Tom Wilkie: Tackling the explosion of data

Name: 

Tom Wilkie

Role and Company:

Co-founder, CTO and VP Engineering, Acunu

Growth forecast for the next three years:

We’ve just closed a great quarter and we’re on an aggressive trajectory to recruit customers – on premises and in the cloud. Our vision really seems to be resonating with customers right now.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

Acunu is the only player today to address the problems around real-time Big Data. Our turn-key analytics, database and storage software is easy to use, scalable, robust and cost-effective. We’ve got patented technology and a great team of engineers to back it all up.

What’s the big vision for your business?

I see Acunu tackling the big problems associated with the explosion of data in recent times. Big Data is everywhere, and it’s no longer enough just to collect it all for some future analysis; to compete in todays marketplace, companies need to monetise their data in a timely fashion.

We’re pretty much there with the technology, and our future is now about how we deliver this to as wide a market as possible, and integrate with the right players to offer a complete solution.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

We have many customers in Europe with strong interest from the US. We have a globally distributed team; offices in San Francisco and employees in Texas, North Carolina and Malaysia. This allows us to offer a fantastic support service, guaranteeing you will always get someone who is awake and can help you solve you problem there and then.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

My biggest regret with Acunu was not getting to market with version one quicker – we’ve had a fantastic journey, but the real work only began when we shipped and started selling our first version. We’ve learnt to iterate quicker, reduce the time to market and in general be more responsive to customers since then.

What makes you mad in business today?

As a small company the most annoying thing is when large potential customers choose a sub-par solution based on existing vendor approvals. I can understand why this would happen, but paperwork and red tape in large enterprises really hamper small vendors from selling to them. It’s not impossible and some large businesses are much friendlier to small vendors than others, but to me it seems like the worst possible reason to choose one solution over another.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

I think we are already to starting to see it, but people are realising Hadoop is not the be-all and end-all for Big Data. I think the market is awakening to the idea that there are many aspects to big data, and you will need different tools to address different challenges. Our customers are already seeing low-latency analysis of high-velocity data having value in so many use cases.

One thing that also intrigues me is the relationship between open source software and large enterprises. Clearly this change has been happening for a long time now, and some could argue that the largest change has been and gone. However, you could consider that open source is slowing moving “up the stack” – in large businesses, they adopted Linux years ago, but still ran proprietary databases and applications on top of it. Now, they are adopting open source database, both at the small scale (like MySQL and Mongo) but also at the large scale (Cassandra and Hadoop). I hope this trend continues and we see the adoption of open source analytics, CRM and ERP etc.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

Acunu has been relatively successful at raising capital; we are lucky as our sector is very hot right now. Having said that, its much harder to raise large amounts of capital at eye watering valuations than it is in the US; investors are just more conservative here.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I doubt I’m the world’s best leader, and this is not something I’ve been doing for very long. One thing I find important when leading a technical organisation is to maintain a good level to hands-on technical involvement; I spend most of my time writing code, reviewing others and leading the architectural direction of the product. Another thing that is important when building a technical team is to hire the smartest people possible, and give them a clear direction. You do this, and they’ll work the rest out for you.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Its probably a cliché, but I like to drive fast cars. I currently have a BMW M5, and it’s awesome.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

One of my biggest problems is attracting talent; highly skilled software engineers are very much in short supply in the UK. We need a much more progressive approach to immigration than the current government has. I want to be able to bring the best minds from anywhere in the world to the UK to build my team.

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