In many ways, Steve Francis has the classic startup success story: guy identifies a problem, works like crazy, develops a technological solution, starts business, works like crazy, gets investors, hires people, works like crazy, hires more people, works like crazy, makes lots of money, retires and surfs all day.
Francis isn’t at the surfing point yet — he’s still in work-like-crazy mode — but his company, LogicMonitor, is expanding speedily and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“A year ago we were four people, plus three part-time contractors, and now we’re 18 people, plus three part-time contractors,” said the rangy Aussie whose, jeans and flip-flops do little to disguise his intensity about his work. “We’ve suddenly started growing very rapidly.”
Since Francis and his partner, Jie Song, launched the company in 2008, “we’ve always had customers and always had growth,” he said. “But it’s easy to triple when you have two customers. Now, we’ve gone from 100 customers a year to 300, and we’re still tripling on all of our dimensions.”
“It’s because the product’s gotten better,” he added. “And because a lot of our business comes from customer referrals. So when you have two customers and they tell their friends you may get one; you have 200 customers and they tell their friends and you get 20.”
In layman’s terms, Francis uses Noozhawk to explain his product.
“Your website probably runs on multiple web servers, so when I go to Noozhawk as a reader it can go to this web server or this web server or that web server; they all have the same content on them,” he said. “You might have 8,000 different things you can monitor on those servers, literally, and some of them are very important and some of them don’t matter at all.
“Most people will look at their list of 8,000 things, if they bother, and say, ‘I’m going to throw my hands up about this and not worry about it and I’ll monitor the CPU load, that’s it.’ Whereas we will discover all of the important things, and if you change and add another web server into the fold we’ll discover that and start monitoring it automatically.
“It detects all the changes in the infrastructure,” he added.
Before starting LogicMonitor, Francis ran the network and datacenter operations for the University of California System, the National Geographic Society, Fastclick (now part of ValueClick) and ExpertCity (now Citrix Online), and consulted for various organizations.
In every one, he said, “monitoring was always a pain point. ... These were the things that always bit me.”
So he took the classic startup route: What’s the problem? I’m going to solve it.
“I was the customer,” he said. “It’s what I always wanted.”
Although Francis is busier than ever, he says the most enjoyable part of his job is the satisfaction of knowing that his customers like the product.
“It’s that the customers are recognizing my brilliance,” he laughed. “They really do like the products and we’re getting to help their businesses set up monitoring the way I think it should be set up, which a lot of people recognize is the best way. ... They don’t have the experience to do it themselves or the know-how, and the ones who do have the know-how realize how much time we save them. That’s the most rewarding thing.”
Francis is proud of LogicMonitor’s product and progress, but he said he wants “to take it places where it isn’t yet. It’s fun. It’s also fun to think, ‘Wow, I am an engine of economic innovation,’ as the Republicans put it. I’ve made jobs.”
If things go according to plan, he’ll make a lot more jobs.
“Functionality-wise, the closest competitor who does a fairly good job, that company is worth $3.5 billion,” he said. “And there’s no reason that we couldn’t get there.”
Ah, fate. Francis was completing his law degree in Australia when he met and fell in love with his wife, Laura, an American who was studying abroad. The couple, who just celebrated their 20th anniversary, soon moved to Santa Barbara where Laura was a graduate student at UCSB.
Francis couldn’t use his Australian law degree in the United States, but he had a computer science degree to fall back on. For a while, he ran the network for an insurance company and then, “because I set up a connection to a mainframe on the other side of the country using the Internet protocol ... that qualified me to run the UCSB backbone network because no one else had set up a computer using IP,” he laughed. “I was the best they could find back then!”
He says his favorite local spot is the meadow above Elings Park, where the family goes every day with their dogs — Amiga, a border collie-Great Pyrenees mix, and Kora (“which means amiga in aboriginal, as in female girlfriend”), a “brown dog,” who probably has some German shepherd in her.
“It’s just very nice to have a place that looks like you’re out in the middle of nowhere two minutes from our house,” he said. “You go up there and you can see the ocean, see the hills, and you can’t see any houses.”
Francis becomes reflective, thinking about how he got here.
“I certainly do look back and think I’m glad I didn’t stay in Australia, because I probably would have been wearing a suit every day, commuting into the center of Melbourne and working in a big glass tower,” he said.
“Santa Barbara’s a nice place to end up. I was up in the Bay Area meeting some friends and one of the guys commutes an hour and a half each way, morning and night, and I was saying, ‘Yeah, sometimes there’s traffic and it takes me seven minutes to get home instead of five.’ So, yes, we’ll be staying in Santa Barbara.”