Veering Off Topic With VoltDB CEO Bruce Reading

Xconomy Boston — 

Next up in my series of conversations with executives that take a bit of a left turn: Bruce Reading, chief executive of VoltDB.

The Bedford, MA-based startup makes database technology geared toward speed. It was founded in 2009 by Mike Stonebraker, the MIT computer scientist and prolific entrepreneur, and Scott Jarr, a former vice president of online storage company LiveVault who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Reading—a Canada native and former exec at companies like Compuware and Gomez—was tapped to run VoltDB four years ago. Read on for highlights of our e-mail exchange.

Xconomy: You readily admit that database technology isn’t very sexy. Why should the general public care about what VoltDB is working on?

Bruce Reading: We are invisible to the general public, but if you use a cell phone, drive a car, buy products online, or have an online bank/brokerage account, you are using VoltDB. We enable the applications and services that people use to be faster, smarter, and, most importantly, accurate.

X: What’s one policy you’ve instituted at VoltDB that has improved company culture?

BR: Every quarter, our activities committee selects a charity for the company to get behind and support. The company provides paid time off to everyone who gives of themselves for these very worthwhile efforts. In addition, every employee can select a charity about which they are passionate, and the company will provide them with up to a week of paid time off to work supporting their charity.

X: Speaking of time off, how do you relax outside of the office when you want to tune out the noise for a little while?

BR: I walk my dog every day—rain or shine.

X: Who is your biggest role model?

BR: My father gave me the … character I have modeled my life after. He taught me everything I know and instilled in me my passion to learn and grow.

X: What’s the most important piece of advice you would give a first-time entrepreneur or executive?

BR: Fail fast. Be aggressive in your business thinking and learn what doesn’t work as quickly as you can.

X: Where are you most productive?

BR: Clarity of thought is best when I am on my own with my dog. I try to turn that clarity into action as quickly as possible.

X: Tie or no tie?

BR: No tie. That said, I am a traditionalist and believe wearing a tie can be very powerful when appropriate.

X: You’re stranded on a desert island. Your iPhone battery just died. Now what?

BR: Read, read, and then read some more. I have so many books I want to read—a lifetime of books for when I can actually commit the time.

X: So, what’s your favorite book?

BR: “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. It was an early read (17 years old) and has had a profound impact on my life.

A great quote from Dr. Peale that I try very hard to follow: “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.”

X: What’s one American misperception of Canada that you’d like to set straight, once and for all?

BR: [That] Canada is the 51st state. Canada has a unique identity and is not merely an appendage of the United States. The American influence on Canada is undeniable but is mostly limited to superficial things like TV shows, movies, and fashion trends.

Canada has a different political system, different official languages, and a different currency.

In addition, Canada is more of a mosaic than the U.S. melting pot, meaning new Canadians from abroad are more likely and indeed encouraged to maintain their culture and traditions rather than melt into the fabric of a more uniform culture.

X: Favorite hockey team?

BR: The Toronto Maple Leafs—[I] grew up listening to Foster Hewitt calling the Leaf games from the “Gondola” at Maple Leaf Gardens. Big stuff for a 5-year-old!