Ed Walsh And ChaosSearch: Data Access At Scale

Ed Walsh recently left IBM to become CEO of ChaosSearch, a cloud-native data lake platform that indexes data at scale. ChaosSearch closed a $40 million Series B funding round co-led by Stripes and Moore Strategic Ventures in late 2020, after growing revenue by 766%, tripling their customer base, doubling their headcount, and are on pace to double again by EOY 2021.

I recently spoke with Walsh about ChaosSearch, developing leadership teams, and the one thing that made a difference in his career.

Karen Walker:  I’ve heard you say that it was a hard decision to leave IBM, but an easy one to join ChaosSearch.

Ed Walsh: I’ve been blessed to be CEO of five successful startups, and had  success as a general manager for large organizations like IBM and EMC. At IBM, I was responsible for 7% of IBM’s revenue. Now that’s either a lot or a little, but it’s a $6 billion space. I loved it.

I also love challenges. I love building teams and meeting the market.

I met Thomas Hazel, the founder of ChaosSearch, eight years ago, and he pitched me this idea. It was an excellent idea, but a little early.  Then in February 2020, we had a beer together, and he told me what he had developed. I said, “If you have that, that’s what everyone’s looking for.” It was, and I always say that the reason I’m so excited to be here is that I’ve never seen such a good fit for a real problem.

I returned to some of my clients and told them what we had. Every single one of them said, “That’s what we need.” The existing ChaosSearch clients were doing things at scale – multiple petabytes – and were doing something they couldn’t do with the old platform.

I was the perfect CEO partner for Tom Hazel to help them raise the proper level of funding. We raised $40 million in a Series B at the end of last year, but I’m here to help scale their whole business.

Walker: What does ChaosSearch do that is so extraordinary?

Walsh: We’re reinventing the data lake. ChaosSearch is a data lake platform that basically revolutionizes data access at scale.

The value proposition is game-changing. All you do is put your data in your cloud of choice. That’s the easy part. Don’t worry about doing all this transformation, all this movement of data that everyone makes you do, literally just connect to us. We activate that data lake and make it easy to go through open APIs and get after the data with your existing tool. 

There are savings of time, reducing costs and complexity.  The time to raw data insight goes from three weeks to three months to minutes.

We also cut out 80% of the labor from this work, with more than 50% savings in hard dollars while giving our customers unlimited retention. We also frees up a constrained team inside the organizations – the data scientists. We allow analytics at scale.

In addition, we are the only player that is cloud-native, the previous solutions are repurposed older technology on the data layer.

Walker: If you had to explain how ChaosSearch works to a non-technical C-suite person, what would you say? Maybe that’s best served by an example.

Walsh: Basically, put your data in a data lake, and expose open APIs. That allows us to directly address their challenges: time, cost and complexity.

Equifax, for example, has multiple divisions. They’re using different analytic platforms across the various divisions. They’re using us to consolidate those environments.

They like that they don’t have to do all the work to massage that data before they can ask it any questions. They are able to consolidate environments to save money, and use the same tools that they are using today. There’s no retraining or transitioning – retraining is the biggest issue when you make changes in this environment.

Walker: You mentioned earlier that you enjoyed building teams. You’ve been leading virtually since you joined ChaosSearch, and you recently brought in several senior leaders. What do you seek in hiring? How do you put a team together?

Walsh: The first thing I focus on is that transition. For the first 90 days, I make sure that I understand the team, because you’re not starting from scratch. I look at the strength of the group and their technology, and how it matches up well (or not) to what clients are trying to do.

Once I understand that, it’s easy to sort out what I need to do to augment or train and enable the team, and then the groups underneath them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. Learn before you get there and understand that reality is your friend. The most challenging thing is getting the right people around the opportunity.

If you have the wrong people, everything is complicated. If you have the right people – well, I get comments all the time that I’m the luckiest guy in the industry. Because if you get the right team, they’ll produce suitable offerings, and deal with the clients the right way. The team is everything.

Walker: That’s great. It’s always the right thing to do, but it can be tricky if you have someone on the team who’s technically filling a slot but not working with the team.

Walsh: Exactly. Then you always worry about making a change, because will it disrupt the team? Every single time, though, when I’ve made that change, the group says, “It’s about time that you did that.” People watch us as leaders, ensuring that our behaviors match what we say.

Once I have the team, I become the chief communicator – or chief repeating officer. I am ensuring that everyone is on the same page and aligned. It’s harder when we cannot have hallways conversations, face to face, but we set up a recurring cadence. I meet with my team every day for 15 minutes. We also have longer meetings once a week and an offsite once a quarter. It is the exact cadence as face to face but taking more care about the minor interactions between the teams.

Walker: Yes, remote teams are more complex. Part of that complexity is that they don’t have the social capital. I think the cadence going forward for most leadership teams is in-person for planning and building relationships, then working apart with frequent alignment check-ins, then repeating.

Walsh: It’s not like a cadence that is different from what we all knew before, but a large number of teams don’t do it.  If you have the right process, it frees up the team to trust, to move forward aggressively, and know what their colleagues are doing.

Walker: One last question for you. The tagline for my consulting business is “up and to the right.” That’s the place we always want to be on a 2×2 matrix. Thinking about your career, was there a moment when you knew that you were moving in that direction?

Walsh: I believe strongly in mentorship, mostly because I saw the impact on my own professional life. For the first 14 years of my career, I built my own company from scratch with a partner. It was a classic startup. We painted our first product in my mom and dad’s garage, and got the color on their car. We grew to $137 million in revenue, and achieved recognition as an Inc. 500 fastest growing company for a couple of years in a row.

It was pure entrepreneurship. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We sold the business in 2001. After selling two more companies, I ended up at IBM, and Tom Hudson took me under his wing. He mentored me. He taught me more about building a business and mentoring and building a team. That exposure propelled me to a different level, and you can see it in my career trajectory. If you don’t have a good mentor, look for one.

Article originally published in Forbes.

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