Four years ago, three scientists and friends were working on one of the world’s greatest mysteries: the search for the God particle.They didn’t know they would soon leave physics and become cofounders of a hot young startup, Cloudant.
This summer the God particle (also known as the Higgs boson particle) was found, validating five decades of physics work and about $10 billion dollars spent to build the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
The guys from Cloudant cheered when they heard the news. All three had worked at the LHC at one point so they helped to discover this particle, which is proof of an invisible field that causes other particles to stick together and form everything physical in the universe from cells to stars.
“We were certainly very excited. We had friends in the auditorium when they made the announcement,” Cloudant cofounder Alan Hoffman told Business Insider.
But they also felt “deep disappointment,” explained cofounder Mike Miller. “Higgs was the last piece of puzzle and it was a corner piece. The hope was that would link to another puzzle or some kind of hint of where to go next but it just kind of ended the puzzle.”
But Hoffman and Miller know exactly what their future holds: growing their young database-as-as-service startup.
They had created a database that helped thousands of collider scientists to share data with others around the world, built on a popular open-source noSQL database known as Couch.
They had no plans to turn it into a for-profit business until December, 2007, when BusinessWeek ran a cover story called Google and The Wisdom of The Clouds. It was an introduction to the explosion of data now known as “big data.”
“Oh my God, this is what we do,” Miller said when he saw the article. “We all saw this as a chance.”
A few months later, in 2008, the three friends left science to launch their startup. Cloudant was accepted as into the Y Combinator Boston accelerator.
Today, it has about 40 employees, serving about 12,000 customers with its freemium cloud, with about 3% as paying customers. In 2012, it grew 10 times bigger over 2011.
Cloudant raised about $4 million in venture capital from Avalon Ventures in 2010. Plus, in October, the CIA’s venture funding arm In-Q-Tel also took a stake of an undisclosed amount.
The best part of being a startup founder compared to a physicist?
“I love how easy it is to get money as a startup compared to the grant process,” Miller laughs. As a startup,”you can walk into a room and get a handshake when things go right.”