Backing Acompli & the Value of a Veteran Team

Redpoint Partner Satish Dharmaraj and Acompli CEO Javier Soltero discuss how Acompli keeps second time entrepreneurs hungry.

Satish: [00:10] Hi, I’m Satish, I’m [inaudible] partner at RedPoint ventures.

Javier: And I’m Javier Soltero, CEO and cofounder of Acompli.

Satish: [00:20] And if you look at the apps that you use on your phone, after, you know, maybe the browser, maybe Twitter or Facebook, if [inaudible]. I think it’s the email app that you use the most often every day, engagements are off the roof. And yet there’s no real interesting, you know, good email app that really solves the pin point of end users. And so, and Javier was talking about that, I felt that there was a big hole there, and that it was the most important app on your phone, and yet no one was innovating in it.

Javier: [00:59] Yeah. And I had decided that for my own sanity sake, I was kind of done with traditional enterprise companies, and in particular infrastructure ones. So as I started thinking through what kind of things I wanted to do, I wanted to do something that was much more end-user driven. So a piece of software that, at least the way I would have described it then, was adopted and loved by users, even if their IT department didn’t force them to use it.

[01:25] There was a very specific meeting that took place where, and I remember this, and he’s probably regretting that I remember things as clearly as I do, but I do. I sat in his office and he said “man, why isn’t anybody doing like an email thing? Like for real?” And I was like— You remember this now? And it was actually, and I could probably do a better impression of that, but I’m going to—

Satish: You have too much hair for that.

Javier: [01:49] The point is, he was really kind of, frankly, it seemed like it really pissed you off that nobody was really stepping up to the opportunity to do email. And I remember my immediate reaction, you might not remember, but my immediate response to that question was “because you have to be absolutely crazy to start an email company.” And what I meant at that point, you remember that? and I may have used an F bomb or two in that response just, because we were among friends. What happened there was, you know, obviously you had to be crazy because it’s really hard. It’s not because it’s a bad idea, it’s just very, very, very, very difficult. And it’s difficult because I see it as an all or nothing proposition. You either build the right product and it gets massive adoption and you become very, very successful or you languish, and you built something that is sort of a, you know, that people don’t care about.

 [02:42] Satish had convinced a guy named Kevin Henrikson to join Redpoint as an entrepreneur in residence. And Kevin and I had actually gotten to know each other back at VM-ware as part of when we acquired Zimbra at VMware. You know, Kevin was one of the stars of that team. And I always knew him to be an extremely talented dude. And so Satish immediately said, “well, I’m bringing Kevin in as an EIR as well, you should talk to him.”

Satish: [03:08] Six to nine month gig for an EIR, and three weeks into the gig he’s looking at, you know, Javier doing another email company and I’m being involved in it. And he’s like—

Javier: “Oh, I guess I’m doing email again.” Yeah.

Satish: Then the third co-founder, and you know, at that time Javier and I were talking about “Hey, Kevin [inaudible] is a great team, and there’s this guy called JJ who worked at Zimbra and knows all the email and exchange, and end to end stack cold, and great architect. And I said, “Javier, you should meet this guy and he should be a third cofounder” and Javier is going “I don’t need a third cofounder.” And I’m like, “okay, you might be right, but why don’t you just go meet with him and then come back and tell me whether you want him as a cofounder or not.” And so he goes and meets with him and comes back and says, “yeah, I see what you’re saying. We can make him a cofounder.”

Javier: [03:58] I think he was absolutely right. I mean, the skillsets that my two co founders have and the experience that they have that’s unique to tackling a problem as hard as email are impossible to find anywhere in the Valley, anywhere in this country, anywhere in the world. It’s just something that is extraordinarily specialized and a huge reason why we have such a strong team.

[04:23] The first thing you’ll notice is that we’re— I don’t think there’s a single person on our team. In fact, I know that there isn’t a single person on our team who has Acompli as their first starter. And so this kind of veteran angle is really important because people are accustomed to operating in a model, and I mean, in a state where there’s a lot of uncertainty, and the uncertainty comes from different places. There’s uncertainty around what the overall product strategy may be. You know, six or 10 months down the road there’s uncertainty around the economics of the business because, you know, we’re an early stage company. There’s a lot of different angles that if you are not able to keep your sort of act together, if you will, you’d be very, very hard pressed to handle that. As we evolve, it’ll become a more welcoming place, I think for people who maybe would have this be their first starter.

Satish: [05:22] One of the drawbacks that I was thinking about as I was pondering this question and during your answer is you know, sometimes I feel the experience and knowledge is a word, right? Because you’re not as naive as you might be if you know too much about a product. And if anything, that’s a small, I would rather, you know, I rather have people who are super experienced and have a lot of wealth of knowledge in the subject, but you know, sometimes you don’t try blind stupid things when you are not naive and that, you know, in a startup sometimes crazy things lead to crazy outcomes.

Satish: [06:12] Yeah, I think we worry about this a lot when we back founders who had previous successes, and the things that we look for when we back founders who have had previous successes is I think the same thing that other employees who have not had those successes look for when they join a team, which is, are the people who’ve had these successes and are these founders, are they still motivated, hustling, you know, acting like as though they have nothing and starting from the ground up? Or are they getting a little lazy or there’s a little lack of hunger and a lack of hustle as a result of the wealth that they’ve accumulated from the previous exits? So when employees see that, you know, yeah, these guys have had successes, but look, I mean, these guys are fighting ground war and we want to be part of that. I think that motivates everyone and levels the playing field despite the success people have had in the past.

Javier: [07:16] We run things a little differently. Certainly from the way that I ran things on my first time as CEO. Frankly I think I would have— and since you weren’t one of the investors, I can say this even. Well, whatever, it worked out, but I was kind of making it up as I went along. I’m being a little bit more delivered by this time. But you know, we have a lot of different viewpoints and we have a lot of different experiences, by design we’ve brought a lot of different people into the company. And there are places where you need to get insights from everybody in order to arrive at the right answer. JD is a great example. My cofounder and CTO. By personality he’s not the most outspoken guy, and this is his first time as a member of the executive team, as the cofounder of a company. And the amazing thing about that guy is that aside from his technical skills, which are amazing and undisputed, he can chime in on any subject, it could be a go to market discussion or something about the logo, or any aspect of this business. And while he isn’t always right, and frankly, none of us are, it’s just there’s sort of like this wisdom and serenity about him, and unfiltered quality of his comments that it’s a good example to call out, because it’s somebody who’s role typically doesn’t call for that, and in this case we’ve created an environment where that kind of thing is encouraged.

[08:47] And I think more broadly as a company, I tend to run the company with a lot more transparency than I did in the past. For example, we have a board meeting today. Tomorrow we will review the same board deck that I present to the board, gets reviewed with the team, and the team at all times knows exactly where we are, where the expectations of Satish and the rest of our investors are, where my expectations are. And in that we don’t have this kind of like, everybody like talking randomly and throwing wild and crazy ideas. We have, you know, I guess I’m more a steady approach to how we manage this.