Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

In the NYC enterprise startup scene, security is job one

While most people probably would not think of New York as a hotbed for enterprise startups of any kind, it is actually quite active. When you stop to consider that the world’s biggest banks and financial services companies are located there, it would certainly make sense for security startups to concentrate on such a huge potential market — and it turns out, that’s the case.

According to Crunchbase, there are dozens of security startups based in the city with everything from biometrics and messaging security to identity, security scoring and graph-based analysis tools. Some established companies like Symphony, which was originally launched in the city (although it is now on the west coast), has raised almost $300 million. It was actually formed by a consortium of the world’s biggest financial services companies back in 2014 to create a secure unified messaging platform.

There is a reason such a broad-based ecosystem is based in a single place. The companies who want to discuss these kinds of solutions aren’t based in Silicon Valley. This isn’t typically a case of startups selling to other startups. It’s startups who have been established in New York because that’s where their primary customers are most likely to be.

In this article, we are looking at a few promising early-stage security startups based in Manhattan

Hypr: Decentralizing identity

Hypr is looking at decentralizing identity with the goal of making it much more difficult to steal credentials. As company co-founder and CEO George Avetisov puts it, the idea is to get rid of that credentials honeypot sitting on the servers at most large organizations, and moving the identity processing to the device.

Hypr lets organizations remove stored credentials from the logon process. Photo: Hypr

“The goal of these companies in moving to decentralized authentication is to isolate account breaches to one person,” Avetisov explained. When you get rid of that centralized store, and move identity to the devices, you no longer have to worry about an Equifax scenario because the only thing hackers can get is the credentials on a single device — and that’s not typically worth the time and effort.

At its core, Hypr is an SDK. Developers can tap into the technology in their mobile app or website to force the authorization to the device. This could be using the fingerprint sensor on a phone or a security key like a Yubikey. Secondary authentication could include taking a picture. Over time, customers can delete the centralized storage as they shift to the Hypr method.

The company has raised $15 million and has 35 employees based in New York City.

Uplevel Security: Making connections with graph data

Uplevel’s founder Liz Maida began her career at Akamai where she learned about the value of large data sets and correlating that data to events to help customers understand what was going on behind the scenes. She took those lessons with her when she launched Uplevel Security in 2014. She had a vision of using a graph database to help analysts with differing skill sets understand the underlying connections between events.

“Let’s build a system that allows for correlation between machine intelligence and human intelligence,” she said. If the analyst agrees or disagrees, that information gets fed back into the graph, and the system learns over time the security events that most concern a given organization.

“What is exciting about [our approach] is you get a new alert and build a mini graph, then merge that into the historical data, and based on the network topology, you can start to decide if it’s malicious or not,” she said.

Photo: Uplevel

The company hopes that by providing a graphical view of the security data, it can help all levels of security analysts figure out the nature of the problem, select a proper course of action, and further build the understanding and connections for future similar events.

Maida said they took their time creating all aspects of the product, making the front end attractive, the underlying graph database and machine learning algorithms as useful as possible and allowing companies to get up and running quickly. Making it “self serve” was a priority, partly because they wanted customers digging in quickly and partly with only 10 people, they didn’t have the staff to do a lot of hand holding.

Security Scorecard: Offering a way to measure security

The founders of Security Scorecard met while working at the NYC ecommerce site, Gilt. For a time ecommerce and adtech ruled the startup scene in New York, but in recent times enterprise startups have really started to come on. Part of the reason for that is many people started at these foundational startups and when they started their own companies, they were looking to solve the kinds of enterprise problems they had encountered along the way. In the case of Security Scorecard, it was how could a CISO reasonably measure how secure a company they were buying services from was.

Photo: Security Scorecard

“Companies were doing business with third-party partners. If one of those companies gets hacked, you lose. How do you vett the security of companies you do business with” company co-founder and CEO Aleksandr Yampolskiy asked when they were forming the company.

They created a scoring system based on publicly available information, which wouldn’t require the companies being evaluated to participate. Armed with this data, they could apply a letter grade from A-F. As a former CISO at Gilt, it was certainly a paint point he felt personally. They knew some companies did undertake serious vetting, but it was usually via a questionnaire.

Security Scorecard was offering a way to capture security signals in an automated way and see at a glance just how well their vendors were doing. It doesn’t stop with the simple letter grade though, allowing you to dig into the company’s strengths and weaknesses and see how they compare to other companies in their peer groups and how they have performed over time.

It also gives customers the ability to see how they compare to peers in their own industry and use the number to brag about their security position or conversely, they could use it to ask for more budget to improve it.

The company launched in 2013 and has raised over $62 million, according to Crunchbase. Today, they have 130 employees and 400 enterprise customers.

If you’re an enterprise security startup, you need to be where the biggest companies in the world do business. That’s in New York City, and that’s precisely why these three companies, and dozens of others have chosen to call it home.

Through luck and grit, Datadog is fusing the culture of developers and operations

There used to be two cultures in the enterprise around technology. On one side were software engineers, who built out the applications needed by employees to conduct the business of their companies. On the other side were sysadmins, who were territorially protective of their hardware domain — the servers, switches, and storage boxes needed to power all of that software. Many a great comedy routine has been made at the interface of those two cultures, but they remained divergent.

That is, until the cloud changed everything. Suddenly, there was increasing overlap in the skills required for software engineering and operations, as well as a greater need for collaboration between the two sides to effectively deploy applications. Yet, while these two halves eventually became one whole, the software monitoring tools used by them were often entirely separate.

New York City-based Datadog was designed to bring these two cultures together to create a more nimble and collaborative software and operations culture. Founded in 2010 by Olivier Pomel and Alexis Lê-Quôc, the product offers monitoring and analytics for cloud-based workflows, allowing ops team to track and analyze deployments and developers to instrument their applications. Pomel said that “the root of all of this collaboration is to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of the problem.”

The company has had dizzying success. Pomel declined to disclose precise numbers, but says the company had “north of $100 million” of recurring revenue in the past twelve months, and “we have been doubling that every year so far.” The company, headquartered in the New York Times Building in Times Square, employs more than 600 people across its various worldwide offices. The company has raised nearly $150 million of venture capital according to Crunchbase, and is perennially on banker’s short lists for strong IPO prospects.

The real story though is just how much luck and happenstance can help put wind in the sails of a company.

Pomel first met Lê-Quôc while an undergraduate in France. He was working on running the campus network, and helped to discover that Lê-Quôc had hacked the network. Lê-Quôc was eventually disconnected, and Pomel would migrate to IBM’s upstate New York offices after graduation. After IBM, he led technology at Wireless Generation, a K-12 startup, where he ran into Lê-Quôc again, who was heading up ops for the company. The two cultures of develops and ops was glaring at the startup, where “we had developers who hated operations” and there was much “finger-pointing.”

Putting aside any lingering grievances from their undergrad days, the two began to explore how they could ameliorate the cultural differences they witnessed between their respective teams. “Bringing dev and ops together is not a feature, it is core,” Pomel explained. At the same time, they noticed that companies were increasingly talking about building on Amazon Web Services, which in 2009, was still a relatively new concept. They incorporated Datadog in 2010 as a cloud-first monitoring solution, and launched general availability for the product in 2012.

Luck didn’t just bring the founders together twice, it also defined the currents of their market. Datadog was among the first cloud-native monitoring solutions, and the superlative success of cloud infrastructure in penetrating the enterprise the past few years has benefitted the company enormously. We had “exactly the right product at the right time,” Pomel said, and “a lot of it was luck.” He continued, “It’s healthy to recognize that not everything comes from your genius, because what works once doesn’t always work a second time.”

While startups have been a feature in New York for decades, enterprise infrastructure was in many ways in a dark age when the company launched, which made early fundraising difficult. “None of the West Coast investors were listening,” Pomel said, and “East Coast investors didn’t understand the infrastructure space well enough to take risks.” Even when he could get a West Coast VC to chat with him, they “thought it was a form of mental impairment to start an infrastructure startup in New York.”

Those fundraising difficulties ended up proving a boon for Datadog, because it forced the company to connect with customers much earlier and more often than it might have otherwise. Pomel said, “it forced us to spend all of our time with customers and people who were related to the problem” and ultimately, “it grounded us in the customer problem.” Pomel believes that the company’s early DNA of deeply listening to customers has allowed it to continue to outcompete its rivals on the West Coast.

More success is likely to come as companies continue to move their infrastructure onto the cloud. Datadog used to have a roughly even mix of private and public cloud business, and now the balance is moving increasingly toward the public side. Even large financial institutions, which have been reticent in transitioning their infrastructures, have now started to aggressively embrace cloud as the future of computing in the industry, according to Pomel.

Datadog intends to continue to add new modules to its core monitoring toolkit and expand its team. As the company has grown, so has the need to put in place more processes as parts of the company break. Quoting his co-founder, Pomel said the message to employees is “don’t mind the rattling sound — it is a spaceship, not an airliner” and “things are going to break and change, and it is normal.”

Much as Datadog has bridged the gap between developers and ops, Pomel hopes to continue to give back to the New York startup ecosystem by bridging the gap between technical startups and venture capital. He has made a series of angel investments into local emerging enterprise and data startups, including Generable, Seva, and Windmill. Hard work and a lot of luck is propelling Datadog into the top echelon of enterprise startups, pulling New York along with it.