The Origins of WANdisco
By Van Diamandakis, May 08, 2020
We sat down with the founders of WANdisco, Dr. Yeturu Aahlad and David Richards, to take a deep dive into the scientific foundations of the company’s core technology, and what it was like growing a hi-tech company from scratch — with no venture capital. We discovered some surprising details…
Q: How did you two first meet, and how did you realize that you had something game-changing – both business-and technology-wise?
David: It was 2005, and I had actually just sold a company, and was in the process of looking for interesting things to invest in. I was looking for a very specific situation – one we still see a lot of, but which was then even more common: a brilliant technologist who had created amazing technology with the potential to be the foundation for a great company, but who needed my business plan knowledge and understanding how you create and grow a company. So I looked, and I found Dr. Aahlad, who was introduced to me by a mutual friend. And I’ll let him take it from here…
Dr. Aahlad: Thanks, David. Well, by way of history, I was passionate about distributed systems long before anyone saw a real business potential for the technology. You have to recall that this was back when there was just a bunch of very high-profile theorizing about what could be done with a ubiquitous, but unreliable network – which you might recognize as today's internet, right?
After working at IBM, Sun Microsystems and Netscape, I took a sabbatical, and I used the time to reexamine the push towards distributed computing that leverages ubiquitous networks. And I had to conclude one of two things: either there was no business case, or it was fundamentally so hard that nobody was willing to take it on. It's in that frame of mind that I came across an unpublished paper by Leslie Lamport.
I found a kernel of genius in that paper – and saw in it an outline of a solution that needed to be in place for my vision of distributed computing to be realized. Looking back at my experience at Netscape and Sun, I could see firsthand that more than 80 percent of the core and the complexity of my work lay in handling failure scenarios. And I realized that I needed a mathematical foundation wherein the application logic is completely relieved of the burden of worrying about failures. I started digging deeper and deeper and in May of 2002, I quit my job so I could just sit in my backyard and focus on this.
From then on, I focused on working to refine my thinking, to continually address the theoretical problems which had not been addressed, and to get to a level of confidence that the solution I was creating was actually workable from a technical point of view. And I was trying to get others on board...and failing miserably, right up to the point where David heard my ideas for the first time and his eyes lit up.
David: Right. So, I’d reached this intersection. I'd sold a company and was beginning to start thinking about setting up a private equity firm. Then I was introduced to Dr. Aahlad, who had this allegedly brilliant piece of technology.
The thing was, no one knew if what Aahlad was talking about was even theoretically possible. If you asked a traditional database administrator, he'd say no. But I had the advantage of being a computer scientist. I decided that this was a very good investment. Except that it couldn’t be just an investment – we actually needed to create a company but I was uncertain when the inflection point would be.
Q: Meaning, you knew you had something, but you weren't exactly sure what the genesis of the business would be?
David: Right. The core technology had lots of different potential uses - building better disaster recovery systems, global collaboration…active data is very important for all that. When Aahlad pitched me the idea he basically said that he thought the Internet was massively inefficient since it was based on client-server technology, whereas his solution was based on a peer-to-peer architecture. Which is interesting because what he had actually invented was nothing less than a new Internet.
So, to me this was a really big idea and something that was really interesting. But we had no sense of when this technology was going to be important. We didn't know when, but we did know that it would be.
We also knew that we didn't have any competition, which is kind of an interesting place to be. Literally nobody was thinking about this problem – whereas today, everybody's thinking about this problem. It turned out that we were far, far ahead of the curve.
The first time we ever raised money was when we took the company public in 2012. And doing this without venture capital meant that we had to do something odd, which is we had to build products that customers needed to buy there and then.
Q: So, you had to actually sell products?
David: We actually had to sell products. So, we initially built tools for software engineers. We believed that distributed development would be the lowest hanging fruit: if I've got developers in India, China, United Kingdom, United States how do they operate on the same source code at the same time, especially if they’ve got a centralized source code repository? We solved that problem by bringing copies of the source code everywhere and making the data active.
Then in 2009 the turning point came. Hewlett-Packard knocked on our door and said they needed our software enterprise-wide and they needed it now. They essentially said “give us a price,” so we did and they paid it. And here we were, a 15-person company whose software was suddenly being used globally by Hewlett-Packard. And what we thought was going to be a test case for the software was now the core of our business. Then we did a deal with British Telecom, and suddenly the company took off overnight.
Q: So, what do you see for the future of the company?
Dr. Aahlad: I’ll answer that with an analogy. Imagine if you will the caveman who invented the wheel. Imagine you asked him, where is this technology going to go? He could not possibly have told you that down the road one day, there were going to be motorcycles, right? He knew he was onto something very fundamental that would open a lot of doors and be the foundation of future creativity. But his invention was so basic a that he could not possibly have anticipated the highest achievement that would stem from the invention of the wheel.
Our technology is as fundamental as that. It basically takes us from client-server to distributed computing. Everything the company has done with it so far could not possibly have been anticipated two years before we did it. So twenty years from now, it's going to be in a place where none of us are thinking of at the moment.
About the author
Van Diamandakis, SVP of Marketing, WANdisco
Van is a proven Silicon Valley technology executive with over 25 years of operational experience that draws upon his track record leading global marketing transformations, driving to meaningful financial events including IPOs and acquisitions. Van has been at the forefront of B2B technology marketing and brings a unique ability to marry creativity, data, technology and leadership skills to rapidly build brand equity and successfully navigate tech companies through inflection points, accelerating revenue growth and valuation.