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Databricks' leadership changes: path to acquisition/IPO?

Databricks has a new CEO, promoted from within; its old CEO is now executive chairman; and a new SVP of Worldwide Sales is hired from outside.

Apache Spark was the "it" thing in Big Data throughout 2015. So it's noteworthy that eleven days into 2016, Databricks -- the company founded by Spark's creators -- named a new CEO.

The company announced on Monday that Ali Ghodsi, who had been Vice President of Engineering and Product, has ascended to the CEO role. Co-founder and original CEO Ion Stoica has become Executive Chairman. Ghodsi will be succeeded by Patrick Wendell. Ron Gabrisko, formerly of Axway, has been recruited in as SVP of Worldwide Sales.

If it ain't broke, fix it?
Why make changes now, when Spark seems to so white hot? Remember that Databricks' isn't just the company behind Apache Spark, the memory-focused Big Data execution engine that is now included in all major Hadoop distributions. It's also the company that offers a non-Hadoop-based Spark cloud service. While Spark itself has been huge this year, the fortunes of the Databricks cloud platform are less clear.

Interviewed by email, Databricks' VP of Marketing, Kavitha Mariappan, told me that "Since GA 6 months ago, we are continuing with accelerated growth (over 200 paying customers)." So there's that. When I asked if Databricks would be focusing more on its own cloud platform or on supporting Hadoop distribution vendors that use Spark, Mariappan replied rather matter-of-factly: "We are not changing our focus. We have always done both."

It may well be that in order to do both and sustain growth, Databricks felt the new blood was necessary. Otherwise, the company might be so engulfed in supporting the distro vendors that continuing to push the cloud service and move beyond 200 customers could be difficult. Mariappan specifically told me that Databricks is "...growing in terms of breadth of customers, use cases, industries, scale of deployment, company size..., and [they] feel that this will give [them] the optimal organizational structure to execute and scale going forward"

Going to the next level
Plenty of companies bring in "professional" CEOs to replace their entrepreneurial founders in the role, and lead their next stage of growth. It may be that a new CEO, coupled with a very empowered SVP of Worldwide Sales in Ron Gabrisko have been strongly encouraged by Databricks' investors.

"Ron has 15 years of enterprise software high velocity (SaaS) sales experience in hyper growth companies. [He] has built and led sales teams to success - both IPO and acquisition" Mariappan said (emphasis mine). That quote certainly caught my attention, especially since it came in the form of an emailed response, where language is normally crafted very carefully.

Maybe I am over-interpreting. Or maybe a focus on such liquidity events will be a trend for Big data companies in the new year. If not for Databricks, then for other companies in the Big Data space.