There are not many companies like Stream HPC in Europe. Most others are or a government-institute for the national supercomputer, freelancers or actually not experienced with GPUs. So how did it start?
2009: The bore-out
Stream’s founder Vincent Hindriksen had to maintain a piece of software that was often failing to process the daily reports. After documenting the internals and algorithms of the code by interviewing the key people and some reverse engineering, it was a lot easier to create effective solutions for the bugs within the software. After fixing a handful of bugs, there was simply a lot less to do except reading books and playing online games.
To avoid becoming a master in Sudoku, he spent the following three weeks in rewriting all the code, using the freshly produced documentation. 2.5 hours needed to process the data was reduced to 19 seconds – yes, the kick for performance optimization was already there. For some reason it took well over 6 months to port the proof-of-concept, which was simply unbearable as somebody had to make sure the old code was maintained for 40 hours a week. As he was the only one who understood the code, there was no option to get placed at another project.
This ended in a bore-out: no wanting to go to work anymore. It’s actually quite the same as a burn-out, but with a different cause.
2010: a new start
From that bore-out the company was born the next year. There were two options: GPGPU (mostly OpenCL, a hobby) or build smart products for public transport. Two domains were bought, and the choice was made during the year. For the public transport a proof-of-concept was made, but the choice fell for the really difficult work.
Not much money was earned that year. Even government-support had to be paid back as one invoice was sent 2 weeks too early.
2011-2013: What’s a GPU?
We now have a clear idea on what GPUs can do, but in 2010-2014 GPUs were still for graphics only and sales were very difficult. Selling to somebody who states “GGGGGGraphics Processing Unit” is quite difficult.
A loan of €4000 by Vincent’s grandmother, a landlord who was relaxed with payments, the trust in the technology by early customers, and late payments to our creditors got us through.
2014: Employee #1
There was still not a stable income. Sales&marketing also took a lot of time, hurting the time that could be spent on actual work. But slowly we got more traction – more people started to believe in the company’s vision.
But by the end of the year the first employee was hired, Anca.
As the choice was to build a services company instead of a products company, banks and investors were not even interested in providing financial support. We can now say that for the long term this was the best – we can now fully control our own strategies and invest in our own product development.
2015-2020: First growth phase
Growth is hard, really hard. And we learned that, well, the hard way. Several decisions would now be made differently, but we adopted and continued. Some examples:
- Investing in FPGAs too early. OpenCL-on-FPGAs was the next big thing, so based on what we got promised by vendors, we made the same promises to our customers. Many promises did not turn into reality.
- Hiring the wrong people. Or: hiring people for whom we are the wrong company, as it goes both ways. We now define our culture, because we want people who fit our culture.
- All the other things that are in the books under “early stage growth”.
By 2021 we got past the growth pains and go into the second phase.
2021: The second office
The first choice was actually in Belgium, because it was closer to Amsterdam. Unfortunately that project did not succeed. By coincidence we got into Budapest, and grew out of the office space the first year.
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