In the early days of Box, I wrote a few stories on the company’s twenty-something CEO and co-founder, Aaron Levie. He always had interesting things to say – and was uber bullish about cloud computing. Of course, his grandiose vision turned out to be spot-on as Box is now a top player in the space and expected to pull off an IPO next year.
Well, interestingly enough, I recently had some déjà vu. While in San Francisco, I met up with another interesting twenty-something CEO/co-founder of a cloud company: Sparkcentral’s Davy Kestens.
But his route to Silicon Valley success was definitely far from easy. You see, Davy grew up in Belgium. And as should be no surprise, his biggest challenge was establishing a network. It was like starting from zero.
“The upside though is that Silicon Valley is more open and appreciative towards entrepreneurship,” said Davy. “People are a lot more opportunistic and constantly looking to work on and build ‘the next big thing.’”
It also helps that, since age 13, he has been solving tough problems, whether assembling old computers or doing freelance gigs for web site projects.
One of them provided the inspiration for Sparkcentral. “Since I was still in college and didn’t want to respond to customers on the phone while in classes, I pushed every user of the platform to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter,” said Davvy. “That one day though, the volume of customer feedback, questions and complaints was simply too high.”
To help things out, he searched for a web tool…but there was nothing that was decent. So he created his own system and yes, realized he was not the only one who could use it. He then went on to sell the technology to other companies.
Traction was immediate. Along the way, Davy picked up some big-time customers like Delta Airlines (DAL). “We see ourselves as the leading new platform for the wave of real-time enterprise customer service,” he said. “Our team believes that we can enable large brands to build loyal one-on-one relationships with their customers, using the same social channels like Twitter that used to be the fear-factor of every large brand’s communication department.”
OK, then what does Davy think about Aaron? “The first time I met him, it was on a Saturday morning at his office,” Davy said. “He immediately came off as a nice and energetic guy. His commitment and incredible focus on achieving his goals ranks high in my book.
“I love the fact that Aaron is showing the world that young kids like us can build a heavily competitive business in this old-man enterprise world. He built a company which thinks like a consumer brand and sells like an enterprise company, which is indeed a great way to differentiate against the Oracles and IBMs of this world.”
Tom Taulli (@ttaulli) operates MasterCFO, which provides outsourced CFO services for tax preparation, valuations and financings