Many industries will reel from the effects for the COVID-19 pandemic, and businesses are preparing to combat that. But many startup founders, like Gluent’s Kerry Osborne, also see this as a time for new opportunities and pivoting to happen.
Dallas-based Gluent, founded around four and a half years ago after operating in stealth for a few more before that, provides transparent data virtualization so it isn’t locked in enterprise silos. The team essentially solves the problem of data liberation: The platform allows for data to be more frequently used and understood.
The software is geared toward enterprises—a lot of the most mission critical sort of systems that big banks, telecos, and others run, Osborne, the CEO and co-founder, told Dallas Innovates. The founders wanted to let big companies take advantage of all the cool new stuff in the cloud, without breaking any existing systems.
So Gluent, aka “Glue for the Enterprise,” connects the traditional enterprise world with the new world of modern clouds. Osborne and his team spent several million dollars building the software, got some patents, and now have a rapidly growing number of production customers.
The virtualization software is pretty low level integrated, but for an entity like a bank, taking some of its most critical systems and trusting it to a small company means the software has to be rock solid.
“We allow those companies to take advantage of cloud-based (or modern) platforms. You can think of it as primarily cloud-based platforms. And the thing that makes us unique is that we do it without making them make any changes to their existing systems,” Osborne says, alluding to clients such as CenturyLink, Verizon, and HP. “So we could take a big system like a bank and move all the data to the cloud without having to have a bunch of programmers rewrite the application.”
A team of industry experts
Gluent is Osborne’s third startup. The serial entrepreneur previously founded ThinkSpark in the ’80s, growing it to around 500 employees and $100M in annual revenue. He later co-founded local Oracle-focused consulting firm Enkitec and sold that to Accenture in 2014.
Osborne’s team has been around a long time. An initial investor in Gluent (and Dallas native) was his main business partner at Enkitec, Wade Nicolas. Nicolas now sits on the Gluent board, and he and Osborne are the two largest investors in the company.
Gluent Co-Founder and Technical Advisor Tanel Poder also had a large hand in Enkitec, founding Enkitec Europe and teaming up with the U.S. to become “part of the world’s most successful Oracle Exadata team.” Both Osborne and Poder are well-known in the performance area around Oracle. They frequently speak at conferences and even have written books on the subject.
That’s led to a myriad of relationships—helping the small team of 20 raise funds and sign major clients.
“Because of our backgrounds, and because our previous companies worked closely with Oracle, we knew an awful lot of people,” Osborne says. “That includes [former President of Product Development at Oracle Corporation] Thomas Kurian. So when he moved over to run Google Cloud, we started developing a relationship, adding a bunch of people that we knew from Google. Before we knew it, we had a partnership.”
Google is now one of Gluent’s customers. Osborne says the tech giant is investing in supporting his product to run on their cloud platform.
That’s without spending any money on marketing, up until hiring a firm for support last month. “All of our customers are because we have been in this industry for the last 30 years,” Osborne says. “It’s all been word-of-mouth guerilla marketing.”
So he and his team have been able to focus—and spend money—more on the product.
Gluent’s journey with funding
The most recent seed round Gluent did over the last year was all angel investors, which Osborne calls a tight-knit group. Although the total funding is $8.2 million, according to Crunchbase, Osborne plans to kick off a Series A by the end of this month.
“Right now we’re very focused on Oracle. The vision of the company is to expand that to all the legacy databases that have reasonable market share, and to expand our business side in marketing and sales,” Osborne says. “We feel like there’s a lot of opportunity right now.”
The co-founder’s previous two companies were both self-funded, but Osborne says this time is different. It’s a typical startup story: If Gluent doesn’t raise a ton of money to rapidly grow, a market opportunity could be missed. But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he remains “cautiously optimistic.”
Finding opportunity in a global pandemic
“Coming into this year we were like, ‘This is going to be our year. We’re just going to knock them dead,'” Osborne says. “And then this happened.”
Gluent currently has several active sales cycles, although some projects are being rescheduled or delayed for the time being. But nobody has pulled the plug on anything yet, so Osborne remains positive.
“We do have a cost takeout component to our story, which is pretty significant,” he says. “When people get scared, cost takeout initiatives tend to continue to be on the pipeline for things to do, whereas how to create some new capabilities in the IT space can lose some traction. So because we have both, I think that’s going to be good for us and we’ll probably emphasize the cost takeout a little bit more than we have previously.”
Last week, he had a meeting with the board to prepare for coronavirus-induced changes. That conversation circles back to the “tight-knit group” he continuously references.
“85-90 percent of our expense is people. We’ve seen a lot of companies implement pay cuts or layoffs. But our board said, ‘We’re not touching the people. In fact, we’ll throw another million bucks into the bank just so you have enough runway to be comfortable,'” Osborne says. “So that’s the kind of people behind this company, which I’m really proud of. Two days later, the money’s in the bank. I’m really proud of the group we’ve got.”
This article was updated on April 14, 2020.
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