After Gaurav Dhillon left Informatica – the data integration vendor he had founded and grown to become a billion-dollar business – he travelled the world. “I bummed around in Africa and South America,” he recalls. “I lived by the beach in Argentina for a bit.”
In 2005, he founded an online movie streaming website called Jaman.com, with modest success. It was a meeting with Marc Andreessen, co-creator of the pioneering Mosaic web browser and Silicon Valley wunderkind, that brought him back into the IT business.
“I was very influenced by some of Marc’s thinking around the business Internet – the idea that the systems we use to do business will grow to resemble the consumer Internet,” he explains. “I think that’s a good way of thinking about software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing.”
The quality of the web that inspired Dhillon was its effortless interoperability. “Despite being extremely heterogenous in its construction, the web works together beautifully,” he explains. “And I thought, why can’t software-as-a-service applications work together just as easily?”
In 2006, Dhillon raised the capital and rounded up a team of engineers to make that happen. The resulting technology platform, and company, is SnapLogic.
Besides Andreessen, there are two other important figures to whom SnapLogic owes its inspiration, Dhillon says. The first is Roy Fielding, the computer scientist who defined the concept of representational state transfer, or REST, to describe the way in which the worldwide web operates.
By articulating the architectural characteristics that make the web so scalable and interoperable, Fielding’s work allowed software developers to apply those characteristics to other systems such as business applications.
“At SnapLogic, we used the principles of REST to create a standardised container for data,” says Dhillon. In other words, Dhillon’s engineers devised a system of integration specifically for use over the web.
The second inspiration for SnapLogic is Apple, from which it has borrowed the concept of an app store. Having installed the standard server platform, SnapServer, either inside their own data centre or in the cloud, customers then have a choice of supplementary ‘snaps’ – plug-ins that are designed to integrate specific applications. There are individual snaps for SaaS applications such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite, and snaps for on-premise applications like Siebel CRM. Customers buy these snaps, many of which are built by third-party developers, through the company’s online ‘SnapStore’.
It was only when the company struck upon this App Store-like model in 2009 that Dhillon became CEO, having been a “backseat investor” until that point. “What got me excited to join the company was the realisation that the right way to do this is through an app store.”
It was not until the last quarter of 2010, however, that business achieved what Dhillon describes as “product-market fit”, and started winning business beyond its first few customers. In December, it won $10 million further investment (from Marc Andreessen’s venture capital firm), and is using the money to expand globally.
In March 2011, SnapLogic opened its UK office in London’s fashionable Shoreditch, not far from the ‘Silicon Roundabout’. This is another reflection of Dhillon’s hope that SnapLogic will become the integration provider for the “business Internet”, resembling a social media start-up as much as it does a traditional enterprise software company.
SnapLogic’s pricing, he says, lies somewhere in between the two models. SnapServer costs upwards of $10,000 per year, per instance, while snaps vary depending on the application to be integrated: many are free, but for the likes of Siebel CRM they can cost up to $5,000. “That’s relatively inexpensive,”