An Interview with Greg Gonzalez, SQL Sentry CEO
I’ve had the privilege of working for Greg Gonzalez (b | t) since July of 2012. During that time, the company has quadrupled in size, and was recently voted one of Charlotte’s “Best Places to Work.” If you don’t know our founder and CEO, you’re missing out. Greg's personality comes out in our products in so many ways. And if you like our products, then I'm certain that you would be as inspired and motivated by Greg as I am. Get to know him a little better in this brief interview and see why he’s an inspiring leader to the team at SQL Sentry.
Q: SQL Sentry had its genesis more than a decade ago primarily as a hosting provider. What series of events caused you to pivot from hosting and services to SQL Server products?
Greg: In the early 2000’s hosting was quickly becoming a commodity, and we were getting tired of wearing pagers 24/7. It’s important to remember that we are Microsoft developers, and only got into hosting to host the mission critical apps that we were building, since at the time no one else could do it. So in a very real sense, it was really about getting back to our roots as developers who like to build great software.
Q: That pivot must’ve involved learning a lot of new skills. What were the biggest shifts you had to undertake, personally, and how would you describe that shift in emphasis?
Greg: The most important skills I’ve learned since the pivot have been around how to focus better in areas where I can have the greatest impact. This requires a lot of analysis and soul-searching to find your “unique ability”, and then relentless work to shed everything else. This takes a lot of effort, time, and patience.
Q: So you’d founded a business that was a successful hosting company, which meant you’d staffed up for the activities needed by a hosting company. But product companies are a horse of a different color. What did you have to do differently with your personnel, your hiring, and your growth?
Greg: As developers we’ve always built software products, often for someone else, but not always. For example, nTarget was a successful email marketing platform built and operated by us, and used by many of our hosting and development clients. Although hosting was predominantly a services business, it had many of the challenges of a product business in terms of packaging and business development. Probably the most significant difference that drives how we operate today though is the SQL Server community itself. There is no “hosting community” per se, as there is with SQL Server, where we have a vibrant group of individuals united around a common technology platform, and willing to share what they know, both online and at frequent local and national events. So when you look at how we have evolved, it’s very much oriented around developing thought leadership and finding meaningful ways to contribute to this great community.
Q: SQL Sentry just recently won a slot on the coveted “Best Places to Work in Charlotte” award. (As an employee, this is something I can personally testify to). So it’s clear that treating your staff well is really important to you. What sort of experiences did you have that led you to adopt this approach of going over and above?
Greg: Much of the culture we have today was honestly not intentional in the same way as many of the startups you see coming out of The Valley. Sure, we spend time on culture and employee well-being, but ours is built more on a foundation of uncompromising technical competence and client service that goes back to the late 90’s. If you are able to deliver that, what follows is a certain pride and quiet confidence, and ultimately job satisfaction, and I think our team has that. They’re a thoughtful, hard-driving bunch that occasionally needs to blow off a little steam, which is also why we have an in-house pub.
Q: Finally, you’re now a top-tier entrepreneur. An amazing achievement! What advice would you give to the aspiring entrepreneurs out there? What sort of anecdote would you share that conveys a particularly important lesson learned?
Greg: Well I don’t really look at myself that way. I’m the same guy I’ve always been, but the environment in which I live has grown. That said, I’ve certainly learned a great deal on this journey through making, and paying for, many mistakes.
First and foremost, you’ve got to focus. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to tangential ideas, partnerships, etc. The bar must be set extremely high when it comes to pursuing “adjacent” opportunities. To maintain that focus, you must outsource or delegate anything that isn’t directly within your wheelhouse. In my case that includes but is not limited to accounting, testing, and documentation. Sure, there are associated costs, but as the entrepreneur, your time and energy is one of the business’s most precious commodities and can’t be squandered.
Second, at some point you will have to let go of certain functions that you think you can do better than anyone else. Given the right team members and training, you will inevitably be surprised at how much better others can be at those things than you ever were.
Thirdly, invest in your culture and in putting people in positions where they can best leverage their strengths and passions. There are a variety of “tests” out there (DISC, Myers-Briggs, PSIU, etc.) that can provide unique insights into each individual’s tendencies and communication styles. Have the team take them, share them freely, and look back at them regularly as the organization evolves to ensure that these strengths stay aligned with each individual’s roles and responsibilities. The result will be increased alignment, satisfaction, and productivity.
Vision Made Real in Products
If you’re using SQL Sentry products, we sincerely hope you can see the commitment to excellence and innovation every time you launch the product. We aspire to be your preferred performance monitoring, alerting, and tuning toolkit every day. That commitment to excellence and heightened focus is part of Greg’s DNA and, by extension, part of SQL Sentry’s. We get a great deal of satisfaction from building the best tools on the market for the best DBAs in the SQL Server community. And we hope you can see evidence of those motivations every time you use SQL Sentry.
Kevin (@kekline) serves as Principal Program Manager at SentryOne. He is a founder and former president of PASS and the author of popular IT books like SQL in a Nutshell. Kevin is a renowned database expert, software industry veteran, Microsoft SQL Server MVP, and long-time blogger at blogs.sentryone.com/author/kevinkline. As a noted leader in the SQL Server community, Kevin blogs about Microsoft Data Platform features and best practices, SQL Server trends, and professional development for data professionals.