The DTC Interview: Sightfull’s Noam Liram

Photo credit: Sightfull, Co-founders Noam Liran (L) and Alex Litvak (R)

Co-founders Noam Liram and Alex Litvak started Sightfull, a next-generation Business Intelligence platform, nearly two years ago with an aim to apply modern technologies against the age-old challenge of truly understand and managing a revenue cycle. They recently launched the company out of stealth with product in the wild and customers already on board.

We talked with CEO Noam Liram about his decision to start a company with long-time friend Alex, what lessons he’s bringing to Sightfull from his experience at Adallom and Microsoft, and why tackle Business Intelligence.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW?
My co-founder Alex and I both have cybersecurity backgrounds, and that’s a space that is quick to leverage new technologies. Whether it’s graph-based data modeling or AI/ML and so on, in security, you’re using groundbreaking tech to identify problems faster and earlier. Same with DevOps.

That forward-leaning approach doesn’t exist in the business analytics space, which really hasn’t changed much in the last 10 to 15 years. There isn’t a way to get a unified look at sales, marketing, customer success – the revenue cycle as a whole.

BI has been a buzzword for so long that there’s a lot of disillusionment around it… We want to put an end to disappointed teams.”

BI has been a buzzword for so long that there’s a lot of disillusionment around it. It was supposed to be this answer to every business challenge, but it requires a big commitment of data, money, and expertise. It hasn’t really delivered. We want to put an end to disappointed business, finance and operations teams.

TALKING TECH
The Sightfull platform uses graph databases to map all the data related to a customers’s revenue cycle in a way that couldn’t be done before with legacy BI technologies. The platform’s “autonomous analysts” that create an always-on, holistic look at a company’s revenue cycle without having to hire an entire army of data engineers.

When you think about it, not every company can employ the best analysts, but they can all buy the best product. The relational data connections we’re able to make means there can finally be that best product.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
I learned a lot as the first employee at Adallom. One thing is how important your team is. It takes time, effort, and intention to create the right team. I’ve carried that over to Sightfull. We were just doing a photoshoot for the launch, and it really struck me to see 20+ people in Sightfull t-shirts. These are all people that Alex and I handpicked for this opportunity to create something huge, to have a real impact on something. In return, I have the opportunity to learn from each one of them.

The Sightfull Team at Launch

“I also knew how important it is to have a co-founder you can trust completely and wouldn’t need to think twice about if they are going to do what they say will do. They also have to be someone you can laugh with. For me, that’s Alex.”

I also knew how important it is to have a co-founder that I could trust completely and wouldn’t need to think twice about if they are going to do what they say will do. They also have to be someone you can laugh with. There will be tough parts to scaling a company. What makes them bearable is that at the most serious moment, you could crack a joke and have a good time. That’s Alex and me. We’ve known each other for more than 15 years, since bootcamp. We each know how the other makes decisions and what our values are. We’re on the same wavelength.

I also learned things from being acquired by Microsoft. I experienced firsthand what it takes to scale up to support hundreds of thousands of customers. That leaves a mark on you and it’s something I leverage day in and day out.

A couple of things I’ve learned not to do is first, from my experience at Adallom, don’t ignore your customers. You don’t always know best. Luckily, we learned that lesson fast and were able to pivot to something successful, but in the first few months, we really didn’t listen.

Don’t ignore your customers. You don’t always know best.”

Second, this is not a sprint. Building a company is not like being in the Army. It takes a healthier, more sustainable culture. If you want to build something big, you can’t just optimize for making a quick sale. Big things take time.

OFF THE CLOCK
It’s important to have balance. For me, I have two hobbies that take me outside. I ride a Onewheel for fun. And I ride a motorcycle. Going on motorcycle rides is how I clear my head.

A fun fact: I intended to go to university but it was never the right timing. Adallom was doing great, then I was at Microsoft and it just didn’t make sense to put that on pause for three or four years. Instead, I made a case where I should be admitted to an MBA program, even without a Bachelor’s degree. It’s a story of persistence. And in bending the rules.

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Why We Invested in Cymulate: Managing Cyber Risk Posture, End-to-End 

Photo credit: DTC

To put it simply: we love seeing our portfolio companies succeed. We invest because we want to enable visionary entrepreneurs to become founders of great companies that solve enterprise problems. 

Today, Cymulate announced a $70M Series D round, making the investment among the largest for continuous security testing vendors. It’s been incredible working with this market leader in Extended Security Posture Management (XSPM) over the years. They’ve come so far in such a short amount of time that we feel compelled to reflect on our journey together. 

We were first introduced to Cymulate in 2019 by Alon Weinberg. Instantly, our team was impressed with the business acumen, successful track record and technology vision of the founders, Eyal Wachsman and Avihai Ben-Yossef. And the technology worked. It was clear that Cymulate’s security testing platform was in a category of its own, thanks to its ability to address a variety of business challenges. The founding team understood that periodic penetration testing was no match for today’s threat landscape. Instead, testing needed to be continuous and available on-demand, for different purposes.

Cymulate’s SaaS-based, end-to-end platform quickly set the industry standard for how organizations should continuously validate the effectiveness of their cyber security posture through automation. The threat landscape includes more of the same (ransomware, APTs, malware, the list goes on) but organizations struggle with effective combat. The persistence of these attacks is no match for a company without proper resources, as well as well-resourced companies with neither visibility nor clarity. Cymulate’s XSPM platform leverages native offensive security technology and capabilities to widely support a customer’s security and business needs – all through the power of translating findings to contextual, data-driven insights for better decision making.

Over the years, the company continuously proves its worth. Industry analysts like Gartner and a healthy cadence of funding validates that Cymulate is destined for greatness. In the last year alone, the company increased its ARR by more than 2x, growing more than 200% in North America alone, and counts hundreds of companies (many of which are Fortune 500) as satisfied customers. 

On behalf of everyone at Dell Technologies Capital, we’re honored to stand alongside Cymulate as the company continues to hit milestone after milestone. 

Omri and the DTC Team 

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Celebrating SiMa.ai Delivering the First Purpose-built MLSoC Platform for the Embedded Edge

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Everything we believed when we led the Series A for SiMa.ai is coming to fruition. Potential has become reality. Taking first Si to volume production is an amazing feat that speaks to the entire company’s dedication to delivering for their customers. Accomplishing it in just 18 months is nothing short of astounding.

Easy for me to say that – I wasn’t the one doing all the work. Fortunately, the company has an amazing team, led by Krishna Rangasayee, Gopal Hegde, David Gamba, and others. This team is uniquely qualified with the technical, product, and market experience to make this happen.

Back in 2020, we had looked at tens of ML chip companies trying to solve this emerging problem of ML at the embedded edge. It wasn’t until we saw SiMa.ai and their MLSoC approach that the right path to address this market became obvious. Customers (at the embedded edge) need products that support their existing software and systems without redesign or rewriting of code; they want push button ease to adopt new technologies (ML); and they love the idea of >10x performance per watt advantage over what’s in the market today. That’s what this team has delivered.

What’s more impressive is this team is just as motivated to delight customers as they are to solve hard technical problems. Right from the start their software-first focus has been the key to exceeding customer expectations and delivering on the promise of push-button ML. That’s what you get when you have founders with decades of experience delivering great products and serving the same set of important customers that span large markets.

Why does this matter? I covered the market opportunity when we first invested in SiMa.ai but now the $50B+ market opportunity seems closer at hand and more urgent. Entire segments of our economy are poised for a generational technological leap forward – automotive, robotics, physical security, shipping & logistics, communications, etc. SiMa.ai’s technologies will play an enabling role in that once-in-a-generation evolution.

Today we celebrate SiMa.ai’s delivering on the potential for effortless ML at the edge. We’re that much closer to the future promised.

 

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Omri Green Joins our Team

Photo credit: DTC

Meet Omri Green, the newest member of the DTC investment team. Omri is a partner based in Israel and is interested in meeting early-stage founders across Israel and Europe. We grabbed 30 minutes with him to hear about how he found his way to venture investing, what he thinks of the investment environment right now, and what he does in those few off hours he has to think about something other than technology.

Welcome to the team, Omri!

What got you interested in investing in the “building blocks” side of tech?
My father is an engineer and in Israel the technology sector is very strong. But it wasn’t until I joined the army and I saw what people can do with software engineering and semiconductor development that I really got interested in tech. It was amazing. So, after the army I became an electrical engineer.

Why venture capital?
In venture capital, you get to see the best people and the best technologies. If you’re in a good team like DTC, you’re also having a lot of fun because your colleagues are smart and you’re learning every day.

Venture is a people business and I really like people. I was an engineer by training. I moved for a few years in 2008 to Silicon Valley to work for Dune Networks (that was acquired by Broadcom). That move started this transformation towards venture. Sitting in a cube in San Jose writing code as an embedded engineer team did not play to my strengths like working with people in venture does.

Even as an engineer, I was always connecting the dots between engineering and business and liked working directly with customers’ engineering teams. That made the moving from engineering management to business development and sales easy. At the end of the day, sales is working with people to solve problems.

In venture, you are not working with just one good team. If you invest well, you are working with several great teams that are solving problems. And you’re meeting many, many more. It’s those relationships that make venture fun for me.

How are you approaching the venture market right now?
It has been an intense two years in Israel, for sure. We have more than 50 unicorns. There’s been a huge amount of money invested and a huge amount of innovation here. I think the next few years will be great for early-stage companies.

There’s still so much money going into early-stage companies. But, founders are already preparing for the economics changing. In the last few years, funding conversations have been almost exclusively about  round size and valuation. There was no time to talk about growth plans or KPIs. Now, founders see what’s happening on NASDAQ and hear investors asking about ARR and multipliers and results.

I think we are going to go back to something like the SaaS Funding Napkin where companies will need to think more about how they plan to get from Seed to Series A to Series B and to exit. This is not a bad thing. We’ve been maximizing attention on the big early rounds when really, founders and investors should care more about the impact later on. At the end of the day, we want to build products together that a meaningful number of people will use.

What keeps you optimistic about innovation?
I’m optimistic because I’m coming from a country of more than nine million people. We’re a small country but with smart people, extraordinary technologies and innovation (we are the Startup Nation). With that we’ve made a huge impact – way beyond the absolute number of people or engineers we have. That’s the whole idea, right? Let’s make a huge impact that makes our lives, and life globally better. There are challenges but that’s part of it. If there is no challenge, it’s not interesting. So many of the technologies we’re seeing emerge have potential for huge positive impact. It’s great to play a small role in that.

How do you spend your time off the clock?
My wife and I really try to find balance between what we do at our jobs and our family. Raising our kids is a major part of our lives and I really enjoy it. I run (but not enough), read, and enjoy traveling. One of my 2022 goals is to find a new hobby but to be honest, I’m not sure I will get that KPI done.  

 

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The DTC Interview: Skan’s Avinash Misra

Photo credit: Skan.ai

By some measures, the digital transformation of industry has felt a little “one step forward, two steps back.” Part of the challenge, argues Skan.ai CEO Avinash Misra, is that there’s little visibility into how work gets done. You can’t digitize what you don’t understand.

Avinash, along with co-founder Manish Garg, founded Skan to bring transparency to business processes so organizations can automate and improve. DTC led the Series B investment in the company. We sat with Avinash to learn more about the Skan and how his approach to founding his second company is — or maybe is not — different than the first time around.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
Over the last 25, 30 years, we’ve built many, many systems to help run our businesses. The challenge is that often, over time, the business intent behind those systems has diverged from the actual processes running on the ground. That creates a lot of opacity in how an organization truly runs.

Why does this matter? That study that found 70% of digital transformation efforts fail — that’s a lot of organizations spending big amounts of money for something that doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work? Because of the opacity around how things get done. A transformation leader might want to optimize a business process. But if you don’t understand your starting point, how are you going to optimize?

Up until now, the only tools available to solve this problem involved either a fleet of business analysts or a deep backend integration which gives you a snapshot of committed states of work already completed. But what you don’t see is that 10 different people might have used 10 different mechanisms to move from A to B.

Here’s the second challenge: when you ask people how a business process works, they often give the process they’re supposed to be doing, not what they do. Humans have a level of abstraction beyond which they cannot describe what they’re doing.

When something becomes habit and moves from the prefrontal cortex to the reptilian brain, your explainability goes to zero. It’s the Polanyi’s paradox: we know more than we can tell.

Our approach is to not talk to people. Our technology observes the screen actions of multiple people involved in a given business process. From those screen actions, we’re using computer vision and AI to understand how work gets done. Is everyone involved using the same applications? Is one person adding with a calculator and another using an Excel sheet? Is a document being shared via email attachment or in Slack? We bring transparency to business processes by watching the nuances in the real work that hundreds of people are doing. You can think of it as the modern telemetry of digital work.

There is no way that Skan.ai could have happened five years ago. The cost of compute, especially the cost of computer vision-based compute, had to come down to be able to ingest multiple screenshots of different applications streaming at the same time. And then on top of that, we had to be able to do analysis on what’s happening on those screens across multiple people and reconcile that data. You could not do this without that level of democratization of compute that has happened in the last four, five years.

What’s exciting now is the notion of being able to continuously observe things. In business process management, in DevOps, in manufacturing and logistics, and in autonomy. We are able to look at things in totality as a stream of actions. Expert systems are being trained and behavior can be distilled. Now, we’re able to disaggregate large measures into individual actions and understanding.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s a difficult question to say exactly what learnings I have carried over from the experience building my first company. It feels like something Emerson said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” You have to go through the process. It’s like, you fall in love, get married, get divorced. When you fall in love again, you can’t just short circuit the process because of your previous experience. You have to go experience the process again.

I would say I’m more zen-like now when problems occur – as they will. It’s not the end of the world. The highs and lows of startup life are a given. The lows too shall pass.

I think one has to be action biased, and there is no time, better time for action when there is chaos. It is in chaos that things change. There’s a term used in metallurgy chaotic annealing where you heat a piece of metal to the point that the atoms move around chaotically, it’s cooled so those atoms find a new point of stability. Startups are like this. Every crisis has given rise to new companies, new ways of working. As a founder, you have to act when there is chaos, when people are confused or don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s when your new trillion-dollar company is being born.

Another learning from my first 15 years of running a company is that any entrepreneur must always think of in terms of the team. That mindset will go a long way in terms of their success. My co-founder in Skan.ai Manish has been my co-founder for the last 20 years. We’ve already built on company together. Now we’re building a second company together. I can tell you – it’s not two plus two equals to four. For us, it’s two plus two is 22 when two people are able to work well together. My advice is to find a good co-founder who complements you.

As Shakespeare said, “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them, to thy soul with hoops of steel.”

OFF THE CLOCK
Behind me is my bookshelf. And in that you will find Tintin and Asterix comics, and P.G. Wodehouse. And I know for many, these are names that might sound alien. But these are the comics that I grew up with. And P.G. Wodehouse is one of the finest writers of English language that I continue to read today.  You also find books on philosophy; I have a lifelong love with philosophy. And books on poetry and literature. I find solace in many of those resonances between thought and word.

 

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The DTC Interview: BastionZero’s Sharon Goldberg

Photo credit: BastionZero

Sharon Goldberg and Ethan Heilman founded BastionZero to leverage cryptography in reimagining how remote access to servers, containers, clusters, applications and databases is managed. In this DTC Interview we talk to Sharon about the critical need to modernize how the cloud is secured and explore why, after becoming a tenured professor in Computer Science, she decided to take on a new challenge of founding an enterprise tech company.

DTC led the Seed round investment in the BastionZero team. We’re looking forward to being along for the journey as they build their threshold-based security technologies into company of consequence.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
I really like crufty things. My first job out of college was as a telecom engineer at a telecom company. My second job was a telecom engineer at a power company. I’ve been looking at the Internet’s plumbing and finding interesting cryptographic problems there since I started my PhD in 2005. It started out in telecom networking and ended up being a PhD in cryptography and network security by the time I had finished.

So, if you’re asking “why this, and why us,” essentially BastionZero is a very “Sharon and Ethan” thing to do, which is to say “let’s look at something that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years like remote access and let’s see how we can use cryptography to do it better.” And if you think about a bastion host, it’s not a very sexy object. But it *is* a very important object that underlies a lot of our infrastructure.

TALKING TECH
In cloud security, a couple of things have changed. First, the complexity of cloud and infrastructure environments has increased. There are more kinds of environments and more kinds of targets. What used to be a simple problem of SSHing into targets has now become a complex problem of accessing different kinds of targets in different kinds of places with lots of different protocols. The second thing that’s changed is that SSH is under attack constantly as a protocol. Now you have the combination of more complexity and more aggressive attackers.

There’s a world where there’s a desire to innovate with cryptography and there’s a lot of energy that goes into that. If you think about what’s happened with the deployment of TLS over the last decade, which has been fantastic, lots of little threat vectors and TLS people are locking them down to provide security to most of the internet. It’s an area where there’s innovation, but it’s not like lightspeed innovation.

And then you look at blockchain where there is lightspeed innovation — just insane levels of cryptographic innovation. The baseline in the blockchain space was way beyond what you would see anywhere else.

Most cloud security technology uses very traditional security models that would be considered highly outdated in ecosystems like TLS or blockchain. We think this is a fantastic opportunity.

And then we came into cloud security and it’s behind even where TLS was a decade ago. Specifically, certificate authorities as the root of trust of TLS. In 2011, DigiNotar (a Dutch certificate authority) was hacked affecting the security of the entire TLS ecosystem, including completely unrelated things like Google. There was this relationship that allowed an attack on a certificate authority in the Netherlands to break the security of Google. It’s crazy. Right? So, the TLS community created technology to prevent these types of attacks from happening again. But for me, by 2010, 2011, it was clear that certificate authorities were super outdated as a technology.

And then I go to cloud security and I see, oh, we have a certificate authority. And I’m like, what? So modern. Ethan and I thought clearly that there’s work to be done here.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
I became a CEO because I wanted to do something really challenging and grow. I had this unstoppable desire to try to do this – specifically, to run the business side of the company. Ethan (Heilman) and Mike (Milano) run engineering; I’m doing the commercialization.

I’m drawn to the business aspect. I will say though – who am I actually talking to? I’m talking to a bunch of cloud and backend engineers. Those are my people, right? The kind of people that’ve taken my classes and that I’ve interacted with my whole career. So, it doesn’t feel that businessy. It feels like lots and lots of technical conversations.

I made the jump into management through my mentors. I’ve been advised by a lot of former and current CEOs – People who have been successful and have decided to give back by mentoring others. I have been the beneficiary of that on basic things to incredibly strategic business decisions.

“What does a good salesperson look like? What should I be doing for my marketing plan? How do you think about employee compensation?” These are all things I didn’t used to know. Now I do. Thanks to people who have been and have decided to give back by mentoring others.

What’s interesting is that my last job was a professor at Boston University. And a professor is a highly respected role. You’re almost never in the position of having to ask people for things; you’re always being asked. Then I became a CEO and I started running sales. And, you actually are, despite what people may think about CEOs, you’re always asking others for things. That is what you do. You’re asking your employees, you’re asking your customers, you’re asking your investors. So it was a complete shift in how I interact with people that was really good for me.

I could have sat on my academic chair and waited to be asked or I could go out there and make things happen by convincing others and working with others and talking to others. That’s been both really hard but also really cool.

OFF THE CLOCK
Everyone’s always pointing me at these great business books. I read some of them, but not all of them. It almost feels like at times like you’re being yelled at by the author, like, “Hey, you built your business the wrong way, do it this way!” There are lessons but sometimes I think you have to trust your instincts, trust what your customers are telling you, and build your business.

I’m always reading. It’s probably strange but I read InfoSec News every night right to relax. I like to know all the little things that are going on in the InfoSec world and I’ve been doing that for years.

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The DTC Interview: Oloid’s Mohit Garg

Mohit Garg Oloid
Photo credit:

The way we work has changed demonstrably over the past two years and many of those changes, including new compliance protocols and hybrid office environments, are here to stay. Companies need smarter solutions for creating safe, secure office environments while seamlessly managing their team’s  dynamic presence.

Mohit Garg and his team at Oloid are building the physical security equivalent of “single sign-on” to accommodate these changes. Alongside, DTC’s Series A investment in the company, we talked with Mohit about his motivation in starting Oloid, his hard earned lessons as a second time founder, and about one of the most memorable hikes he’s ever enjoyed.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
The fundamental problem we’re solving with Oloid is modernizing the physical security and access management space. When I met my co-founder Madhu, he had this thesis about physical identity. We compared today’s physical identity experience the to the frictionless experience of digital identity in the cyber world through solutions like Okta and hit on building single sign-on for physical identity.

I’ve always found the workplace physical identity experience to be clunky – especially when compared to operating a Tesla with a mobile device or entering my home with August Lock. I was a consultant in my prior life and I would travel from one office to another – we had 50 offices in the US. Gaining access into a different office was very difficult every time. I would either be given a temporary badge or somebody would have to let me into the door. It just seems like there’s so much room for improvement.

As an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for both something that will be an impactful problem to solve, but also one which I can relate with and I can connect with emotionally. That makes the journey so much more fun.

We’re building Oloid now because when we started the company three years ago, the future of work was moving towards hybrid working – away from a more static, predictable format of coming into the same office every day and towards a more fluid format with dynamic access needs. Like with a lot of things Covid accelerated the movement towards using digital identity systems in offices. Before Covid, interest in digital identity was largely from factories and in places where the problem statements might be “we need access control but don’t want to touch surfaces.” It’s now extended itself to offices where people want integration of access control with compliance and maybe with a desk reservation system.

We don’t have to do it all in our industry… We don’t have to replace the existing physical system with all the wiring and closet hardware that customers find very reliable.

We have a strong belief in integrations; that we don’t have to do it all in our industry. There are two categories of players here. One that does everything – the badge, the software, the cameras – soup to nuts. And then there’s our approach which is an overlay solution. We don’t have to replace the existing physical system with all the wiring and closet hardware that customers find very reliable. We’re building the intelligence layer on either side of the hardware in the cloud and at the edge as a mobile app.

TALKING TECH
It is a very overused statement but I genuinely believe it when I say we live in interesting times. I get excited about the democratization of information and the ability to be a more connected humanity. I feel like our next generations, which are native to this global consciousness, will grow up with lot more awareness of relevant issues and have relevant knowledge at the tip of their fingertips.

Another welcome change is the fact that technology is no longer seen as a department, but rather is ingrained in our lives and in our businesses in a way that is seen as foundational as finance and HR. Technology… no matter if it’s the auto industry, food & beverage or textile companies, technology is being acknowledged as a multiplier.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
I think first time founders tend to hold onto control on many parts of the business longer than we should. There’s the conventional wisdom that is shared, which is don’t hire until it’s broken. Some founders take that very seriously. First, you become a bottleneck. And secondly, more importantly, when you finally end up hiring senior leadership, people start talking about the “good old days” when they used to work directly with the founder. It’s a massive change, right?

This time around as a second time founder, I have very consciously tried to not be the centralized point of decision making in the organization and very early on, I brought leaders who were operating as peers. We’ve built Oloid as company where we operate as aligned minds on the leadership team.

My role as the CEO is to make sure that alignment is going in the right direction and to challenge assumptions. I can step back and be an observer but only if I’m not running point on all day-to-day activities.

And my role as the CEO is to make sure that alignment is going in the right direction and to challenge assumptions. I can step back and be an observer but only if I’m not running point on all day-to-day activities. Building out the leadership team early on has been a big difference in my approach this time around.

OFF THE CLOCK
Another lesson I learned from my first startup is the importance of brutally prioritizing time with family and my kids. I tend to guard my weekend time with my children, whether it’s going to a park or for hikes.

I have an annual tradition of hiking Half Dome. I try to keep that going no matter what even during the pandemic and during California’s fire season. Which turned out to be the best experience – last year, for the entire ropes section, there were maybe 10 other people. There was a point where I looked up and down. I couldn’t see a soul. I don’t think I’ll experienced that ever again.

In five years’ time, I hope to have unlocked my own potential and the potential of my team along this startup journey. We’re focused on unlocking that massive potential and everything else will follow.

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A Milestone Series B for MinIO

MinIO Series B
Photo credit: DTC

Congratulations to MinIO! Why We Invested in Dell Technologies Capital’s Newest Unicorn

On behalf of everyone at Dell Technologies Capital, congratulations to Anand Babu Periasamy, Garima Kapoor, Harshavardhana, and the MinIO team on its $100M Series B funding round led by our friends at Intel Capital. We are thrilled to participate once again along with Softbank and other top tier investors. As we celebrate the company, I wanted to share why we joined MinIO early on its journey, leading their Series A back in 2017.

As an seed-stage company, one of the things that impressed us the most was that MinIO was quick to recognize the explosive growth of unstructured data and the subsequent need for cloud-native object storage. They saw that the data lake would increasingly become the heart of every business, but also that there’d be challenges in how to process the data captured there and turn it into something highly usable .

The closest thing the industry had for large-scale data infrastructure was Hadoop, but while it paved the way, it was hard to operate and fundamentally incompatible with a multi-cloud ecosystem. Customers gravitated towards the AWS S3 model in order to disaggregate storage and compute, which was the anti-thesis of the Hadoop model. But another challenge existed: Amazon S3 is only available within AWS.

MinIO is a high-performance, Kubernetes-native object store. They’ve built a service that is optimized for cloud-native workloads and S3 compatibility. MinIO runs in every major public cloud, private clouds, Kubernetes distributions and – with a binary of less than 100MB – is the only full featured object store capable of running at the edge. Enterprises use MinIO to deliver against ML/AI, analytics, backup and archival workloads – all from their single lightweight platform.

The company is on a similar hypergrowth path as market leaders like Elastic and Hashicorp. The reason, quite simply, is that they’ve taken their time to build the right approach both in terms of their technology and in understanding their customer.

Today, there are no real competitors to MinIO’s object storage technology. For any company that wants to build a data lake on Azure, Google Cloud, on-premises or anywhere else, they need an S3 API and MinIO is the answer. More than 750 organizations, including Microsoft Azure, use MinIO’s S3 Gateway. And published benchmark tests show that MinIO outperforms S3. MinIO also is the only option for customers looking to run containerized applications on-premises. And from what we can see, developers love the experience.

Much of MinIO’s growth is driven by developer customers who are ripping out the traditional data warehouse and Hadoop HDFS-based ecosystem, and then adopting MinIO as the data lake persistence layer. Its hypergrowth is further illustrated by its half a billion+ Docker pulls and more than 31,000 GitHub stars, the most of any object storage database on the market.

We are incredibly proud of the MinIO and the rocket ship they’ve built and can’t wait to see what the next stage of its journey holds!

Gregg Adkin and the DTC Team

 

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The DTC Interview: Venu Gutlapalli of Tag-n-Trac

Venu Gutlapalli
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The DTC Interview
Venu Gutlapalli
CEO and co-founder, Tag’n’Trac

We’re going to the basics and saying, “You want to know where your pallet is at any given point in time? We’ll give you give you that capability.” You don’t need AI and all this predictability. It’s actually real data coming from the field.

We’ve heard plenty about supply-chain challenges of late, but even before the recent crises there were issues. Chief among them? Lack of visibility into both exact locations and conditions for shipments that require specific environmental conditions and delivery timelines.

 That’s the problem that Venu Gutlapalli, CEO and co-founder of Tag-n-Trac, is intent on solving.

 The company, backed by DTC as its Series A lead, has created a platform that gives customers a comprehensive, real-time look into where its shipments are as they move from factory to destination. At the heart of the platform are Tag-n-Trac-pioneered UPC labels that are imbedded with a cellular tracking device and other sensors; they not only monitor where a shipment is at any given moment, but also track things like temperature and humidity levels. Gutlapalli, a Qualcomm veteran, talks about technology, the value of partnerships, and building a supply chain solution at a time when there are problems with the supply chain itself.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
The fundamental problem we’re wrestling with is… giving greater visibility into the supply chain, at a lower price. Right now, if somebody wants real-time visibility into a shipment, there are two ways to do it. One is a data crawl. You find another system that’s tracking the train or truck or ocean liner your shipment is on — for, say, safety information — and tap into that web site. But it’s not the latest information. The second way is by putting a live tracking device on it – like a GPS-enabled device. But the current trackers are bulky, and they’re around $100 a piece. And you need to reverse-ship them.

We solve the problem by… taking a bar code label and a tracker and merging them together at a low cost — below $10. And now that the tracking device is actually inside the label, we can add other sensors to track variables like temperature, pressure, humidity and so on. If it’s a perishable or a high-value good like a food or beverage or pharmaceutical, those variables are essential to understand.

We saw the opportunity to create a company because… when it came to solving some of these warehousing and shipping issues, most manufacturers just hire some big consulting company that are good at warehouse management software. If you’d ask consultant-types how shipments are tracked, they’d often just say, “I’ll go to China and buy some device and put it in the bottom of the shipment.” Those off-the-shelf solutions aren’t customizable and can be expensive.

We looked at the problem and said it’s possible to build a platform that’s focused on lowering costs and lets developers write customizable applications on top to manage specific workflows. And it can offer more real time data: your shipment is on a truck that is actually 30 minutes away from the warehouse, this is how much inventory is coming from it, this is how much inventory you’re expecting.

TALKING TECH
A tech breakthrough that’s been crucial to us is… FPC — flexible printed circuits. The traditional way of manufacturing a tracking device, like a cell phone or a watch, is that you first make a PCB, then you put a battery to it, then you build an encapsulation like a plastic casing. But that’s where the cost goes up because you have all these layers of manufacturing.

With flexible printed circuits, all the components are printed: the sensors are printed, the battery is printed, and then we encapsulate it all inside a UPC label. And the label material is the same as before.

With flexible printed circuits, all the components are printed: the sensors are printed, the battery is printed, and then we encapsulate it all inside a UPC label. And the label material is the same as before. It’s just that we’re putting in a very thin intermediate layer.

The most exciting thing about technology these days is… the way semiconductor technology continues to evolve. Every five years computational power doubles or triples, but the power consumption also goes down and the cost goes down. When I started as a cellular engineer at Qualcomm, we used to make cell phones that were like bricks, and the battery would die in six hours or so. You’re now squeezing an entire cellular function into a paper-thin label.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
One important thing I’ve learned about building a team is… when we’re trying to come up with is something that doesn’t exist, look for people who want to innovate and think out of the box to come up with solutions.

You don’t need to invent everything yourself… If somebody has already solved a certain piece of the puzzle, then partner with them to bring it into your solution.

A second important thing I’ve learned about building a team is… You don’t need to invent everything yourself. We’re exploring a lot of partnership opportunities. If somebody has already solved a certain piece of the puzzle, then we want to partner with them to bring it into our solution.

Don’t give up if somebody says that’s not working, that’s not available, you can’t do this. Stay at it. If someone can’t deliver, find another partner.

The key to being a successful startup is… don’t give up if somebody says that’s not working, that’s not available, you can’t do this. Stay at it. If someone can’t deliver, find another partner. We searched for one year for a label printer that can help us. We went to every expo. And then after one year we found two printers that can actually do the job, and both the printers are working now.

The biggest irony about what we’re doing is .. we’re trying to solve supply-chain problems and,  because of this whole semiconductor supply-chain issue, we ourselves are stuck with supply-chain problems. [laughs] You’re trying to solve a problem, and you’re a victim of it, too.

OFF THE CLOCK

Go on a trip where there are no cell phones, nothing. Just go and get your brain out of fundraising, value add, customer delivery, all that.

I give my mind a rest by… backpacking and traveling. Sometimes I go on a trip where there are no cell phones, nothing. Just go and get your brain out of fundraising, value add, customer delivery, all that.

In five years…I see us as a full-platform enabler for customers — specifically in pharma, food and automotive enterprises — solving this whole real-time visibility issue in a really good way. Not data and AI and all the fancy terms people are throwing around out there. We’re going to the basics and saying, “You want to know where your pallet is at any given point in time? We’ll give you give you that capability.” You don’t need AI and all this predictability. It’s actually real data coming from the field.

 

 

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2022: Optimism Despite Another Unprecedented Year

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2021 had its work cut out for it.

After a period of the most intense uncertainty many of us have ever experienced, we started the year with a cautious optimism. Vaccines and new therapeutics were on the horizon, job creation numbers were up, Q1 corporate earnings were “roaring past expectations” leading to a hope that stability and a return to “normal” might be around the corner.

The venture industry put more dollars to work in the first half of this year than it ever has before. And we’re on track to handily beat that new money invested metric in the second half. Our industry is minting unicorns by the dozens with now more than 1,000 companies globally valued at more than $1B. As the world seems awash in liquidity looking for a home, firms are raising bigger funds and are investing more, earlier and at higher valuations than, for those of us who have been around for a while, have seen – even in the hubris of the dotcom days.

Alongside the optimism we were feeling at the start of the year was also a sense that the other shoe could drop at any moment. Covid variants, supply chain challenges and talent shortages have meant the global recovery is being experienced in fits and starts. And in venture, there isn’t an investor among us who’s not wondering if this pace of investment is sustainable and thinking hard about what happens to even the best companies when – not if – this bubble deflates.

Our team has invested more money this year than we ever have before. If we’re being honest, that fact keeps us up some nights.

At DTC, we’ve been no exception to the trend. Our team has invested more money this year than we ever have before*. If we’re being honest, that fact keeps us up some nights. It’s not just about making the economics of today’s valuations work but also, thinking through what we can be doing right now to help our companies prepare for whatever comes next. Be it a crowded marketplace of well-funded competitors, a funding slowdown, or another unprecedented global challenge.

Despite all that’s been endured in the past 20 months and the market unknowns, we are steadfast in our optimism about enterprise technologies and their ability to drive human progress. The companies in our portfolio along with the many great teams we’ve yet to invest in are building real businesses by solving hard problems through innovation in the cloud and at the edge. They’re rethinking the tools we use to store, access, understand, secure, and use data and how applications and services can be built and deployed more effectively.

We’re much more comfortable with the long game of innovation and investment. It takes time to build businesses of consequence and future fundamental technologies.

Another positive change is that as an industry, we are much more comfortable with the long game of innovation and investment. It takes time to build businesses of consequence and future fundamental technologies. It’s been fascinating to watch as teams and technologies continue to grow in influence and value well beyond their IPO or acquisition. Enterprise software companies that have IPOed in the last several years have seen their revenues and valuations increase by orders of magnitude despite new entrants and increasing competition. And in areas like cybersecurity, some very cool technologies born of the venture-backed world have been acquired to modernize the product platforms of the incumbents.

Innovation is happening everywhere.

And one more point for the optimistic column: we’ve embraced that innovation is happening everywhere. In the US, more than 2/3 of venture dollars were used to back companies outside of Silicon Valley, investments in European startups have more than doubled in just the last year from one record high to the next, and the Israeli innovation ecosystem has had its biggest year ever in terms of both investment and realizations. We are a truly global innovation scene.

We have the tremendous opportunity to create real technologies to drive human progress.

Our industry may have started at the intersection of government research and a niche market for hobbyists, but we’re now realizing that we have a broad — and tremendous opportunity here. We can’t predict what 2022 has in store for us on many fronts but one thing we truly believe: There’s never been a better time to invest in innovation and the people who build it.

Scott Darling and the DTC Team

* This year we welcomed companies from across the US, Europe and Israel including Katana Graph, Augtera Networks, Tag n Trac, Bodo.ai, Calamu, Lightspin, Treeverse, Swish.ai and a number of still-stealth companies, to the DTC portfolio. We also deepened our commitment to more than 30 current portfolio companies.

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