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Navigating the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship: Insights from Redpanda Founder Alex Gallego

In this episode, Redpanda's Alex Gallego embarks on a comprehensive exploration of the entrepreneurial journey.

Por Adam O'Donnell, Host of the Sit Down Startup podcast

Última actualización el May 29, 2024

Starting a business is inherently difficult, and for Alex Gallego, the challenges of entrepreneurship were further complicated by personal struggles. As he was building his company, Redpanda, his mother was moved into palliative care and he lost a child. Gallego says one of the difficulties of being a solo founder is that there is no one who can step in and take your place within your company. “As the CEO, there are a lot of problems, and you still have to show up on Monday and continue to perform.”

Founded in 2019, Redpanda is a simple, fast, and affordable streaming data platform compatible with Kafka APIs. The company has seen significant growth in recent years, but there have been considerable challenges, too. The most difficult times for the founder occurred when struggles in his personal life coincided with professional setbacks. “It’s a psychotic roller coaster of your lows; you experience the full spectrum of sadness and happiness, but largely, you can’t show it.” Tune in to learn more about his journey and how he navigated through tough times.

Unpacking the ever-evolving CEO priorities

The role of a CEO evolves with the company. During his first eight months of being a founder, Gallego’s priority was writing the code that would make Kafka easy to use. When investor Arif Janmohamed wanted to meet with Gallego, the CEO postponed the meeting. “I said, ‘Can we meet in eight months because I’m busy writing code.’ What were we going to talk about? I need to finish the thing so we can go and sell it.” Gallego knew that if he built dependable software for mission-critical systems, Redpanda would achieve product-market fit.

After releasing the company’s source code, Gallego’s focus shifted to recruiting. He had to ensure he understood the roles within the company he was recruiting for. “I think as a CEO, you are incompetent at a bunch of jobs until you find someone who is super competent at those jobs, whether it’s marketing or sales or solution engineering.”

Gallego also had to understand the market structure and how Redpanda would fit into the wider landscape. “The first year of selling is making up pricing and understanding what your competitors do,” he says. “You are trying to get big brands to sign on to your product. For us, it was kind of this binary thing where we went from zero to the hardest Kafka workloads in the world.”

Redpanda quickly gained traction, attracting government contractors and Fortune 2000 companies. As the company scaled, Gallego transitioned from coding to reviewing code, aligning his role with the changing needs of the company. “My job is to do the things that add the highest impact to the company and have multiplicative value.”

The importance of a remarkable developer experience

Redpanda started as a fun project that Gallego worked on in his apartment in Miami. “One of the liberating things about being an engineer is that you don’t have to ask for permission,” he says. “You open your laptop and you write the code.” He started blogging about his project, and then he open-sourced an RPC framework and began gaining momentum. Redpanda was adopted internally by an Italian database and by a few governments. “It was just a communication framework, so once I wrote the storage engine, it took off.”

Within three months, five Fortune 1000 companies wanted to use Gallego’s product. And the CEO of a company he had sold to before offered him $1 million by the end of the year. Gallego recalls, “I had just started this project … I thought, it’s probably impossible for me to develop a fully distributed storage engine that competes with another one in 12 months, but I will try. That was just the conviction.”

Redpanda embraced the opportunity to work with large organizations and was soon adopted by a European telecommunications company and an electric car company. “It really took off on its own, but I built the thing that I wish I had first,” says Gallego.

As a developer, Gallego knew it was critical to enhance the developer experience. “I was [asking], how can I get this to be the easiest thing to install in the world?” Redpanda even set a goal to win over developers within 60 seconds, and although the team is not quite there yet, they’re working hard to meet it. Gallego says, “Today, you can get a production version of Redpanda on an ECS or GKE cluster in one minute and 30 seconds flat.”

Redpanda continues to grow and evolve, but Gallego’s focus on wowing developers in less than 60 seconds remains a constant. “That has been the metric we have obsessed on,” he says. Gallego’s unwavering commitment to creating an exceptional developer experience continues to drive Redpanda’s success and innovation.

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