Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi explains how founders define company culture

  • CEO Ali Ghodsi co-founded Databricks for $ 38 billion with researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.
  • The most important basis for building the corporate culture was a strong founding team, says Ghodsi.
  • Databricks’ next move will increase its membership. It is expected to reach 3,000 employees this year.
  • Visit the Insider’s Transforming Business home page for more stories.

When Swedish-Iranian computer scientist Ali Ghodsi arrived at the University of California at Berkeley for a one-year research opportunity, he had no plans to stay with the university or start a startup.

But Ghodsi, one of Insider’s 100 people transforming the company in 2021, has stuck around. He extended his time in the research program and, soon after, co-founded $ 38 billion big data startup Databricks with other UC Berkeley researchers, including executive chairman Ion Stoica and technologist. Chief Matei Zaharia.

When the team behind Databricks started the business, they wanted to make a difference in the cloud industry, Ghodsi told Insider. Databricks’ core products started out as projects in the research lab. AI and the cloud weren’t huge, but Databricks decided to bet on these technologies, as well as the decision to make open source software, Ghodsi says.

The combination of these three has become huge benefits for Databricks and eight years after its founding these bets have apparently paid off. Ghodsi holds the CEO title, and in August 2021 Databricks raised $ 1.6 billion at a valuation of $ 38 billion. The startup’s valuation has increased sixfold in less than two years.

Along the way, the founders of Databricks learned lessons that helped define the culture of the company, a culture that is innovative and unafraid to make big bets despite others thinking those bets are wrong. , according to Ghodsi.

“People were really skeptical,” Ghodsi told Insider. “People think you have to do support and service. We believe you can create a different business model. “

Databricks is now growing to face big data competitors like Snowflake. The startup is on track to end this year with 3,000 employees (called “Bricksters”), up from 2,500 in October, with plans to continue hiring at an accelerated rate. While many tech companies held back hiring during the pandemic, Databricks stepped on hiring engineers.

As the company prepares for the next step, Ghodsi shares how he went from video game programming as a kid to CEO – and his tips for sustaining an innovative startup culture.

Longtime programmer Ghodsi traveled to California to research experimental data projects

Growing up in Sweden, Ghodsi says he started programming games as a child.

“Now you need a big studio and artists to start a game,” Ghodsi said. “In the late 80s, you could do it yourself. That’s what got me started. I loved computers.”

In college, the hobby grew into a consulting firm, writing and selling software to businesses. Ghodsi obtained a doctorate in computer science and accepted a teaching post in Sweden, doing research in data processing and computer systems. Ghodsi arrived at UC Berkeley in 2009 for a one-year research program in machine learning and data processing.

The program was so much fun that Ghodsi stayed for another year and then another, finding each year more interesting than the last, he said. Eventually, Ghodsi decided to continue working at UC Berkeley, which he called a “perfect match”.

Working at European universities, Ghodsi says he was often closed when coming up with out-of-the-box research ideas, but “UC Berkeley was different. They have a “You can do anything” attitude. You can start writing software and change the world and challenge assumptions. “

Ghodsi then co-founded Databricks in a UC Berkeley research lab in 2013.

Databricks founders invest in corporate culture from the start

The biggest lessons Ghodsi learned from co-founding and leading Databricks weren’t on how to grow a startup or sell products, but how to manage people.

Early on, leaders realized the importance of a strong founding team in setting a precedent for the kind of workplace the company wants to be, according to Ghodsi.

“The first 20 people you hire are the culture of the company,” Ghodsi said. “Who you bring in, the first 10-20 people will determine what type of business you will be for years to come.”

The founding team at Databricks were extremely innovative, says Ghodsi, with experience in researching and building the open source data project Spark. As a result, the company has an innovative culture that is not afraid to experiment and seek out new projects, and it has since built other cloud and AI projects. Databricks also takes a team-based approach to these new ideas, Ghodsi says, as researchers collaborate with each other from all over the world.

The founding team focuses on collaboration and research to determine the facts when making business decisions, which has helped the company be “less political” than others in similar positions, Ghodsi said. Otherwise, as businesses grow, different departments within the company can become siled and start to fight.

“At Databricks, we try to find the truth,” Ghodsi said. “We cherish, promote and care for people who will focus on what is best for the business. The search for the truth is what helps customers the most.”