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Building a world of data without limits
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Building a world of data without limits

An interview with Chet Kapoor, chairman and CEO of DataStax.

Chet Kapoor
Chairman and CEO of DataStax

In the 2000s, the technology industry was focused on scaling out networking to connect billions of devices. The next decade was spent using scale-out computing to run billions of instances on cloud and mobile apps. Now, the focus has shifted to solving the challenges of massively scaling out data.

Chet Kapoor has over two decades of success leading high-growth software companies, and he is currently serving as the chairman and CEO at DataStax. In his role at DataStax, Kapoor works to turn his strong belief that every enterprise should have access to the global data needed to deeply understand their users into reality for organizations across the globe.

Protocol sat down with Kapoor to talk about how a modern, open data stack can help companies drive high growth, the role the open-source Apache Cassandra database plays in reliably delivering data at scale and his vision for DataStax's future.

What are some of the biggest data challenges enterprises are facing today?

Data is getting bigger and it's critical to every business today. As I've chatted with leaders from many of the world's most recognized brands, the feedback is consistent — they need data to be accessible and actionable, but are still faced with challenges of cost and innovation. The two biggest concerns are what we call the "TCO death spiral" and the "innovation stalemate."

Enterprises still have to maintain too many products and skills, and managing the costs of scaling data is a challenge. This is the TCO death spiral.

Compounding this, enterprises are going to the cloud but often have limited cloud-native architecture. Without modern, cloud-native technologies, it's difficult to bring new innovations to the market fast. All of this creates an innovation stalemate.

How are you partnering with enterprises to solve these challenges?

The solution we see is clear — create an open data stack designed for the future that is:

  • Kubernetes-based for cloud-native agility
  • Developer-ready with APIs to reduce time to market for new apps
  • Cloud-delivered to simplify operations and reduce TCO

What does "inspired execution" mean to you?

Leadership is all about inspired execution. Great leaders believe, they inspire and they execute.

I've had the opportunity to speak with some of the greatest leaders in the industry, and I wanted to find a way to make this available to the next generation of leaders. Leaders who are inspired to learn. Inspired to try something different. And above all, inspired to execute. Hence the name of my podcast: Inspired Execution. You get to hear different leaders' stories, their perspectives, and they will tell you what they wish they could've told the younger version of themselves.

What is the most surprising advice you've heard?

"What would Jeff do?" Piyush Gupta, the CEO of DBS Group, told me that when he was transforming DBS he carried a small card that said, "What would Jeff do?" referring to Jeff Bezos. I thought it was really interesting that he kept that physical reminder with him. And clearly it worked – DBS is rated as one of the best banks in the world.

I spoke to Aref Matin, executive vice president and CTO of Wiley, about the importance of balancing patience and impatience. My state of mind is always going between being patiently impatient and impatiently patient. Striking the right balance allows you to communicate priorities and execute both thoughtfully and with speed.

Can you talk about your philosophy on building a high-growth business?

Obsess over your customers, inspire teams and ultimately execute. It's that simple.

You need to obsess about the enterprises and end users you serve. I always say: "Opinions are inside and facts are outside." By obsessing over your customers, you take a partnership approach that is outside-in and make decisions from the user's point of view.

You want to inspire teams: provide meaning, energize people and push them to meet challenging goals.

The last key is execution. You can obsess about something, you can inspire teams, but to be successful, you need to execute and have results. There is a saying that "Culture eats strategy for breakfast," but I think it really is "Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and execution eats both of them for lunch." At the end of the day, it is the results that matter.

What's a good example of how customers are using DataStax?

We partner with over 450 of the world's leading enterprises – Netflix, Home Depot, T-Mobile, and so many more. One of my favorite stories is how Home Depot launched curbside pickup in less than 30 days mid-pandemic. That's crazy fast. Their in-store traffic had dropped significantly due to COVID, while customer demand remained high. So Home Depot used Cassandra and DataStax with an open stack based on Kubernetes. We helped them move fast to curbside service while maintaining scale and reliability. This shift resulted in Home Depot increasing their 2020 Q2 sales by 100 percent from the previous year. It was phenomenal.

Another example is Norway's leading online marketplace for classified advertising – FINN. By moving their personalization engine from open-source Cassandra to the DataStax Astra Cassandra-as-a-service, FINN is able to deliver awesome customer experiences to more than 50 million visitors to the site each month.

What is Apache Cassandra? Why is it so important to DataStax?

Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook back in 2008 to meet the company's demanding scale-out requirements. Apps built on Cassandra experience zero downtime, so it's a hugely reliable database solution that can scale virtually infinitely. Today, at least 75% of the Fortune 100 use it as their scale-out database. My picks for the three top benefits of Cassandra are massive scale, high performance and zero downtime.

We want to bring the scale and power of Cassandra to every enterprise and every developer, and have worked hard to remove the complexity and costs with DataStax Astra. It's the industry's first open, multi-cloud, serverless database-as-a-service.

A third-party study revealed that serverless Cassandra can save up to 76% of the total cost of ownership of running Cassandra. This is huge. It means serverless can single-handedly bend the curve of escalating data costs and address the TCO death spiral.

What's next for the Cassandra project?

Cassandra 4.0 GA. The Apache Software Foundation is about to drop the next major release of Cassandra, which was three years in the making. This version is extremely fast and has unprecedented scale in the cloud. We're very excited about 4.0 and are working hard on transitioning our products to it.

What do you see in the short-term and long-term future for DataStax?

Our short- and long-term goals are the same: deliver products that developers love and change the trajectory of enterprises. We'll do this by removing the common barriers of availability, scale, cost, complexity and cloud lock-in to empower any enterprise to use data without limits.