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Dr. Yu Xu, CEO of Leading Graph Database Company, TigerGraph, Shares with Us How Constant Innovation has been Critical During the Turbulent Times Caused by The Pandemic

kokou adzo



Dr. Yu Xu TigerGraph

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Dr. Yu Xu: Thank you for asking. My family and I are doing pretty well. Fortunately, the whole TigerGraph team has not been directly affected by the pandemic. We’re following healthcare and travel protocols to do our part. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded TigerGraph

Dr. Yu Xu: My background is in the database and distributed systems. I got my Ph.D. in database from UC San Diego in 2005. During my Ph.D., I had a great experience working for a startup. Working in this environment made me realize how much I loved working in an atmosphere where people from all around the world could work together as a close team while all are working towards a common goal. At this time, our common goal was creating a new database product and striving to provide the best product to the world. During my time here was when I got the startup bug.  

After graduation, I worked for Teradata in San Diego for about six years, leading innovation in distributed databases and later big data/Hadoop related integration and initiatives. At Teradata, I saw customers generating reports which took days to finish but were really solving a graph problem using relations database joins (which is extremely slow.) Later I joined Twitter working on big data projects, and moved to San Francisco in 2011.  

At that time, I saw that the best internet companies were powered by internal graph technology and betting big on graph. Twitter was big on the interest graph, Google launched a knowledge graph, Facebook owned the social graph, and LinkedIn was becoming the world’s professional network graph. However, there were no performant graph products on the market for other companies to use. I believed early on that graph would also benefit companies across verticals, not just internet companies. So, TigerGraph was founded to provide a general-purpose, high performance, real-time, and distributed graph database to power new applications for all businesses. 

How does TigerGraph innovate? 

Dr. Yu Xu: Admittedly, we are not the first company to the graph market. When we started, the graph market already had a well-known player. Though, we started the company because we wanted to bring innovation to the graph market so all companies could gain real benefits from the true promise of graph analytics. Our startup brought the first native and parallel graph database to the market. In terms of technology, we categorized previous generations as graph 1.0 and 2.0. TigerGraph brings the graph 3.0 technology innovation to the customers so that – for the first time – they can run complex graph queries on huge amounts of data.  

For a database, a query language is essential to developing business applications. We innovated by introducing high-level and parallel concepts such as ACCUMULATORs to the query language, which is widely loved by our customers and is the key enabler for distributed graph processing. We are on the ISO committee for standardizing an international graph query language called GQL (to be released in 2021) and bringing our innovation to all graph users. A graph is great for visualization, and visualization is key to democratizing graph analytics for everyone. 

We are the leading innovator in graph visualization as well, bringing visual SDK GraphStudio, no-code RDBMS migration, no-code visual graph query builder (so people can query a graph database like they query RDBMS using Tableau or other BI tools visually without coding). Machine learning and AI are transforming a lot of businesses, and the graph is a great enabler for both. TigerGraph is innovating with our customers on better fraud prevention, patient care, and power grid optimization, to name only a few. Cloud is another big technology paradigm shift. We are the first to provide a distributed graph database in the cloud Innovation is key to our success. We already dominated the high-end, high-performance graph market, and we promise to keep innovating. New examples include some amazing performance breakthroughs achieved with hardware accelerator partners such as Xilinx.  

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Dr. Yu Xu: As a database/infrastructure software company, we have customers across many verticals. While some customers have been heavily impacted, some – especially those in the online business – have not been impacted to date, and in some instances, even saw more data growth.  

In Q1 – when most people didn’t know what to expect and assumed the worst – we saw the most impact on our business. Then, in Q2, people started to adjust to the new situations, and as a result, we had a great quarter. Q3 and Q4 will be even stronger than Q2. Overall, we are fortunate to do well in the pandemic and are confident we will come out a stronger and more adaptable company. 

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Dr. Yu Xu: In Q1, we didn’t know what to expect, and we prepared for the worst, assuming we would see no new business (through the rest of the year). We took a very conservative approach. Like many companies, we slowed the growth and controlled our budget. 

How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and TigerGraph in the future?

Dr. Yu Xu: I think the best way to deal with stress and anxiety is to remind yourself to consider the long term. Startups always have ups and downs, and therefore internally, we recognize that there will always be stress and anxiety. If we work hard and truly believe that we are creating the best products for the world, we’ll have great success as a company in the long term. We recognize that hurdles, which often cause stress and anxiety are temporary, and there are always solutions that will turn these negatives into actions and motivations. On the physical side, a healthy diet and exercise help greatly as well. 

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Dr. Yu Xu: On the graph database side, TigerGraph is the graph 3.0 leader in our space. We’re the clear leader in the high end, high-performance graph space. Forward-looking – as a next step – our team will continue our success in the small and midsize market.  

Our main competitors are in-house solutions or people who are not familiar with the newest graph database development and still think graph databases cannot scale to big data. We have customers switching over from document/key-value databases and relational data warehouses. That’s a big market that we are continuously approaching with more education, and we plan to invest more in this (developer) community in the future. Next year’s international graph query language (GQL) is a great opportunity to give people peace of mind when developing graph applications.  

TigerGraph is continuously innovating in both graph visualization and cloud service to stay relevant and prosper in the industry. The innovation of in-graph databases, machine learning, and AI is one of our strongholds, and we’ll continue to work with partners to provide more out of box solutions for users to see ROI more quickly.

Any final thoughts you would like to add? 

Dr. Yu Xu: Database paradigm changes don’t come often. It is important to take opportunities during such periods. 

I think it’s beneficial for everyone to learn more about AI, graph, and machine learning. If there is any interest, I encourage you to check out the first open Graph+AI World virtual conference organized by TigerGraph (happening September 28-30), where you will be able to see innovative customers talking about real-world graph solutions. 

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Kokou Adzo is the editor and author of He is passionate about business and tech, and brings you the latest Startup news and information. He graduated from university of Siena (Italy) and Rennes (France) in Communications and Political Science with a Master's Degree. He manages the editorial operations at

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