Aaron Auld didn’t take the traditional path to becoming CEO of the German-based database management company, Exasol.
“It definitely wasn’t the plan. I started out as a lawyer. I studied law in Germany and Switzerland. I was a defense counsel for a while, then I did family and corporate law,” Auld tells Chief Executive. He was legal counsel at Océ, a Canon company, where he worked on all aspects of the business. It gave him the ability to contribute and interact with different parts of the business.
Auld joined the company in 2006, climbing the ranks to become CEO in 2013. The company operates in a tight market, with powerful competitors in legacy giants like Oracle and startups like Snowflake. He says the company’s in-memory database has helped the company experience significant growth across several regions across the globe.
Chief Executive spoke with Auld about the challenges in getting companies to switch over from a legacy tech giant to their technology, how they recruit tech talent in a tight labor market and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.
What are the challenges you face on a daily basis?
Our competitors are future dinosaurs, at least from a database technology perspective. Everyone knows our competitors by name. Organizations tend to make technology decisions for a longer period of time and these decisions are largely conservative because they are fundamental to the existing business processes. So, it’s a big ask, for example, to ask a customer to move processes running on Oracle or Microsoft to Exasol technology. At the very beginning, when we didn’t have customers, that was the hardest step for customers. This move is now becoming easier for us – we’ve been building our customer base for years, and we have big names now like adidas and Vodafone, and that definitely influences potential customers’ decisions. As a small company, it’s a challenge for us to compete with big companies. But we consistently win deals against every other vendor in the market, including Snowflake, which has already picked up an incredible $923 million total in venture funding. We relish the competition and are confident we can win in any given situation.
How does Exasol recruit tech talent in a tight labor market?
This is one of the biggest challenges. Thankfully, not everyone wants to work for a large company with a big name, and we need to focus on targeting and winning these people. We offer an opportunity to make a difference. But do people actually believe this promise? Candidates need to judge whether organizations are giving the usual pitch to make him/her accept the offer or the opportunity to make a difference will really happen. We put a large emphasis on that. During the interview process, we bring people in so they can interact with other employees to have their own assessment on whether people are happy with their job, if they believe in management and what company does. We are very personal and honest.
It’s also important to be able to explain what we are trying to do as a company. It’s intense competition, but we consistently win the best talent and retain it. It’s a big investment to hire a new employee, and we do our best to keep our team happy and engaged. Being a small and focused company is our advantage because everyone is important and makes a difference. As far as possible, we want to keep it this way as we grow.
What are some goals you have you for the next 12 months?
We have some ambitious targets set for our revenue numbers. We are also working on expanding our presence in the U.S. market. We have a strong U.S. customer base and we are aiming to expand this more by the end of 2019. We are also looking to grow our U.S. team. We are investing in industry events such as the Tableau Conference and will be attending the Strata Data Conference this year.
We are also looking for external funding for the first time and have clear targets around fundraising for this year.
What advice do you have to your fellow CEOs?
My biggest advice is to see things clearly, look at things and assess everything with a clear eye. Understand what people are thinking, be able to change quickly and learn how to adjust the strategy when the change comes.
Understand your responsibility. Trying to be someone you are not is not going to work. Know your strengths and weaknesses, work on using your strengths as much as possible and work on improving your weaknesses. Most importantly, trust your instincts.