Subscribe to our Newsletter
Phil Liu: Proactive Building for New Infrastructure at SignalFx
September 2022
Terah Lyons

Technology has traveled a long way for cloud computing to become the industry norm–a fact easy to forget sitting here in 2022, when most every application on the internet runs on cloud architecture. For that fact, we have several impactful companies, products, and founders to thank. These are the folks who help build the musculoskeletal system of the internet: the largely unsung heroes of backend infrastructure development.

Phillip Liu is one such hero. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and few founders prove the adage out more than Phil. When he co-founded SignalFx in 2012, the infrastructure landscape was rapidly evolving, and Software as a Service (SaaS) was a newly emerging category of business in Silicon Valley.

SignalFx was a classic entrepreneurship success formula: Phil saw a technology and market shift underway — the move from datacenter to cloud, combined with the move from monolithic backends to microservices architectures. Application performance monitoring tools (or APM) were already a big business with many successful leaders - but Phil saw that the platform shift would create an opening to introduce new monitoring tools relevant to new applications built on a new architecture. They also had a technology-based insight about how that new need could be addressed, based on Phil’s work as the leader of Facebook’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform and as Chief Architect of Opsware, a pioneer in datacenter optimization. Based on a key market insight, a key technology insight, and an unbelievable amount of hard work, Phil and Karthik grew SignalFx to a successful SaaS-based monitoring and analytics platform, and in 2019, Splunk acquired the company for $1 billion.

Phil is now back in the entrepreneurship ring, as founder and CEO of Trustero, a startup working to revolutionize SOC 2 compliance, using ML to automate part of the process (in which, full disclosure, Zetta is an investor).

Over a career spanning several decades in distributed systems–and several startups–Phil has learned to recognize important patterns in what it takes to successfully build and sell a SaaS product. He has also developed a great sense of humor, which is, apparently, a necessity when you are a deeply technical founder trying to patch the proverbial pot holes of the internet.

Phil connected with us to talk about the earliest days of SignalFx: what observations led to the founding of the company back when he was an architect at Facebook; what lessons he has gleaned selling to engineers over a span of rapid technology development; and why stoplights are relevant in the product design questions that they faced.

168 South Park
San Francisco, CA 94107

135 W 26th St #10A
New York, NY 10001

© 2023 Zetta Venture Partners