Future Of Big Data: MBAs’ Cloud Computing Start-Ups Are Taking On Salesforce, Amazon S3

Surging data market offers entrepreneurs opportunities

Before Salesforce’s $110 million IPO in 2004, Frederic Kerrest helped turn its cloud computing business from a David into a Goliath. Now, he’s trying to disrupt it.

“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug,” says the big data entrepreneur, who co-founded Okta out of MIT Sloan School of Management. The Silicon Valley start-up provides cloud software that ties together the myriad applications that enterprises and employees use. As well as Salesforce, it is taking on Microsoft and VMWare. And it’s already banked high-profile clients like LinkedIn.

Okta’s advantage, says Frederic, the chief operating officer, is that is has a “laser focus” on building the best cloud solution: “Okta’s business isn’t distracted by having to sell the kit and caboodle.”

He launched the company, now valued at $1.2 billion, in 2009 with Todd McKinnon, the chief executive, whom he met while the pair worked at Salesforce, Todd as head of engineering.

“He was leaving Salesforce to start a company and we began to discuss technology and work together,” Frederic says. Three months after they met, the decision was made: “The day after I graduated MIT was our first day working full-time together on Okta.”

As the cloud computing market surges — Forrester forecasts global software-as-a-service revenues will reach $106 billion in 2016, up 21% on last year — some MBAs are asking, how can I join the cloud revolution? “There’s a lot of activity in the emerging big data area,” says Maeve Richard, director of careers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

An MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has helped Gleb Budman take his cloud storage company Backblaze to new heights: the program provided an investor, staff, and client introduction. But, most of all, it “helped shape my way of thinking and approaching business”.

He founded Backblaze in 2007. Today the Bay Area-based business has raised $5 million in venture capital, is storing more than 150 petabytes of user data, and is growing at a brisk clip: it achieved five-year revenue growth of 917%.

It is taking on market leaders with cheaper products: Gleb says Backblaze provides “a lower cost alternative to Amazon S3”.

Unlimited data storage is just $50 a year and, its new product, B2, is directly challenging cloud storage options from large providers like Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

These corporations and others like SAP, Oracle and IBM are pouring investment into the cloud. Incumbents face the threat of newer ventures such as Dropbox, Marketo, Hubspot, and ServiceNow. An explosion of investment in the space has seen a number of entrepreneurs emerge, with diverse businesses.

Ecquire for example, is trying to bring the power of social media to CRM systems.

Luc Bocahut, chief technology officer, says: “If you want to bet that by collecting, analyzing and extrapolating the data from our behavior, our environment and our movement, that one can’t make money, then I will happily take the other side of that bet.”

Luc is a former hedge fund manager. But an MBA at EDHEC Business School is helping him see revenue generating opportunities in big data. “[It] is a huge boost to my confidence,” he says.

Another big data business, Beyond Lucid Technologies, is using the cloud to bring patient records into the digital era. The company’s tech connects ambulances with hospitals so they can receive patient information before arrival, saving time and ultimately improving care.

Jonathon Feit, chief executive, says: “It closes a critical set of gaps. Reading pieces of paper when you need to be taking care of a patient is a problem.” He developed the business plan with Christian Witt while studying for an MBA at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.

“We ended up with a year and a half of market research,” he says.

The sky’s the limit for these cloud ventures. Gartner, the consultancy, believes the market for public cloud services will rise from $180 billion to $207 billion in 2016.

“Big data is creating a revolution,” says Juan José, director of the master in business analytics at IE Business School. “Companies are generating new products and services based on new analytical capabilities.”

Benoit Banchereau, at French business school HEC Paris, says: “Businesses constantly come across volumes of exponentially increasing and complex data.”

But an entrepreneurial path is just one avenue being explored by business students, as they look to harness the power of big data.

“Demand is strong because companies are still learning how to leverage their data,” says Roy Lee, assistant dean at NYU Stern School of Business. “We can’t develop experts in business analytics fast enough,” he says. 



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