Backblaze Founder Gleb Budman '95, MBA '99 on Building a Company You Can be Proud Of

Gleb Budman ’95, M.B.A. ’99, founded his first company during his senior year at Berkeley’s College of Engineering, balancing coursework and student activities with the preparation of business plans and product prototypes.

Today, twenty years later, Budman has earned his M.B.A. at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, founded three companies, and led the product design from pre-funding through acquisition at two others. He has been profiled by Inc. and Forbes, holds five patents on security, and has spoken at numerous conventions including Lean Startup, Ignite, CouldCon, and FailCon. Budman is CEO of Backblaze, a leading data storage company that offers unlimited online backup services for $5/month. After completing a simple “three-click” setup, users can access their data from any laptop, desktop, or smart phone, or can request that their data be mailed to them on a hard drive or flash key.

Initially conceptualized as a software company offering an easy-to-use, low-cost platform for online backups, Backblaze has also attracted attention for its hardware innovations. “We started this company to make storing data astonishingly easy and low-cost,” Budman explains, “Doing that initially seemed impossible because any storage system or service we could buy would have been too expensive.” So Budman and his team decided to try building the data storage hardware themselves – from scratch.

Backblaze's pioneering open-source storage pod design. 

Committed to using commodity parts, the Backblaze team tested various designs before landing on the storage pod model that has made Backblaze a key player in both software and hardware industries. Then, the team open-sourced the hardware design in a 2009 blog post read by over one million people.

Since 2009, hundreds of companies have begun adapting Backblaze’s hardware designs for their unique needs. Harvard University uses the hardware for medical archiving. Redbull uses it for photo and video storage. Even Netflix recently expressed interest in developing a version of Backblaze’s storage pod system for caching movies and television shows.

In the midst of all this attention, the company’s backup service thrives. Backblaze stores over 150,000,000 gigabytes of data for their backup customers (that’s over one-quarter the size of Facebook’s data storage), and adds about 5,000,000 GB per month. The company has recovered over 8 billion customer files.

At seven years old, Backblaze continues to grow. The company recently launched Android and iPhone apps for accessing backed-up files on the go. They increased storage space on their ready-to-mail hard drives and flash drives so customers can access more of their data faster. They have shared massive open-source datasets on hard drive durability and reliability and have earned rave reviews from famed reviewer Walt Mossberg, Gizmag, US News and CNET, among others.

The greatest point of pride for Budman is that the company has supported a 1000% increase in per-customer data storage while keeping the $5 unlimited pricepoint unchanged. “I’m most proud of building a company I’m proud of,” Budman explains, “I know that’s recursive, but what I mean by that is not building a company that simply makes money, but building one that offers a good product, that customers love, and that people enjoy working at – one at which being fair and good is a core value.”

Looking back at his years at Berkeley, Budman emphasizes the value of the connections he has built along the way: “The people I’ve met through Berkeley and Haas have been among the most open, kind, and grounded ones I’ve known.” He offers the following advice to current students: “Get to know your classmates and stay in touch. In addition to being great people to hang out with, they’re likely to be excellent future partners, employees, or investors. One of my classmates is an investor in Backblaze, others have been advisors, and some have found me other resources.”

Reflecting on his first foray into the startup world as an undergraduate, Budman offers the following advice: “There’s a quote about writing that goes something like, ‘Don’t be a writer unless you can’t not be.’ Starting a company isn’t the easy path and it’s highly likely to not be a lucrative one. If you’re out of school and burning with the desire to solve a problem that no one is solving, then maybe starting a company makes sense for you. However, if you’re thinking ‘should I start a company?’…the answer is probably “no” or at least “not now”. And if that’s the case, joining a startup might be perfect: it’ll give you some idea of what it’s like to start a company without all the risk associated with it. Then, if a few years down the line an idea grabs you and won’t let go, you’ll have experience to run with it.”