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Infrastructure Software
Powered by Battery  |  September 11, 2019
Forget Self-Driving Cars and Scary-Smart Robots—Your Company Needs “Boring AI” to Avoid Becoming Obsolete, says Databricks Chief Ali Ghodsi

The Powered by Battery podcast features guests from inside and outside the Battery ecosystem discussing major tech issues of the day. Guests from the Battery portfolio in this season of the podcast represent a subset of business-software and enterprise-infrastructure companies, across investment stages and geographies, highlighting the trends of marketing tech; the broader use of big data and AI; productivity software; user experience; and healthcare software. If you’re interested in learning more about these companies, or others in the Battery portfolio, you can access more information here.

Many technology CEOs come from the nation’s top business schools, or emerge from Silicon Valley garages. Others come by way of Iran, Sweden and the University of California at Berkeley’s computer-science department.

That’s Ali Ghodsi’s story, at least. Ghodsi is a PhD computer scientist who, with several others, is the original creator of Apache Spark open-source, unified analytics engine project. He and his co-founders later leveraged that project to create the data and analytics company Databricks*, which now has more than 900 employees and $100 million in annual revenue. In this episode of Powered by Battery, Ghodsi talks about Databricks’ early days as well as the challenges that he, as an ex-academic, faced building up core corporate functions like sales, marketing, finance and HR. Have a listen.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t be too quick to write off old technologies. The original creators of Apache Spark discovered that old, 1970s-era AI technology actually worked quite well on modern-day, Web-scale problems—once it was applied to very large data sets.
  • As an entrepreneur, taking bold bets can pay off. When Databricks started, the founders resolved to sell the technology only through the cloud; base it on open source; and focus on machine learning and AI. They faced some resistance, even from incoming executives, but have stuck with their plan as the company has scaled.
  • Academics need to re-orient themselves when they start a company. Don’t feel like you have to re-invent the wheel and come up with novel ways to approach core corporate functions like sales, marketing and HR, just like you came up with a novel solution to a problem in your PhD dissertation. Drop the ego and approach these new job challenges with an open mind.
  • Developing and maintaining a company culture becomes much more difficult once you pass 150 employees. By then, you don’t know everyone’s name, and you likely have more than one office.
  • As a CEO, you should focus consistently on a few, broad goals. At Databricks, they included coming up with a vision for the company; developing an accompanying business strategy; assembling a team to execute against that strategy; and aligning that team to gel well and work together.


This material is provided for informational purposes, and it is not, and may not be relied on in any manner as, legal, tax or investment advice or as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy an interest in any fund or investment vehicle managed by Battery Ventures or any other Battery entity. 

The information and data are as of the publication date unless otherwise noted.

Content obtained from third-party sources, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified as to its accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. Battery Ventures has no obligation to update, modify or amend the content of this post nor notify its readers in the event that any information, opinion, projection, forecast or estimate included, changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate.

The information above may contain projections or other forward-looking statements regarding future events or expectations. Predictions, opinions and other information discussed in this video are subject to change continually and without notice of any kind and may no longer be true after the date indicated. Battery Ventures assumes no duty to and does not undertake to update forward-looking statements.

*Denotes a Battery portfolio company. For a full list of all Battery investments, please click here.

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