Interview: Gareth Williams on YellowDog’s journey from startup to scale-up
Billions of people around the world own smartphones, laptops and other devices, each with their own powerful processor. This is compute-power that is often left sitting, unused, whilst we sleep, are at work or off out and about.
This was until, a little over three years ago, Bristol-based techie and YellowDog‘s founder Gareth Williams (pictured left) decided to harness and monetise this under-utilised power to create the world’s fastest virtual supercomputer.
Inspired by SETI – an organisation that uses spare compute power to search for extraterrestrial intelligence – the idea quickly grew from idea to fully funded startup, firstly drawing in Bristol’s booming creative industry where finding the power to efficiently render animations was problematic.
Power was initially sourced from willing volunteers who were paid for any processing power gleaned from their devices when not in use – and YellowDog quickly became the only render company offering a 24-hour turnaround service and were recently able to reduce a render-project’s time-scale from 10 weeks down to just 4.
The startup has since gone on to win an almost endless stream of awards, including the Tech Trailblazers’ Cloud Trailblazer 2016, Oracle’s award for Excellence in Innovation 2016 and the Bristol Life Award for Technology and Innovation 2017 to name just a few.
Now in scale-up mode, this is one Bristol tech business that is growing fast – so we caught up with Gareth to get the inside scoop on his business successes.
TechSPARK: You’ve been running YellowDog for 3 years now, how has the business changed from a minimum viable product (MVP) to where it is now?
Gareth Williams: It’s not just me in my loft any more – and we have customers, lots of them! But in all seriousness, there have been two major changes for me.
Firstly, three years ago I was expecting the main source of our compute power was going to be students at universities. We quickly realised that there is a raft of underutilised compute available in businesses and in the public cloud that we can tap into. And it’s more available, more powerful and easier to manage for us as a small business.
“We have had to educate the market on what we do and why we are doing it differently”
Secondly, the size of the opportunity is right there in front of us when enterprise businesses deploy our platform within their premises’ to help speed up complex batch compute processing tasks. This opportunity stretches across banking, healthcare, retail, advanced engineering, media and entertainment.
TS: And what are the biggest benefits of the YellowDog platform as it stands?
GW: We enable businesses to access ‘limitless compute’ to help them speed up their batch compute processes. This helps them to deliver on time, save money, reduce risk and make better decisions.
TS: You’ve had some major successes over the years, which are you most proud of and why?
GW: Getting our first major customer back in February 2016. That first customer is always the most important. A close second is our first crowdfunding round back in May 2015. We raised £150K in two weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever pressed ‘refresh’ on my browser quite so often!
Experts in limitless compute: Gareth on stage at
Oracle Open World earlier this year
TS: Of course, success always comes with challenges. What have been the biggest as you grow from startup to scale-up and how have you overcome them?
GW: We do things differently. We solve complex problems in a different way to other people in the market, whether it’s businesses with their own in-house solutions, render farms, Google or Amazon Web Service.
“We’re going to be recruiting for a bunch of tech roles in the new year”
This difference, combined with the new category we’re creating and the criticality of the compute-processes that we speed up, means that we have had to educate the market on what we do and why we are doing it differently. There’s always an ‘a-ha’ when our customers get it, but that market education has taken longer than I first thought.
TS: You’re currently raising another round of funds at the moment – can you tell us more about this?
GW: We’re just in the process of closing our Series A investment: £2.6m from two VCs, from the crowd, and from our existing angel investors.
TS: And what do you hope these funds will enable YellowDog to be able to achieve?
GW: This investment will be used to deliver proof of value projects for our new YellowDog on-premise platform over the next 12 months. This means building our team – technical, sales, and support staff – whilst we continue to scale our existing rendering business.
TS: Are there any other exciting plans/projects in the pipeline for YellowDog at the moment?
GW: Yes! I’m really looking forward to our first deployment in an investment bank. There are also a number of projects in the pipeline for rendering in 2018 that I’m very much looking forward to seeing on the TV, Netflix and in the cinema.
TS: If you could give any advice to yourself 3 years ago, when you were first starting up YellowDog, what would it be and why?
GW: I wrote a letter to myself on this very topic back in September.
The main thing is how much support you need – especially from your close family and friends. My wife, Michelle, is amazing. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
TS: Can the SW tech community get involved in any of your projects? If so how?
Yes! We’re going to be recruiting for a bunch of tech roles in the new year – keep an eye out on LinkedIn or the YellowDog website. And if you have, or work with, businesses that have slow running batch processes, get in touch.