Shaper: David Richards

Show aired on 31st January 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The famous voice of Van Morrison with Moon Dance of course. Good morning it’s me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM’s Jazz Shapers. The place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a Business Shaper. My beer moth of a Business Shaper today is none other than Mr David Richards; across from the other side of the world especially here for us. He is the founder of WANdisco, they are a big data company and boy are they getting bigger by the minute. You will be hearing lots from him very shortly. In addition to hearing from David, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that if you can take it today, some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Robert Glasper, Bill Withers and this, it’s new, from Marcus Hill.

That was I Remember Summer from Marcus Hill. David Richards is my Business Shaper today as I said here on Jazz Shapers and he is the founder of WANdisco and they are as they say themselves, a big data company. David thank you so much for joining me, you are on a busy, packed schedule and you’ve made time for us. Help me and everyone listening understand what WANdisco is about. What does it do? Because everyone talks about big data now and also then kind of goes ‘yeah yeah I kinda know what you mean’ but help me understand in more detail?

David Richards
So yeah, big data – hi Elliot and it’s a pleasure to be here. Big data is one of the big themes in tech today, it’s the most disruptive bit of technology I believe in the world. It can do everything from keep people alive in hospitals to tell retailers exactly what a customer is going to do next and WANdisco ensures that that technology is completely reliable and resilient for major enterprise use.

Elliott Moss
So you, just to give me a flavour as well, the kinds of companies that you help include?

David Richards
A lot of global 1000 companies, major banks. We have in the past sixty days I believe that we have signed three of the world’s top ten banks – now that is highly unusual for them to standardise on you know, very early stage technology so quickly. British Gas is a pretty big customer of ours. We also have the University of California Irvine which is a big hospital in the United States, they are using our technology to predict cardiac arrest in heart pace maker patients, three days before it happens. Incredible stuff.

Elliot Moss
Wow I think I will need one of those pretty soon if I am not careful. Now, let’s go back in time a little bit. You are a Sheffield man but you live across the pond as we said, the other side now – you are in Silicon Valley. I believe that you chose to not go to University but to go straight into the world of work. Barclays? Is that right?

David Richards
No, well actually yes it is. I really didn’t want to go to University at all. I did my A levels and wanted to go and earn some money and thought I would be able to build a career in banking. That was about the biggest mistake of my life actually. As much as I respect bankers of course.

Elliot Moss
And then you went back to University?

David Richards
And then I turned up, knocked on the door of my old sixth form, saw the head of the sixth form, a great teacher called David Jackson and said ‘what the hell am I going to do, I can’t stand banking’ and he looked at me and said ‘go and do computer science’.

Elliot Moss
Why did he say that because obviously you loved technology, we’ll come on to that. What was his instinct? Was it just because he knew you? Or was it more than that?

David Richards
He was a great teacher and he showed me an article that suggested that the geeks were going to rule the world and that I think there is a famous quote from Bill Gates that says ‘Be really nice to geeks because one day you might be working for one’ and David knew that I obviously had an aptitude for this and that this was going to be the direction the economy was going in and he was a super smart guy and a great teacher and a great influence in my life actually.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear how the story developed and there is lots to it and you are going to learn and be inspired along the way I am sure. Time for some music in the meantime, this is from Robert Glasper, I love him – I may have said it before, apologies for any embarrassment to him – and this is I Stand Alone.

Robert Glasper, you know why I love him, you can hear it there, it’s I Stand Alone. David Richards is my Business Shaper today, founder of WANdisco, they are a big data company. The WAN by the way if you want to know stands for ‘Wide Area Network’ which we are going to talk about as well in a bit I guess. Now we were talking David about this fantastic teacher, the geeks are going to rule the world quote which you said from Bill Gates. You actually went into a start-up IT company called Druid I believe and reportedly, if this is true, and you can tell me it’s not – you decided not to take a car but to take options in this company which luckily for you did really really well and kind of made you a ton of money – is that right?

David Richards
Druid was at the cusp of transformation in the technology industry. It was at the time when we – when companies were throwing away mainframe computers and installing three tier client service so at that time on the desktop we got intel for chips, we got Microsoft for software, we got middleware companies like SAP and the database was born and companies like Oracle of course now very famous, were born there as well and we were part of that revolution and I am going to tell you later that the big data revolution is now replacing those systems. And it was a wonderful time actually, we were – I was in the boardroom at companies like Polaroid and Cadbury as we were changing out their IT systems. It was phenomenal of course. The company IPO’d on the London Stock Exchange very quickly and made a lot of people a lot of money but that wasn’t the point actually – we had great fun, it was a great company to work for.

Elliot Moss
Now then the next most and I guess the most important moment is that you decided to move abroad, 1998 you went to the States and since then you have set up two businesses which I think both have been sold successfully, one more so than the other I believe and now you are on your third. So you are sort of a serial entrepreneur but the thing I am interested in is what made you go there? Was it just that’s where the action was happening in terms of technology?

David Richards
That’s a great question. I remember I was living in London at the time and I picked up a newspaper and it was talking about all the new IPO’s and it was companies like Yahoo and their stock was just going through the roof and something was happening in Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley is a unique place, you can’t do stuff, it’s a melting pot for all kinds of different people like my co-founder Dr Aahlad among others, just the phenomenal talent, phenomenal business people, lots and lots of VC’s so it was a magnet and I was drawn to the United States. Although funnily enough I didn’t go to Silicon Valley first, I went to New York and at the time it was a bizarre part of my life actually because I never thought I was going to be the marrying type I have to say and met this girl in Bath, Jane my wife and probably fell in love with her immediately and at the time I was planning to, was planning to leave and I said ‘look I am going to go over to the States, do you want to come?’ and this is you know within sort of three to six months of meeting her so two suitcases packed, jumped on a plane, landed in New York and I suppose the rest is history as they say.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear much more from my Business Shaper, David Richards. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss; catch me every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp where you can hear me talking to a brilliant person from the world of business, a Business Shaper. If you have missed any then iTunes is your destination. You will find over a hundred fantastic guests in there. If you are travelling on British Airways soon you can listen in on Highlife as well. I have given you lots of options, no excuses. David Richards is my Business Shaper today and he is the founder of WANdisco – they are a big data company and very impressive too. David we left with the story perfectly poised. You had gone to America, you had taken your new girlfriend who has now been your wife for, what seventeen years or so, fifteen years or so and you have since then before WANdisco delivered two companies to the market and you’ve learnt a bunch of stuff along the way. One of the things I think you talked about publically is the fact that when it is your money you think about how you spend it much harder than if it is someone else’s. Just give me a quick insight into the venture capital world from your perspective?

David Richards
Yeah so we raised in my first company in the US, it was very in vogue to raise venture capital and we went out and raised quite a lot of money, twenty five million dollars really on the back of a power point presentation which in those days, the heady days of the Internet boom back in 2000, ‘98/2000 you could do that. So we raised, we raised a load of money and I think the company was lazy. I think we had lots of great ideas but the execution to execute those ideas just wasn’t there. If I contrast that with businesses which I did subsequently where I deliberately didn’t raise venture capital you develop products that are very close to product adoption life cycle which means that you are developing products that customers actually need and want to buy and I think that is a great discipline in every business.

Elliot Moss
Now you went on and successfully sold the next business, that first one was called Insevo?

David Richards
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And the next one was called Librados.

David Richards
Librados which actually means ‘the freed man’ in Spanish.

Elliot Moss
Yes.

David Richards
So we were freed from venture capital.

Elliot Moss
You were freed, well done, that’s nice. Now what then made you set up the business which is now paying the bills and doing a lot more besides and how did you meet your, your as you described before, the genius, Dr Yeturu Aahlad?

David Richards
So in order to try and plug that gap venture capital with very early stage businesses and by early stage I mean technology guys primarily software guys with brilliant ideas, myself and my team, my co-founders of the prior companies decided that we were going to set up a very small private equity fund where we would invest our own money and provide operational expertise to these companies and the first guy that walked through the door was this tall, skinny, six foot four Indian in a pair of hot pants and sandals. A complete geek and I thought ‘God what the hell is going on here, who’s this?’ and he sat down and he had solved one of the most complex problems in the world of computer science, it’s called active active replication over a wide area of networks, it is very complicated and I won’t go into that but he had produced twenty pages of hieroglyphically mathematical proof of the solution. Now normally what you see in Silicon Valley, in fact most software companies is two guys and a coffee pot who sit down, hack together some source code, trial and error, try to build a prototype product, go and show it to a venture capitalist or an angel investor, get a bit of money, build a website, start selling it into the market place and hey presto that becomes a company. This was totally different. It was fundamental mathematical proof, highly patentable, a very difficult problem to solve and the guy had been and shown it to venture capitalists of course who looked at it and said, scratched their head and said ‘I don’t even understand what the hell this is’ because they are not computer scientists, they are business people. But we saw absolute gold. The private equity fund of course we scrapped it immediately and said ‘we are just going to create a company around this’.

Elliot Moss
And find out what that company looked like in a moment. Time for some music, this is Grandma’s Hands from the fantastic Bill Withers.

I give you Mr Bill Withers and Grandma’s Hands. David Richards is my Business Shaper and we have been talking about all sorts of stuff and we’ve reached the moment where the genius has arrived, the code has been looked at, the maths has been worked out and you create your business. You know when you have those moments when you looked at this guy who was the geek in the hot pants and you go ‘hold on a minute’. What does that feel like David because you don’t get that very often in life, let alone business life? What did it feel like and what did you do to harness that feeling or are you more of a logical kind of fellow? Was it not like that?

David Richards
I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I was looking at one of the top two or three people in the world of distributed computing, a PhD from YIT that was previous to that the distributed systems architect at some microsystems, IBM labs he wrote distributed programming language. A complete genius that couldn’t convince anybody to start a business with him and the minute I saw him I knew immediately that we could create a billion dollar company and that sounds bizarre and of course in hindsight everybody would say it is 20/20 but actually I knew at that moment that we were going to create a company and do some amazing things.

Elliot Moss
And when you say you knew, again it’s a question I sometimes ask. Is that something that anyone can get or is it something only a small group of people in business that are really instinctive can have as a skill? Because obviously you’ve got it?

David Richards
It’s, it’s very difficult to repeat success in the same way and often people try to do that, they try to go back to what they were doing before and try to repeat success. I believe that you have to go on and do something completely different so WANdisco compared to Librados, compared to Insevo, compared to Druid were all entirely different companies. The difference with WANdisco to the rest was the foundation was very solid granite intellectual property. The intellectual capital in this business was tremendous and that’s a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t know if I am ever going to see intellectual property as fundamental and as valuable as this ever again.

Elliot Moss
Now you saw it then but there is a lot more to it because that is ten years ago now. You floated, you’ve bought companies, you’ve created a new place for yourself in the market. I believe, I am sure you are on the way towards your billion dollar turnover and I am sure you will tell me when you are going to do that and you will probably be right. How do you ensure that that you are you know, doing the right thing every day. You are running a big company now. Do you ever sit back and go ‘I don’t know what I am going to do next?’ and if you did would you admit that to me? You probably wouldn’t anyway would you?

David Richards
Do you know I have never, I have never had that thought. Our business I surround myself with total geniuses so if you were to walk in to our office in San Ramon in California, you would see a whole bunch of people with PhD’s, people that were the founding fathers of big data while they worked at Yahoo, they you know architected the Yahoo search engine, architected Ebay and the quality of those people is such that we can develop ground breaking technology and software companies that are developing intellectual capital have to have tremendous people that work for them and I am so proud of the people that we have managed to organically grow with, hire, buy over the past few years, it’s – that really is the make-up of this business.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with David plus play a track from The Elder Statesman – that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

The slightly hypnotic The Elder Statesman and Montreux Sunrise. David Richards is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. He is the founder of WANdisco as you’ve been listening to I hope and know. Isn’t his first company, isn’t his second company, it’s his third one but I think this one is definitely a keeper. You are ten years in now, you’ve been talking about the incredibly clever people around you and what struck me David is you were talking about the difference between what you’ve created and what many other start-ups have created is the substance, is the intellect, is the IP as you said within your business. It is no surprise that you are going very very well ten years on. I mentioned, you mentioned the billion dollar thing and I mentioned it too. When are you going to make that? What do you reckon?

David Richards
I would hope in the next, in the next couple of years that we will get a billion dollar market cap. We are certainly in a, in a market place that would support that kind of valuation and I don’t want this to be a sort of party political broadcast for my shareholders but…

Elliot Moss
Oh go on, go on you don’t mind.

David Richards
…alright you’ve twisted my arm. I think we’ve got the capacity to become a billion dollar company. A unicorn as they call them, in the next couple of years certainly.

Elliot Moss
And along the way, I mean we have talked about your fantastic success and it will continue I am sure. Have there been very important people that have provided direction or provided insight where you know, you’ve gone ‘I really remember that, I’ve used that and re-used it’ or has it not been like that? Have you been more of your own generator of ideas and advice and things?

David Richards
I think there have been so many people that have influenced this journey and it is everybody from my wife and the strong home base that I have, it’s obviously the rest of my family and then also people within the business itself. When we did the IPO we brought on board a very good board of directors, a guy called Paul Walker, that was the founder and CEO of Sage; is a wonderful guy and a guiding light. He is now the chairman of WANdisco. My CFO, Paul Harrison who we are in lock step with each other. He is a wonderful CFO, he was the CFO of Sage with Paul actually prior to, prior to WANdisco and of course Sage is a multi-billion dollar company as most people will know. So a number of people have helped and guided and provided solid advice along the way.

Elliot Moss
And going to you and some advice from you, you are an excellent advert for British business and British entrepreneurialism. You are sitting over in the States but your business is global. What advice would you give for the next budding David Richards – what would it be? What would you say to them?

David Richards
I would say I am all in. If I am going to do something I am all in and I see too many people that when they want to start a business they keep doing their job, they are fearful of what might happen, they are fearful of not having a holiday or being able to pay the school fees. If you are going to do something, you have to be all in. Human beings are amazingly adaptable creatures, we can adapt to almost any situation. Go all in. If you are going to do it, put everything on the table, put your neck on the line and really go for it.

Elliot Moss
And that is why he is going to have a billion dollar business pretty soon. David that is brilliant. Just before I let you go and thank you so much as I said for squeezing us in. What is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

David Richards
It is Ray Charles, Georgia On My Mind and I remember when we moved prior to Silicon Valley we lived in Atlanta and my wife conceived our first child Harry, and Poppy is my other daughter, I had better give her a mention.

Elliot Moss
I was going to say you would be in trouble If you didn’t.

David Richards
I absolutely would be. And I remember that was the first song I heard when I learnt that my wife was pregnant and it’s always been on my mind. We were in Georgia and it was Ray Charles singing Georgia On My Mind, a wonderful song.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic well here it is for you and again thank you very much for being my Business Shaper.

Elliot Moss
That was Georgia On My Mind from Ray Charles, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, David Richards. A totally decisive person, someone who really once he made his mind up he was going to go and do it, a person that believes in substance, the man who spotted the genius in his partner at WANdisco and has gone for it ever since and someone for anyone who wants to set their own business up, someone who said ‘be all in’, do it completely or don’t do it at all. All brilliant advice. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am next Saturday for another edition of Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM. In the meantime though stay with us, coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

David Richards

David is CEO, President and co-founder of WANdisco, which he has quickly established as one of the world’s most promising technology companies.

Since co-founding the company in Silicon Valley in 2005, David has led WANdisco through rapid international expansion, opening offices in the UK, Japan and China. David spearheaded the acquisition of AltoStor, which accelerated the development of WANdisco’s first products for the Big Data market. The majority of WANdisco’s core technology is now produced out of the company’s flourishing software development base in David’s hometown of Sheffield, England and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

David has become recognised as a champion of British technology and entrepreneurship. In 2012, he led WANdisco to a hugely successful listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Follow David on Twitter @davidrichards

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“In the past six days, I believe that we have signed three of the world’s top ten banks”

“I really didn’t want to go to university at all.  Did my A levels and wanted to go and earn some money”

“We raised venture capital. Venture capital is often called vulture capital. It’s the yin and the yang”

“The first company, we raised twenty five million or so on the back of a power point presentation…”

“Human beings are amazingly adaptable creatures. We can adapt to almost any situation.”

“I thought I would be able to build a career in banking. That was the biggest mistake of my life, actually. As much as I respect bankers of course.”

“…the first guy that walked through the door was this tall, skinny, six foot four Indian in  pair of hot pants in a pair of hotpants and sandals…”

“I think we’ve got the capacity to become a billion dollar company – a unicorn, as they call them – in the next couple of years.”

“If you are going to do something, you have to be all in.”