When I first met with the team at Splunk, they were working away on building a system that could accurately track a transaction as it traversed the entire enterprise stack. If the transaction broke somewhere along the way, their software could help IT discover the cause of that failure. While it was clearly a pain point for some businesses, there was no clear customer and the value proposition was a relatively hard one to articulate. But the technology they were building created a whole lot of intelligence built on the fumes of the data center (namely the log files). I was interested in what they were doing, but not interested enough to fund them. One day I got a call from Michael Baum, CEO of Splunk. He told me that they had "figured it out" and that we should meet up. I was certainly game to hear what they had figured out and we got together again a short time later.
So what had Splunk figured out? They had figured out that if they could track, manage and correlate log files across the entire data center in near real time, that they could create the killer IT Search Engine that would allow an end user to see into their enterprise stack in a way never before possible. The Splunk guys showed me a very simple example using Voip data and how one could track all systems that touched a particular extension by simply searching for that extension in the Splunk engine. I was an instant believer -- it was clearly a better way to manage the massive amounts of IT data that exist in enterprises today. I invested in the Series A and the Splunk team got to building the software that they had envisioned.
A short time after investing in Splunk, I was meeting with a group of managers from one of August Capital's biggest Limited Partners (the folks who invest in our fund). I was describing for them what Splunk was planning to build and they asked me "so what's the market size for that?" I quickly answered as best I could -- "I have no idea." Needless to say, this was not the most satisfying answer they had ever received and they stared back at me with a look that suggested perhaps I should come up with a better answer. But the reality was that I didn't have a better answer. Not because it was unclear if there was any market for what Splunk was building. But, more importantly, because once Splunk had built their search engine, it was unclear what market they would go after. I explained to my investors that Splunk had a number of multi-billion dollar markets in which they might play (management, compliance, BI, security, capacity planning, development, etc.) and the only question was which ones they would choose to go after first.
That conversation with my Limited Partners was over two and a half years ago. And since that time, the Splunk team has built precisely what they promised -- a large-scale, high-speed search technology for your data center. But despite the fact that Splunk's software has been downloaded by over 100,000 users and despite the fact that there are now more than 350 paying enterprise customers (including 21st Century Insurance, BEA, British Telecom, Catholic Healthcare West, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Comcast, Dow Jones, FedEx, Fiserv, GE Consumer Finance, LinkedIn, Mantech, Mozilla.org, NASA, Shopzilla, Telstra, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of State, Vodafone and Yahoo!), I would still have a tough time answering the question posed by my Limited Partner.
Splunk has not built an application. Nor is Splunk merely selling software. Splunk has created a software enabled platform that continues to be extremely broadly applicable. Is Splunk mission critical when it comes to maintaining availability of large scale enterprise systems? Yes. Is Splunk invaluable in the fight to maintain the security of your data center? Yes. Does Splunk uniquely simplify the process of data compliance? Yes. Can Splunk help you dig into your data and analyze it like no other solution? Yes. But, frankly, that's just the tip of the iceberg -- once you are able to query individual pieces of data across your entire data center in real time, the applicability of the platform is limited only by the creativity of its end users. And those end users are driving value back into the platform, creating applications we hadn't thought of before.
So what is the market for Splunk? i still couldn't say for certain. But I can tell you one thing -- it is awfully big. And in the venture business, that's big enough.