Ex-Vertica/HP Honcho Lynch Talks Next Steps, New Big Data Investments

3/16/12Follow @gthuang

“I’m a fighter. I’m only happy when I’m in some kind of battle.”

That would be Chris Lynch, the former CEO of Vertica Systems, the Cambridge, MA-based data analytics firm acquired by Hewlett-Packard for some $300 million a year ago. Lynch is looking for his next battle right now, since he left HP and Vertica as of today.

Reached by phone, Lynch says that as part of the acquisition, he committed to stay for a minimum of one year. In that year, he says, the Vertica team expanded the business, kept all of its key talent, rolled out three new software releases, and moved its headquarters from Billerica to Cambridge, all while operating independently of HP. “We’re where we want to be,” Lynch says.

And that’s why he feels it’s a good time to step out and do something new. Taking over for Lynch at Vertica will be longtime employee and vice president of products and business development Colin Mahony, who is taking on the role of VP and general manager at HP. Mahony was at Bessemer Venture Partners when the firm made its investment in Vertica. From what I can tell, HP’s and Vertica’s plan to create a “center of excellence” around big data at its Cambridge headquarters (near Alewife) will continue as planned.

Lynch isn’t quite ready to talk about what he’s doing next, except to say he has a few projects in the works. For one thing, he is an angel investor in a number of Boston-area startups, including Mortar Data (Hadoop in the cloud), Kinvey (back-end as a service for mobile apps), PowerInbox (e-mail as a social software platform), and Azuki Systems (multi-screen video delivery).

About Mortar Data, which is currently in the TechStars Boston accelerator program, Lynch says, “they’re stripping away all the complexity” of using the Hadoop data-analytics framework. “If you really want to deliver analytics everywhere, you’ve got to simplify it. And put it in the hands of knowledge workers, not just database consultants and IT people.” He draws an analogy to centralized mainframes and mini-computers giving way to client-server architectures that opened up access to IT. Now, with the explosion of mobile devices, he says, “not only can you have [access to data] in the local office, you can have it in your back pocket.”

Would he consider becoming a venture capitalist, like many entrepreneurs before him? “After spending years with [VCs] I like, it’s not for me,” he says. “I like working with young people, I like to start things, build things, and be part of a team. At Vertica I could feel myself getting reinvigorated. I give a lot of credit to the people at Vertica. The young people were so passionate, so bright. I’m going to miss them terribly. They really put a spring in my step.”

So it sounds like he wants a more hands-on role with Boston-area entrepreneurs—and to help start new companies if the right opportunities arise. “I’ll deliver more value by going and doing it elsewhere [outside HP]. In my bones, this is the spring of 1998, there’s so much that can be done,” he says. “I want to get back out there and try to be as prolific as possible.”

I asked if HP could have done more to keep him. “I don’t think so,” he says. “My history is I build things, I sell them, I stay for a certain amount of time. It’s less about the company. It’s more about me. Big companies are successful because they figure out how to do everything at scale. I’m about taking special people and getting them to do things they didn’t even know they could do. It takes a different mindset about rules and accountability. But of all the acquisitions I’ve been involved in, this is probably the best one.”

Lynch, who’s 49, adds: “I’m at a point in my life where I can do what I like to do. If it’s not 100 percent what I want, I’m not going to do it. If this was 2008 or 2001, maybe I’d be more patient. But I think the time is now. I don’t think I could create enough change fast enough to satisfy me. This is the time to be super aggressive.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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