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Sigma Computing brings in new CEO

Startup BI vendor Sigma Computing has hired Mike Palmer to take over as CEO and allow co-founders Rob Woollen and Jason Frantz to focus on product innovation.

Sigma Computing has a new leader.

On Tuesday, the startup BI vendor, which was founded in 2014 and is based in San Francisco, revealed that Mike Palmer is taking over as CEO. The move, however, does not represent the departure of previous CEO and co-founder Rob Woollen.

Woollen, who was chief technology officer of Work.com at Salesforce just before founding Sigma, is now CTO and will oversee product strategy and innovation. In addition, fellow Sigma co-founder Jason Frantz, who had been CTO and was a software architect at the now-defunct MapR before helping found Sigma, is now the vendor's chief architect.

Sigma emerged from stealth in November 2018 with a platform featuring a spreadsheet interface aimed at ease of use and powered by augmented intelligence and machine learning technology.

Recently, the vendor crossed the 100-customer threshold. According to Palmer, having raised $58 million in financing, developed a strong customer base and garnering accolades such as winning Strata Data Award for Most Innovative Product in 2019, Woollen and Frantz felt it was time to hand over leadership to someone with more business experience so they could focus on continuing to develop Sigma's analytics platform.

Palmer spent the past two years at cloud data protection vendor Druva as chief product officer and has also spent time as chief product officer at Veritas Technologies and chief marketing officer and vice president of product strategy at Verizon during more than 20 years in the tech business.

In a Q&A, Palmer talks about his new role as CEO of Sigma Computing and why Sigma brought in a new CEO, some of his goals for the company, and what it's like to take over a leadership role in the midst of a global pandemic.

What attracted you to Sigma Computing?

Mike PalmerMike Palmer

Mike Palmer: I come from a lengthy history in the enterprise space, the enterprise space dealing a lot with data, data governance and privacy, with security, with the use of cloud-based data, and I think that watching the trends as enterprises shift to the cloud, as enterprises shift away from traditional database-like solutions for data access, watching the rise of IoT which I took part in back in my Verizon days, there's such a confluence of changes going on for enterprises, and Sigma is solving a really important problem by making that data accessible to the average employee at an enterprise. That's really super exciting and an area that has not seen a lot of innovation over the past 30 years, if you take the bigger picture, which is why I'm here.

What was the timeline for when you were brought to Sigma?

Palmer: Long before I got involved, Sigma started its process. Sigma started the process back in the October timeframe and has been looking for the right chemistry for the company. I was approached in the February timeframe from an external agency, but Silicon Valley being what it is there's a lot of shared history between myself and everyone from the investors to the founders. We clicked fairly readily, and what we found was a very nice complementary nature between where Rob Woollen and Jason Frantz want to focus their time and efforts and what I bring to the company, which is being more focused on scaling the product now that it's in market and we have crossed the 100-customer barrier. We are starting to enter that territory where we have far more than customer elevation. We have active users that are growing their renewal bases, and that takes just a little bit of a different skill than getting your product up and running and out the door after years of work.

Why did Sigma make the change, and why now?

Palmer: That's a question that we're answering for our own employee base, and I think that the number one answer is scale. Companies, as you well know, hire executives for various reasons, and there typically is some sort of turning point. Rarely is it that everything exactly is as it was the day before and they want it to be like that tomorrow as well. Unfortunately, too many times, that's focused on some sort of change in the path. For Sigma, it's actually about scaling the path. As [venture capitalists], our investors really wanted to make sure that there was a product that resonated with the market, and that was in the hands of customers and they were using it actively, that they were going to renew it and even grow that renewal base -- these were all adding value -- and we're doing that. I think that having crossed that [100-customer] threshold back in the fall timeframe, we have so much going on with the business --  expanding our salesforce, expanding our routes to market, we're expanding the product -- so it's really all about scale.

Who made the decision -- was this something the board of directors wanted, something Rob Woollen and Jason Frantz wanted?

Palmer: I'll be presumptuous and say Rob and Jason made this decision. Rob's heart and soul, his passion, even from the first interview we had, the first statement he made to me was that the thing he cares about is making a product that he is proud of and that is the best in the market. And he has a robust history -- he jokes with me that he's never made a product that didn't cross $1 billion in revenue -- and having done that at WebLogic, having done that at Salesforce, we look around and think that there's so much learning there and it never stops. As you expand your products there's the focus on user experience, the focus on scale and security, the focus on features, this is where his passion is and he wants to do that full-time. And with Jason taking the chief architect role, you have someone that comes with tremendous background and is really the deep technologist complement to Rob.

What are your goals for Sigma Computing as you come in as the new CEO?

A year from now, three years from now, and five years from now we want to have the best analytics product in the marketplace for the average user in the enterprise.
Mike PalmerCEO, Sigma Computing

Palmer: When they were looking for a CEO of the company, one of the criteria was having someone with a strong product and engineering background, and I'd be remiss without saying that a year from now, three years from now, and five years from now we want to have the best analytics product in the marketplace for the average user in the enterprise. What the means for us is all the things I mentioned before. We want to have a product that passes all of the corporate criteria for governance and security, but we also want to offer the best user experience for leveraging the skillsets of people who show up every day and make the decisions that ultimately result in company performance, we want to provide them with the best access to data, we want to say that we provided them with the most varied sources of data with the least amount of work to get to an insight possible. That will set the stage for every other goal that we have.

What are some of your strategic goals?

Palmer: Some other tactical goals that we have -- we are hiring, which is an interesting statement to make during COVID-19 times but we are hiring aggressively for engineers in the Bay Area, we are hiring aggressively for designers. I believe passionately that one of the biggest technology trends over the past 10 years is tied up in offering the best user experience. We are scaling our routes to market. We have a great partnership with Snowflake and we have a tremendous value proposition to offer those that are deploying Snowflake as a cloud data warehouse, but we do the same for Amazon Redshift and Google BigQuery, so we're really making sure that we expand our routes to market and we give access to those users in seconds, and make that a priority for us. And that goes hand in hand with a third thing, which is -- it's tactical, but these things matter -- sales enablement. We want to have a sales team that understands business intelligence, understands how to work within the Fortune 5000 and understands both how to sell and how to provide service for their customers effectively. So those would be the three nearest term goals that we have.

Given the situation that we're in right now with COVID-19, how challenging is it to be taking over Sigma Computing at this time?

Palmer: Some of the best companies are founded in times of crisis, and for those that have the means and the courage, what you'll find is that you have customers who are the most ready and almost the most required to transform. You find the best talents available on the market, which sounds counter to what you would assume, which is that people are hunkering down, but I don't think that's true. People look around and wonder where the next thing is coming from. So it's a great time to change positions, honestly, and one where we're viewing the market shift, whether it is enabling work-from-home employees, enabling more self-service, enabling data, enabling cloud transformations. These are all things that are on the top of the agenda now for most IT departments and most businesses, and our business is a direct facilitator for those skills, so this is the perfect time for me to join Sigma.

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