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Rubrik CEO talks pandemic impact, Forward digital conference

Rubrik CEO says 'We are social beings, and nothing can replace the face-to-face connection' of a physical user conference. But Rubrik's virtual show will attract a wider audience.

After growing to 1,500 employees, half a billion dollars in funding and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, Rubrik planned its first user conference in 2020. Little did CEO Bipul Sinha and his executive team realize, Rubrik Forward set for mid-May would fall in the middle of a pandemic that has wrecked the IT conference schedule.

Like many technology vendors, Rubrik turned its conference into a digital event. But while the Rubrik Forward Digital Summit takes place today at your computer instead of in Chicago, Rubrik intends to cover the same ground. It loaded the summit agenda with sessions dealing with the Polaris SaaS application, data and multi-cloud management, ransomware protection, compliance and good old-fashioned backup.

Sinha will be joined by other Rubrik execs, as well as Microsoft Chairman John Thompson and customers from The Home Depot, Allstate and other organizations. Sinha took time from preparing his keynote to discuss Rubrik's vision, how the vendor is coping during COVID-19 and its future strategies.

What do you see as the impact of going digital for your first user show?

Bipul Sinha: When we first planned this event, we said we'll do it in Chicago, and we were expecting in the neighborhood of 1,000 people to attend. That's considered successful for startups when they do their first event. Then when the pandemic started, we were early to convert our conference into a digital summit. We saw that we will not be able to do actual physical conferencing, but an amazing thing happened. We now have 7,000 people who've signed up for this event interested in understanding Rubrik's vision for data. That's seven times more than our original plan.

So overall, it is quite positive for us.

But can that replace the value of face-to-face meetings at a physical show?

Headshot of Rubrik CEOBipul Sinha

Sinha: No. We are social beings, and obviously nothing can completely replace the face-to-face connection. But given the situation and given the circumstances, there is a still a yearning for people to learn about new technology to connect virtually to understand how industries are moving forward. Because even when everyone is remote, businesses are not stopping. We all went through the sudden change to work remotely, but thanks to Zoom and all the infrastructure that we had invested in prior to this event, it was somewhat of a smooth shift.

Besides the conference, how has COVID-19 impacted your business?

Sinha: There is obviously an overall impact in the marketplace. But what Rubrik sells is data management, backup and recovery, and DR, which is an essential product. It is a compliance product. Whether it's an up market or down market, businesses need to have their data management if they are to run. Obviously, because of the situation we are in, it takes longer to coordinate sales and do the paperwork and make the decisions, things like that. But, we are an essential product that is needed in every market.

So, would you say your sales are on par with last year?

Sinha: We don't want to comment on exact sales numbers. Obviously, there is an overall impact in the market. But again, we are an essential product and we see significant demand in the marketplace.

The news out of Rubrik Forward focuses on cloud services. Are your customers placing most of their data in the cloud now, or is it still mainly on premises?

Sinha: Rubrik is not a storage company. We don't care about where data is stored. What we care about is how to manage data. So, we are not the keepers of data. We are the managers of data.

Rubrik is not a storage company. We don't care about where data is stored. ... We are not the keepers of data. We are the managers of data.
Bipul SinhaCEO, Rubrik

We see a lot of customers are in different phases of their cloud journey. Some customers are primarily in the cloud, some customers are primarily in the data center. Many customers are in both places. And essentially, if you think about it, the cloud is fundamentally fragmenting the data and the applications. Data lives on premises, data lives in the cloud, data lives on the edge, so companies need holistic management of all that data. That's how a data-forward enterprise thinks about it. It's about getting leverage on data. It's not about where the data lives.

Our growth and success in the marketplace is primarily driven by this vision: You can do backup and recovery using any tool, but you will not achieve data leverage unless you truly have a Polaris-like metadata-driven platform.

You talk a lot about data management. Does that broaden your competitive landscape, or do you still compete mainly with backup vendors?

Sinha: We definitely compete with all the legacy backup vendors as well as the newer vendors in the backup recovery phase, but our approach is different. Everyone talks about the storage-oriented approach to backup recovery and data management. We talk about the software data management. Competitors think about storage. We believe that the storage is best done by storage companies such as NetApp, Pure Storage and others. We are the data management software that automates, orchestrates, delivers the data management applications, whether it is for compliance, governance, security, data recovery or application recovery. We are the umbrella framework on top of the platform data.

You also talk a lot about leveraging metadata. How do you do that in a different way than your competitors?

Sinha: We built this whole Polaris platform around metadata. Our Polaris platform is the ledger for metadata. And then we are building SaaS applications on top of Polaris to deliver the data management application. So, for example, our Radar product uses metadata to deliver ransomware detection and recovery. Sonar is our data compliance product, which helps businesses and universities and other institutions deliver PCI compliance or SEC 17a compliance. It is based on the metadata that we have about data. We built the Rubrik platform around this concept of metadata ledger, and then we deliver these data management applications on top of Polaris.

Rubrik is well funded with $553 million in equity funding, and you said in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 you had a $600 million full-year bookings run rate. You've talked about going public before, and many expected Rubrik to complete an initial public offering in 2020. What has the pandemic done to those plans?

Sinha: I've already stated that in the long term, we want to be a public company. We want to build the next 30-year, 40-year, 50-year company, and a 50-year company has to be a public company to sustain itself for that long period of time. And we have always said that we are in no hurry to go public or create a timeline. We look at the market condition and look at our own readiness, look at whenever we are ready and whenever the market is ready to go public. We are focused on building a great business and seeing market momentum, particularly around our vision for data management.

Our energy is focused on building new products and new solutions, whether it is delivering Google Cloud Platform backup and data management, or start to manage data for AWS RDS [Relational Database Service], Microsoft Office 365 or OneDrive. All of these are the places that data lives. How do we bring a holistic, metadata-driven-focused platform across all of that?

In the last month or so, we've seen a lot of companies that have had layoffs or furloughs or other cutbacks. Are you confident you can avoid any of those kinds of reductions?

Sinha: I don't like to comment on these things. Obviously, every company has its own ground reality. And, and as a responsible business, we always look at market conditions and how market conditions are changing. We are in a very dynamic environment. So, I would not like to comment on that.

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