Technology: C3 IoT dba C3
Thomas M. Siebel | CEO, Chairman, Founder | C3 IoT dba C3 | Redwood City, CA | Founded: 2008
Solving the unsolvable
For Thomas Siebel of C3 IoT, the future of technology has finally become the present.
As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Thomas Siebel read an essay that changed his life. It was written by eminent American sociologist Daniel Bell, well before the rise of the personal computer and the internet.
“Bell suggested that information technology would change everything about the way that we work,” he remembers, “the way that we communicate, the way that we entertain ourselves — just everything about human interaction.”
Siebel decided this was a game he wanted to play. He switched from business administration to computer science, with a focus on relational database technology. In 1984, he joined a small startup called Oracle, headed by entrepreneur Larry Ellison.
In 1993, he founded Siebel Systems, which went on to become one of the most successful enterprise software companies in history, with over $3 billion in revenue before it merged with Oracle in 2006. Ten years ago, Siebel created C3 IoT, now the world’s leading provider of artificial intelligence (AI) and market leader in enterprise solutions driven by the Internet of Things (IoT).
“My original objective was to be able to play the game,” he laughs, “so I was very fortunate to be able to play the game over a period of some decades with some of the most significant players in the industry and have a seat at the table in realizing this vision.”
Over the course of those decades, Siebel says that absolutely everything that Bell predicted has come true. “I think the only thing that really surprises me now is the rapid acceleration that we’re seeing,” he admits. “What we’re seeing right now is the realization of AI. There’s nothing new about that idea. It was conceived of before Daniel Bell, by Marvin Minsky and others, but it sat idle for four or five decades, in this kind of AI winter.
“And now as we power into the 21st century,” he says, “there’s this step function of technologies — in the form of elastic cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things — that enable us to realize the promise of AI at a massive commercial, industrial scale. We’re able to solve problems that were previously unsolvable.”
C3 IoT is doing just that, enabling organizations like the U.S. Air Force, Shell and 3M to leverage the power of this new technology to increase efficiency and solve large-scale problems — something he believes is critical to their survival in this era of disruption. While the existential threat is very real, Siebel says, the opportunity is greater.
When C3 IoT started out, Siebel recalls, there was no market. Within six years, the market has exploded around it, putting it, he says, in the right place, at the right time, with the right product. The company is currently miles ahead of its competitors, cash-rich with the dominant share of a market that’s predicted to hit $250 billion by 2025. Given inevitable downturns, Siebel’s goal is to keep C3 IoT in this position while it scales globally.
The company’s core values have been key to its growth: having a great work culture, leading by example and achieving customer satisfaction. And if statistics from Glassdoor are anything to go by (4.9/5.0, with CEO approval at 99%), something is working.
Last year, we had 150 open positions, for which we had 26,000 applications. We interviewed 1,700. That would be in an order of magnitude more selective than Princeton. For some reason, we have built this ball of energy where people just want to come to work.
Who makes the cut? “We tend to self-select for people who are very well-educated, people who like to learn, people who are inquisitive, people who like to work in groups, people who like to work on really hard problems, and people who want to do something important,” he says.
“So how do we bottle this and scale?” Siebel asks. “That is going to be the key problem. But if all we accomplish in the history of the company is what it says on Glassdoor today, I feel like we will have succeeded.”
Siebel is deeply motivated to make the world a better place, whether it is in the workplace or through customer results, be it safer energy or better health care. He is also a noted philanthropist, and he and his wife of over 30 years, Stacey, have given in excess of $300 million to projects supporting the homeless, education, public health, energy and digital innovation.
All of this, for Siebel, is why he’s still as driven as he ever was. “I get to work shoulder to shoulder with genuinely gifted, highly educated, motivated, committed people. And we get to work on mind-numbingly challenging problems. That’s my idea of a good time!”