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In this episode of Unicorn Builders, we’re speaking with Jeff Denworth, co-founder of Vast, an AI data platform that has raised an impressive $381 million in funding.

Key topics discussed in this episode:

  • Jeff’s journey as a “consummate startup guy,” having been involved in five startups and working in distributed scalable systems for most of his career.
  • The foundational thesis of Vast: to unlock data for the era of AI by building a simpler, more scalable, and more cost-effective data management system than existing solutions.
  • The early days of selling Vast’s product, focusing on customers with petabytes or exabytes of data and taking the time to deeply understand their needs and challenges.
  • The shift in Vast’s marketing philosophy from appealing to technical buyers with deep dives into the technology to focusing on customer reference marketing as the company scaled.
  • The impact of the ChatGPT launch on Vast’s business, accelerating revenue growth and attracting a flood of new AI cloud service providers and venture-backed large language model companies as customers.
  • Vast’s approach to fundraising, using the capital primarily for marketing purposes while maintaining cash flow positivity and operational autonomy.
  • Jeff’s advice for founders on choosing investors who bring not just capital but also strategic value and long-term partnership to the table.


Sell to Customers Who Can Buy Big:

In the early days, Vast deliberately targeted customers with massive data footprints (petabytes or exabytes) who could fully leverage the platform's capabilities. By focusing on these high-potential accounts, the company was able to land significant deals and establish credibility in the market. Founders should identify the customer segments that are best positioned to derive maximum value from their product and prioritize those opportunities.

Invest Time in Deep Discovery with Potential Customers:

Rather than relying on surface-level surveys or generic pitches, Jeff and his team spent countless hours meeting with prospects to understand their specific pain points, use cases, and desired outcomes. This hands-on approach enabled Vast to tailor its product roadmap and go-to-market strategy to the needs of its target market. Founders should allocate significant time to in-depth customer discovery to ensure they are building something that truly resonates.

Adapt Your Marketing Mix as You Scale

As Vast grew from a startup to a mature company, its marketing philosophy evolved from emphasizing the technical capabilities of the product to highlighting customer success stories and references. Recognizing that the buyer persona and decision criteria had shifted, the company realigned its messaging and channels accordingly. Founders should continuously reassess their marketing mix and adjust it to match the changing needs and preferences of their target audience.

Maintain Financial Discipline to Weather Market Fluctuations:

Despite raising significant funding, Vast has been judicious in its spending, burning through less than its Series A and achieving cash flow positivity. This prudent approach has allowed the company to navigate economic downturns and market disruptions without having to make knee-jerk reactions. Founders should strive to operate their businesses efficiently and sustainably, even in the face of external pressure to prioritize growth at all costs.

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