This feature is part of theCUBE’s ongoing CEO Startup Spotlight series to find out what drives them and learn about their visions for the future.
As global businesses keep the steady march toward a digital-first world, with data at its core, the demand for faster, more efficient data access and analysis to enable insights continues to speed up.
That is why the startup ChaosSearch Inc., a cloud-native data lake platform that indexes data at scale, is celebrating significant milestones. Leading the company is IBM Corp. veteran Ed Walsh (pictured). As the company’s chief executive officer, he took up the challenge in late 2020 after stepping down from helming IBM’s $6 billion global storage division.
“I like the challenge of taking a company that is driving a dramatic innovation and making sure it is also driving profitability and doing it worldwide,” he said. “This is my goal at ChaosSearch.”
The Boston-based startup emerged back in January 2017 promising a secure, scalable log analysis platform that’s hosted in a multitenant or dedicated software-as-a-service environment, using an Amazon S3 as a hot data store. In December 2020, it closed a $40 million Series B funding round co-led by Stripes LLC and Moore Strategic Ventures, for a total amount raised of more than $59 million, after growing revenue by 766% that year, tripling their customer base and doubling their headcount.
“I have worked with many startups, and I have also run big enterprises, but I have never seen something this big and this compelling and going after real problems,” Walsh stated. “I haven’t seen one like this in my entire career.”
Walsh’s enthusiasm is for ChaosSearch’s innovative technology that indexes data as-is, for log, SQL and ML analytics, without transformation while auto-detecting native schemas. ChaosSearch positions its platform as an alternative to what’s called the ELK stack, which refers to a complex stack of the Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana open-source projects. The company argues that the ELK stack and similar tools have limitations when it comes to scalability, and that this forces companies to break up data into multiple clusters to analyze it properly.
The ChaosSearch Data Platform connects and indexes data within a client’s Amazon S3 or Glacier accounts, bypassing the complex data pipelines required by other log data analysis platforms. It makes the data fully searchable and available for analysis within the existing data store, helping customers save on time, complexity and costs. ChaosSearch worked backwards and built an architecture from the ground up, without using old technology.
“This is why we have five brand patents – they’re not little patents, they’re fundamental patents,” Walsh said. “It’s architecture that if you had to do this with a blank sheet of paper, this is what you would do.”
Experience with big and small companies
Walsh brought to ChaosSearch his successful track record as a leader in the tech industry. At IBM, he was responsible for the turnaround of the storage business after years of losses. He led the division for four years and departed at a time when it was enjoying its own measure of success.
With a sense of accomplishment, he decided to focus on a new challenge and turned to ChaosSearch due to the disruptive nature of its solutions and its massive growth potential. As he told SiliconANGLE at the time of the move, “It was a hard decision to leave IBM, but it was a very easy decision to go to Chaos.”
Also contributing to his change was the fact that he already had experience with startups. Walsh previously served as CEO of four small companies, including Avamar Technologies Inc. and Storwize Inc.
“All my startups did well and had high multiples,” he said. “I like both small and large companies – for me, they are stretching different muscles.”
And Walsh already knew ChaosSearch very well. Eight years ago, he met for the first time with ChaosSearch founder Thomas Hazel, who pitched the company’s idea. It was an excellent plan but a little too early, according to Walsh.
“Thomas then nailed the market, took some major architectural bets, evolved the product over six years, and we came together again,” he explained. “He had a working product, and what he needed was someone who would really help out build the company that goes to market. That was a perfect match for me.”
Building the right team is key for any business
Regardless of whether it’s a large enterprise or a startup, Walsh believes the key to a successful business is to build the right team. It is not just about choosing the right individuals for the available positions; it is also about getting them to work well together.
“This is not hard, but involves a lot of work,” Walsh stated. “There’s nothing I spend more time on than building the right team and helping the team get to the right level.”
A major step in this process is to observe employees to identify what their strengths are, in which areas they need help to evolve and where potential gaps are, in order to bring in new people to fill them, Walsh explained. Another and even more important step is to keep people aligned. Walsh’s ritual for this is to meet with the team every day for 15 minutes, “just to communicate, allow for small updates, and get everyone connected and share common goals,” he said. They also meet once a week to delve into topics that everyone agrees are important, as well as monthly and quarterly to discuss key performance indicators and other metrics.
“It’s like a marriage,” he said. “You have to talk to your significant other, you still have to go on dates, you still have to communicate through it. You can look at that as a lot of work, or you can look at that as ‘No, that’s part of the pleasure of having the right relationship.’”
During the pandemic, the challenge was greater, but Walsh’s strategy still worked. He grew the team from 18 to 100 people in 2021 without meeting them in person. Technologies like Zoom and Slack have made this possible by enabling seamless communication. When Walsh moves to a new company, he doesn’t bring a whole new team with him — he builds on top of the team that’s already at the company, “which may be harder but more enjoyable,” he said.
“If you get the right teams and then you help them to get in the right mode, magic happens,” he said. “Everything becomes easy. They take you there. They figure out any situation.”
Innovative solution allows big savings
To propel ChaosSearch to profitable and broad growth, Walsh also relies on the effectiveness of the solutions developed by the company – the startup promises to eliminate most of the work involved in the data pipeline, and this translates into huge savings for customers.
“What we do is we’re really saving 80% of your data scientists’ and DBAs’ time compared to other platforms,” Walsh said. “We’re saving 50% to 80% of hard dollars for end users compared to what they’re doing with legacy data platforms today.”
ChaosSearch primarily targets enterprises with large and growing volumes of cloud data that need to improve analytics efficiency and performance. It also focuses on digital-native companies that are just driving their business based on data. In all these cases, the teams that manage IT environments, such as DevOps, CloudOps and SecOps engineers, need to analyze high volumes of logs and demand fast and efficient log analytics to maintain stable applications, deliver software in an agile fashion, and reduce security and governance risks. Data analysts, meanwhile, must search and query exploding volumes of business records and other types of data to create dashboards and reports on business operations.
“All of those things you can solve when the volume is not big,” he said. “But all of them just collapse under their own weight in organizations at scale if you just think about the pipeline ETL. And each of those things is fundamental, and each of those concerns go away with what we do.”
Despite being successful in every company he’s managed, Walsh doesn’t believe he’s smarter or harder-working than other leaders. He thinks that his differential is just putting into practice what he has learned along his journey. In addition to realizing the value of having an ideal team, he soon understood that dealing with difficult situations as directly as possible is essential.
“And that goes for a business situation, an account situation, a personal situation or a team situation,” he said. “If you can do that and hold yourself accountable, everything seems to work out. Reality is your friend, and the faster you get to it, the better.”