CTOs you should know: Robert Reeves, Datical

by Colin Morris
November 19, 2015
This article is part of a series of 5 CTOs you should know in Austin. Click here to see more.
Datical was founded in 2012 to address a simple problem for people with complicated jobs. Database administrators couldn’t update database schemas as fast as their coder counterparts could update the software that used them.
That’s largely because new tools and methodologies like cloud computing, Agile and DevOps have emerged to simplify and automate large chunks of software development. Meanwhile, tracking and applying database changes has remained an arduous task.
The most popular tool for managing it is Liquibase, an open source project created in 2006 by Nathan Voxland. Liquibase was acquired in 2012 by Datical, which kept the project open source and hired its creator as Benevolent Dictator for Life. DBAs using it can now rely on Datical for support in the forums, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing Voxland is getting paid to maintain it.
Those database admins can also thank CTO and co-founder Robert Reeves, who recognized the market demand for a tool like Liquibase early on. Now he’s driving Datical along the cutting edge of feature requests from those same forums, rolling out new features and integrations to help DBAs keep up with developers’ rapidly evolving toolkits.
We caught up with Reeves by phone to talk about Datical and what makes Austin tech unique.

What technologies power your business?

There are all sorts of tools to help developers, testers and SysAdmins, but there ain’t nothin’ for the DBA. What’s happening now is developers and testers are getting faster by an order of magnitude while the DBAs are left out in the cold. The analogy I use is Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory trying to wrap chocolates. That’s what the DBAs are going through. Agile, DevOps and cloud are the thing on the other side of the wall making that conveyer belt go faster.
The only thing making DBAs go faster is Datical. We’re the only game in town—I mean on the planet. The reason no one else is doing it is it’s boring and not sexy. It’s typical Austin tech that way.

What are lessons you've learned about working in Austin that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

I wish it were more complicated, so we could act like the smartest guys in the room, but it’s as simple as understanding the risks and challenges. We’re just a bunch of computer nerds in Austin, and the model we’ve followed is the Austin model: Listen to the customer, see what’s out there, and build something compelling that hits the nail on the head again and again.
Don’t listen to the critics saying Austin tech startups have low valuations because there’s not enough venture capital. I travel a lot, and I hear investors outside of Austin saying 1) You guys have small exits and 2) We don’t make consumer stuff here.
I would argue the reason valuations are low is that B2B companies, which we tend to be in Austin, need more time to fine-tune the product before we can show traction. Compare that to B2C startups like Airbnb, who can show consumer traction in large markets very quickly. When a B2B entrepreneur goes for a second or fourth round of funding, he or she has to say to investors, ‘Look, we have some pretty good leads and our prospects are working with us. Do we have any sales? No.’ And that’s why the valuation is going to be low. 
There’s still risk associated with it. So saying Austin valuations are low is comparing apples and oranges.
And we do consumer stuff, but it has to be in a bottle, not on a phone. Look at Deep Eddy and Stubbs BBQ.

Austin is known for having a large talent pool of thirsty, young workers. What are the top characteristics you look for in a potential hire?

We have a mantra at Datical: A’s hire A’s; B’s hire C’s.
The day before I leave this company—hopefully because of some kind of IPO or acquisition—I hope I look around and realize I couldn’t get a job at this company. I hope everyone we’ve hired hires better and better people and in the end, the only reason I’m sticking around is because they can’t get rid of me.
The number one thing we look for in new hires is courage. A strong sense of self worth. Confidence in their abilities so they aren’t threatened by the other people they hire. We hire people that can replace us. That is your job as a manager. As a leader, you’re always hiring your replacement.
Thing number two: No punks, no jerks.
I don’t need somebody learning on my dime. I don’t need someone fresh out of college who’s going to work for me for 90 days and say they need a raise or to be a VP. I want folks who’ve “been there, done that.” I want people to look at the cloud and say “dude, that’s old tech. We had that on the mainframe.”
The jerks thing comes from this: I’m going to spend more time at work than with my family. So they better not be jerks. I got no time for some guy who thinks he’s hot stuff and talks over people. I need nice people with good hearts who have integrity and are concerned about the dignity of others.
The technology is a given. Yes, you can write code. That’s the cover charge. Whether you’re going to get into the VIP room? That’s the hard stuff. Are you a good person? Do you say please and thank you? When you drink the last cup of coffee, do you make another pot? Do you put the toilet seat down?

How would your team describe working with you?

I’d say it’s fun, challenging and a pain in the ass sometimes. I will never ask somebody to do something that I would not be willing to do myself.
I order lunch on Fridays. It is a pain, especially as we grow as a company. No pickles on this one, extra pickles on that one. We just moved into these new offices and I was here with the construction guys getting the drywall and paint going. I did the move. It’s very much that mantra of service leadership. I try to adhere to that.
I think other folks would say I have a very workman, blue-collar approach to technology and building these companies. These people I have, I’m very blessed and fortunate to have around me. I know they could always go somewhere else. They would get hired in a heartbeat. We have unsolicited recruiters calling them all the time. But they stay because they’re amazing and they’re recognized for that at this company.
I (and we) express our gratitude at every opportunity. When you’re a techie in this town, you can work anywhere. You’re most likely way overpaid. Look at roofers and plumbers, man. Do not tell me sitting at a computer is harder than what they do, especially in August in Texas.
Tech workers are paid well and could go anywhere. When you take that out of it, what is the thing that keeps them around?
I think it’s the mission: We don’t sell software. We sell piano recitals, baseball games, and dates with your significant other. That’s the stuff you can do because you aren’t stuck updating your database.
That’s what we sell, and I think that’s what people like about working at Datical and about working with me.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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