Reinvestment & A2 Culture with Jordan Martz of Databricks
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
The problem with growing Ann Arbor tech faster than it's already growing, according to Databricks Solutions Architect and Partner Jordan Martz, is that, like him, we travel to Silicon Valley and come back here to work with diffuse teams, but we don't open offices or reinvest here. We have to find back channels to support each other. And there's "a lineage of all these people trying to introduce community, but no solid way to achieve it."
I sat down with Martz to talk about his latest projects with Databricks, which provides a united analytics platform powered by Apache Spark "for data science teams to collaborate with data engineering and lines of business to build data products." The company operates out of San Francisco, though they have a half a dozen staffers locally spread out across Washtenaw county. That's the thing, Martz tells me, that holds back Ann Arbor tech from growing even faster than it already is. Nobody knows what other tech people are up to because they're so busy doing their own thing. Databricks was the fastest growing startup in the Valley last year, and its revenue growth is the fastest of all time. But a limited number of people know Databricks even have people here working in Ann Arbor.
Many tech companies now have offices downtown, but often they operate out of home offices with headquarters elsewhere, to the effect that no one knows they're here.
Databricks was a product of UC Berkeley, and like most research projects out of business schools, Martz says, investment was driven by different factors than customer service or experience like you often find in traditional businesses in Detroit or Ann Arbor. He holds up Duo's Dug Song as an example of doing it right: "he paid in time for quality," Martz says. "If you can create that combination of time and conscious quality," you have a winner. "The Valley plans," he tells me. No rushing, more constructive planning. "Just because you have the mental horsepower to meet people's expectations" doesn't mean you are going to create a winning business.
Martz believes that the kind of investment that goes into Ann Arbor startups is important as well. In Detroit, VC funding can pump more cash into businesses, but a lot of it goes back to large investors who are well-known business owners in the area. "You can't make a win for yourself" to the same degree you can in the Valley, Martz argues. Founders need that chance to be able to have a big win for themselves, and, rarer in Ann Arbor, not to be blacklisted for failures, before they can put in enough to have a big success. That isn't to say that these are absolute statements, just things Martz would like to see more of. As a Rochester native, he's invested in the success of this region, from Detroit to Ann Arbor.
Historic balconies and storefronts on Main Street, Ann Arbor.
Databricks is organizing the Spark + AI Summit later this month in San Francisco. Jordan Martz says he's excited for what the company is achieving, but he'd love to see more of that in Ann Arbor. Many of the local hires to Databricks live from Ypsi to Brighton. Martz started at Dominoes and has worked at Oracle and Attunity, but he speaks highly of his current position and his colleagues. Like many of us, he would like to see more of a good thing. If you'd like to connect with Martz to talk startup culture or any one of his insane number of hobbies (woodworking, homebrewing, deep learning), you can drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.