Steve Cotton is the founder and executive chairman of Canara, a company that provides turnkey backup power solutions and predictive monitoring solutions for mission critical operations focusing on data centers, telecommunications sites, wind/solar farms, smart grid and electric vehicles. Prior to Canara he was the director of sales at Sendmail, Inc. He has also worked in business development at Lucent Technologies and as a Product Manager at Octel Communications. He has a MIS in information technology from California State University.
Sramana: Steve, where does your story begin? What is the background that put your on the career path to where you are today at Canara?
Steve Cotton: My career started with Octel Communications. I started for them right out of college. I started off as a product manager before going into business development and sales. I spent 12 years there. It was an entrepreneurial company but had already reach 40 million dollars in revenue before I joined. We grew the company to 1 billion dollars of revenue before we were acquired by Lucent Technologies.
I had a lot of experience at Octel, primarily learning about how a business makes the transition from a $40 million company to a billion dollar company. After that I went to do some technology startups in the late ’90s. That was when the Internet startup era was changing. I hit the entrepreneurial, venture-backed communities at the wrong time, but I did enjoy my learning experiences with those entrepreneurial companies.
During that period I was getting more involved with the business that my father founded. That is the business that ultimately evolved into Canara. The original name was Data Power Corporation, and he started it in 1992. He had been at it for upward of 10 years. We always had a lot to talk about because I had been doing sales to data infrastructure and he had been doing sales to operators. The difference is that he was selling infrastructure to data center operators. I was selling infrastructure to telcos.
I saw his business and it started to flourish. He had started the business when he was 55 and he was getting ready to retire. He had managed to evangelize the concept of battery monitoring being an important element for data centers. It was crucial to keep them up and running, and the number one reasons that data centers go down is because of the backup battery systems. He was one of the evangelists of that and he worked with specifying engineers in the industry to evangelize the need for data power monitoring. He grew the company from zero to $473,000 in revenue by the point that I had joined.
Sramana: Where did he get his understanding of datacenter operations?
Steve Cotton: He was in the power quality business and the uninterruptible power business. He was looking for something that he could call his own. He actually knew a gentleman called Peter Gross who is now at Bloom Energy. Peter introduced him to a few people in the industry who were involved in data center battery monitoring. He found a product that he did not manufacture, but that he could evangelize and provide services around. To sell these battery monitors, he found that people really needed help to make sense of all the data they were getting.