I remember well one of the formative moments that pushed me towards entrepreneurship. It was my second year in the Stanford Computer Science PhD program and Tasso Argyros, one of our star students, had just taken leave to start a company. We were relatively close, having studied for comps and quals together, and Tasso was a real stand out with a deep understanding of computer science, from theory to systems. He was one of the very few who passed all of his comprehensive exams on the first try, and then he did the same for quals.
And yet, he chose to put it all on hold to start a database company called Aster Data with two other Stanford PhD grads. At the time, I didn’t understand why someone with such promise would not finish his studies uninterrupted. Yet as I watched him engage in fundraising and company building, his relish, energy, and focus made it clear. He wanted to build something great and saw the opportunity to do so—and when such an opportunity presented itself, engaging it was his priority.
In no small way, watching Tasso from the sidelines is what pushed me to start my own company after graduating rather than accept the faculty position I had been offered. And it was from within this company that I heard Aster Data had been acquired by Teradata for $325 million. Word of Tasso’s success was a huge inspiration to me as I struggled within the throws of an early startup.
Today, I’m incredibly thrilled to announce Andreessen Horowitz’s investment in ActionIQ, a company founded by Tasso and Nitay Joffe. Beyond my excitement to back one of the top minds in the enterprise space, Tasso and Nitay have identified a huge need and have the technical depth and and team to tackle it.
The thesis behind ActionIQ is that Marketing is undergoing a one-in-a-100-years transformation. Marketing used to be run by creative types (think Donald Draper from Mad Men) who excelled in using their intuition to come up with the right message and fun, engaging creatives in print and TV. However, with customer interactions moving from the physical to the digital world, and digital-first companies like Amazon and Google dominating, Marketing is becoming a lot more technology-driven. According to Gartner, starting this year the CMO is buying more technology than the CIO (!) and the profile of the CMO herself is becoming a lot more analytical and data-driven. Therefore, the question for us investors becomes: What is the kind of data infrastructure that fits the needs of this new generation of CMOs?
When Tasso first described the company to me, the solution sounded very similar to many others I had heard. Roughly, a solution that can ingest vast amounts of data and help marketers be more effective in using that data across direct marketing channels to dramatically accelerate their personalization and customer engagement retention efforts.
Despite my deep respect for Tasso and the very impressive traction ActionIQ was getting, I felt that I had heard this many times before so I needed to confirm with the market. Our team at a16z spoke with a dozen marketing departments of large enterprise companies and sure enough, they echoed Tasso’s thesis: There really were no good solutions for dealing with that much data, especially data coming from internal data sources such as data warehouses and big data lakes.
I began to realize that this is a deep technology problem. Existing solutions in this space were thin, horizontal layers that provide a very basic level of data access and analysis, but simply could not ingest enough data to allow for designing highly personalized customer campaigns. Understanding this, Nitay and Tasso have built a vertical solution—a real database that allows for efficient queries over many Terabytes of data, from any and all internal sources, without the need for multi-year big data deployments. Having all this data available for the first time in Marketing meant they could now build a UI that is both intuitive for business users and extremely powerful in generating highly personalized campaigns across any direct marketing channel. This is a truly revolutionary idea.
And they are just the team to do it. Tasso has deep experience building scalable databases at Aster Data and later at Teradata. Nitay was a core engineer at Facebook working on the data infrastructure that enabled Facebook to use their social graph to better serve its advertisers.
ActionIQ already has significant traction with some of the world’s most well-known brands, including Verizon Wireless, WeightWatchers, and Shutterstock, and the feedback we’ve gotten from our internal Executive Briefing Center when they present is highly enthusiastic.
We as a firm are delighted to be invested in and supporting ActionIQ, and I can’t be more excited to join Tasso and Nitay on this journey.