Boomi: McNabb on cloud growth, remote work, and sale to private equity
Chris McNabb was Employee 44 at Boomi, back when Dell bought the Berwyn cloud connector. He's leaving 9 years later, with 1,300 staff, as new owners take over. Q&A
Chris McNabb has spent the last nine years running Boomi, a Chesterbrook-based software company that pioneered what info tech people call IPaaS, “integration platform as a service,” which smooths the transfer of data between a business’ applications. Among other upgrades, the cloud company helped corporate employees work remotely even before the pandemic. Demand zoomed as offices shut to comply with local rules.
A veteran of one of the first successful Philadelphia-area national software companies, Systems and Computer Technologies, McNabb joined Boomi in 2010, the year it was acquired by Dell Technologies, and has run it as CEO since 2012, growing the staff to more than 1,300 from 45 workers when he first started.
After Boomi was purchased by private-equity firms Francisco Partners and TPG earlier this year for $4 billion, McNabb said he would retire — but predicts that the new owners, instead of stripping value, will accelerate hiring to meet companies’ seemingly insatiable demand for automation, and working from home, in the face of hackers, remote-computing breakdowns, and other challenges. He is slated to step down next month. Boomi’s new CEO will be David Meredith, who headed Boston-based emergency software provider Everbridge. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What does Boomi do for companies that they can’t do better themselves?
Information technology has become so widely distributed, and so disjointed. On your smartphone, you may have a lot of apps, but you don’t really think much about them once they are installed; you can reach them by pressing buttons on a single screen.
Your employer also has many applications (for sales, service, engineering, inventory, finance, payroll, travel, research) but unlike on your phone, many of them were built by different vendors, who never really thought about their working together.
So to have the kind of service people expect, now that Apple and Amazon and other tech companies have raised expectations, you have to gather the apps and their providers and their data access together. And you can’t just build that by bolting one app onto another app. You need a service that can tie your important applications into one suite, one dashboard. That’s what we do at Boomi.
Name an industry. You likely know Moderna, a company that has come as if out of nowhere to meet the COVID-19 pandemic with its vaccine. They have scaled up very rapidly. They faced a lot of challenges, scaling their back-end [office] services to support their work on the clinical side. We have had to tie all the business and finance together so they can focus on their drug rollout and meet demand rapidly.
At the University of Miami, they are trying to engage students who grew up with Amazon-quality experiences. They don’t want to have to enroll, then repeat everything for tuition, financial aid, classes, meals, on and on. So Miami is working toward automating all of that, through a mobile app. And we are there to help them make it clear and secure.
Can this work for governments, or is the security challenge too great?
There’s a country in Europe, they really don’t want us to identify them, that has a national health plan, but they still had a manual annual card renewal process. It was all connected to these old IBM mainframe computers, nothing in the cloud. So it was like going to the DMV — you sit in a lot of lines.
Then the pandemic hits, and everybody who works in the health department building is sent home. Which means nobody can renew their health-care cards. Their renewal and validation process went into crisis when they needed it most.
They called us and in four days we built a workflow so they could produce a card remotely and send it to your home. We made it 100% digital. Between March 15 and July 30, 2020, one-third of their citizens renewed their healthcare card; that’s a few million people.
Back home, since the pandemic, are state DMVs rushing to roll this out, too?
They should be. As a citizen of Pennsylvania, I’d love to have a fully automated app, where I would not have to travel to a location and stand in line. I think that is still in the future. County governments in the UK, at least, are starting to feel pressure to automate these services, and they are looking around for ways to do that.
What part did Boomi play in the big shift to remote work?
From Amazon Web Services and Google on, all the providers and all the cloud vendors and software-as-a-service vendors have enabled the hybrid work movement, migrating work to a remote environment. Our mobile apps helped, enabling people to work remotely using the cloud.
You mean when AWS is working and not having one of its periodic mass outages?
Cloud providers are having to build in more redundancies, more capabilities. Providers like Amazon and us are still way beyond what corporations can do for themselves.
What are the pluses and minuses of getting bought by a big company such as Dell?
From early on, the decision was to run us largely as an independent company, 100% owned by Dell, but legally separate. A lot of things we outsourced — finance, tax, treasury, HR, benefits. So, I could spend more time on sales, and the business could accelerate. Dell provided the capital for that. And in the pandemic, they put no constraints on our growth. Everybody benefited. It has been a great ride.
Won’t your new private equity owners, Francisco Partners and TPG (Texas Pacific Group), expect fat returns to earn back that $4 billion plus investor profits?
They spent $4 billion as the purchase price. The answer here is growth. It’s very doable. They have the capital to do that. And at Francisco Partners, that’s what they do. They bought another company from Dell in 2015, called Quest. They just sold it at a much higher price, because it grew much larger when they owned it. A huge success story for their customers and for the employees.
Look, there are no guarantees in this world. But when you look at Francisco Partners, and TPG, they are highly rated companies, with large portfolios. They know what they are doing.
Jut just about everyone’s working from home now. Your successor won’t have to move here. Will this still be a Philadelphia-area company?
We are in one of the hottest labor markets I’ve seen. Being able to recruit from everywhere has eased the complaints. One thing we still have that’s local: strong hiring relationships with Drexel, Temple and other universities here. One thing I miss is when we could bring in interns and young people to sit next to veteran developers. The pandemic has strained that muscle. It’s so much better if you can pull up a chair at a desk and ask questions.
What’s next for you?
I have no plans post-Boomi. I’ll be 62 in January. I’ve sat on nonprofit boards. I want to spend time with my wife and family. Play some golf.