Journal:

In Depth: Lloyd Tabb

June 2, 2015

On an unusual, yet greatly needed, rainy day in May, we sat down with Lloyd Tabb for a conversation about the origins of Looker, why the Santa Cruz culture runs deep in the company and what the future may hold for tech in our community.

Please Introduce yourself and tell us what you do:

I am Lloyd Tabb, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Looker.

What does Looker do?

Looker is a company that helps other companies see their data. We built a product that other companies use to explore their data the same way you use Google to explore the web.

How did you start Looker? How did it come together?

“I am a software developer, I write software. I’ve been writing software forever. In all the companies that I've been involved with, the key factor to their success when I've been involved is their facility with data. Most companies aren’t very good at it. I got very good at it and realized that there was software that needed to be written to help other people be good with their data so that’s what I sat down to do.”

“Ben Porterfield and I, a friend who I had worked with at another company, sat down and started writing Looker one summer. We just started building it and getting customers [and] it’s grown ever since.”

"I've been here for 26 years, raised my family here, my kids were born here, and I want to work where I live.”

What are the benefits of running a tech business in SC?

“Santa Cruz is a really special place. Talent is available here. We have people who live in Santa Cruz, we have people who commute from Palo Alto and come to Santa Cruz. Their commute from Palo Alto is less time to get to Santa Cruz than it is if they were to go work at a job in the City [San Francisco]. From Palo Alto south it is actually better, we can draw anyone that would be commuting to Santa Cruz, so we are able to attract great talent here. But we are also able to move people here because it’s a great place to live. People want to live where its great to live. There is also an amazing number of people already here who are going the other way. So between all of that, it's a fantastic place to have a company.”

Why did you choose your location, why did you choose this building?

“We chose the Rittenhouse Building because it is one of the nicest buildings in Santa Cruz. I’d been to a couple of fundraisers on the 4th floor and saw the decks all the way around the building and said, ‘Some day this would be a great place to work.’ The ability to be inside and outside is fantastic, the light in the space is fantastic, the downtown location is fantastic; so we felt very fortunate to be able to get the space.”

Had you worked in downtown Santa Cruz before?

“I have. Looker was started at Cruzio [Cruzioworks Coworking space]. Actually, it was started at my house, and then when we needed a place to work together with more than two people we moved to Cruzio and we grew there until we were about six people.”

What is special about Santa Cruz?

“In Santa Cruz, people choose their lives in a way that's different than other places I've been. Everyone’s trying to figure out how best to live their days in a healthy, passionate way. In Santa Cruz people have passions and they work towards those. It’s fantastic and I want to be around that.”

“I’m a numbers guy and I always look for measures of things that will tell me what's happening. One of the measures I use to describe Santa Cruz is the number of open studios per capita. So, every fall Santa Cruz has Open Studios [Art Tour]. There's literally hundreds of people who have open studios in a town that’s our size. It’s amazing to me that if you look at the number of actual practicing artists per capita I don't think you would find any town that’s greater - but it's also a tech hub, but it's also the world's best surf place, plus there’s mountain biking, plus there's a college here. For a town our size we are just amazing.”

“In Santa Cruz, people choose their lives in a way that's different than other places I've been. Everyone’s trying to figure out how best to live their days in a healthy, passionate way. In Santa Cruz people have passions and they work towards those. It’s fantastic and I want to be around that.” — Lloyd Tabb

What opportunities do you see in Santa Cruz?

“You know, I'm not very good at predicting the future. The interesting thing about the new tech centers are that they are all in places people want to live. So, if you look at Boulder, if you look at Austin, you look at New York, look at London, look at Berlin, San Francisco--these are all very attractive places to live because of what they offer besides work, and Santa Cruz is one of those places, so I think we have an opportunity to be a fantastic tech hub.”

How’s business?

“Business is off the hook… When you start a company you put forth plans and you use those plans to help you raise money. We’ve consistently beaten the heck out of every plan we've ever put out and that just shocks me. I've never been in this situation before. It's a fantastic position to be in. It’s just crazy!”

Did you think that would happen in Santa Cruz?

“Looker has a culture that works well because it’s in Santa Cruz, but we don’t think about being in Santa Cruz all that much. But Santa Cruz has a lot of influence on who we are. Today we are going to take about 20 people mountain biking at 4 o’clock this afternoon, where else can you do that? Yesterday afternoon, a whole group of people went surfing from Looker. We take advantage of where we are but we don’t really think about it more than taking advantage of it.”

It seems like you have a really strong company culture at Looker. How do you think that has come into play?

“Looker is complex. If your business is data there is a lot to it and having the ability to get educated by your coworkers is really important. We’ve tried to create a safe learning environment for people to learn about data and learn how to use Looker and how teach our customers about it. The culture at Looker is about being able to be safe asking questions.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple of wins in my career. And in the places where I’ve won, I’ve got lifetime friends because we've been through something hard but successful together, and I feel a lot of that happening here at Looker. I see the friendships being forged. It's fun to work when you're winning and I see that happening for a lot of the people working here.”

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Today we are going to take about 20 people mountain biking at 4 o’clock this afternoon, where else can you do that? Yesterday afternoon, a whole group of people went surfing from Looker. We take advantage of where we are but we don’t really think about it more than taking advantage of it.”

So we are sitting in this space that you’re going to be moving in to. Can you tell us, what are your plans for the future?

“Looker’s plans are to continue to grow and keep providing great service to the world in data. Tech companies generally just keep growing so we hope our growth continues.”

What about you, what are you plans for the future?

“For me, a good life is good days and I love coming to work at Looker. I’ve got great days when I’m here. I’m around brilliant people. I’m around nice people and I get to ride my bike to work.”

What advice would you give someone who is considering opening a tech business in Santa Cruz?

“Santa Cruz is a great place to have a company. When we started here people said, ‘Oh you’re going to have a hard time hiring.’ It has not been hard hiring. People have asked, ‘When are you going to move it over the hill?’ The answer is we’re not. And I would give them the same advice I would give anyone starting a company which is basically listen to your customers, talk to people about what they really need. Building software is really about empathy.”

Where do you see the tech sector headed in Santa Cruz?

“You know I was here in the late 80’s. I worked at Borland and Borland was one of the best places in the world around programming languages. So some of the best programming language designers in the world moved from every place to here in Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz County. It showed me that you can build amazing companies right here. There’s always been the ability to build great companies here. We’re building one now and when that happens there tend to be other ones that follow, so I think that there will be more companies here.”

“For a long time there was this belief that you couldn't have a company in Santa Cruz. We faced this when we were starting Looker. [People said] “Really you're going to have it in Santa Cruz?” and the answer is for us, it's been amazing. So I would imagine others would see that and follow.”

Anything else you would like to say?

“My kids were born in Santa Cruz, they grew up with friends in Santa Cruz, and we have many local kids that my kids grew up with working at Looker today. Brilliant kids, working at Looker that I've known since they were in kindergarten. That, that is different and fabulous.”

“I think that is one of the most exciting things for me: making a great place to work for great people. You asked me why I started Looker, well one of the reasons was that. Work environments are very different. Some can be great, and some can be ok, and some can be bad, but great work environments are rare and I love a great environment. When you see that you get spoiled and you always want that and that just makes the world better.”

More about Looker:

Looker experienced 400 percent growth in 2014 and now surpasses 250 customers since its launch less than two years ago, distinguishing Looker as the fastest growing SaaS company in the business intelligence space. Looker customers represent the brightest and most exciting companies in their fields, from world-class enterprises to innovative technology companies, including Yahoo!, Warby Parker, Asana, Instacart, Docker, Venmo, Upworthy, and Gilt.

In March 2015, Looker raised a $30 million Series B financing round led by Meritech Capital Partners, with participation from Sapphire Ventures (formerly SAP Ventures), and existing investors Redpoint Ventures, First Round Capital, and PivotNorth. The company is headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, with offices in San Francisco, New York, and London.

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