Letter From The New Guy

Not too long ago Gnip celebrated its third birthday.  I am celebrating my one week anniversary with the company today.  To say a lot happened before my time at Gnip would be the ultimate understatement, and yet it is easy for me to see the results produced from those three years of effort.  Some of those results include:

The Product

Gnip’s social media API offering is the clear leader in the industry.  Gnip is delivering over a half a billion social media activities daily from dozens of sources.  That certainly sounds impressive, but how can I be so confident Gnip is the leader?  Because the most important social media monitoring companies rely on our services to deliver results to their customers every single day. For example, Gnip currently works with 8 of the top 9 enterprise social media monitoring companies, and the rate we are adding enterprise focused companies is accelerating.

The Partners

Another obvious result is the strong partnerships that have been cultivated.  Some of our partnerships such as Twitter and Klout were well publicized when the agreements were put in place.  However, having strong strategic partners takes a lot more than just a signed agreement.  It takes a lot of dedication, investment, and hard work by both parties in order to deliver on the full promise of the agreement.  It is obvious to me that Gnip has amazing partnerships that run deep and are built upon a foundation of mutual trust and respect.

The People

The talent level at Gnip is mind blowing, but it isn’t the skills of the people that have stood out the most for me so far.  It is the dedication of each individual to doing the right thing for our customers and our partners that has made the biggest impression.  When it comes to gathering and delivering social media data, there are a lot of shortcuts that can be taken in order to save time, money, and effort.  Unfortunately, these shortcuts can often come at the expense of publishers, customers, or both.  The team at Gnip has no interest in shortcuts and that comes across in every individual discussion and in every meeting.  If I were going to describe this value in one word, the word would be “integrity”.

In my new role as President & COO, I’m responsible for helping the company grow quickly and smoothly while maintaining the great values that have been established from the company’s inception.  The growth has already started and I couldn’t be more pleased with the talent of the people who have recently joined the organization including: Bill Adkins, Seth McGuire, Charles Ince, and Brad Bokal who have all joined Gnip within the last week.  And, we are hiring more! In fact, it is worth highlighting one particular open position for a Customer Support Engineer.  I’m hard pressed to think of a higher impact role at our company because we consider supporting our customers to be such an important priority.  If you have 2+ years of coding experience including working with RESTful Web APIs and you love delivering over-the-top customer service, Gnip offers a rare opportunity to work in an environment where your skills will be truly appreciated.  Apply today!

I look forward to helping Gnip grow on top of a strong foundation of product, partners, and people.  If you have any questions, I can be reached at chris [at] gnip.com.

What It's Like to Work at Gnip

Gnip is hiring. So you might wonder… what’s it really like to work at Gnip?

For me, working at Gnip means working with people I trust and like who bring good ideas, logical thought, hard work, and diverse experiences to the conversation. It means working to grow a product I believe is good for the world; a product that facilitates access to valuable information.

It’s the feeling of energy and responsibility that come with working at a company that’s seminal in our industry and growing quickly. It’s the spirit of hard work and encouragement, but also fun, that our team collectively strives for.

It’s the startup factor that allows for automatic approval for any tool that might make it easier for me to get my job done, whether that’s purchasing software or midday coffee at The Cup. It’s being encouraged to innovate and having the latitude to solve problems in new ways.

So come join us. Our door is open and we’d love to hear from you.

Why You Should Join Gnip

Gnip’s business is growing heartily. As a result, we need to field current demand, refine our existing product offering, and expand into completely new areas in order to deliver the web’s data. From a business standpoint we need to grow our existing sales team in order to capture as much of our traditional market as possible, as fast as possible. We also need to leverage established footholds in new verticals, and turn those into businesses as big as, or hopefully bigger than, our current primary market. The sales and business-line expansion at Gnip is in full swing, and we need more people on the sales and business team to help us achieve our goals.

From a technical standpoint I don’t know where to begin. We have a large existing customer base that we need to keep informed, help optimize, and generally support; we’re hiring technical support engineers. Our existing system scales just fine, but software was meant to iterate, and we have learned a lot about handling large volumes of real-time data streams, across many protocols and formats, for ultimate delivery to large numbers of customers. We want to evolve the current system to even better leverage computing resources, and provide a more streamlined customer experience. We’ve also bit off a historical data set indexing challenge that is well… of true historical proportion. The historical beast needs feeding, and it needs big brains to feast on. We need folks who know Java very well, have search, indexing, and large data-set management backgrounds.

On the system administration side of things… if you like to twiddle IP tables, tune MTUs for broad geographic region high-bandwidth data flow optimization, handle high-volume/bandwidth streaming content, then we’d like to hear from you. We need even more sys admin firepower.

Gnip is a technical product, with a technical sale. Our growth has us looking to offload a lot of the Sales Engineering support that the dev team currently takes on. Subsequently we’re looking to hire a Sales Engineer as well.

Gnip has a thriving business. We have a dedicated, passionate, intelligent team that knows how to execute. We’re building hard technology that has become a critical piece of the social media ecosystem. Gnip is also located in downtown Boulder, CO.

http://gnip.com/careers

New Office Toy: The Parrot Quadricopter Hovercraft

We spend a lot of time making it as easy as possible for our customers to get the social data they need. Usually. But last week, we had a new addition to the Gnip team: the Parrot AR Drone. 

It’s a 2’ by 2’ hovercraft with a camera attached that you control realtime via an iPhone app. In form with its “Parrot” name, it is the loudest thing around our office by a long shot. So, if you talked with any of us on the phone last week… we apologize. But the best part is, the Parrot’s a 3D video game. While we’re flying him around our office, our iPhones are showing a virtual universe that Parrot has been tasked with conquering.

So far we’ve taken him for a spin around the office, down the hall to the next startups (NBS and Everlater loved him), and even outside for a quick spin on the streets of Boulder. We’ve also narrowly avoided chopping off a few of our fingers and setting off our office sprinkler system. He’s a little hard to control at first, okay? Thanks to Natty for the video:

The Gnip Parrot Flies, Crashes and Burns

Any Parrot fans around Boulder? Stop by for a game! Who knows what next week will bring… but for now, as we go back to building out our API aggregation software… it’s a darn good thing we do still have all our fingers.

Clusters & Silos

Gnip is nearing its one-year anniversary of our 2.0 product. We reset our direction several months ago. As part of that shift, we completely changed our architecture. I thought I’d write about that experience a bit.

Gnip 1.0

Our initial implementation is best referred to as a clustered, non-relational DB (aka NoSQL), data aggregation service. We built/ran this product for about a year and a half. The system was comprised of a centralized cluster of machines that divvy’d up load, centralized streams of publisher data, and then fanned that data out to many customers. Publishers did not like this approach as it obfuscated the ultimate consumer of their data; they wanted transparency. Our initial motivation for this architecture was around alleviating load pain on the Publishers. “Real-time” APIs were the rage, and having detrimental impact to real-time delivery was in-part due to load on the Publisher’s API. A single stream of data to Gnip, and allowing Gnip to deal w/ the fan-out via a system built for such demand, was part of the solution we sold. We thought we could charge Publishers for alleviating their load pain. Boy were we wrong on that count. While Publishers love to complain about the load on their API, effectively none of them wanted to do anything about it. Some smartly built caching proxies, and others built homegrown notification-like/PubSub solutions (SIP, SUP, PubSubHubBub). However, most simply horizontally scaled and threw money at the problem. Twitter has shinned a light on streaming HTTP (or whatever you want to call it… there are so many monikers), which is “as good as it gets” (leaving proto buffers and compressed HTTP streams as simply optimizations to the model). I digress. The 1.0 platform was a fantastic engineering feat, ahead of its time, and unfortunately a thorn in Publisher’s sides. As a data integration middle-man, Gnip couldn’t afford to have antagonistic relations with data sources.

Gnip 2.0

Literally overnight, we walked away from further construction on our 1.0 platform. We had paying customers on it however, so we operated it for several months before ultimately shutting it down; after migrating everyone we could to 2.0. Gnip 2.0 un-intuitively departed from a clustered environment, and instead started providing a consuming customer with explicit, transparent, integrations with Publishers, all via standalone instances of the software running on standalone virtualized hardware instances (Ec2). Whereas 1.0 would sometimes leverage Gnip-owned authentication/app credentials to the benefit of many consuming customers, 2.0 was architected explicitly not to support this. For each 2.0 instance a customer runs, they use credentials they obtain themselves, from the Publisher, to configure the instances. Publishers have full transparency into, and control of, who’s using their data.

The result is an architecture that doesn’t leverage certain data structures an engineer would naturally wish to use. That said, an unexpected operational benefit has fallen out of the 2.0 system. Self-healing, zero SPOF (single point of failure), clusters aside (I’d argue they’re actually relatively few of them out there), the reality with clusters is that they’re actually hard to build in a fault tolerant manner, and SPOFs find their way in. From there, you have all of your customers leveraged against a big SPOF. If something cracks in the system, all of your customers feel that pain. On the flip side, silo’d instances rarely suffer from systemic failure. Sure operational issues arise, but you can treat each case uniquely and react accordingly. The circumstances in which all of your customers feel pain simultaneously are very few and far between. So, the cost of not leveraging hardware/software that we’re generally inclined to want to architect for and leverage, is indeed higher, but a simplified system has it’s benefits to be sure.

We now find ourselves promoting Publisher integration best practices, and they advocate our usage. Two such significant architectures built under the same roof has been a fascinating thing to experience. The pros and cons to each are many. Where you wind up in your system is an interesting function of what your propensity is technically, as well as what the business constraints are. One size never fits all.

Message from the CEO

As of today, Eric Marcoullier is moving on from Gnip. I’ll be taking over as CEO.

When Eric and I came to the table a couple of years ago, we sought to bring together the mix of my technology background with his skill in building successful products in consumer oriented markets. We blended those perspectives and have built successful offerings around them and we are proud of what we have accomplished. In the process we balanced the mix of “consumer” and “enterprise” influences in the stack (product, technology, team, sales, BD, and marketing). We’ve come to a point where a different balance will allow us to deliver what our customers and the industry need.

I have the utmost respect for Eric, and while our business relationship has changed, we will forever be friends. Gnip, and it’s impact on the “data space,” wouldn’t exist but for Eric’s heart and mind. Thank you. Eric has left a personal message on our blog.

To Our Customers (current and prospective)

You will not see a disruption in your service. We will continue building products that meet your demand, with our current team. We are here to answer any questions you may have (my personal email address is jud@gnip.com if you’d like to connect with me directly). Our focus on providing you with the data you need, in the way you need it, only intensifies from here and we’re looking forward to refining our current product and strategy based on your continued feedback and perspective.

All These Things That I’ve Done

A little over two years ago, Jud and I hatched an audacious plan — pair a deep data guy with a consumer guy to launch an enterprise company. We would build an incredible data service with the polish of a consumer app, then attack a market generally known for being rather dull with a combination of substance and style.

Over the last two years, Jud has done an amazing job serving as Gnip’s CTO and implicitly as VP of Engineering. Under his leadership, the engineering team has delivered a product that turns the process of integrating with dozens of diverse APIs into a push-button experience. The team he assembled is fantastically talented and passionate about making real-time data more easily consumed. My own team has performed equally well, adding much-needed process to Gnip’s sales and marketing.

Two years ago, if you asked Corporate America to define “social media,” they probably would have said “the blogs.” Last year, they would have probably answered “the blogs and Twitter” and this year they’re adding Facebook to their collective consciousness. The time is better than ever to bring Gnip’s platform to the enterprise and, ultimately, I’m not the CEO to do it. Our plan to have a consumer guy lead an enterprise company ended up having a few holes. For Gnip to thrive in the enterprise, it needs to be squarely in the hands of people who have previously succeeded in that space. So as of today, I’m stepping down as CEO and leaving the company. Jud is taking over as CEO.

I am honored to have worked with Jud and it has been a privilege to work with my team for the last two years. Anything that Gnip has accomplished so far has been because of them. Any criticisms that the company could have accomplished more in the last two years can be directed squarely at me. I look forward to seeing Jud and the team do great things in the years ahead.

Welcome aboard, Rob Johnson

One of the highlights of Boulder’s startup scene is the community aspect, what Micah Baldwin describes as competitive cooperation.  In many areas, startups see success as a zero-sum game and the ecosystem feels pretty hostile.  In other places I’ve lived (I’m looking at you, Bay Area), there’s a general feeling of goodwill amongst startups, but everyone is so freaking busy that true community fails to gel and what you get is a thin veneer of positivity.  In Boulder, we genuinely care about our startup brethren.

Case in point, EventVue.

I met Rob when he was a member of the first TechStars class in Boulder.  Ostensibly I was a mentor in the program, but I learned a ton from him from the very beginning.  Over the next several years, Rob showed his skills in a number of ways — EventVue holds the record for fastest investment close after “graduating” from Techstars; the company counted as customers a number of top-tier companies including Cisco and IDG; he and Josh Frasier relentlessly tackled technical and business obstacles in pursuit of success. At one point EventVue was a Gnip customer and at a later point it was not (but Rob and Josh always offered great feedback).

Ultimately, EventVue wasn’t the success Rob was hoping for.

Given the knowledge he gained, it’s not surprising that companies all over the country were competing to bring him on board.  Rob is a tenacious entrepreneur with a wide variety of skills in product and sales. He’s one of the most personable cats I’ve ever known — he can strike up a conversation with anyone on the street and instantly develop a level of rapport that I envy.  More importantly, he listens like no one I’ve ever known.  For early stage companies, listening to your customers is one of the best ways to orient your product correctly.

If Rob had taken a job offer outside of Boulder, our entire tech scene would have been worse for it.  Thus, I’m doubly excited to welcome Rob as Gnip’s new Director of Business and Strategy.  In the last couple of months he has worked as a consultant for Gnip and he’s already left an indelible mark on the company.  Rob is doing great things for us and I look forward to that continuing for a long, long time.  Just as importantly, I’m confident that someday soon (but not too soon), Rob will start another company in Boulder and perhaps I’ll find our roles reversed. In the meantime, I’m happy that he’s a part of Gnip and that he remains a part of the Boulder entrepreneurial scene.

What's Up.

A few weeks have past since making some major product direction/staffing/technology-stack changes at Gnip. Most of the dust has settled and here’s an update.

What Changed Externally

api.gnip.com is alive, well, and fully supported. From a product standpoint we’re now also pursuing a decentralized data access model to broaden our offering. The original centralized product continues to serve its customers well, but it doesn’t fit all the use cases we want to nail. It turns out that while many folks want to be completely hands-off WRT how their data is collected (“just get me the data”), they still want full transparency into, and control of, the process. That transparency and control is on its way via Gnip Data Collectors that customers configure through an easy to use GUI.

To summarize, externally, you will soon see additional product offerings/approaches around data movement.

What Changed Internally

A lot. api.gnip.com is a phenomenal message bus that can reliably filter & move data from A to B at insane volumes. In order to achieve this however, we left a few things by the wayside that we realized we couldn’t leave there any longer. Customer demand, and internal Product direction needs (obviously coupled with customer needs) were such that we needed to approach the product offering from a different technical angle.

GUI & Data

We neglected a non-trivial tier of our customer base by almost exclusively focusing on the REST API to the system. Without the constraint of a GUI, technical/architectural/implementation decisions that come with building software were blinded by “the backend.” As a result, we literally cut our data off from the GUI tier. Getting data into the GUI was like raising the Titanic; doable, but hard and time consuming. Too hard for what we needed to do as a business. We’d bolted the UI framework onto the side, and customized how everything moved in/out of the core platform to the GUI layer. We weren’t able to keep up with Product needs on the GUI side.

Statistics

Similar to GUI, getting statistics out of the system in a consumer friendly manner was too hard. Business has become accustomed to running SQL queries to collect information/statistics. While one can bolt SQL interfaces onto customized systems, you have to ask yourself whether or not you really want to? What if you started with something that natively spoke SQL?

So…

We introduced a stack that supports a decentralized data collection approach, as well as off-the-shelf GUI, statistics collection/display, and SQL interface; “Cloud” instances, running Linux (obviously), MySQL, and Rails. We have prototypes up and running internally, and things are going great.

Product Details

I’ve been vague here on purpose. We’re still honing all the features, capabilities, and market opportunities in front of us, and I don’t want to commit to them right now.

The People

I want to end on a personal note. My mind was blown by the people we decided to “let go” in this process; all of them incredibly high quality.

All I can say here is that it’s all in the people. You build teams that meet the needs of the business. For the sand that shifted, Eric and I are to blame. We undoubtedly burned bridges with amazing people during this process, and that is excruciating. Those no longer with us are great, and all of them have either already jumped into new projects/companies, or are weighing their options. The best of luck to you, and I hope to work with you again someday.

The Only Constant is Change

As a few people have mentioned online today, Gnip laid off seven team members today. It was a horrible thing to have to do and my very best wishes go out to each team member who was let go.  If you’re in Boulder and need a Java or PHP developer, an HR/office manager or an inside salesperson, send an email to eric@gnip.com and I’ll connect you with some truly awesome people.

I would like to address a few specific points for our partners, customers and friends:

  1. We believe as strongly as ever in providing data aggregation solutions for our customers.  If we didn’t, we would have returned to our investors the year of funding we have in the bank (now two years).
  2. We are still delivering the same data as yesterday. The existing platform is highly stable and will continue to churn out data as long as we want it to.
  3. The changes in personnel revolve around rebuilding the technology stack to allow for faster, more iterative releases. We’ve been hamstrung by a technology platform that was built under a very different set of assumptions more than a year ago. While exceptionally fast and stable, it is also a beast to extend.  The next rev will be far more flexible and able to accommodate the many smart feature requests we receive.

To Alex, Shane, Ingrid, JL, Jenna, Chris and Jen, it has been a honor working with you and I hope to have the privilege to do so again some day.

To our partners and customers, Gnip’s future is brighter than ever and we look forward to serving your social data needs for many years to come.

Sincerely,

Eric Marcoullier, CEO