Founders Spotlight: Josh Patterson & Wes McKinney of Voltron Data
Voltron Data: Revolutionizing the Way We Interact with data and Hardware
“Voltron Data is focused on making the data science ecosystem more efficient with modular and composable analytics building blocks. Modularity and composability help us build bridges—not walls—across the analytic ecosystem. ” said Josh Patterson, co-founder and CEO.
Voltron Data launched in February 2022 with $110 million in Seed and Series A funding, led by Walden Catalyst. In this blog post, the two co-founders, Josh Patterson and Wes McKinney share insights about their entrepreneurial journey:
Josh Patterson, co-founder and CEO of Voltron Data, got his first taste of entrepreneurship—and adversity—right out of college, when he took over his family’s commercial construction firm.
He’d been at the company for six years when the Great Recession hit and projects started to dry up. At a family barbecue in 2009, his father quietly took him aside and broke the news: “Josh,” he said. “You’ve done a great job running the company but there’s no new work, so maybe it’s time for you to move on.”
The family business ultimately survived the recession and went on to prosper but, at the time, Patterson took the hint. He left the company and secured a position at Freddie Mac, where he worked as an economic research analyst, delving into—of all things—housing market data and trying to piece together the roots of the financial crisis.
“That’s really when I started thinking about systems differently,” he says. “We had very weird internal clusters and I had to spend a lot of time manually mapping all the data back together.”
A better way to data interoperability
Patterson came to believe that there must be a better way to handle and process large sets of disparate data. And he held to this belief as he moved forward in his career. Several years after Freddie Mac, he took a job as senior director at Nvidia, where he created and led engineering for Rapids.ai, an end-to-end platform for executing data science on the Nvidia GPU.
At Nvidia, Patterson continued to focus on the problem of delivering efficient and fast data interchange. He met others interested in the same problem, including Wes McKinney, Rodrigo Aramburú and Darren Haas, who would go on to be his co-founders at Voltron Data.
McKinney recently assisted in the creation of Apache Arrow, a multi-language toolbox for accelerated data interchange and in-memory computing that was quickly becoming the de facto standard for seamless interoperability among computing engines, modern computing hardware and programming languages.
“One of the motivations I had with helping to start the Apache Arrow project was to bring standardization not only at the data interoperability level but also to enable the standardization of computing engines for data science,” says McKinney.
The goal of Arrow, McKinney says, is to enhance seamless connectivity across programming languages and to help accelerate analytics on modern computing hardware. “That’s actually how I came to meet Josh, because he was at Nvidia looking at how to expand the use case for GPUs beyond deep learning to AI and data science.”
McKinney noticed that there were actually many groups of developers in the Apache Arrow ecosystem were working to accelerate various layers of the modern data analytics stack from different directions. “I think each group felt limited in certain ways and thought there were missed opportunities for collaboration,” explains McKinney. “That’s when we saw the opportunity to create a unified, accelerated computing company built around the Apache Arrow project; we think that the future of analytical computing is ‘Arrow-native’, and by working together we can make that happen faster.”
Unlocking the potential of data analytics
This was the origin of Voltron Data. It would bring together groups that were all working on the same kinds of problems from a different perspective to build a unified analytical computing stack that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Building a company around Arrow also made good financial sense. After all, Arrow has enjoyed skyrocketing popularity in the developer community, with more than 42 million downloads per month. Today, companies like Amazon AWS, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Netflix and Snowflake have adopted Arrow to speed data access and analytical processing.
Voltron Data is now one of the largest contributors to Apache Arrow and is committed to developing open-source computing, thereby unlocking the untapped potential of the data analytics industry. The company believes deeply in building more bridges across the data science and analytics industry to accelerate the efficient development of data tools. Through these standards, customers can interchange and process massive datasets between the applications and tools they already use and love.
“At its core, Voltron Data is about standards, modularity and composability,” says Patterson. “There’s a lot of waste at every level of the stack. But once we have these modular reusable building blocks, it allows people to really focus on the part of the stack they care about most, while leaving the repetitive things to others. If we do this correctly, massive new systems can be built easier, faster, better. Being able to empower developers to do that is really our long-term mission.”
A commitment to more than data
On a personal level, Patterson says that serving as CEO of Voltron Data has been one of the greatest honors of his life. He is especially proud of creating an organization built around the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. The company is committed to adding new employees across the spectrum of race, gender and sexual orientation and ensuring that everyone feels heard and empowered.
Today, Voltron Data has nearly 100 employees, of whom 20% are African American, 15% Hispanic, 15% Asian and roughly 20% women. “It’s one of the best feelings to know that people feel included at Voltron Data and understand that this is a place where they can bring their superpowers every day and get things done,” says Patterson. “It’s hard to build an inclusive environment but that’s something we’re continuing to improve on.”
An ideal venture partner
Voltron Data launched in February 2022 with $110 million in Seed and Series A funding, led by Walden Catalyst. Patterson says he couldn’t be happier. “Honestly, working with Lip-Bu Tan has been amazing. I’ve never met someone so galactically busy- who can still find time to answer questions, make introductions, and be intimately involved with the company. He quickly built trust and paid that trust forward very early on, so the growth of our company is, for a lot of reasons, because of our partnership with WCV.”
Lip-Bu is equally glowing in his praise for Patterson and the Voltron Data team, noting that they have made great strides in a short time. “The Voltron Data team has illustrated a vision of a united analytical-computing world in which practitioners can transcend data silos to easily access and compute upon data,” he says. “Together with Voltron Data, we seek to unite hardware, frameworks and programming languages to accelerate this vision.”