alejandro Cremades: Now your next experience with startups was actually beroft which had a really nice outcome and obviously a really even bigger impact. You know once it was acquired by Yahoo but. What were you guys doing there at verti often. What would you say were the ingredients that you saw present that you didn’t see before we liberate that allowed for that experience to ended up having a really nice. You know, walk through the finish line like you guys did.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, and.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, very serve as a company founded by a person who had sold star office to sun and he was passionate about ah building products for mobile the mobile ecosystem. And what I learned there was the ability to work with teams in different areas like for example, you know we had a team in Germany Hamburg in Germany and I was based in Palo Alto and we had 2 teams how to work well together and the complementary. Skills of both size How do you bring it together to form a successful product and we we actually went through not just the technological innovations we needed to do to build it and everything you take for granted in mobile technology today we were actually pioneers in building those. You know we worked with some of the you know the danger device or the T-mobile sidekick ah in the early days. It was ah it was a pretty impressive email system worked with the blackberry notifications. You know all of those we actually work with every device that nokeir built out until. Ah, you know we got acquired by as you pointed out by by Yahoo in 8005 and then we worked on the iphone so it was an amazing journey. So we we started from nothing ah in terms of um mobile nothing existing relief from mobile devices and then we built all of those pieces.
Srini V. Srinivasan: And then eventually it grew all the way to the iphone. So I’ve seen that entire journey of how you develop a new area so to speak you know things which are going to you know, become possible in the near future and you start working on it. You innovate you figure it out and then you scale it. So I Saw the whole journey. From the beginning till the iphone launch and later so that that was a pretty impressive experience.
Alejandro Cremades: And know and and you also got there to participate to in the some of the golden years of Yahoo you know with getting it right with the iphone now which is something that was praised by Steve Jobs so how was it like you know at that point you know to um, be part of the.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: All the new trends that were happening in mobile and and you know I guess that time you know at a company like Yahoo.
Srini V. Srinivasan: The way I think about it is like you know again related to something like baseball which I like so if if you’re in a major league game you know and you’re in the world series. You know that’s the kind of feeling you get when you’re releasing products on the first launch of the iphone because you’ve now. Ah, you’re changing the world right? I mean that’s what Steve Jobs did with the iphone and many other things and and you’re part of that and not only that our email all the work we had done in mobile over the last several years before that they culminated in the yahoo mail being the best email. To run on a smartphone at that point in time everybody else has of course since caught up and even gone beyond that but we were only picked by Steve Jobs because we were the best possible emails because we had real-time notifications which is ah whenever an email arrived in your inbox.
Srini V. Srinivasan: The the phone would chime you know, but but this would of course run all the battery out of the phone so you had to you know pace it a little bit in the early days but all those things improved, but that’s why it was chosen and we also had a better mobile search at Yahoo. Those days so it was really good. It was great to be competing with Google and winning in the mobile area for a couple of years until you know Google of course you know the rest of the story about what happened to Yahoo but the point is it was great to be in the major league so to speak. And literally in a world series game kind of experience is what that was for me.
Alejandro Cremades: So Ultimately the idea of aerospike comes knocking tell us why did you think it was compelling enough to um, take the risk because I mean obviously at this point you know you had already been part of startup some that works on that didn’t but what made you. Think that this was meaningful enough for you to take action.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, you know part of it is as a founder. Ah one is a little crazy in making decisions. Um, leaving that aside, um I met my um co-founder aerospike ah Brian Bukowski you know he and I had worked together really well. In our previous stint at liberate and I always remember him I remember him as one of the smartest people I worked with and most capable. So when we met because I was at Yahoo and I was thinking of what to do next and I’ve already had. Run into all kinds of problems with database systems not scaling and going down on high performance. Real-time mobile apps. So I learned that Brian was already experimenting with using ssds and he had built some code already on how to. Ah, essentially expand the real-time footprint of data by storing them on ssd on not just in dram and this will give you submiisecond response time. So you’re an order of magnitude better in terms of performance at high throughput and he. Did this because he had met with ah Dave Flynn the founder of fusion I o was an expert. Um and then Dave Brian and I had worked together in liberate and this helped for example, get Brian to understand how Ssds worked and then he explained that to me.
Srini V. Srinivasan: And that first discussion we had was clear to me that we can build a system which is 10 times faster or more capable or more higher performance than existing systems but also 10 times lower in cost. That’s a huge thing I didn’t expect because once you can put real-time data in Ssds the price per bit for Ssd is much slower in an order of magitude lower than price per bit for drap which is where all the data needs to be now the issue then is. Ah, how do you leverage it so you have to rewrite your file system you have to redo the database which was typically done using buffer pools and so on to be able to directly read data off of Ssds which is because s etcd is a random access so you got you get this so you need to build all this technology and that’s what excites excel in me. Personally because it it took me back to my original database roots where we were inventing. You know in in my phds. You know the whole team in Wisconsin was inventing a whole bunch of interesting database technology I felt that we could do that again and also solve real problems which were becoming important to solve. As the internet was growing because I’ve been in the interactive Tv company with liberate and then with verof and Yahoo on the mobile which is nothing but the internet so I know the applications were coming and the databases were not going to be able to solve these problems especially in the real-time area even the ones which had been founded like ah Mongo and.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Cassandra They were not focused on the super real-time aspects of the solution and that’s what aerospike chose to focus on.
Alejandro Cremades: So I guess for the people that are listening to get it. What ended up being the business model of errors by how do you guys make money.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, because of the difference between the tcu differences of ssds versus dam I’ll just simplify it because there’s a whole bunch of details to it. It gives you literally if you run a system. With um, let’s say you know a few terabytes of data we can save about $50000 for every few nodes that you’re adding. It’s ridiculous. The amount of savings you can get. It’s typically millions and millions of dollars of lower tco. I scale. Okay, and this enables us that is aerospike to have a business model where we can charge a portion of the difference as our license fee because our technology is fairly complex. You know we have like dozen about 14 patents on it and this is. Designed so that applications can leverage this lower cost and therefore that’s a business model if you think about it. Basically you have enough gap between what it costs running aerospike and what it costs running anything else running it in dram for the same effect that. We can charge. You know, substantial license fees. Yes.
Alejandro Cremades: And you guys have been at it for close to 15 years I mean that’s an insane amount of time and obviously as everything you know, technology goes very quickly. You know the market shifts very quickly. How would you say that you guys have been able to adjust and adapt. You know, perhaps even pivoting. You know in order to really stay ahead of the curve.
Srini V. Srinivasan: When we started it so so just like with every startup you got to hit a few kind of I would say inflection points so we hit the first one very quickly. That’s why we still exist because we started this company and virtually immediately we. Found the ad tech market which were thirsting which was thirsting for this kind of ah product so we got to 20 customers in 1 year in fact before we got funding. We had 3 customers because when Brian and I started the company. We were a little.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Skeptical ourselves about whether our product could do what we thought it could do when we could do the math and figure out the engineering behind it. But then we also wanted to prove it to ourselves so we actually the 2 of us um, wrote the code.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Release the product did the market research. We discovered ad tech in our market research and that’s what we started selling so we had 3 customers before our first ah funding round closed. So we booted up the company and that was huge amount of confidence. It gave us. That we could run the company with just 2 of us we could support it 24 by 7. The product was good enough to do that and then we expanded it once we got funding in 2011. So so this was this was really important for us to to to do and then then we found iat tech that was easy. Easy meaning like. Is easy in the sense it happen fast but then after two or three years we realized that we had to decide whether we want to continue the company sell it or whatever right? I mean this usually everybody goes through this is it a 1 trick pony so to speak. Do we have any other ah possible um customers. That point we we actually got interest from ah a payment company a large payment company I think it was pay for Paypal also Nokia and another one of the largest brokerage firms. All of them happened in about 2014 about 4 to 5 years after we started it.
Srini V. Srinivasan: And that gave us an idea that maybe we should expand it to financial services and telco and so on so we got another round of funding in 14 and then we basically did that and that took us several years and now that we got werued out so many different verticals. We now have poured out like 7 or 8 verticals. All we are trying to do is how to get our growth rates up. You know Ah we we routinely grow 20 person year over year and now we’re trying to get it up to 40% so it kind of continues the journey and I would I do want to say 1 thing though I think our product was a little bit early to market. But we found a way to. Generate enough revenues and grow them grow the company so that we can be there as the market develops. So that was that was quite a bit of learning involved in doing that.
Alejandro Cremades: And how much capital have you guys raised to date How much capital have you guys raised to date.
Srini V. Srinivasan: I’m sorry. Can you repeat the question but we we raised about 75000000 fairly low for a database company because we have as I pointed out always had revenues even before our first round of funding so we have funded ourselves. More through these revenues. So and we also have not expanded the company to be too big so we’ve tried to live within our means so we can catch the market and that’s actually 1 of the big reasons we still exist is we are able to kind of ah be there now now I think things are taking off so it’s it’s actually a great place to be.
Alejandro Cremades: So Obviously you know we think you know getting that money in and and you know it comes vision right? So they’re betting on the vision and and I think that a strong vision also is going to allow you to navigate you know Market moves and shifts I think that in your guys’ case I’m sure he was really Helpful. So when we’re thinking about the vision here. Me put this out there. Let’s say you were to go to sleep tonight really and you wake up in a world where the vision of Aerospike is fully realized what does that world look like.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, that’s a very simple question for me because I’ve had the same vision. So one of the things that aerosspike does well is handle mission-critical real-time applications now with the advent. Of the gen ai you know we’ve always been aerosspike has always been used in a I am and applications. You know you call it the classical Ai. So if and when aerospike actually becomes the basis of. All of these ai applications on the in the real-time space. That’s important. We’re not going to be the basis of of everything that you do with ai but if it is something to do with real-time. Is it something to do with um ah being precise about decisions based on data which is. Ah, you know specific to particular entities. You know. So for example, a company is trying to apply gen ai to improve its bottom line. What are the what are the changes that it can do you know we could actually play very well in that area. So I would say that most of the large companies which are. Interested in mission criticaltical real-time apps if they end up using Aerosspike for it then that would be what I would think could be complete success for aerosspike.
Alejandro Cremades: So let’s say now I put you into a time machine and let’s talk about the pass withd a lengths of reflection and I bring you back in time to the moment that you were thinking about doing something well you were a Yahoo you know, doing something of your own and let’s say you’re able to. Have a talk with that the youngerrini that they just gave the notice at Yahoo and is ready to go at it now. Let’s say you’re able to stop that younger self coming out of the door from Yahoo’s office and. You’re able to give that younger self one piece of advice before launching a company. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Srini V. Srinivasan: I think there’s exactly 1 thing you know everything that we did was fine except 1 thing one piece of advice I would give the younger me is to focus a lot more on developer adoption. If there’s 1 thing aerospike could have done things better. We could have. Figured out an easier way to develop on our product. We were more I believe um, focused which is also important to make sure our system worked really well and it would stay up. You know, um, all the time that high performance it kept track of all the um, all the systems aspects of it. The operational aspects of it. Were world-class from d one but the developer aspects of it I would say that we could have done much better if as a company we would have been easier to adopt the product. You know it’s not that hard anymore. But we would have probably grown faster ah in in in the marketplace if we had paid more attention to developer adaption. Earlier in our history.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that so was shrini for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Well I’m I’m on Twitter ah, or x you know Nasav you can reach me there or you can send me email to [email protected] those are the 2 places. Best places to reach her.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. What is is he enough? What’s ready. Thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today.
Srini V. Srinivasan: Um, thank you Alejandro it’s been a pleasure.
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