December 16, 2021

From Series B to C: An Interview with Mike Palmer, CEO of Sigma Computing

Sigma Team
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From Series B to C: An Interview with Mike Palmer, CEO of Sigma Computing

Over the past few years, Sigma has been reimagining what data can do for companies of all sizes. We’ve worked with industry powerhouses, scrappy startups, global charity initiatives, and everyone in-between to help their colleagues and teams make more informed decisions — and we’re not slowing down any time soon.

In light of our recent Series C funding, we sat down with Mike Palmer, CEO of Sigma Computing, to talk about the journey so far and where Sigma and the cloud analytics space will go next.

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— What first drew you to Sigma, and when did you know that Sigma was the company you wanted to lead?

Well, it’s been clear for quite a while that cloud computing adoption rates aren’t slowing down, they’re increasing. Anyone building an IT infrastructure today, they’re going to build it in the cloud. They will never build a data center again.

It was also clear to many of us that Snowflake was taking advantage of that market trend. They created a better way to leverage data that was increasingly cheaper to store, and therefore more attractive to use. They had solved the compute problem, and they had solved the data structures problem, but what they hadn’t done was solve the problem of how to create business value with that data. They had solved an IT problem, but not a business problem.

And so, when I looked at Sigma, despite being fairly early on in the product, customers were passionate about it. They were renewing their contracts. They were buying more. They saw the idea as novel and they saw us solving a problem that had not been solved — and one that was applicable to many people at their companies.

That’s probably the most important thing, this combination of whether the market is moving and whether your product is suited to it. And then, add to that an amazing team. So, great product, great market, and great people? It was a no-brainer.

— How has the journey from a Series B to a Series C company been from your perspective? What surprised you along the way?

The journey from Series B to Series C financing — and, by definition, with a Series B round you’re showing that you have a viable product and with a Series C you’re showing that you can scale — is all about what’s known in the area as an “ideal customer profile.” Do you know who gets value from your product? Do you have a compelling message that resonates with them? Do they get ROI from using what you have to offer? And the last year and a half has been all about trying to find that ICP.

But the thing that’s surprising to me about our journey from B to C is that the breadth of solutions that we can cover for a customer — which is inclusive of almost anything you would use Excel for — is so significant that narrowing it down to a single use case, or even a single user, or a single vertical or industry, is not possible. And the hardest thing to do is just face the conundrum of focusing when everything is an opportunity. I think about standing in those carnival chambers where they blow dollars around and you’re trying to grab them and there’s so many in there that some people come out with none because they’re so distracted. And it’s our job to go pull some out of the air and make progress.

So, where did we make progress? Well, for one, I was so impressed with the product and engineering teams who were able to take the first version of our product and completely rethink it from the ground up. Secondly, we launched Workbooks on June 1st and have never looked back. It was completely the right decision, and a courageous one, because we had to pause work on a lot of features in order to prioritize the launch.

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— As a primary driver of Sigma’s success, how does it feel to reach this milestone?

Well, the success of any company is a collaborative effort. I won’t call myself a passenger, either, but I definitely think our car, if you will, is driven in a collaborative way. There’s not just one of us behind the steering wheel and there’s definitely not one gas pedal. But I will tell you that, by far, the most validating thing about raising the C round was the process and the results of that process.

As the co-leads for this round, the depth of research that D1 and XN did into us and into our product and into our customers’ opinions about our product is simply incredible. And we have been privy to — in a redacted way — to many of the interviews that they conducted and the feedback they received. It’s so meaningful to hear how impressed they were with our ability to solve problems for customers, our ability to engage our customers, that they not only value that we are highly differentiated from other options on the market but that we’re solving problems in a unique way, and that customers intend on growing their business with us over time.

When you walk into work every day, whether you’re in sales, or engineering, or anywhere know that you’re adding value, that customers really, really enjoy their experience with probably my most important takeaway.

— Now that you’ve raised your Series C, what’s next for Sigma? Where does it go from here?

That’s a great question and that’s the funny thing about a Series C. What it really does is validates that the work you were doing was the right work. So we’re going to continue with the right work, and that’s being as customer-focused as we’ve ever been, that means rolling out new features in a timely way, making those features work and scale, and continuing to differentiate ourselves.

We’re going to continue helping customers to move off their laptops and off of spreadsheets and into the high-performing, highly collaborative, highly secure cloud. And we’ll continue to expand our sales and marketing presence — many people might know that we have an event coming up next week with a great customer speaker from Blackstone and with President Clinton, and we’ll be asking critical questions about the importance of data.

If you were back in 1996 and your company rejected the Internet, where would you be right now? If you were in 2006 and your company rejected mobile or social, where would you be right now? And, if you’re in 2021 and your company rejects data, where will your company be in ten years?

— What has been the most inspiring moment you’ve experienced while working at Sigma?

Oh, there have been so many. You know, one thing I’ve been really happy with is a few senior engineers that just came aboard. You know, they’re at a certain point in their career where they have a lot of options in front of them and they have to pick a path. We have folks who have started from great companies like Facebook, like Lyft, who are increasingly choosing to come to Sigma. That sort of voting with their jobs and their time — because the one thing we can never get back is our time — is one of the major points at which you realize your message resonates, because these are the most discerning people when it comes to not having to trust the hype around technology. They can actually look at it and decide whether there’s something of value there. And that sort of breakthrough, to start to hire those senior people out of such great companies, is really inspiring.

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— Seeing Sigma impacting so many organizations for the better must be a great experience. What has been the most rewarding customer interaction you’ve had during this time?

Probably the importance of engaging with DoorDash. They’re a company that’s widely respected and recognized, and they’re a company that consistently makes great decisions. DoorDash has done well during these hard times and they’ll continue to do well when things become easier. And they’re such a data-driven company. I think they reflect what all companies will look like, in terms of engaging with data to make decisions, in the future. That they chose us, given that context, is extremely gratifying.

At the same time, we have a guest speaker at the event I mentioned earlier, Tom Pologruto, who I think can pitch the value of Sigma in a way that nobody, including myself at Sigma, can quite do. He’s a person whose bona fides are second to none, and he’s able to articulate why Sigma’s market is hard to even define. It’s so large, and it’s so transformative for users, and he’s so good at detailing the workflows that get impacted — the opportunity to work with customers who do a better job at amplifying your message than you do...that, again, is extraordinarily gratifying.

— If you could say one thing to anyone who wants to dive a little bit further into what cloud analytics can do, and into what Sigma can do, what would you say to them?

Well, in retrospect, all things become clear. The internet has certainly caused its fair share of troubles but its also created a world in which people are able to communicate in a way that they were never able to before.

You know, we’re doing some work with the Clinton Global Initiative to help farmers in Africa access data around weather patterns and other key areas that help them do their jobs better. And I think about 20 or 30 years ago, there was very little opportunity for people to track these markets or understand their buyers; now, people can pull up a mobile device and understand the spot price of their commodity up to the second. How empowering is that?

I think about our product and ask myself — is the world a better place by putting information into people’s hands that allows them to make better decisions for themselves and for the companies they’re working in? Really, I think we represent more than our product. We represent that empowering the average person with data is a long-term objective for companies and societies at large. And we’ll accept the bad with the good, but measure us by that objective, you know? At the end of the day, do you feel like you’re more enabled when you experience our product and when you’re aligned with our mission or not?