New Drobo CEO outlines plans for growth as independent company

Former Brocade executive Mihir H. Shah tells ChannelBuzz why he thinks Drobo remains a valuable commodity in a world of ever more complex storage solutions, what he sees as new opportunities for the company, and his view of how it will go to market going forward.

Mihir Shah 340

Mihir Shah, Drobo’s brand new CEO

Drobo, which makes storage arrays for the SMB and prosumer spaces, has been sold to an investment group which includes former Brocade senior executive Mihir H. Shah. Terms of the deal were not announced.

The company, founded by Geoff Barrall in 2005 as Data Robotics, and subsequently renamed after its product, was sold by Barrall in 2009 and reacquired by him in 2013 when he was CEO of Connected Data, which makes Transporter file sharing appliance. Drobo was operated by Connected Data as an independent subsidiary.

“Operationally, the company had been spending a lot of money,” Barrall said. “We spent the last couple years fixing the operations of the business and stabilizing its core positon, and got the company to a point where it was profitable.”

However while Connected Data was thought to have a similar market to Drobo before its products hit the market, it soon became clear this was not the case.

“Once we entered the market with Connected Data we found the low end $200-$300 devices we were selling were mainly being bought by large enterprises,” Barrall said. “So we started making larger Transporters. It had become apparent that these were two very different businesses and much further apart than we originally thought, with Connected Data being more focused towards the enterprise.”

Mihir Shah and Barrall were introduced by a mutual colleague, with Shah thinking he could take Drobo to its next phase of growth.

Geoff Barrall 300

Connected Data CEO Geoff Barrall

“I was experienced with Drobos from a personal standpoint, and as the talks accelerated I got more excited about the opportunity in addressing business needs,” Shah said. “We will put together a team that can put together and execute on a plan of growth.”

Shah, who resigned as CEO of Bluefin Technologies to take the Drobo position, said that 72 hours into his tenure at Drobo, he has developed a few ideas.

“While the storage market has grown tremendously, Drobo has use cases and customer segments where it can thrive,” he said. “It is strong where the general customer profile emphasizes the importance of ease of use. Higher capacity products are more difficult to use. With a Drobo, you just plug it in and it runs, and you can’t say that about the more complex products. The simplicity of Drobo is its major opportunity for growth.

Shah said that Drobo can be sold into new markets where it has not been to date.

“Drobo has done well in many markets, but it has never been introduced in India, which is a massive market, and which has power outages all the time, which makes the simplicity of Drobo valuable,” he said. Ruggedized environments are another market which has not been targeted before, but which is well suited for Drobos.

“We will be dissecting these markets and use cases over the next 30 days, looking for areas where simplicity is key,” Shah said.

Partners naturally tend to become anxious when a company is sold or spun off, but Shah gave assurances to Drobo’s channel.

“It’s business as usual,” he said. “I don’t think there will be anything different affecting the channel. Are there other opportunities to get the product to market? We will look at that in the next 30-60 days, but we think we have a strong channel now.

Shah said one change that is likely is the augmenting of internal Drobo resources to work with channel partners.

“We will probably make investments internally to hire more sales people, to generate new business,” he said. “This will be business for partners. I see no future in a direct sales force.”

The ownership change takes effect immediately. Barrall will, however, remain on Drobo’s board of directors.