A Decade of Being Different: BitTitan CEO Reflects on 10 Years in the Cloud
On my way to visit BitTitan CEO and founder Geeman Yip in his office in Kirkland, Wash., my Uber driver signals across the lake to point out Bill Gates’ house, tucked away in a lush, green pocket on the edge of the water; it serves as a reminder of the technology institutions in Seattle that have brought so much talent to the area, including Yip himself.
Yip grew up in Hawaii, and after taking his undergraduate at UC Irvine in computer science, he relocated to Seattle for a job with Microsoft, and now lives in downtown Kirkland.
He recalls the dot-com days working at Microsoft, where he spent nine years, playing foosball and working until 1 a.m. most days. “I worked because it was fun,” Yip said.
When he left Microsoft to start BitTitan in 2007, he wanted to replicate the culture that he experienced early on at Microsoft.
In some ways, BitTitan’s beginnings are familiar to that of many entrepreneurs. Yip says it was just him, an idea, and his basement. “It’s a little cold in garages in Seattle this time of year so I had to be in my basement,” Yip jokes.
BitTitan is celebrating its 10 year anniversary in 2017, and has big plans, including hiring and expanding its global offices in Singapore and opening a European office. Headquartered in Seattle, the company offers MigrationWiz, a tool that makes cloud data migration easier, and its MSPComplete platform to offer end-to-end automation for managed services providers (MSPs). Yip says it will continue to evolve its offerings with more to come in Q1 2017.
While BitTitan is focused on helping MSPs these days, the company started out in the consumer space.
Yip is no ordinary consumer. He uses Microsoft Azure for his own personal cloud; his desk at home is covered in soldering irons which he uses to create all kinds of gadgets. From his office, he can control his garage door, and even start up his sous vide machine so that the water is the perfect temperature once he gets back into his kitchen.
“It takes a long time for the water to heat up so now I can go out around town and then it will ring me and say the water is ready,” he says.
With all this in mind it’s not hard to imagine that Yip may have been a bit ahead of his time when he launched BitTitan back in 2007.
“I had accrued at that time terabytes and terabytes of data,” he says. “I digitized my life a very long time ago. One of the things I came to the realization around was this data was susceptible to being lost.”
“Obviously I’m an outlier but I knew at that time that people were digitizing their lives and we would accrue more data as a society. I wanted to create a company that was going to give away free storage and then create an entire ecosystem around your data,” he says, describing BitTitan’s initial focus. “I wrote quarter of a million lines of code, and it was awesome,” he says.
The problem was that people had no confidence in cloud security. “I couldn’t even convince my own brother, I couldn’t convince my friend’s brother,” Yip says, “even though it didn’t cost them anything.”
“I literally spent years creating and educating and I couldn’t get my beta off the ground,” he said. “I burnt through a lot of cash doing this.”
He was ready to call it quits and looking for consulting gigs when he settled on what would be the next evolution of BitTitan: email and data migration.
All of those hundreds of thousands of lines of code were not lost, Yip says, but repurposed to bring the new BitTitan to market.
“At the end of the day the cloud is here and we’re constantly trying to bet where the cloud is going. And that’s what we’ve been doing as a company,” Yip says. “We transformed ourselves from an email migration company to a data migration company because in addition to email there was now collaboration software, all these different types of software that came to play.”
The margins around professional services have been going down as the costs of storage and components continue to drop and cloud services become a commodity. As such, SIs, VARs, and other channel companies need to change their mindsets and their business models in order to make a healthy gross profit margin, Yip says.
“What is the next evolution of managed service providers? I believe that managed service providers can actually increase their margins to between 50 percent to 65 percent gross profit margin with their own IP,” he says. “That’s going to consist of licensing software and then building things around that software to build new IP.”
“They need to start to think about bringing people into their organizations that can build IP,” he says.
MSPs also need to start to become more consultative in their selling, Yip says, asking customers about their core competencies, how they operate their business, what keeps them up at night, and where they’re going to be in the next 12-24 months, and then use IT to help them solve business problems.
“If I were an MSP I’d look at what other MSPs were offering and offer the same thing,” Yip says. “But these processes, IoT devices, helping business make their business more efficient through automation, that is something different, that is something of value that you cannot put a price on and it is a very easy sell because the ROI is right there.”
BitTitan wants to help MSPs transform to this consultative approach to sales, and to provide answers to help them become a successful recurring business, Yip says, hinting that the company will launch something in Q1 to address that.
Bit by bit: Next steps for BitTitan
BitTitan closed $15 million in Series A funding in June, which will help the company in its mission to hire 100 new employees in the next 12 months. It is moving to a new office – which Yip says is four times the size of its current office – in Bellevue to accommodate up to 400 people. Expansions to its Singapore office will hold upwards of 100 people, and by the end of this year, it will add a European office as well.
“From a people growth perspective, we’re betting large and going to begin to deploy the capital we raised to expand our growth,” Yip says.
So with the company on the brink of its 10-year anniversary, what made this the right time for funding?
“Really over the last 12-18 months we recognized who we want to be when we grow up,” Yip says. “You’ve got to know where you’re going to be when you grow up to get funding, if you don’t you’re not going to give the return to your investors and you’ll go out of business for sure.”
While the business may be growing up, Yip has kept fun in focus, and has seemingly delivered on his mission back when he started the company to create a place where “he could build change and have control over the culture.”
“It’s amazing, I feel very fortunate,” Yip says. “Fifty percent is hard work and 50 percent is pure luck.”