Birst’s beginnings had many of the same principles that we espouse in 1M/1M, engaging customers in paying relationships early on being the foremost. Today, the company has raised four rounds of venture capital, and is growing fast as a regular Silicon Valley-style pre-IPO company.
Sramana Mitra: Brad, let’s do your back story first. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised?
Brad Peters: I grew up in San Diego, California. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, which is a little unusual for San Diego. My father had been an engineer and in the mid 70’s decided to start his own company. He did a bunch of stuff in defense contracting but ultimately wanted to start a software company. He and some other people started a business creating desktop publishing software for the Tandy TRS-80 when it came out in 1978. I got involved. It was exciting. I helped out and ended up getting into software and started running code to support some of the things that we were doing.
Learning computers was tremendously exciting. I grew up in the next seven years inside of a startup that was in a community outside of Silicon Valley. There weren’t any venture capitalists or infrastructure that’s here today. We tried to grow it organically and do whatever we had to do to get it done. Dad was CEO. Mom was CFO. That’s how I was pulled into this gig a long time ago. Ultimately, I ended up going to Engineering School at Berkeley.
Sramana Mitra: What time frame are we talking about?
Brad Peters: I went to Berkeley in 1988 to 1994. I have a Bachelors and Masters in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Sramana Mitra: You were coming out right around the Internet.
Brad Peters: I came on just before. Ironically, when I was graduating, there were no jobs for engineers. It was a pretty bleak time. If you remember, that was when there were cutbacks everywhere. There was no Internet yet. Mosaic had just been released on workstations and there was a lot of talk at that time that engineering was a dead field. It was not a great time. I ultimately had this plan to start something eventually. There wasn’t a whole lot going on at that time. Given my father’s experience – starting a company as an engineer without any business experience – I decided that I wanted to be able to blend business with technical to be successful. I decided to leave the technology field for a few years to focus on the business side. I went to Wall Street for a couple of years. I worked in investment banking for Morgan Stanley doing mergers, acquisitions, and financial modeling. I learned a broader business skill set. Then, I went to Harvard Business School to round out that business education.
After all that, I came to the conclusion that at the core, I love technology and software. In 1998, I came back to the Valley to work for Siebel Systems and get back into software. Even though the Internet had been booming by then, my decision to work for a big company as opposed to starting something was really centered on a perception that starting companies is generally not easy. I wanted to work for a company that had built a successful business and was known as an execution machine. Siebel was definitely known for that. It was the fastest growing company in Silicon Valley history.
Sramana Mitra: What part of Siebel did you go to work in?
Brad Peters: I worked on the product management side. I originally was tasked with managing the early efforts by Siebel to get into the cloud. They had an on-demand division. It wasn’t fixed yet but we were tasked with launching that – a product line that ultimately became Sibyl On Demand, which is now Oracle On Demand. That was my task in 1998. That was exciting but it was also challenging to build a disruptive model for a big company. I wanted to check out a couple of things.
I had an opportunity around 2000 to do something that wasn’t really getting a lot of focus at the company but was inherently interesting to me as an engineer. That was to handle the analytics problem that customers were having. They had a lot of data sitting in the CRM applications. It was very difficult for customers to slice and dice and really understand what’s happening. We needed to launch a solution set to be able to analyze that data. My job was to help and build that product family which became Sibyl Analytics, which is now Oracle BI product family and which at this point is a billion dollar company within Oracle. At that time, it was brand new. By the time we sold Sibyl to Oracle, it was the largest single product line of the company.