Founder Spotlight: Xata Co-founder Monica Sarbu Celebrates the Power of Diversity
Berlin startup Xata has blazed a trail since it burst on the scene in December 2020, thanks to its ultra-fresh take on managed databases. CEO and co-founder Monica Sarbu believes this success is driven by the talented and diverse team she’s brought together from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and countries.
Each colleague’s unique experiences and perspectives when combined in a single project create a dynamic and exciting workplace culture where people are inspired and excited to bring ideas to the table. It’s this creative vibe that’s helped Monica and her team build a serverless product that’s so user-friendly that it’s transforming the way developers and non-tech people set up and manage databases.
Xata is not Monica’s first entrepreneurial venture. She co-founded open-source project Packetbeat in 2013, which was snapped up by Elastic—the iconic software crew behind open source stack Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats, and Logstash.
During her five years with Elastic, Monica was based in Berlin while managing four teams working from the US, Canada and Europe. She was also part of the core team who took Elastic to IPO.
How to hire the best talent in the world
One of the biggest lessons Monica took from Elastic was the upside of supporting team members to work from wherever they feel most comfortable and productive. This is reflected in the way she runs her own company, with team members based across Europe, and soon the US and Canada.
She explains: “It means you can hire the best engineers in the world—you’re not tied to a city or even a country. And when you have the best people in the world working on the same project, you build a really successful product.”
Driven by diversity to make a difference
It was a search for diversity that sparked Romanian-born Monica’s idea to start Xata. Having heard accounts of discrimination and burn-out, she set up a non-profit organization Tupu.io to mentor women, people of color, and other under-represented groups in the tech industry.
Monica searched for a serverless database to store details of all the mentors and mentees, but when she wasn’t able to find an easy-to-use option that ticked all the boxes, she realized she’d stumbled across a gap in the market.
Using representation to bring richness and depth to a business
A team that is diverse brings far more innovative solutions to the table, and this translates into amazing products, as Monica points out.
“If you have a team of software engineers who’ve all been to similar schools and worked at similar companies, they’ll have similar experience, outlooks and solutions,” she says.
“But when your team is truly diverse, they each bring a different perspective and fresh ideas to the table.”
And much like AWS, Monica is committed to celebrating differences from Day One. She points out that it’s important to think about building diversity into a team from day one. “Don’t wait until it’s a 50-person organization and then start trying to be diverse, as the longer you wait, the harder it will get,” she cautions.
Backers with a broader vision
Xata raised $5 million in September 2021 and plans another fundraising round later this year. Monica has worked hard to make sure Xata has angels and investors from a wide variety of backgrounds. Although she acknowledges that doing so takes more time and effort to achieve, it brings its own rewards, including wider networking opportunities and a more diverse bank of mentors.
As an entrepreneur who builds from scratch and moves fast, Monica believes technology support is crucial. Most of Xata’s customers run applications in the cloud, so she needed a cloud services provider that can guarantee low latency and network traffic costs. She immediately chose AWS.
“It was an easy decision,” Monica recalls. One of the things she rates highest about AWS is the sheer breadth of products and services available. She explains: “As an early-stage startup, you want to outsource as much as possible. You don’t want to manage services yourself, especially if you’re a small team, as you need to be free to concentrate all your efforts on building your product. This is very important, and it’s where AWS provides something really valuable.”
Activating the benefits of AWS
Monica is also a big fan of AWS Activate, which gives startups a wide range of benefits, including credits worth up to $100,000, one-on-one support from AWS experts, and guidance to help grow the business.
Monica has also been impressed by the level of customer service she’s encountered from the AWS team. “They not only help with product and services but also with go-to-market strategies and advice on how to become a successful company,” she says.
Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) has been particularly useful, as it’s helped the team to keep things simple. “Probably at some point, we’ll need to switch to Kubernetes but we’re trying to postpone that moment as long as possible because Amazon ECS is so easy to operate,” she adds.
Building a future that’s based on belonging
Meanwhile, Monica plans to keep building more products with the aim of expanding into a public company much like Elastic or MongoDB. She’s also equally determined to continue with her passion for mentoring others, via Tupu and giving back to the tech community. Inspiring others comes naturally to Monica.
With that in mind, one of her main pieces of advice to all would-be entrepreneurs is: “Have the courage to start! If you fail, you’ll have learned a lot and be a better person. “You’ll regret it far more if you never try to realize your dreams.”