Container technology company Docker has a new leader, Steve Singh, the Seattle-area entrepreneur who was named the San Francisco-based company’s new CEO this morning, replacing Ben Golub, who will remain with Docker as a member of its board. The news comes as Docker seeks to accelerate its adoption in the enterprise, where Singh has experience as the former CEO of Concur and president of enterprise tech giant SAP’s cloud business.
GeekWire spoke with Singh via phone this morning shortly after the announcement. Continue reading for edited excerpts from the interview.
GW: You’ve been chairman of Docker here for a little bit, but how did you come to be considered and then accept the position as CEO?
Steve Singh, new Docker CEO: At this point, I’ve been chairman for about eight months or so, and really got to know Ben and Solomon in large part because they reached out to me and they were looking for directors that had experience building companies from the ground up to hopefully billion-dollar-plus companies. I actually met with them at DockerCon in Seattle, and I liked them as human beings, and obviously I love the opportunity around Docker, and so that led to joining the Docker board. After spending a little bit of time on the Docker board, Ben asked me to consider being the CEO. My comments to Ben were, hey, look you’re doing a great job, and you should continue doing that great job, and keep building Docker, and I’m here as an adviser to you whenever you need me. After a time that conversation got rekindled, and not just with Ben but with the entire board and investors of Docker, and that led to a decision to take on the CEO role, as well.
I couldn’t be more excited. Every once in awhile you find transformational companies — companies that can really change the technology landscape. Docker is that kind of company. With Ben’s support and with the support of the board, I agreed to take on the CEO role.
GW: What are your biggest goals? It’s Day 1 for you in this role, but what are the big things on the horizon for you in this new role, and for Docker more broadly?
Steve Singh: We have three goals, and in fact I shared them with the company yesterday.
First and foremost, we have to start with this: Docker has done an amazing job over the past four years. It’s built a community of developers that is really the largest community that I’ve seen, certainly with such a short horizon to build that community. This is a community that is highly engaged, that adds incredible value to Docker. But the first objective is to make sure that we continue to drive innovation, both at the open-source level and also across the application stack that we build internally to deliver to our corporate customers. So priority number one is to drive innovation. I firmly believe that the best companies in the world always push the boundaries of innovation and always lead and really provide a path for their customers — a vision of where that set of technologies or that platform is going.
Priority No. 2: We have an incredible early adoption of corporate customers using Docker as a platform to run their applications — frankly, to build their applications, deliver them and manage them. And I want to make sure that we as a company support that enterprise customer base. Today we have about 400 enterprise customers, and that’s really been over the course of the last year or so that those enterprise customers have adopted Docker, so the rate of growth is phenomenal. I think our capacity to add value to those enterprise customers is huge. They’re running legacy applications. They’re building new applications on top of the Docker platform, and that’s driving massive economic savings for them. They’re able to see 75-500 percent reduction in the application infrastructure. That’s massive economic value but they’re also building their next-generation apps inside the Docker environment, and not only building these apps but also connecting them across their legacy applications, and frankly to external applications. So priority No. 2 is to serve our enterprise customers in a way that those customers can rely upon a world-class company to run and scale their application environment.
The third is, look, we want to be the place where literally the best talent in engineering and sales and customer support want to go work, and want to go build the next-generation technology company. So those are the three questions we’ve got.
PREVIOUSLY Docker names Steve Singh as new CEO, tapping former Concur and SAP exec for next growth phase
GW: Given your background, this seems like a very different type of company that you’ll be going out and leading, compared to Concur selling travel and expense management software. Now you’re selling container platforms to CTOs and the heads of development organizations. It seems like it’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge, and I’m curious how you think about that.
Steve Singh: I don’t think so. I think there’s a lot of commonalities across Docker and Concur, not the least of which is that we serve the enterprise customer, and we deliver great value to the enterprise customer. So figuring out how to reach them, serve them and support them is an important priority for Docker, and the common link across Docker and Concur.
One of the things that’s been important to bring out is, for the last 2-and-a-half years, as I’ve run a number of businesses for SAP, I had a chance to meet with CIOs across some of the largest companies in the world. There’s a couple of things that routinely came out. Number one was that CIOs are looking to take their existing IT infrastructure and drive cost savings across that. So Docker is an enabler of that objective. The second is, they’re looking to drive those savings into new investment, new savings across their company, so they can actually drive better value for their customers by digitizing their entire corporation. Watching that demand across the CIO environment, it just became obvious that there’s a massive shift coming in how applications are built and delivered and managed. It just so happened that I was on the board of the company at the heart of it.
GW: You’ve been based historically in the Seattle region. Docker is in San Francisco. Will you move there? Will Docker move here?
Steve Singh: Docker is headquartered here in San Francisco, but we have offices in Paris, we have offices in Cambridge (UK), and we have offices around the country. Like Concur, and like SAP, we’re going to continue to grow our footprint on a global basis. Seattle will be an important part of our employee base, and so I’ll continue to reside in Seattle but I’m going to spend a lot of time here at the headquarters and on the road with customers and partners.
GW: Can you be more specific about plans to establish an office in Seattle or here in the region?
Steve Singh: I think it’s logical to assume that we’ll have a footprint in Seattle. Seattle is a fantastic tech community, and there’s incredible talent there, and we want to make sure that we leverage that opportunity.
GW: Are you looking to raise more more money, or are you looking to lead the company toward what many assume will be an eventual IPO?
Steve Singh: First of all, Docker has plenty of capital to run against its game plan. We have the capital to build the business we want to build, and get to cash flow break even. Having said that, we will opportunistically look at an additional financing round, but only if it makes sense for us, and anything we do in additional financing would be to accelerate our focus on the enterprise and our focus on driving innovation faster. That said, our objective, like any great company is, over time, not only build a great company but look at being a public entity as well.
GW: Can you speak to where this leaves SAP and Concur, and what happens to the leadership there?
Steve Singh: As you know, I announced my departure from SAP a few weeks back. My last day at SAP was April 30. So I’m obviously transitioned out of SAP. I spent the better part of month working with not only the Concur team but also SAP’s new head of cloud, Rob Enslin, who by the way happens to be a very dear friend of mine. Rob’s a fantastic guy, and he’s now running all of SAP’s cloud businesses. My sense is that they won’t miss a beat. In my view, the goal of every executive ought to be how do you build a team that can thrive without you. That’s something we were able to accomplish at SAP.
Relative to Docker, this is my full-time focus. This is something I’m incredibly excited about, and like anything else I’ll throw myself into it and enjoy it along the way.
GW: You had a great partnership over the years with your brother, Raj, and Mike Hilton. What’s your relationship like with (Docker CTO and founder) Solomon Hykes, and can you describe the working relationship there?
Steve Singh: We’re good friends. This is driven by a number of things, not the least of which is I have an unbelievable amount of respect for this guy — what he was able to create in Docker brought back memories of the early days of Concur. He had an idea and incredible faith in that idea, and he built it. That’s what Solomon was able to do, and obviously with Ben he was able to expand that footprint and set the foundation for what I hope will be an incredible company.
Solomon is an incredible product visionary, and I’m looking forward to working with him to expand our business — not just the community that adores him, the developer community, but also the enterprise community.
GW: Steve, how do you view the management of a company that is based around a very important open-source project? Obviously, there’s a lot of enterprise companies that are doing that these days, but there can be some friction and some challenges along the way with that. How do you view the whole notion of building this company around the open-source project, and the importance of keeping them together but also keeping some healthy separation?
Steve Singh: I have a foundational view, and it’s shared by Solomon and it’s shared by every member of our board, and frankly the management team of Docker. I think that next-generation technology companies will be based or will certainly leverage open source as a model. I think the reason for that is very simple: It embraces the ingenuity of nearly anyone in the world. I think that will drive faster acceleration of products and technologies, and frankly, I think it expands the capacity to innovate. In my view, this is just the next generation of how technology companies will be built.
GW: Extending that, we’ve seen a lot of activity around the container management space. You’re obviously participating there with Swarm, but I think you’re still better known for the underlying container technology. How do you look at business line expansion then, with things like Swarm, or maybe other products that come down the road, and where Docker needs to be as far as execution on that.
Steve Singh: We’re in the fortunate position that we are the leading platform company in this broader container-as-a-service space, number one. Number two, if you think about orchestration — things like Swarm or things like Kubernetes — our view is that what our customers are looking for is a platform to run their applications, manage them and deliver them. We want to take an open platform approach that allows the customers the choice to pick whatever components that they want from Docker and whatever components they want from anyone else, and run them in a model that makes sense for them. We have a number of customers that use the Docker platform as well as components from either the open source community or partners. That’s fantastic. When customers have choice, that’s a great thing.
GW: Who do you see yourself competing against then? Do you see yourself competing against companies that are laying orchestration on top of it, is this something that eventually public cloud providers will start to build in themselves? There’s got to be a couple of companies out there that are on your radar.
I think that you have to look at Docker as a company that creates a new market, a new category. It solves a very specific customer problem that wasn’t being addressed in the past. By definition, you’re going to have competition come in and say, look, I want to participate in that. I think that’s fantastic. Having said that, we’re going to invest across innovation, invest across our ability to reach customers and serve customers, at a level that in my view will allow Docker to not only lead but more importantly set the agenda in this market. This is no different what Concur did in its market, what Salesforce did in its market. There will always be great competition. In my view it’s not only healthy for customers; it’s healthy for us. It drives us to be better. Our objective is to keep pushing the bounds, keep pushing innovation, and keep leading. On that, I’m really comfortable that we’ll continue to do so.
Editor’s Note: The Singh Family Foundation underwrites GeekWire’s Impact Series.