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How a big data startup perseveres and succeeds after losing a founder


Founded in 2011, FlyData (formerly known as Hapyrus) is a Japanese startup based in Silicon Valley that makes big data storage on the cloud possible.

While data warehouses like Amazon Redshift claim to be easy to use, according to FlyData founder, Koichi Fujikawa, feeding data to them isn’t easy. Rather than wasting time on such hassles, FlyData promises data analysts that they can move and analyze their data seamlessly and continuously on the cloud.

Amazon Redshift’s soft launch in 2012 wasn’t just a huge break for Amazon Web Services. It was also a turning point for Fujikawa and his team. The startup’s future looks rosy now but just about two years ago its future didn’t look that great.

Founder trouble

Back in 2011, before calling Silicon Valley home, Fujikawa raised $680,000 from prominent investors including 500 Startups, CyberAgent Ventures, and the founder of Japanese gaming company DeNA. FlyData was also part of 500 Startups third batch of accelerators.

With money in the bag and confidence rolling in, FlyData’s first product was built to make it easy for data analysts to scrutinize big data using Hadoop, an open source middleware. Things didn’t turn out well. The Valley had way too many startups doing the same things and better. Competition drove the team crazy and its product wasn’t gaining any traction.

FlyData started with two founders and one employee. But it was left with one founder as things turned sour. Fujikawa’s partner decided to call quits and left the company. Feeling despair, Fujikawa’s investors asked him to stay focused and never to give up on his dream. He said:

It was terrible back then. Luckily, we have very supportive investors who kept us going. We didn’t give up and just kept working really hard. We persevered.

Came Amazon Redshift

In 2012, Amazon soft-launched Amazon Redshift, a data warehouse that helps companies save cost by providing a cheap and efficient way to store and analyze data. A company that uses Amazon Redshift could save about “a tenth the cost of most traditional data warehousing solutions.”

Redshift opened Fujikawa’s eyes as he was convinced that this will be a game changer in big data. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his hands on Redshift as the waiting list was long. Thousands of companies were dying to be on Redshift.

Thankfully, lady luck came knocking. In January 2013, an AWS employee visited 500 Startups. Fujikawa enthusiastically showed him FlyData which earned him early access to Redshift. As Fujikawa toyed around Redshift, he tested and found that it is 10 times better than Hadoop. He said:

Redshift is revolutionary. But it has one problem. It is hard to migrate and send data and we decided to solve this problem. Somehow my past experience as a engineer and gut feeling told me to focus on Redshift. As it turned out to be the correct decision that kept our startup afloat.

In February 2013, Amazon Redshift was officially launched. While many data engineers and scientists were clueless about Redshift, Fujikawa was already an expert. To stamp his authority and expertise, Fujikawa released a benchmark deck explaining why Amazon Redshift is 10 times faster and cheaper than Hadoop plus Hive.

The deck got viral on Hackernews and captured Amazon’s attention. Fujikawa continued to release benchmark decks that helped more data engineers to understand Redshift. That move put FlyData on the global map.

When asked about competition, Fujikawa claims that its competitors (which are mostly publicly listed companies) could not catch up because FlyData is smaller, agile, and focused. “We are focused and made ourselves experts in this field while the bigger and more traditional companies are playing catch-up,” he said.

In June 2013, FlyData received a $925,000 second round seed investment led by one of Japanese institutional investor, Nissay Capital. In the same month, FlyData also officially launched its service. Just six months into business, FlyData is already serving 40 paying customers. Most of its clients are in the media, gaming, or e-commerce space.

The additional funding also allowed FlyData to poach more talents to fuel growth. One of them is notably Daniel Saito, an ex-MySQL and SkySQL executive. Saito commented on why he joined the startup:

Fujikawa and FlyData remind me of my early days at MySQL and SkySQL. It is an exciting time to join this exciting company. I believe we are poised for worldwide growth.

(Editing by Terence Lee)

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