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10 Things You Didn't Know about Spencer Kimball

Spencer Kimball

Spencer Kimball is the founding CEO of Cockroach Labs, the commercial backing and creator of CockroachDB, a highly evolved cloud-native, distributed SQL database. Prior to founding the company, Kimball made his name as one of the original authors of the open-source, cross-platform image editing software, GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). He also spent nearly a decade as one of Google's most promising engineers, spearheading the development of Google Servlet Engine and the next-gen google distributed file storage platform, Colossus. Find out more as we reveal 10 things you didn't know about Spencer Kimball.

1. He studied at Berkeley

The tech world loves a college dropout. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Paul Allen, Mark Zuckerberg, Jan Koum... all college dropouts, and all founders of some of the most profitable companies to emerge from the tech bubble. Kimball is no exception, although in his case, he at least managed to see through his B.A. in computer science at Berkeley beforehand. Just one year into his Master's program, however, the temptation of the working world proved too alluring to resist.

2. He developed GIMP at college

Midway through his studies at Berkeley, Kimball developed the first version of the open-source, cross-platform image editing software GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) alongside his roommate, Peter Mattis, as part of a class project. Speaking about it years later, he explained that he created the code as a way of repaying his debt to the free software movement, a community that had "shaped (his) computing development."

3. Cockroach Labs isn't his first startup

After leaving Berkeley, Kimball got straight to work in establishing his entrepreneurial credentials. His first startup was WeGo, a company that provided tools for developing web communities. He served as its co-CTO from January 1999 to April 2002. During that period, he also developed the open-source Unix/Linux client gnubile file sharing program for the peer-to-peer Gnutella network, along with a web-based version of GIMP.

4. Sergey Brin was an early fan of his work

In 2002, Kimball began working as an engineer at Google. During his first few days, he was paid a surprise personal visit by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who'd both been so impressed by GIMP, they'd used it to create the first Google logo. During his time with the tech giant, he helped create a new version of the Goggle File System, Colossus, and was instrumental in the development of Google Servlet Engine.

4. He's the brains behind Viewfinder

Kimball left Google in December 2011 to launch Viewfinder alongside his old college buddy, Peter Mattis. Together, they developed an app that capitalized on the ever-growing popularity of social media by allowing users to share private messages, photos and search photo history without logging out of the app. It proved a success, and in December 2013, Square Inc made a successful acquisition bid. Kimball was part of the deal, joining Square's East coast team as a senior engineer.

5. He founded Cockroach Labs in 2015

After just over a year with Square Inc, Kimball was ready for a change. During his tenure at Google, he'd used the Google-owned database Bigtable and its successor Spanner. Now, he wanted to create something that would be bigger, better, and available to more than just Google employees. After teaming up with his frequent collaborator Peter Mattis and another former Google employee named Ben Darnell, he co-founded Cockroach Labs to serve as the commercial backing to the open-source distributed SQL database, CockroachDB.

7. He was named after his great-grandfather

According to Wikipedia, Kimball is named after his great-grandfather, the twelfth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and the grandson of early Latter-day Saint apostle Heber C. Kimball. Kimball, who served as president from 1973 to 1985, is credited with introducing numerous changes to the church, including lifting the restriction on black church members being ordained as priests and receiving temple ordinances and encouraging the practice of missionary work.

8. He's a member of the Unicorn club

As CEO of Cockroach Labs, Kimball has gained access to the Unicorn club, that rare collection of start-ups that have reached a valuation of $1 billion. As Techcrunch writes, the company's latest round of funding in January 2021 raised $160 million on a fat $2 billion valuation, doubling its previous valuation and increasing the total amount raised to $355 million. Kimball attributes the increased interest from investors on the shift to the cloud bought on by the pandemic, something which helped more than double Cockroach's revenue in 2020.

9. He has some valuable advice for would-be entrepreneurs

If there's one piece of advice Kimball would offer potential entrepreneurs, it would be to only start a company with people they've been in the trenches with, something he's done himself with Peter Mattis, who he met at college, worked with at Google, and who now serves alongside him as Cockroach's CTO and Vice President of Engineering. Speaking to Changelog, he explained, "The trenches means there have been shells whistling over your head, and not enough to eat for some of the time. There needs to be some good times, but also a lot of bad times. If you can maintain your respect for people that have been with you in those situations, I think they can make really good co-founders."

10. He's a disruptor

Kimball has been shaking things up in the tech world since college, and now his influence has been officially recognized by CNBC, who recently named Cockroach Labs to their "2021 CNBC Disruptor 50" list. The honor comes after a year of rapid growth for the company, which, as CNBC says, has played a pioneering role in shifting transactional data to the cloud. Over the past year, the company has doubled its customer base. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, it reported a 233% year-over-year increase in revenue. Acknowledging the achievement, Kimball said: "This recognition is further validation of the potential of Cockroach Labs to be a leader in the database market, adding, "The events of the past year have accelerated the demand for geographically distributed data in the cloud, as organizations look to rapidly scale and build new applications that meet customer needs. We have been a beneficiary of these trends as companies look for a new generation of cloud-based databases."

Allen Lee

Written by Allen Lee

Allen Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer who studied business in school but has since turned to other pursuits. He spends more time than is perhaps wise with his eyes fixed on a screen either reading history books, keeping up with international news, or playing the latest releases on the Steam platform, which serve as the subject matter for much of his writing output. Currently, Lee is practicing the smidgen of Chinese that he picked up while visiting the Chinese mainland in hopes of someday being able to read certain historical texts in their original language.

Read more posts by Allen Lee

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