As CEO of NetSuite, Zach Nelson knows a thing or two about cloud computing. After all, his company was born in the cloud way back in 1998 -- before it became fashionable -- and it's been all-cloud ever since, offering ERP and other business software as a service by subscription.
"We were effectively the first cloud app," Nelson said in a recent interview. "The idea was to build a system to run a business, and oh by the way, deliver it over the Internet."
Originally, the company was known as NetLedger. Today, it has plenty of company in the cloud.
Not only have a raft of other cloud-first startups arrived, but traditional vendors of on-premises business software also have been racing to the cloud with new and retooled offerings for enterprise resource planning, e-commerce, customer relationship management and more.
Workday, SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and others are all now competing in roughly the same space, though with varying approaches and target markets. Some have a long way to go before they catch up, Nelson said.
Oracle chairman and chief technology officer Larry Ellison was an early backer of NetSuite; both Nelson and NetSuite founder Evan Goldberg spent time at Oracle.
"There's a lot of Oracle DNA in the company," Nelson said.
"A lot of times in tech companies, the sales side or the development side is the master," he said. "Oracle was unusual in that sales and development are equally matched in terms of brain power and focus, and we've done the same thing here."
Though NetSuite has traditionally aimed its products at mid-sized companies, it's increasingly targeting larger enterprises as well, Nelson said. Current customers include Williams-Sonoma and American Express Global Business Travel.
"Originally, the idea was to give the same power to mid-sized companies that the big guys got from expensive software like Oracle," he said. "What's happened is that the large guys want to give customers the agility of a mid-sized firm -- they want to behave like a startup. As these big customers look to replatform, they want a system that looks like NetSuite."
Looking ahead, Nelson still sees plenty of room for NetSuite to grow. One way it will do so is by emphasizing its e-commerce capabilities, such as through the SuiteCommerce product it introduced in 2012.
Every company is a cloud company today, Nelson believes, regardless of their industry.
In fact, he calls the cloud "the last computing architecture."
"What more is there after all your information is available on every device at any time?" he said.
It will be exciting to watch what people do with those capabilities over the next 20 years, Nelson added: "Companies like Uber and Airbnb weren't even possible before the cloud -- we're just at the beginning of this journey."