Q&A With Minnesota’s Biggest Pre-Revenue Tech Startup, Atavium


While A is for Atavium, it also stands for ambition.

This nascent Minneapolis company is the rare combination of past success meets present vision with cash the barrel; Atavium appears to be Minnesota’s largest pre-revenue tech startup right now in terms of capitalization and headcount.

We connected with technical cofounder and CEO Ed Fiore to hear about their big swing:

A year ago, you announced a big first round of funding, where is the venture at here and now?

From a company perspective, we did our proof of concept and several beta tests — so we have a good idea of where our gaps are and hiring the right people to fill them.

Who are the founders and what’s your current headcount?

Mike Klemm (CTO), Mark Bakke (COO), Marc Olin (Chief Architect), and myself — we’re all technical by trade and I’m actually the least technical of the group.

We are at 23 people overall today, all but 2 are full time and 18 are in Minnesota with some distributed sales/demand/biz dev elsewhere. We’ve accelerated our hiring based on the facts that we’re conserving budget in other places on our first year spend.

What is Atavium’s breakthrough and value proposition?

Fundamentally, we’ve built a product for the storage and management of large unstructured data. The big differentiation is around the management considering that most systems were designed just to store. We understand a lot about the data – creation, source, users – and with that, the customer has now gained insights about their data that make sense to the business, and take action on them.

We basically deliver the ability to understand data at scale…people who have a petabyte or more have a hard time knowing what is there, furthermore putting it into action.

The core technology was written from scratch and and delivered functionally that would normally require multiple disjoint products to gain the same results. We have multiple patents filed that are rich in claims . We’re building a solution with lasting value, and solved a problem that no-one has tried to solve before.

Who is the market for Atavium?

We look for companies using a compute cluster that want to move portions of the data to, around, or offsite — with greater speed. Our two key markets right now include Life Sciences (think genome) and Media/Entertainment (for example artist collaboration) in the Fortune 100-500 realm. Turns out there are some good secondary markets as well.

How did you come up with the technology?

History gave us the knowledge to talk with customers and listen to what their problems are, which is different than asking them what they think they need.

We spent the first six months gathering customer feedback, while developing a great core architecture that solves the new problems that large unstructured data causes.

We have valuable experiences in enterprise storage and networking, going back to Network Systems, Isilon, Compellent, Nuspeed — all successful starts and exits.

How did you choose the investment partners you did?

It really started with Jeff Hinck from Rally Ventures, whom we’ve worked with off-and-on for nearly two decades now. He introduced us to Grotech and Origin as they have co-invested previously. Correlation came in through Grotech and G-Bar Ventures came in through Origin. We were connected to Brightstone Venture Capital through a local angel and Jeff at Rally.  We’ve got a fairly large syndicate due to the capital requirements of storage, so they are capable of funding us through follow-on rounds.

What do you project your overall capitalization needs to be?

Similar to how Compellent or Isilon was built in the range of $60m-$80m.

Who is on the board right now?

Jeff Hinck (Rally), and Lawson DeVries (GroTech), Brian Bell, myself, Mark Bakke (Cofounder and COO)

What is the greatest macro risk you face right now?

To me, it’s the economy. If something externally happened, that could affect us. I also think it’s a function of time…the architecture is in place but we have a lot of hard work to launch the product in the open market.

What’s the biggest short term challenge?

The biggest challenge we face overall is helping our customers to understand how to manage their data; today their data is just a swamp.

What are your next milestones?

There’s no doubt it is revenue!

How far away from that are you?

We are expecting to onboard a small amount of customers this fall, which we’ll keep low for a while, but could expand to a few dozen over time. We need to take one step at a time before we can open up the pipeline.

If all goes according to plan, what does the headcount projection look like?

7-10 more by the end of 2018, which could easily be 60 people in 12 months from now.

Do you think you’ll end up staying in Minnetonka?

We want to stay somewhere on the 394 corridor between 494 & 100, but I wouldn’t say this same building.

How important is it for you to be and remain a Minnesota-based company?

Very important. We’re all from here or have been here for a long time. No secret that it’s hard to find engineering talent on the coasts, but I feel like we have a wealth of that here who are happy to come work with us which is very humbling. It’s having great people around us that will make us successful, which I don’t think we could reproduce anywhere else…it’s rare that the all stars find you! There’s a lot of loyalty going on with Atavium, from the founders and investors into the engineering team.

What’s the big picture goal?

Our long term vision is to help customers understand, automate, utilize and protect their data. If we can do that well then we’ll see an IPO or would fit in well as an anchor in a larger company. It all boils down to building a product that solves real problems.

I’m an engineer by trade, so I have learned to be conservative about the business case for technology, maybe even skeptical — but it’s really exciting to hear the positive feedback we have from our early proof of concepts and beta testing.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We’re are very fortunate to be building this team and product, and taking on some of our customers’ greatest data management challenges.