Steve Singh is well-known in the Seattle area for his role in building Concur into an enterprise tech success. Now the veteran technology executive is about to take control of one of the hottest companies in tech.
Docker, the company that has brought container-based software development to the forefront, announced earlier today that Singh will become its new CEO, eight months after he joined the company’s board of directors. Mainstream use of Docker’s container technology is only just beginning, and the company occupies an extremely interesting place in the tech landscape as more and more companies embrace cloud-native software development techniques.
“Every once in awhile you find transformational companies — companies that can really change the technology landscape,” Singh said in an interview with GeekWire Tuesday. “Docker is that kind of company.”
Docker is the leading example of container technology, a critical component of creating and deploying software in the cloud, allowing developers to package up an app and the components needed to run it for distribution across a variety of devices and platforms.
Singh joined the board of Docker last November after entreaties from former CEO Ben Golub and Chief Technology Officer Solomon Hykes, he said. They met up at DockerCon in Seattle last year. “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,” Singh said.
At some point soon thereafter, Singh said Golub asked him to be the CEO, which he initially declined, telling Golub that he was more than capable of leading Docker. “With time, that conversation kind of got rekindled, not just with Ben but with the entire board and investors,” he said.
The rise of Concur
Concur was the vehicle for Singh’s fortune and career. He founded the company with his brother, Rajeev Singh, and Mike Hilton way back in 1993, and successfully navigated the shift to the software-as-a-service model that so many tech companies from that era could not manage.
“Steve and his brother Raj were able to successfully navigate steering Concur from the challenges of establishing a startup as an industry player through the shoals of an IPO into being a leading public company. This is exactly what Docker needs,” said Tom Alberg, who co-founded Seattle powerhouse Madrona Venture Group and has been a player in the Pacific Northwest technology landscape for 20 years.
Concur was based around the idea that managing business travel and expense reporting was far more complicated than it needed to be, which resonated both business leaders and employees frustrated by clunky systems. It’s quite a different business than Docker, which is making core Linux technology based on an open-source project easier for forward-thinking software development organizations to use.
Still, Singh does have experience that had to resonate with Docker’s board of directors: he sold the fast-growing but unprofitable Concur to SAP in 2014 for $8.3 billion. Docker is really just starting to mass meaningful revenue; the company discloses next to nothing about its financials, but Singh told GeekWire that the company now has 400 enterprise customers, most of which came on board in the last year.
It’s hard to imagine Docker’s board is looking for a quick sale. While the company is still burning cash, it has captured a foundational place in the enterprise computing strategies of the next ten or so years, as more and more traditional legacy IT departments move to cloud computing. Powerhouse cloud vendors like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google are falling over themselves to work with Docker.
“There’s never been an infrastructure technology that has gotten mass adoption and had such an impact on the industry as Docker,” said Dan Scholnick of Trinity Ventures, an investor and longtime board member.
Yet there’s still a long way for Docker to go before it turns into this decade’s version of VMware, which brought virtual machines into mainstream development cycles and became a very successful business in the mid 2000s.
Singh’s most immediate task will be to take that buzz surrounding Docker and turn it into revenue: “Steve took a company from zero to a huge amount of revenue before it was acquired, and that’s what we’re interested in,” Scholnick said.
The Seattle area might see a lot more container engineers walking around town, as well. While he wouldn’t commit to any specifics, Singh told GeekWire that he’s eyeing his hometown as a potential new office for Docker: “I think it’s logical to assume we’ll have a footprint in Seattle.”
There’s another side to Singh, as well.
After a 2014 GeekWire story on a visit by leading female tech CEOs in the Seattle area to the Seattle Girls School, Singh reached out to GeekWire co-founder John Cook wondering how he could ensure that more stories on important societal issues surfaced in tech news. That led to GeekWire’s Impact Series — a weekly series of editorial stories, sponsored by the Singh Family Foundation, about Pacific Northwest people and groups working to solve tough problems with technology and leadership skills.
Golub noted Singh’s spirit of giving back to the community back when he first joined Docker’s board. “We admired Steve’s sense of social responsibility. In addition to his family foundation, Steve has served on the boards of The Nature Conservatory, the Washington Roundtable, and many others,” he wrote in a post on Tuesday.
The former Docker CEO acknowledged that he was handing off the reins to Singh “with some mixed emotions,” but said, “I’ve seen that different leaders with different skills are needed at different stages in a company’s history.”
Singh’s “passion, his energy, his clarity of vision: those are the things that make him a really compelling leader, and make him the kind of guy you want to follow,” Scholnick said.