Data Driven NYC is a community of tech enthusiasts passionate about big data, data technologies, and data-driven products and businesses. The community hosts monthly meet-ups featuring presentations from start-ups and entrepreneurs. At its most recent get-together, Chris Lynch, a serial-entrepreneur-turned-VC, sat down with the group to speak about current tech market conditions and how to get an idea funded.
“If you build it, he will come.” The classic quote from Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams also doubles as an inspiring metaphor for entrepreneurs seeking VC funding: build something new, and the money will flow like wine.
The problem, according to Chris Lynch, a big data industry luminary, is that “too few people are building real products from their science projects, and those who are building products are focusing on the wrong market”. Now a partner at Atlas Venture in Cambridge, Lynch, to say the least, has a well-rounded perspective on what it takes to build market-disrupting technologies. Before Atlas, he was CEO at Vertica (acquired by HP) and Acopia (acquired by F5) and SVP of Sales and Marketing at ArrowPoint (IPO and acquired by Cisco).
Lynch told Data Driven NYC members that massive opportunity exists for big data start-ups that can deliver on three things the current market craves:
Opportunity #1: Simple analytics
“It all starts with being able to solve a problem,” Lynch said. “Don’t start another NoSQL database. If you’re thinking about a new platform, don’t waste your time. It’s been built. If you can take the power of big data from the one-percenters and drive it to the dummies like me, if you can put the power of insight and analytics into your smart phone and push the dummy button, that’s when big data can be transformational.”
Opportunity #2: A clear value proposition
“At Vertica, we had to simplify our message so that the greatest number of people could absorb it. I pushed the engineering team to help me understand why a column-store really mattered. It boiled down to: it was faster. It was the first real-time database for people to make decisions that made or saved money for their companies. From there, we re-messaged Vertica around being a real-time database and what that meant for life sciences, for retail, etc.”
Opportunity #3: Customer proximity
While the big data market has gotten crowded, Lynch said, the focus has been almost entirely on infrastructure instead of applications.
“Most of what gaming company Zynga does – identifying mavens and selling them virtual goods – is done using Vertica. But because we didn’t build an application that touched the user, we were dis-intermediated in a big way. The closer you can get to the customer, the further you can move up the stack, the more opportunity there is for monetization, the more opportunity there is for value.”
And while he believes some start-up valuations are overheated, Lynch brushes off skeptics who think that big data is just a flash in the pan.
“I’ve heard the term ‘hype’ used as related to big data. I don’t think there’s a hype cycle around big data. Big data is absolutely for real. It’s not hype. You think about it, anything with an on/off switch is generating data today – that’s a fact. Now, how we create value from that, utility from it, and cure cancer and do real stuff with it, that’s a different story, and that’s just promise unfulfilled. That’s not hype.”
Among Lynch’s favorite investments? A Somerville-based technology company called Nutonian…where data science is bundled up into one easy-to-use, customer-facing application.