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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The DTC Interview: Rakesh Yadav

Photo credit: JarvisML
A Rakesh Yadav original.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
I spent 14 years at Google working on ML for Google Ads and Google Payments. I belabored the idea of leaving for months. Google is the Mecca of machine learning. Even so, when I joined there was such a need for innovation. For an idea to reach real users in production, it used to take like six to nine months. I wanted that to happen in days. By the time I left to start Jarvis, some projects were reaching production in three days. Which was really pretty good and after that, the innovation cycle increased.

But at the end of the day, we had built this big awesome brain, or intelligence engine, but it’s reduced to being in the hands of just a few corporates. But there are many companies that don’t have the resources to hire a bunch of Googlers or to deploy machine learning on their data.

So, we asked, wouldn’t it be great if you can democratize the access to machine learning and then have it applied towards the rest of the enterprises on the planet, not just like the biggest five, ten companies?”

TALKING TECH
Consumers moved online at a very accelerated pace because of Covid, generating a lot of data. And that data is like gold for businesses. But it is not in one place and most companies do not have the in-house talent to build their own intelligence engine and then run it at scale. Most of the small pool of engineers who have expertise both in big data and in machine learning are still concentrated at places like Google.

“Business owners have to figure out their online strategy. But they are struggling. We started Jarvis to give the rest of the enterprises access to the same caliber intelligence engine as the biggest companies have.”

We integrate their data and then Jarvis’s machine learning algorithms generates insights. In terms of being “the gold” for a business, with our algorithms we can predict daily the LTV for every customer. And we can build taste models for every customer and predict with hyper-personalization the three to five products they’re most likely to purchase.

This is something our team of 15 can do today because of things like Google open sourcing TensorFlow, compute getting more accessible, and a general standardization of frameworks. But we’re still in the nascent phase of the machine learning world and there’s still an insane amount of innovation that is happening daily.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
At one point, I opened my diary and wrote a list of 42 rules to live by. I started it thinking that if I pass away, I would like my son to have these to read. The first rule is, “If comfortable, change!”

Another rule I have is that if I don’t see a path of 10x’ing my utility function in the world in 10 years, I need to change. I no longer saw a path to 10x’ing my impact where I was.”

A year ago, I was well on the path of becoming VP at Google with a very comfortable life when I decided to start Jarvis. My Rule #4 is “Always choose the harder path! That’s where maximum growth exists.” Now it’s seems like it was an easy decision to make but I’d be lying if I said that. I wrote in my diary, pages and pages, positives, negatives, things I will miss. All of that. After I told my mom I was going to leave my job to start a company, she would ping me with all these Google benefits, “Google has all of this, why leave?” I was like, mom, I’m a manager of managers. I know these benefits by heart already!”

One of the lessons I took from Google is that it’s all about the people. I thankfully had a bunch of mentors there that I learned this from. It’s a lesson that will carry forward not just in this company but for my whole life. I learned to hyper-optimize for my folks. And now, many of them have joined me here at Jarvis.

“Hire insanely smart people. Then set them free.”

When you hire, my personal philosophy at Google and now at Jarvis is hire insanely smart people. Then set them free. I don’t even like the word “manage.” If anybody requires management, this is wrong company to be at. All of our folks are highly motivated, self-driven, and amazingly talented individuals.

Another lesson that I’ve carried over is about prioritization. At Google you could pick a new challenge every two years. I was lucky to be involved in creating eight $1B+ products in my 14-year tenure. But I also killed six products six to nine months into development, partly because I could not see a path to $1B in revenue. So that’s the type of benchmark we hold ourselves to at Jarvis.

But there are differences. One of our biggest risks is that because we are a bunch of Xooglers here is that we have the tendency to design to be able to handle a hundred million or, God forbid, a billion users showing up on your product on day one. If we give into that kind of thinking – building for millions of users in the first year of a company, that product will never see the light of day. We don’t have the resources to build products at that scale. That was the biggest, most painful thing for all of us to leave behind.

Right now, we can handle 10,000 customers on the same second. It’s not a hundred billion, but I think it’ll be a few more months before we have 10,000 customers in the most optimistic view. So that is good enough for now.

“At a startup you have to adapt to the resources that you have and cannot let perfect be the enemy of good.”

OFF THE CLOCK
My work is fun, and I never have to do anything I don’t like, thankfully. I have achieved that. But in terms of other hobbies, pre-COVID, I used to do a lot of group sports like soccer, cricket, rock climbing. During COVID, I switched to individual sports like rowing. On weekends, I try to spend much of my time with my family, take some motorcycle rides, and am learning to ride a One Wheel, though I am nursing an injury right now from that last activity.

Another hobby I have is painting. As a child, I earned two diplomas in painting in parallel with getting a technical degree. My dad kept asking me, “why are you killing yourself?”

“I think it’s important to always have three new challenges going at any time: one for the right analytical brain, one for the creative brain and one for your body.”

 

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The DTC Interview: Dassana’s Gaurav Kumar

Gaurav Kumar Dassana
Photo credit:

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
At Dassana, we are building the next generation of logging solutions for the cloud. We believe that the basic currency of any successful SecOps or DevOps program is the logs. If you look at the amount of data being generated by cloud systems, it’s growing easily 2x – 3x year over year. Along with that growth is higher costs.

This has been a consistent challenge. There’s always this fight between the finance team and the engineering teams in that engineering runs out of quota and are forced to ask for more budget for their logging solutions. When I was building RedLock, we started using my personal credit card and my monthly bill started at $500. Then it became $1500, then $2,500, and at some point, we were paying $10,000 a month. And it happened within a span of like just one to two years. Our approach is to take lessons learned from cloud models to create consumption-based pricing. If you don’t query, you don’t pay for it.

It’s also about making sense out of all that data. In the logging world, there are no standards, right? Every single vendor – SumoLogic, Data Dog, New Relic, everybody – does things differently. Anytime somebody joins a team, there is always a learning curve. So that’s a challenge. What’s changed is that these days logs are very well structured. This led us to creation of SQL-able logs. Much like developers write SQL queries to analyze their data, with Dassana they can now write very similar queries to analyze their logs. Existing tools have not stepped up to solve these challenges.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
With startups, the journeys are honestly way more exciting than the destination. It’s like when people climb Mount Everest. They prepare for it for a very, very long time — months for months and years. And then after they summit, some people get depressed. Like, “Now what? There’s nothing left to do. I’ve already scaled the highest mountain in the world.” Startups are like that.

“After RedLock was acquired by Palo Alto Networks I felt, “Now what do I do?” You need some stimulating tasks, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve always been like that. I just love to build stuff.”

My favorite part of early-stage company building is when everybody starts to see how the small, small pieces of the puzzle become part of the bigger puzzle. In the early days, people are working on their own stuff. When you are just about to release a product, there’s that raw moment when you see that your component is critical to a launch. In isolation, it may not be the most important thing, but without it, this whole thing will fall over. And then people realize it that their contributions over the last many months and years is coming to fruition.

“…there’s that raw moment when you see how your component is critical to a launch. In isolation, it may not be the most important thing, but without it, this whole thing will fall over.”

Two things I’ve carried over from my previous start up experiences are: One, I think so long as you remain true to your customers and just do whatever it takes to make things right by them, everything just falls into place. It doesn’t matter whether you are a two times founder or 20 times founder, credibility with your customers is something that you have to earn.

And two, hope is not a strategy, but in startups you have no other option than just do your best and hope for the best. Markets might crash, economies might crash, a new competition can come up, you could lose a key employee. There are a lot of unknowns, right? So that’s challenging but you have to make yourself believe that that it’s going to be okay.

“Hope is not a strategy, but in startups you have no other option than just do your best and hope for the best. You have to make yourself believe that that it’s going to be okay.”

Something I hope not to bring over from my previous experiences is the tendency to try to overcorrect things. You forget that what made you successful the first time may not make you successful the second time. It’s a different time. It’s a different product, and a slightly different set of people.

If in the first startup, if you had issues with scaling your technology, you might try to overcorrect from day one. But just because you had those issues in the past does not mean that you’re going to have them again. You can still carry over the principles from your first company, but don’t carry over the implementations. Keep an open mindset – if things are not working, recognize they’re not working and fix them. Don’t try to fix them even before you have hit the problem.

OFF THE CLOCK
I firmly believe in life/work balance. We call it life/work balance intentionally. One thing I make sure of is that I am asleep by 10 o’clock every single day. It’s good for the entire company. Nobody wants to work with a groggy person.

I also spend a lot of time biking on trails around the Bay Area, playing chess, and roasting coffee. I have a coffee roaster at home and love the ability to select the coffee region and the farms the beans come from. I roast a bunch of coffees in small batches and I have my wife randomize them to avoid my own biases. We do a tasting, she takes notes on her phone while I taste. There are these peaberry coffees from Brazil that are just the best coffee I’ve ever had. You don’t find them often, but when you do, it’s really, really good.

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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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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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The DTC Interview: Swish.ai’s Sebastien Adjiman

Photo credit: Swish.ai

As co-founder and CEO of Swish.ai, Sebastien Adjiman recognizes a crisis when he sees one. In this case it’s the deep stress being put on IT teams thanks to the dual impact of digital transformation and COVID. Swish.ai is reinventing the IT service management (ITSM) experience through its hyperautomation platform, using AI to apply autonomous ticket orchestration on top of existing ITSM workflows – and improving ticket resolution time significantly.

Here, Adjiman opens up about the Tel Aviv-based startup—which recently fully emerged from stealth with the announcement of the DTC-led Series A funding—as well as what he’s learned and what inspires him.

Why This, Why Now
The fundamental problem Swish hopes to solve is…exponentially increasing ticket volume. Digital transformation has put an immense strain on IT service and support departments, and COVID and the major shift to remote and hybrid work have only accelerated the problem. Ticket volume has increased by around 35 percent. It’s absolutely vital for the industry respond to this wake-up call.

We were able to witness firsthand the distress and frustration of enterprise CIOs dealing with increasing numbers of tickets…  to address a higher number of tickets, you needed more IT personnel. But budgetary constraints didn’t allow that, which led to burnout.

We started the company because…my co-founder, Arnon Yaffe, and I have a combined 50 years of experience in selling and deploying enterprise productivity platforms for very large enterprises. So we were able to witness firsthand the distress and frustration of enterprise CIOs dealing with increasing numbers of tickets. Before Swish, in order to address a higher number of tickets, you needed more IT personnel. But budgetary constraints didn’t allow that, which led to burnout among the existing personnel.

“Hyperautomation” is…an AI-driven approach that organizations utilize to intelligently analyze, understand, expedite, and automate existing business and IT workflows. Through that, they can achieve operational excellence and, subsequently, cost savings.

A technology breakthrough that made the Swish platform possible is…progress around unsupervised algorithms. It’s allowed our data science teams to develop proprietary algorithms that train themselves using our customers’ historical data. This led to a reduction of the deployment time from months to weeks — which shortened the “time to value” for customers.

There are still many repetitive, manual tasks that can be automated. That’s why I believe that the whole trend – things like autonomous driving and ticket orchestration — could bring about many innovations in various sectors of our lives.

The current tech innovation I’m most excited about is… the whole autonomous trend. There are still many repetitive, manual tasks that can be automated. That’s why I believe that the whole trend – things like autonomous driving and ticket orchestration — could bring about many innovations in various sectors of our lives. That could give us a healthier work-life balance, a more equal society, and a reduction in human error.

Learnings & Inspiration
The leader I most admire for his team-building capabilities is…Steve Jobs. I love his “self-manage” concept: The greatest people are self-managing — they don’t need to be managed. Once they know what to do, they’ll go figure out how to do it. What they need is a common vision.

Swish’s most important hires have been… We needed to hire great leaders who were experts in both data science and engineering. We were lucky to have Oren Miara, one of the most talented data scientists I’ve ever come across, join the team to develop all the algorithms behind Swish’s proprietary technology. Then we were joined by Gadi Wolfman, who spent 10 years in Informatica and is one of the top experts in building robust enterprise-grade, mission-critical systems.

(In startups) often, we celebrate enormous wins and deal with serious challenges in the same week.

One thing I wish I knew earlier about launching a startup is… the intensity of the highs and lows. Often, we celebrate enormous wins and deal with serious challenges in the same week. This, of course, takes an emotional toll on the founders. I’m happy to have found the best partner for this journey, my co-founder, Arnon.

Off the Clock
A TV series everyone should watch is…
The Last Dance. It’s a stunning portrait of Michael Jordan and the reasons behind the Chicago Bulls’ amazing success. It inspired me that hard work, teamplay, and a great leader are the recipe for success.

In five years, ITSM support hyperautomation will… not be the only thing we do. Our plan is to go beyond ITSM and implement hyperautomation in all service and support functions inside the enterprise, including legal, HR, facility management, security operations, and so on. Our vision is to allow our enterprise customers to cope with the rapid pace of the digital world, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance and focusing on value-adding tasks. My biggest reward will be when customers thank me for being able to spend more time with their families since the implementation of Swish.ai.

 

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The DTC Interview: NetSpring Co-founder and CEO Vijay Ganesan

NetSpring CEO Vijay Ganesan
Photo credit: NetSpring

Vijay Ganesan has long had a front-row seat on the impact analytics can have on company performance. Ganesan spent eight years at Oracle, as technical lead for its flagship business intelligence product, then co-founded software analytics company ThoughtSpot, a leader in the space recently valued at $4.2 billion. Now he leads NetSpring, whose new operational intelligence platform pulls together disparate data to help businesses make decisions in real time.

DTC invested in the NetSpring team at the seed stage and then led their Series A. Vijay answered some leading questions we had about innovations in data, team building, and leadership.

Why This, Why Now
The fundamental problem NetSpring hopes to solve is… There are two things happening in business: One is an increasing volume of data in this category we’re calling event data – data coming from sensors, devices, phones, product instrumentation. People are looking for tools to help make sense of that data, and the traditional reporting tools just don’t cut it. The other is a massive increase in business velocity. Businesses are moving faster; COVID has accelerated that transformation.

So the fundamental problem we’re solving is: people have business pressures to do better decision-making on data very, very quickly, and they’re struggling with a hodgepodge of systems to be able to do that. If we can build and provide a robust platform, we can massively impact the operational business agility at companies.

“What is available now really only works for the Ubers and the Netflixes of the world. And so, that convinced me there’s an opportunity for a company here.”

We started a company because… I spent six months asking: If I was consulting for a company that had a need for better operational intelligence, what would I do? And what I came away with was, right now, it is colossally complex. You have to string together a bunch of different tools to build something useful. What is available now really only works for the Ubers and the Netflixes of the world. And so, that convinced me there’s an opportunity for a company here.

“Stream processing has gone mainstream. It’s no longer that the data lands somewhere, and then it’s processed offline. People are processing data as it’s coming in…  Which is a great enabler for us.”

The trends that make this the right time to build NetSpring are… There are two megatrends happening that are enablers for us. One is, stream processing has gone mainstream. It’s no longer that the data lands somewhere, and then it’s processed offline. People are processing data as it’s coming in, thanks to companies like Confluent and projects like Apache Kafka. Even in an average enterprise, it is entrenched. Which is a great enabler for us. Because you need to have the infrastructure to capture the data before you can have the analytics about that data.

The second big trend is the lakehouse movement. There’s this big debate going on – warehouse vs. lakehouse. I think it’s a major shift that’s happening, and we’re big believers in the lakehouse style of architecture. It means the central depository of data in your enterprise is your cloud data lake. It is not your data warehouse. If you think about it, for an enterprise the ideal scenario is that all data sits in one place. And cloud data lakes make that viable. They’re cheap. They’re secure. They’re highly scalable. They’re reliable.

Learnings & Inspiration
One thing I’ve learned about startups is… the articulation of the pain point you’re solving for has to be crisp. Product is very important. But enterprises are bombarded by hundreds of startups. So you have to be very very crisp in articulating the value proposition. It’s not about your technology; it’s about their pain point.

A leader who inspires me is…Larry Ellison of Oracle. For just sheer grit and determination and getting the job done.

The key to building a strong team is…finding people who are driven to make an impact. In talking to somebody who’s potentially going to join us, I don’t sell them NetSpring. I tell them, “Look, you’re at Google, you’re at a fantastic place. You should be happy. You shouldn’t be leaving. You should be staying there.” And for people who are very passionate and driven, that sort of irritates them and their response is usual: No, no, no! That’s a trick I use. I flip it.

One thing I’ve learned about investors is… It’s like in a very fancy restaurants: you never see the waiters, but when you need them, they’re there. They’re watching you from a distance, and if you’re looking for a spoon, they’re there to give you a spoon. The best investors are like that. They give you the support you need when you need it, but they get out of your way. Because they trust you know what’s good for the company.

“The important thing with a team when you have a setback is, how are we going to fix it? It’s really always looking forward.”

One thing I’ve learned about setbacks is… how you manage it for the team. How do you react to it? Do you get agitated? Are you finger pointing? Or are you calm? The important thing with a team when you have a setback is, how are we going to fix it? It’s really always looking forward.

Off the Clock
I relax by… listening to Indian classical music. Music does something remarkable to your body and mind. It has this sort of regenerative impact. It’s like are change of the batteries.

Five years from now… if you walk into an enterprise and look at what they have for data and analytics, you should see three things: an event processing bus; a cloud data lake; and NetSpring. That’s what we call the modern data and analytics stack.

That’s our vision: We are going to be the predominant platform for data analytics for the enterprises in this new modern world.

 

 

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