ClearSky CEO Ellen Rubin Talks Big Data -- And The Big Leverage Of The Channel

An up-and-coming executive shares how her storage startup is working with MSPs and how help from another woman executive has been crucial to ClearSky's progress.

Along with having been part of a string of hits in the tech world -- an IPO, an acquisition and now running a well-funded storage startup -- Ellen Rubin has covered a lot of industry territory in her career. It might even seem like she's jumped around a bit. She's had her hand in personalization (Manna), analytics (Netezza, IPO), cloud migration (CloudSwitch, acquired by Verizon) and storage -- at her current company, ClearSky Data, where she's the co-founder and CEO.

But there is a common thread running between all of them -- data. Tons of it. Too much for the IT department to handle.

"The one thing that's always common is that [IT professionals] have more data to manage than they can possibly manage," Rubin said. And that's actually what she likes about working in the world of IT infrastructure. "What I like is there's a dynamic where you're dealing with IT guys who are always over-burdened, struggling with vendors they don't like, and told they have to do more with less. And if you can show them something that gets them excited, that's a really big deal," Rubin said.

Another element that many of Rubin's companies have shared in common is making the channel a crucial part of the equation. As vice president of marketing at Netezza -- which went public in 2007 and was acquired by IBM in 2010 for $1.78 billion -- Rubin says she saw firsthand how working with channel partners was able to accelerate the business.

Working with partners involved mapping out the channel ecosystem and getting a feel for which players might be "looking for something new and exciting to give their business differentiation," she said.

Rubin is replicating the approach at ClearSky Data, which works closely with managed-service providers to bring its enterprise storage service to customers. The service enables MSPs to spend less time and money by not having to replicate data at multiple backup sites, according to the company.

Rubin said that even as the CEO of ClearSky, she personally spends a large amount of time working with partners. "You have to be willing to invest the time to do that properly, maintain a lot of relationships," she said. "It's a significant piece of the go-to-market. It's not as immediate [of a payoff], but it's something that is, in my opinion, enormous leverage for us."

ClearSky has raised $39 million in funding since its launch in 2013, and its board members include Netezza founder Jit Saxena and Paula Long, co-founder of EqualLogic and DataGravity.

Long, Rubin said, agreed to be on the board of ClearSky even though she's busy as the CEO of her own storage company with DataGravity. Long has been lending her expertise to ClearSky since the startup's early days and "was already emotionally involved," Rubin said, when she asked Long to join the board. She "was directly involved when we were working on some of the architecture and the product requirements document, and she worked with us directly on that," Rubin said. "She knows so much about the industry, and she's a very, very active voice on the board."

As for her own time management, Rubin, who has two daughters, said work-life balance requires having a clear understanding with family members that "when they need something you'll drop everything and be available," but that "you could be on the road a lot of the time," too. "You truly, truly need to have your family sign up for what you're doing," she said. "That's really, really key."

Similar Topics