Closer look at a CEO: Piston Cloud's Joshua McKenty

Krystal Peak · December 15, 2011 · Short URL:

The ex-NASA engineer says 'entrepreneurship is the only cure for apathy'

Joshua McKenty is the CEO of an ambitious young tech start-up in San Francisco called Piston Cloud Computing. Founded earlier this year, Piston aims to be the service that ties together the businesses and communities using OpenStack services and the open source community that evolves the system.

McKenty was one of the creators of OpenStack, a cloud platform focused on helping enterprises share their documents and information. 

With many businesses and organizations looking for ways to conduct more of its business in the cloud, the demand for companies that can help ease the transition and instigate changes in how the cloud evolves to the betterment of enterprises. 

McKenty built Piston with the hopes that big companies could use there services, such as Piston Enterprise OS, to comply with security and regulations that are necessary, such as in healthcare, finance and governement work.

Piston has raised $4.5 million in funding thus far and is moving toward a simple subscription based model, though they have not disclosed their pricing yet.

A lot of companies claim that they have the strength of cloud technology, McKenty told me, but what they really have are fragments of the evolution of the cloud.

"We are trying to do something revolutionary with Piston and OpenStack," McKenty said. "As we move into an increasingly mobile and global environment, we will see more people interested in owning their own data and simply renting the program or software that lets them run their business."

He also explained that the transition is not as rapid as many are making it out to be -- just because there are cloud options, that doesn't mean people aren't interested in having hard drive space on their computers at home -- since flexibility and transitions are always a part of the technology ecosphere.

Cloud technology has been garnering its fair share of funding, last week Twilio captured $17 million in funding, and Jive Software saw significant demand as it went public on Tuesday (now that it has renewed its focus on cloud features.)

I got a chance to speak with the ex-NASA-engineer and CEO of Piston (one of the driving attractions of Piston and OpenStack is the NASA-level security that was built into the cloud system) to find out what has kept him excited by the field of cloud technology.


Joshua McKenty

Age: 34.

Title: Co-Founder and CEO.

Town of residence: San Francisco.

Hometown:  Winnipeg, Manitoba.

First Job:  Selling catalog gifts door-to-door when I was eight. 

Companies Founded:  

6169171 Canada Corporation: A four-way partnership to deliver short-format video advertising via IP to flat screens in fast-food restaurants.

NaTel Canada: Regional VoIP provider.

BountyUp: Kickstarter, a few years too early.

BuyLater: Price arbitrage via browser plugins - sold it to pursue Piston Cloud.

Piston Cloud Computing, Inc.: Enterprise OpenStack for secure private clouds.

What inspired you to get into the tech sector:  I started programming on an APCO (Apple II+ clone) in BASIC when I was six years old - we couldn't afford software, and I wanted the computer to do what I told it. I still have my copy of the Apple II+ Users Guide, the back half of which is a manual for programming in BASIC. 

What excited you about Piston:  BountyUp was, in many respects, a beautiful idea - but I didn't have any of the key expertise that we needed to make the company successful (escrow and finance law, international and charitable issues, etc). OpenStack is the first thing I've been involved with that both has ENORMOUS potential to change the world, and that I have the skill-set and experience required to contribute towards.

What is the biggest challenge you face running a company:  What keeps me up at night are the unknown unknowns - the things that I don't know I should be doing. I deal with my own failures every day - that's how I know I'm working on the right problems, and that doesn't worry me. The challenge will always be getting broadsided by something that I *should* have seen coming.

What is your favorite part of entrepreneurship: Being able to work with great people. There's something amazing about people that are passionate about working at a startup - they're actually more alive than anyone, other than maybe young children. And I get to spend every day working with these people.

What would you say to inspire more young people into the entrepreneurship or the tech sector: Entrepreneurship is the only cure for apathy that I know. You may be terrified, depressed, exhilarated, confused, or frustrated - but you're not ever going to be bored, and you're not ever going to feel like sitting on the couch.

What type of phone do you use:  An Italian iPhone4 (globally unlocked) with T-Mobile service.

Three favorite apps:  Couldn't live without Uber, Yelp, and TweetDeck.

Technology/service you've fallen in love with lately:  OpenStack. No, seriously. I love not only the technology, but the entire ecosystem of contributors. We argue constantly, but everyone cares passionately about the future of the project, and that's a rare and beautiful thing.

Is there a tech stereotype or assumption that grinds your gears:  I think the separation of "tech" from the rest of our fields of endeavour frustrates me a bit - that somehow a creative programmer is less creative than an artist, or a sloppy and pedantic programmer is more noble than a sloppy and pedantic writer or janitor. There is as much spectrum and variation in "tech" as in any other field - probably more.

Favorite pastime: I have two young children, and I'm actually a big fan of playing trains and playmobile. For adult activities, definitely sailing. The sailboat and the bicycle have to stand, along with the computer, as two of the finest inventions of mankind.  


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Piston Cloud Computing, Inc.


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Piston Cloud Computing, Inc. is the enterprise OpenStack(TM) company. Founded in early 2011 by technical team leads from NASA and Rackspace(R), Piston Cloud is built around OpenStack, the world’s fastest-growing, massively scalable open source cloud platform. Piston Enterprise OS(TM) (pentOS(TM)) is the first enterprise OpenStack cloud operating system specifically focused on security and easy operation of private clouds. Piston Cloud is based in San Francisco and funded by Hummer Winblad and True Ventures.


Joshua McKenty

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