George Fraser is the CEO and co-founder of Fivetran, an automated data platform focused on movement out of, into and across cloud data platforms. The company automates the most time-consuming parts of the process of extracting, loading and transforming (ELT) data so data engineers can focus on higher-impact projects. With 99.9% uptime and self-healing pipelines, Fivetran enables hundreds of leading brands across the globe, including Autodesk, Conagra Brands, JetBlue, Lionsgate, Morgan Stanley, and Ziff Davis, to accelerate data-driven decisions and drive business growth.
Fraser talked with me recently about how the company came to be, how automated data movement works, and Fivetran’s successful acquisition of HVR.
The Company’s Origins
Fraser founded Fivetran in 2012 with a lifelong friend, Taylor Brown. Brown and Fraser knew each other growing up; their families had been friends since 1922 when they built lakeside cabins near each other.
Before becoming a tech CEO, Fraser was a scientist specializing in neuroscience, machine learning and functional programming. He holds a B.S. from Carnegie Mellon in cognitive science and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in neurobiology.
When the partners started the company at the end of 2012, their concept was to create vertically integrated data from the source to analysis. They wanted to create a complete stack tool, a very original idea for scientists. But it was not long-lived.
For the first two years, the partners’ product delivered data analysis for businesspeople. It went through many iterations. The partners were always trying to encourage people to use it.
“Eventually, we started to get a request for one slice of that stack. People just wanted the data integration,” recalled Fraser. The partners had created some automated data integrations behind the scenes.
“That one piece of the original vision became the entire company. We got our first customer in 2015 and our second customer a couple of weeks later. Then it was a little bit of a slow liftoff for the first 18 months. Then it started to grow fast along with the whole cloud data warehouse ecosystem,” Fraser said.
The partners are graduates of American technology startup accelerator Y Combinator. YC has been used to launch more than 4,000 companies, including Airbnb, Coinbase, Cruise, DoorDash, Dropbox, Instacart, Quora, PagerDuty, Reddit, Stripe and Twitch.
How Fivetran Works
Although it is now a global brand, Fivetran maintains headquarters in Oakland, California, where the company began and where Fraser lives. The company also has a significant presence in Denver, Ireland, Serbia, India among others.
Fivetran has been described as a digital shipping company because of its move to the cloud. Fraser said, “When platforms shift, a chain of platforms shift. There was the platform shift to the cloud, and data warehouses like Redshift and Snowflake were the key ones in our early years. “
“Fivetran couldn’t have come about without the emergence of cloud data warehouses,” Fraser added.
Today, Fivetran’s platform is a tool to replicate data into a high -performance cloud warehouse.
“Most companies build a data warehouse when they reach a certain size. Companies need to make a copy of their data and need to keep that copy up to date. For example, as shipping containers move around, employees get paid and customers do transactions – that creates new records. All those changes need to be replicated in the central data warehouse.” Fivetran makes the updating process automated and is building tools to allow the user to verify that the data is correct.
They also watch the infrastructure that is moving the data. “We can ultimately provide much better security than the traditional way of doing ETL where everyone owns and operates their unique pipelines, all in their unique infrastructures,” Fraser observed.
Fivetran has had a successful last couple of years, more than doubling its revenue to more than $200M in annual revenue run rate and increasing its customer account by 75% to more than 5,000 in 2022. The company received almost half a billion dollars in recent funding deal and purchased a competitor, HVR.
Integration Of HVR
HVR’s software enables real-time homogeneous and heterogeneous data replication. HVR uses various CDC (Change Data Capture) methods to replicate changes between databases, directories (file locations), as well as between databases and directories that HVR calls ‘locations.’ Each change in a source location is captured by HVR, transmitted and then applied to a target location.
Fraser said that HVR wasn’t Fivetran’s biggest competitor, as they tended to focus on different segments of the market. “They were the experts on the biggest, most important databases like Oracle and SQL Server, where Fivetran was more of a mid-market company.”
Fivetran has allowed small and medium-sized companies to do things today that previously they couldn’t do. “Large companies have an infinite appetite for data and answers from that data,” Fraser said. In the future, as the need for automating replication of data into cloud data platforms continues to grow, Fivetran can deploy and expand.
In an article on Medium, user Gourav Singh wrote, “In the realm of data integration and pipeline management, Fivetran has emerged as a game-changer, enabling organizations to streamline their data workflows and accelerate data-driven insights. With its powerful and intuitive platform, Fivetran has revolutionized the way businesses ingest, transform, and analyze data from various sources.”
Fraser As A CEO
With a Ph.D. in neurobiology, Fraser discussed how his background helped to shape his leadership style. “Managing a big company is a funny thing. In some ways, it’s the same as managing a hundred people.
“You can’t talk to everyone every day. I think: ’What should I involve myself in? Where can I help?’ The organization has great people who work hard and independently.
“In a way, they don’t need me to do their work. My leadership style is about simply inserting myself in the right places, where I can help make things better, and solve problems.”
Fraser said, “What people want from the CEO is to make sure there’s a vision in place and ensure that the company is well managed from a financial standpoint.”
Fraser recalled the moment in his career when he knew he was moving “up and to the right” with his career.
“It was after we got our first customer,” he admitted. “Fivetran went from not knowing if we would ever have a customer to – a week later- finding a perfect market fit. It took a while for us to start growing fast. But from our perspective, we knew we had it when we got that first customer.”