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William Bain of ‘ScaleOut Software’: “Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking”

Our company develops software that helps companies manage fast-changing data so that they can track and immediately analyze it. This helps enhance their ability to react to issues and capture opportunities in real time — before the moment is lost — and it enhances overall situational awareness. For example, it allows a company to keep track of thousands of […]

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Our company develops software that helps companies manage fast-changing data so that they can track and immediately analyze it. This helps enhance their ability to react to issues and capture opportunities in real time — before the moment is lost — and it enhances overall situational awareness. For example, it allows a company to keep track of thousands of trucks traversing the country or airline passengers encountering flight delays or health-tracking devices generating telemetry or e-commerce shoppers looking for specific products, and so on. There are countless applications in need of this technology.

To make it possible to track thousands or even a million data sources, we have created a new way of processing data streams using a software concept called “real-time digital twins,” which we have integrated with our in-memory computing technology. Using this new approach to streaming analytics, companies can better and more quickly understand what incoming data is telling them. At the same time, it simplifies the way they develop applications.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. William L. Bain, founder and CEO of ScaleOut Software, which has been developing software products since 2003 designed to enhance operational intelligence within live systems using scalable, in-memory computing technology. Bill earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Rice University. Over a 40-year career focused on parallel computing, he has contributed to advancements at Bell Labs Research, Intel, and Microsoft, and holds several patents in computer architecture and distributed computing. Bill founded and ran three companies prior to ScaleOut Software. The most recent, Valence Research, developed web load-balancing software and was acquired by Microsoft Corporation to enhance the Windows Server operating system. As an investor and member of the screening committee for the Seattle-based Alliance of Angels, Bill is actively involved in entrepreneurship and the angel community.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After working for more than a decade at two large high-tech companies, I became increasingly frustrated with the inability to quickly innovate in a large corporate setting so I could make an impact. I also found that my software skills were beginning to atrophy. The advent of the IBM PC (yes, I am that old) breathed new life into my aspirations to design software. I realized that entrepreneurship was the right path for me and decided to start a software company. I am now working on my fourth company and have never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One lunch hour while I was working at a large company, I took a demo flight in a helicopter at a nearby airport. It was so exhilarated by this that I went on to earn a commercial helicopter pilot’s license. I was overjoyed to get to know a group of highly talented flight instructors and professional pilots who exhibited a degree of self-awareness that I often found missing in the high-tech workplace. What I learned from them is that you can’t rely on your past accomplishments or title to conduct a successful flight; you have to prove your competence every time you take the controls. I found that to be a refreshing way to view challenges.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Our company develops software that helps companies manage fast-changing data so that they can track and immediately analyze it. This helps enhance their ability to react to issues and capture opportunities in real time — before the moment is lost — and it enhances overall situational awareness. For example, it allows a company to keep track of thousands of trucks traversing the country or airline passengers encountering flight delays or health-tracking devices generating telemetry or e-commerce shoppers looking for specific products, and so on. There are countless applications in need of this technology.

To make it possible to track thousands or even a million data sources, we have created a new way of processing data streams using a software concept called “real-time digital twins,” which we have integrated with our in-memory computing technology. Using this new approach to streaming analytics, companies can better and more quickly understand what incoming data is telling them. At the same time, it simplifies the way they develop applications.

What makes real-time digital twins powerful is that they enable applications to keep track of constantly evolving information about each individual data source among thousands. With this more granular knowledge, applications can better introspect the current situation, possibly incorporating machine learning, and generate better feedback within seconds. In addition, information stored in real-time digital twins can be continuously aggregated and visualized by the in-memory computing platform to spot emerging trends as they occur. So, for example, while a trucking company is providing feedback to drivers to reroute due to weather or highway blockages, it can immediately assess the overall impact on the fleet and determine where it needs to shift resources to manage dynamic issues as they emerge.

How do you think this might change the world?

This new way of analyzing data streams should dramatically improve our ability to respond to challenges we have trouble coping with today. For example, it can analyze thousands of sensors to detect the emergence and spread of a forest fire, and can track the location, condition, and availability of medical devices and supplies to address hospital needs in a pandemic. It can allow airline passengers to reroute themselves while enroute when their connections will be missed. It can help banks better analyze credit card transactions in real time to avoid fraud or help “smart” cities spot water or gas leaks or even emerging terror attacks and understand how they are evolving.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

As with many computing technologies, real-time digital twins could be used to track people and analyze their behavior in a manner that compromises their privacy. For example, an application might be designed to help commuters find the best use of public transit to get to work while enroute. But this same information could be used to track their whereabouts and daily patterns for others to exploit.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

A few years ago, our company was engaged by a cable television provider to build a software application that would enable them to track 10 million subscribers and detect how they changed channels so that they could be served relevant ads. When we developed this application using our in-memory computing platform, we found it effective to use the digital twin approach even though we didn’t call it that at the time. Later, when we were building a recommendation system for e-commerce shoppers, this same design pattern emerged again. We realized that the real-time digital twin technique could be widely applied, so we decided to build a cloud-based service that formalizes it and makes it available to our customers.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We have just introduced our cloud service and have built several demonstration applications. Once we have proven the power and simplicity of real-time digital twins in production applications, we expect widespread adoption to quickly follow. We are now working with partners to explore potential applications with their end-users.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We are using our web site, blog posts, and social media to get the word out about our new cloud service. We also just released an entertaining animated video to showcase the technology. To highlight the value of real-time digital twins during the COVID-19 crisis, we recently developed a demonstration application with a companion mobile app for use in contact tracing within companies to help employees get back to work more quickly and safely. Because of its novel approach to contact tracing and the ability to notify employees within seconds when an outbreak occurs, this application has garnered substantial interest.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been a few key people who have greatly helped me in my career, including first manager at Intel, my current business partner and of course, my steadfast and supportive wife. However, let me tell you a brief story about another special person.

When I was running my first startup company, I met a college student from Russia who had been recommended to me to fill a summer job opening. As I got to know him, I realized that he was brilliant, passionate about technology, full of energy, and a pleasure to work with. After a year of working together, we decided to form a new software company as business partners and develop an idea that we worked out on a napkin at lunch one day. A year and a half later, this company was acquired by Microsoft. His leadership potential was quickly recognized by Microsoft’s executives. Within a few years, he became a general manager and created a new version of Windows for high-performance computing. I don’t believe that our company would have been acquired by Microsoft without his unique combination of talent and perseverance. He tragically died in 2012 at age 38, and his loss leaves a huge hole in all of our hearts.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think that while working to generate a return for its investors, the most rewarding achievement of any company is to provide a productive and supportive workplace for its employees, enabling them to support their families and grow in their careers. I am happy to have been able to contribute to this over the past seventeen years as our small company has grown.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. It took me several years to discover that my brain was wired to be an entrepreneur. Back when I was getting started, I attended a conference for startups in which a psychologist who had studied this spoke about how some people are much more satisfied building new companies instead of working their way up in established companies.

2. Look for ideas in the confluence of multiple technologies. I have found my best ideas by examining where otherwise unrelated technologies overlap and can benefit by applying the advances in one area to a different one. For example, I used parallel computing techniques from supercomputing to analyze stored data in distributed caches, a technology more akin to databases. Our current product applies the concept of digital twins from a field called Product Lifecycle Management to streaming analytics.

3. To form a company, you need a combination of the right idea, the ability to bring it to market, and the right time in your life. It’s not enough to just have an entrepreneurial way of thinking and an idea. Making the dream a reality requires resources, one of which is the right timing in your life to devote your energies to it. I was lucky to have already worked for more than a decade when I started my first company. It’s important to weigh all of these considerations before taking the leap.

4. Maintain focus combined with agility. In my experience, entrepreneurship requires a subtle combination of focus on achieving a goal while retaining the agility to make course corrections when needed. Because an entrepreneur by nature gravitates towards new opportunities, it’s all too easy to chase them and exhaust precious resources. Driving for success usually requires maintaining a keen focus on executing the plan. While doing so, an entrepreneur must weigh new facts, such as market feedback, as they emerge and make changes to the plan when absolutely needed. Agility actually gives small companies a tactical advantage over larger ones, which often have huge investments in a development plan or product line. Even open source projects can suffer from too much momentum.

5. Cash is king. Although we have all heard this, it’s only when you have been burned by running out of cash does the lesson really take hold. This happened in my second company, which took too long to build a combined hardware/software product in a market that was not quite ready to adopt it. When you start running out of cash, your options quickly become limited.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

As I sit here choking on the smoke from forest fires in the Pacific Northwest, I am reminded that climate change is indeed an existential crisis. Unlike many other challenges, climate change can’t be fixed quickly and must not be allowed to gain additional momentum. With each passing year, it increasingly threatens the quality of our lives and our children’s future. And yet, it need not be this way. Avoiding climate change is much cheaper than mitigating its effects with the added benefits of many new green jobs on a planet where all species can thrive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I think the golden rule (treat others how you wish to be treated)has served as a valuable guide to daily interactions that should be followed in every setting. In the workplace, it means treating each person with kindness and respect and remaining open to new ideas. I have been in numerous meetings in which I was distressed to see high-level managers berating their subordinates. While we are all human and sometimes have lapses, I feel it’s important that we always strive to maintain a respectful, open-minded attitude with everyone.

If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

In-memory computing technology can make a huge difference in helping companies track, analyze, and immediately react to the fast-changing data that is the lifeblood of their businesses. ScaleOut Software’s new cloud service harnesses this technology using a breakthrough software concept, called “real-time digital twins,” which enables companies to simultaneously track a million data sources. This technology will give companies a powerful new tool for extracting value from their streaming data, and it will help them boost situational awareness to a level that was not previously possible. The combined power and simplicity of this software gives it the potential for rapid adoption in numerous vertical markets.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please see our blog at www.scaleoutsoftware.comor follow us on Twitter at @scaleout_inc or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/scaleout-software.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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