A Slice on Matthew Halliday, Co-Founder and EVP of Product at Incorta
Matthew Halliday graduated from the University of Liverpool and went straight to working for Oracle at their London offices in the late ‘90s. Just a few years later, they convinced him to move to the U.S. and work at the headquarters in Redwood Shores, California. Halliday would stay here for 13 years, before deciding to change things up and move to Seattle to work for Microsoft. It wasn’t long (just about two years) until the Bay Area pulled him back. After another go with Oracle, Halliday and a few of his coworkers started their own company, Incorta. Incorta is a SaaS company helping others manage and interpret their data more efficiently. Since the company was started in 2013, they’ve raised $192.6M in funding, after closing a $120M series D round in June 2021.
During his second stretch with Oracle, Halliday began noticing a pattern with customers. “I was beginning to see a disconnect between what we’ve been building in these big ivory towers at Oracle and what I was actually seeing [with customers]. There was an appetite for something different.” Customers liked Oracle’s new analytics tool because “it was a different way of looking at data,” but they wished it could be the one and only tool they had to use to analyze their data (rather than another tool to “add to their toolbox”).
This sparked a curiosity in Halliday, and he set out to find a solution. “We started having conversations about what that would look like and what were some of the root problems.” They used this information to launch Incorta and solve the problem at the root, rather than “creating a better Band-Aid.” Instead of spending time re-shaping the data, they found a way to keep its shape, and still be able to “slice, dice and aggregate it in sub-seconds.”
Thinking that iPads were going to take over the business world, they created their platform specifically for tablet use. “Obviously it didn’t quite pan out… but it was a really good mistake. By building for the iPad, it forced us to build a simpler version of what was traditionally a very complicated problem… It was a forcing function to simplicity.” Once they realized iPads were not the new normal, they kept the simplicity of the tablet-based app and translated it over to the desktop version customers wanted.
The investors they pitched to were still skeptical of the software’s potential, however. “There was a lot of, ‘You guys are gonna be able to what the likes of Oracle and Microsoft have not been able to do?’ Investors wanted incremental innovation on a small piece but we went in and said, ‘We want to crush through everything horizontally and disrupt the entire flow.’ They just felt like that was too big of an undertaking, that a startup doesn’t do that.” Halliday notes it wasn’t until they got their first set of reputable customers (Broadcom, Stanford, a Fortune 10 company) that investors started to take notice, or “wake up”. “I think a lot of those early customers were really just investors. They were betting on us as individuals, it’s not always just ‘the product speaks for itself’ in those early stages. It’s ‘who’s backing it’, ‘who’s behind it.’”
Though he had lived in the Bay Area for over a decade, Halliday hadn’t been exposed to the entrepreneurial side of Silicon Valley yet. At coffee shops, people would notice each others’ laptop stickers, sparking conversations with total strangers. “You start to see this hive of people innovating and creating conversations.” It became easy to network, and they’d often talk to someone who could recommend other people to help out in certain aspects of the business. Halliday also points out that the culture in the Bay Area is conducive to faster, more aggressive technology adoption, but the high competition and “astronomical” salaries make it a “double-edged” sword for entrepreneurs.
From his first experience as a founder, Halliday learned the importance of culture, balance and grit when starting a company. “Everyone talks about culture but it’s more important than you think it is, even the coffee machine. You really have to focus on that, and get alignment on that with the other founders early on. ‘What do actually want to create? What is this company going to be like when we have 300 [employees]?’ It sounds ridiculous when you’re at four, but that day will come.”
Halliday has noticed aspiring entrepreneurs are hesitant to take their first step, thinking they’ll have to devote all of their time to the company. “The challenge is to stop yourself from working too much, not the other way around. My issue is that I have to be really diligent not to work long hours, because I want to and because I’m so passionate about it. Think about how you’re going to keep your life in balance, because you’ll want to be working more than you probably should.”
Grit becomes essential in entrepreneurship, because of the constant challenges. “You’re going to hear some really tough conversations and things that hurt. When it’s [the company] successful, it’s going to be difficult to give up pieces and allow other people to take it when it’s been so close to you, like taking your child to daycare. A lot of people don’t stick it out and don’t go the distance because you need grit to be able to stick with it. There are lots of times where you question yourself. You can’t predict what the future is going to be, but if you give up on it, you won’t be a part of it.”
Halliday looks to keep building Incorta as a company he and his employees are proud to work for. While money is important, and an IPO could be in the future, it’s not his motivator. He emphasizes that there are “easier and safer ways to make money than to start a company.”
Matthew Halliday is originally from the UK, where he attended the University of Liverpool studying Computer Science. Post-studies, Halliday worked at Oracle and Microsoft before co-founding Incorta, where he is now EVP of Product. Connect with Halliday on LinkedIn.