Meet the young founders who are taking on the enterprise

Sharing photos is cool and all that, but enterprise tech? That’s where the really sexy stuff is.

Most people might not think so. But enterprise tech companies are wrangling with unwieldy databases, complex security challenges, reluctant customers, compliance issues, and many other problems. As Quid CEO Sean Gourley describes it, “We get to push the envelope and deal with the most challenging technical issues … the really sci-fi stuff.”

CloudBeat 2012CloudBeat 2012 is assembling the biggest names in the cloud’s evolving story to learn about real cases of revolutionary cloud adoption. Unlike other cloud events, customers — the users of cloud technologies — will be front and center. Their discussions with vendors and other experts will give you rare insights into what really works, who’s buying what, and where the industry is going. Register now and save 25 percent! The early-bird discount ends September 14.

They might not get a movie made about their lives (The CRM Network, anyone?), but the young founders on this list are hot in a different way. They’re building challenging — and potentially profitable — enterprise-focused technologies.

To compile this list of young founders, I spoke with enterprise-focused investors from sources such as General Catalyst, Blumberg Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Data Collective. Some of them are from companies you may know (Box, Hearsay Social, and Huddle), but we’ve got some newcomers, too (MemSQL, Locu). You’ll notice that the entrepreneurs that made the cut are predominantly male. I have to admit, it has not been an easy task finding young female CEOs tackling “big data” and SaaS. I implore you, ladies: Embrace the cloud.

These young CEOs reveal the billion-dollar opportunities they’re pursuing in the enterprise, how they won customers and raised funds, their advice for fellow entrepreneurs, and the obstacles overcame in those all-important first months. No jargon allowed!

[View as a list here]

Andy McLoughlin, founder, Huddle

McLoughlin, 33, is the British-born cofounder of Huddle, a big data startup that recently pulled in a whopping $24 million in funding. The San Francisco-based company is little-known outside of the enterprise world, but it operates its “SharePoint alternative in the cloud” in enterprises in over 180 countries. 

VentureBeat: What was your greatest challenge in the first six months?

Andy McLoughlin: On a micro-level, it was finding great technical people to help us build out our vision. Macro, it was convincing companies to trust their data to a small startup with virtually no track record.

VentureBeat: Is the enterprise a “sexy” space?

McLoughlin: We can thank big companies like Microsoft and Oracle for creating a perception that enterprise isn’t sexy or innovative. Truth is, new technology designed for the enterprise is the most innovative technology being created — in fact, it’s so innovative that many users don’t even know they are using cutting-edge technology because it works intuitively and fits seamlessly into their workflow.

VentureBeat: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

McLoughlin: Because I believed I could build something that would generate cash and users would love. I also liked the idea of wearing jeans to work every day.

Eric Frenkiel, CEO, MemSQL

Frenkiel, 26, is the CEO of MemSQL, a Y Combinator alum that has raised $5.1 million in funding from Y Combinator, New Enterprise Associates, and others. The company is the brainchild of two former Facebook developers who claim they have created the world’s fastest database. Hats off to them for convincing Ashton Kutcher to invest in a technology that places data into memory and translates SQL into C++. 

VentureBeat: What’s was your greatest challenge in the first six months?

Eric Frenkiel: Our biggest challenge was technical, actually. Building a database is really tough, so it was getting a minimal viable product in time for YC’s Demo Day. Luckily, we have an amazing team that worked incredibly hard — those first few months were a difficult but a very exciting time!

VentureBeat: Do you have a mentor or advisor in the enterprise space?

Frenkiel: Yes, Aaron Levie of Box is both is both an advisor and investor. [Editor’s note: He’s No. 8 on our list.]

VentureBeat: One piece of advice to young entrepreneurs starting enterprise companies?

FrenkielAlways remember your only weapons are stealth and speed. 

Sean Gourley, CTO, Quid

Gourley, 33, is the technical lead and founder at Quid, an under-the-radar big data company based in San Francisco that wants to “augment human intelligence.” The analytics provider counts Microsoft among its high-profile customers. Gourley is perhaps best-known for his postgraduate research on the correlation between fatalities and the frequency of attacks during the Iraq War. Watch his TED talk here.

VentureBeat: Why did you decide to become an enterprise entrepreneur?

Sean Gourley: It gives you the ability to something technically very challenging. The sci-fi-type problems will be solved in the enterprise.

VentureBeat: What was the greatest challenge in the first six months?

Gourley: It was learning to make the move from academia [Gourley earned a Ph.D in Complex Systems at Oxford University] to the startup world. It was a shift from trying to understand the world, to building a product for other people to understand the world. I never had a job before starting my company, and suddenly I am hiring people. By nature, I’m the anti-entrepreneur. I want to build cool things, and give them away.

VentureBeat: Do you have mentors that inspire you?

Gourley: Dr. Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami, is my intellectual touchstone. Jim Buckmaster, Craiglist’s CEO, and Max Lechin, the CEO of Slide and a boardmember at Quid.

Rene Reinsberg, CEO, Locu

Locu is a data-focused startup that spun out of Tim Berners-Lee’s lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In under six months after raising its first seed fund, the company nabbed $4 million in investment from General Catalyst. Locu aims to “provide structure to the world’s information,” meaning that in the real world, local merchants can better manage their online presence. 

VentureBeat: What’s your advice to entrepreneurs starting enterprise companies?

Rene Reinsberg: Spend a lot of time with as many of your customers as possible to identify their needs and aim to build a product they’ll love.

VentureBeat: What was your greatest obstacle in your first six months?
Reinsberg: A lot of the data that we would like to tap into is available in an unstructured format today — we had to design and build a technology solution that is capable of generating structured data at scale, through a combination of document analysis, machine learning and human computation techniques — a big challenge!

VentureBeat: What’s the most important trend in the enterprise we should keep tabs on?
Reinsberg: A lot has been written about the increasing role of data scientists; I think there’s definitely a trend in the enterprise space to use data to make better decisions. It’s great to see data-driven decision making in fields where you wouldn’t traditionally have expected it.

Clara Shih, CEO, Hearsay Social

The news that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg would step down from the Starbucks board was nearly eclipsed by the announcement that Clara Shih, then 29, was elected in her stead. Between this, the day-to-day operations of running her Sequoia-backed enterprise social media company, and publishing the best-selling book “The Facebook Era,” Shih is considered one of America’s most promising, young technology leaders.

VentureBeat: What was your greatest challenge in the first six months of starting Hearsay Social?

Clara Shih: Convincing everyone from investors to customers to people we were trying to hire that social business was real and going to be transformative.

VentureBeat: You’ve worked at tech giants like Google and Salesforce, but starting a company poses a new set of challenges. Who are your mentors?
Shih: The most influential mentors in my career have been Sheryl Sandberg, George Hu [chief operating officer of Salesforce.com], and Ariel Kelman [chief marketing officer of Amazon Web Services].

VentureBeat: Do you have a piece of advice to share to young entrepreneurs?
Shih: Always put your customers first.

Russell Glass, CEO, Bizo

Bizo gives marketers access to the people that sign the checks. Its CEO is the 36-year-0ld Russell Glass. A chief executive since ’08, Glass has seen the company through several rounds of financing ($16 million to date) and has succeeded in winning the support of customers like American Express, Salesforce, and Microsoft.

VentureBeat: How would you respond to the contention that the enterprise is less “sexy” than the consumer space?

Russell Glass: Unsexy is sexy! Most kids coming out of college aren’t thinking “I’d like to start a B2B marketing technology company,” which works to our advantage!

VentureBeat: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Glass: My dad was an entrepreneur, and I have been running companies since starting a tennis racquet stringing business in high school. I think that I have always enjoyed the constant challenge and need to be creative that is inherent with a startup.

VentureBeat: Do you have an advisor or mentor in the space?

Glass: I think the person I respect the most is Marc Benioff from Salesforce.  He has built one of the most innovative companies in the world focused on the enterprise. He continues to push the envelope.

Steve Loughlin, CEO, RelateIQ

Loughlin, 31, started his first company in 2004 shortly after graduating from Stanford University. In less than five years, his professional networking company (Affinity Network) grew to 18 million members. In his mid-20s, Loughlin joined Morganthaler Venture Partners as its entrepreneur in residence. The new dad is the CEO of big data applications company RelateIQ. It’s still in stealth mode, but it has already raised over $5 million in funding. 

VentureBeat: What is the most important trend in the enterprise that we should be aware of?

Steve Loughlin: The tension between the “consumerization of the enterprise” trend and security.

VentureBeat: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Loughlin: I enjoy working with teams in high pressure situations — it’s the closest thing to team sports I’ve ever experienced. [At Stanford, Loughlin was a track and field champion.]

VentureBeat: In the enterprise space, who have you turned to for mentorship and advice?

Loughlin: Bob Cohn, the founder of Octel Communciations, and Bill Campbell, a board member at Apple and former CEO of Intuit.

Aaron Levie, CEO, Box

Back in 2005, Levie was a college dropout with a few thousand dollars to his name and an “unsexy” startup idea for an online storage and collaboration company. Today, he is the undisputed prince of the young enterprise pack. Levie, a cofounder of Box, has brought cloud storage services to 4 million users. Venture capitalists are falling over themselves to write him a check: The company has succeeded in raising an estimated $284 million in financing. 

VentureBeat: How would you respond to the contention that the enterprise is not a “sexy” space?

Aaron Levie: The expectations we now have around tools in our personal lives have permeated the enterprise: We want simpler technologies, tools that are more social, and solutions that work from wherever we are. This is causing a massive wave of disruption in the enterprise space being led by startups — like Zendesk, Yammer, Asana, GoodData, Domo — that can out-innovate their legacy incumbents. And that’s sexy.

VentureBeat: What’s the biggest trend in the enterprise?

Levie: Mobile. We’re about to go from roughly 750 million knowledge workers to more than 1.3 billion. That’s because mobile innovation is putting more computing power into more hands than ever before. Jobs that were off the grid are now becoming digital and connected. There is an incredible opportunity for us to build software that entirely rethinks work and collaboration from a mobile first perspective.

Anthony Goldbloom, CEO, Kaggle

Kaggle takes a consumer-friendly crowdsourced approach to solve the most complex scientific questions. Goldbloom refers to it as a “market for data science talent.” On the company’s website, researchers or organizations can pose a tough challenge for geeks around the world to solve. The individual winner or winning team gets financial compensation. Last year, the San Francisco-based startup pulled in $11 million in funding.

VentureBeat: What was your biggest challenge in the first months — and how did you overcome it?

Anthony Goldbloom: My biggest challenge was learning how to code.

VentureBeat: Do you have any nuggets of wisdom to share to young entrepreneurs?

Goldbloom: As a young entrepreneur starting an enterprise company, be prepared for the fact that you’ll need to get involved in enterprise sales. Everyone wants to speak to the founder and this is also how you’ll get feedback on your product. It’s worth bringing in early somebody with enterprise sales experience.

VentureBeat: What was your “Aha!” moment?

Goldbloom: There have been lots. Startup stories are always smoother in the telling than they are in reality. A startup is not one, but a series of “Aha!” moments, and some which seem like “Aha!” moments but turn out not to be. One our more recent “Aha!” moments was a decision to look for developers in Australia rather than Silicon Valley, where there’s a war for talent.

Jyoti Bansal, CEO, AppDynamics

AppDynamics is one of the growing number of startups in the piping-hot application performance management (APM) space. AppDynamics monitors a company’s apps and diagnoses problems when they arise. Bansal began the San Francisco-based startup in his mid-20s and convinced companies like Netflix and Williams Sonoma to be its first customers. Now at 34, Bansal has brought over $36 million in venture capital financing to the company coffers. 

VentureBeat: Why is the enterprise such a hot space?

Jyoti Bansal: We are at a very historical moment in enterprise software space. As Marc Andreessen says, “Software is eating the world.” Software is not just helping the enterprises these days run their back office –software is becoming their life blood. Enterprises have to innovate and differentiate on software now to stay relevant.

VentureBeat: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Bansal: I simply wanted to make a big difference. I have always loved building things.

VentureBeat: Why does consumer tech get the lion’s share of the attention?

Bansal: I think it is primarily because consumer tech companies have more brand recognition. Even though enterprise technologies may be the key enablers for many of these consumer technologies, most people won’t know about them. But enterprise software can touch and impact as many or even more users than consumer software!

Jessica Mah, CEO, InDinero

Mah started her first Internet company at the tender age of 13. She has been hailed as a “wunderkind” in the media for winning a spot at UC Berkeley’s computer science department before her 16th birthday. Now 21, Mah is less frequently in the spotlight; she’s more concerned with the daily grind of running a company. She wants her startup, InDinero, to be the Mint.com of small businesses and has raised just over $1 million in funding.

VentureBeat: Why do entrepreneurs shy away from the enterprise — is it considered an “unsexy” space?

Jessica Mah: The enterprise is unsexy because it’s complicated, difficult, and hard for young entrepreneurs to relate to. But it’s good business!

VentureBeat: What’s the biggest trend in the space?

Mah: Doing inside sales is in my opinion far less unsexy than it was once considered. Even Facebook has a sales team!

VentureBeat: What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with fellow, young founders?

Mah: Don’t be scared to ask for advice, even if you put yourself at risk for sounding dumb. I’d rather sound dumb than be clueless.