Fivetran co-founder & COO Taylor Brown reflects on the growth of Fivetran from 0 to 1,000 customers.
George and I started Fivetran in Y Combinator, where we spent our days turning our ideas and initial concepts into a product useful enough to be introduced to the market. There, we learned the lesson that helped form the foundation of Fivetran: Make something people need. At this point, Fivetran was just the two of us, we had zero connectors, zero customers, and a massive hill to climb.
After YC, we moved back to San Francisco. In my apartment I covered an entire wall of my room with chalkboard paint and wrote a single goal across it: 1 Paying Customer. It became my mantra. My mind always went back to that goal and it focused me through the late nights and moments of doubt.
After almost two years and a lot of code and product iterations, we realized that data integration was the crucial foundation to any modern cloud analytics stack and the current offerings left a lot to be desired, especially in terms of automation. We finally began to make the product that people needed and we signed our first customer: Zenefits. It seemed like overnight we went from searching for product market fit to having it. The day that the contract was signed, I was so excited and remember going home to add two more zeros to our goal on the wall: 100 Paying Customers.
By this point, we had added a third employee, Meel, to the Fivetran family and we were all working out of George's apartment in San Francisco. George and Meel were responsible for building new connectors and maintaining the few we had already created. I was responsible for marketing, sales, support, and account management. These were scrappy times. We were operating completely on revenue from the business, so we were doing everything just to survive. For instance, I made all the calls from a water heater room and used a cardboard box for my computer table.
Over the next 18 months, we continued to add more connectors and grow our list of customers. The approach with customers was very hands-on: I was the only person who sold to, and afterwards supported, each customer. I personally had a relationship with almost all of our customers and we spent time on calls or video chats helping with any issues that arose.
While working with customers one-on-one was rewarding and a big learning experience, it proved how challenging building a reliable fully automated tool is. If we offered a product that was configurable and maintained by our customers, it would be their responsibility to fix it when something broke. This just didn't seem like the right value prop to us – it wasn't what we would have wanted ourselves. So by building something that didn't require any maintenance on the customers' end, when something broke (and it did more than I would like to admit back then) our small team had to work tirelessly to fix it. Even as we grew our team, we were adding more customers and more connectors, so it was all hands on deck to overcome the growing number of issues to fulfill our automated data delivery promise.
I recognize that during this time our reliability wasn't at its best and that our customers were taking a risk by believing in us. I want to thank our early adopters for all their support, patience, and feedback – for working with us to develop the product that Fivetran is today.
In December we reached 100 paying customers. Again, I went straight to the chalkboard and added another 0, to make it 1000 paying customers, which gave us three focus areas for 2017:
Grow faster. By this point we had realized that our dogmatic perspective, a fully automated data pipeline, was the right way to build the modern data stack. The fully managed and elastic cloud warehouses such as Snowflake and BigQuery had completely changed the game, resulting in companies optimizing processes by loading all their data into these warehouses with as little effort as possible. It was an exciting time. It felt that while we still had a lot more hill to climb, that we had started to gain momentum, and now finally had a large enough team that we were not in survival mode. Fivetran was gaining steam.
Improve reliability. To improve reliability we continued to grow the engineering team, namely opening an office in India to help build better engineering support for our product.
Add support. By treating our relationships with our first customers like partnerships, we were able to learn a lot from them and continue to perfect our strategy. As much as we tried, there just wasn't enough time for George and myself to do all the calls and provide our customers with the care that they deserved, so we brought on our first account manager, Alexa Fogarty, and our first two support hires, Tom Davies and Trang Ngo. These three, and more, were instrumental in taking up the torch to support our customers.
Entering 2018, our guiding principles remained the same: growth, reliability, support. So when we raised our first round of funding, we knew we could continue to rapidly expand, substantially scale operations, and add new enterprise features and data sources.
We focused on adding more engineers while slowing down connector development, choosing to focus on improving the reliability of our existing connectors. Our engineering team worked and continues to work tirelessly to develop a product that is automated and our growing customer base during this time became critical to improving our reliability. A larger customer base meant we could more quickly identify all of the quirks of data sources, getting us closer to a vision of connectors and a data stack that just works.
In addition to scaling our engineering team, we added support members in India to get us closer to 24-hour coverage, and brought on account management in EMEA. The leader of our account management team, Alex Welley did a fantastic job of stepping up to be the strongest internal advocate for our customers globally.
Throughout 2019 and early 2020, we have grown exponentially, raised $44 million in our Series B, and we just hit yet another milestone: 1,000 customers. I have gone back again to the now imagined chalkboard and added another zero: 10,000 Paying Customers.
It is inspiring to look back and sometimes hard to believe that we are selling our product from global offices and not from the water heater room. Yet, our original mission is still true today: make access to data simple and reliable.
Now more than ever, we realize how important our customers are. With more resources, we have the opportunity to provide the best support to our customers. Historically, our support and account management teams have been separate. We are now bringing them together into a single customer success organization. We will be introducing a new technical success manager role, to provide more proactive consultation for our customers and we will be incorporating our sales engineers into the customer success team in order to provide continuity between the trial and onboarding experience. To elevate our existing team and build out this new world-class organization, I'm excited to announce that we have brought on Troy Abraham as our new global VP of Customer Success.
Troy has worked in sales engineering and customer success leadership roles at numerous startups and enterprise technology companies focused on BI, Analytics, Data Warehousing, Data Integration, and Customer Experience. Most recently he was global head of professional services at Birst, which was acquired by Infor, as well as leader of global services at Gigya, which was acquired by SAP in 2017.
To our customers: we appreciate and thank you! We are continuing to build out a best-in-class customer success team, aware that we cant grow and scale unless we take care of you.
And thank you to our incredible partners, investors and, of course, the entire Fivetran team for building both an amazing product and an incredible culture.
It is still only the beginning. Here's to 10,000 customers!
To see what some of our first 1,000 customers are saying about us, visit our Gartner Peer Insights page.
About Fivetran: Shaped by the real-world needs of data analysts, Fivetran technology is the smartest, fastest way to replicate your applications, databases, events and files into a high-performance cloud warehouse. Fivetran connectors deploy in minutes, require zero maintenance, and automatically adjust to source changes — so your data team can stop worrying about engineering and focus on driving insights.