Ex-Accomplice Partner Lynch Returns to Corner Office with AtScale
Chris Lynch has been at a crossroads.
After departing Accomplice in early 2017, where he spent the previous five years investing in early-stage data science and cybersecurity startups in the Boston area, Lynch says he did a lot of soul-searching to decide whether he wanted to remain a full-time investor or return to his roots as a tech executive.
Venture capital almost won out. In an interview, Lynch says he was out raising a new fund earlier this year and investors committed $50 million to it. But he didn’t end up taking the money, he says.
Instead, he took the helm at AtScale, a San Mateo, CA-based maker of data management tools. Today the company announced it appointed Lynch CEO and executive chairman.
“Before joining [Accomplice], I was a movie star,” Lynch (pictured above, left) says. By that, he means that he ran the show or held key roles at several tech companies, including Vertica Systems (acquired by Hewlett-Packard) and Acopia Networks (acquired by F5 Networks). As a venture capitalist, he says, you’re more like a “voyeur,” or an executive producer. “I’d rather make the movies,” Lynch says.
Accomplice, which split off from Atlas Venture in 2014, is one of the most prolific early-stage tech investors in the Boston area, and Lynch had a notable run there. He invested in Sqrrl (acquired by Amazon), Komand (acquired by Rapid7), and Nutonian (acquired by DataRobot—another of his Accomplice investments), among others.
Lynch says that part of the reason he shifted from running companies to investing in them was that it would mean less traveling. When he joined Accomplice (then part of Atlas Venture), he says, his daughter was having health issues and he needed to be home more often. Her health has greatly improved since then, and Lynch says he notified the Accomplice team about a year before he left the firm that he wasn’t going to raise the next fund with them. (Accomplice pulled in $205 million for its second fund earlier this year.)
Lynch says he doesn’t hang out with the Accomplice team, “but there’s no acrimony either.” “I don’t think there was anything really dramatic regarding the thing,” he adds. (Reached by e-mail last week, Accomplice partner Jeff Fagnan declined to comment on Lynch’s departure.)
After leaving Accomplice, Lynch formed Reverb Advisors with Cort Johnson, a former Accomplice venture partner with whom Lynch had worked closely for more than two years, according to their LinkedIn profiles. Lynch says most of the work at Reverb involved advising the companies in their investment portfolio, including helping them raise additional funding and achieving exits, he says. That included the sales of Komand and Sqrrl and a large funding round for DataRobot, he says.
“It was clear that just doing that wasn’t going to be enough for me,” Lynch says.
He was approached by Dave Mariani, co-founder and then-CEO of AtScale (pictured above, right), who was looking for someone to run the company. (Mariani’s new role is vice president of technology.)
“I’m a technology guy,” Mariani says in an interview. “I started the company, put the team together, raised the money in three different rounds, because I had to. But I’ve always been looking for that business partner, a go-to market partner.”
Mariani and Lynch connected a few years ago and hit it off, Mariani says. But Lynch didn’t end up investing in AtScale because he didn’t feel like he’d be able to contribute enough value being located across the country, Lynch says.
They reconnected over dinner at Vina Enoteca in Palo Alto, CA, a few months ago, and Lynch says Mariani impressed him with “his passion and how much of the vision he’s actually executed on.” Still, when Mariani offered Lynch the CEO job, Lynch says his initial answer was no.
But “I just kept coming back to it,” Lynch says, and Mariani eventually won him over. “It’s probably one of the last opportunities I’ll have to do something of this magnitude,” Lynch adds. (Never a dull interview, Lynch describes himself as a “young” 55-year-old who can bench press 300 pounds and once sealed the hires of two startup recruits by winning a 1 a.m. push-up contest at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston.)
Mariani says he and his co-founders, Matthew Baird and Sarah Gerweck, founded AtScale in 2013 to solve a problem that he encountered about eight years ago when he was a vice president at Yahoo. The amount of data that the business was trying to crunch was growing rapidly, and it was being stored in different silos. It was challenging to pipe the data into Yahoo’s myriad analytics tools and get the information into the right format for business intelligence (BI) analysts to easily use, he says.
“Their BI tools were born in the ’90s for a relational [database] model,” Mariani says. “What they needed was to be able to connect those BI tools and users to data,” regardless of where it’s stored.
AtScale aims to solve that problem with a “universal semantic layer” of software that enables BI users to access all the data they need, without switching the software analytics tools they use. (It sounds similar to products and services from companies like Datameer, Jethro Data, Datawatch, and Tamr.)
“I think the big payoff is allowing [businesses] to move to the cloud as fast as they want to … and not disrupt your business or your users,” Lynch says.
Lynch wouldn’t share exact financial results, but he says AtScale is generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year; the company isn’t profitable, he adds. AtScale has raised $45 million in venture capital, Mariani says. Its backers include Atlantic Bridge, Wells Fargo, and Comcast Ventures, according to media reports.
Lynch has been an advocate for the Boston tech scene, and he says he’s not abandoning the region by taking this job. His family will remain in the Boston area, and he will split his time between New England and California, he says. He will also continue to support cancer research through Tech Tackles Cancer, the local foundation he created and funds.
The plan is to open an AtScale office in the Boston area this summer, focused on sales and customer service, Lynch says. Johnson will lead that office, he adds.
“I like to see kids that grow up in this area [and] go to school in this area stay in this area, as long as the opportunities meet their ambitions,” says Lynch, who attended high school and colleges in the Boston area. “I’ll still be very involved in the Boston tech scene, hopefully leveraging [it] on behalf of AtScale.”