I used this title for possibly the most regrettable blog post I have written on AVC back in 2011.
My friend Alex’s post on the topic this weekend has made me revisit my thoughts on the subject of marketing.
Alex starts off his post with this assertion:
2019 was the year when VCs and startup founders soured on paid acquisition.
I am not sure if that is true, but if it is, it suggests a dramatic change in the startup playbook.
Back in 2011, I wrote:
He said “every company needs a marketing budget.” It seemed like a strong reply but in truth not one of our top performing companies had a marketing budget in their initial business plan.
That is certainly no longer true. The 2010s were a decade in which startups mastered marketing and channels like Facebook and Instagram emerged to satisfy their demand.
But what if that game is over? What if that well has gone dry?
Alex suggests we have to go back to virality and customer to customer marketing in his post.
I think we are more likely headed to something new and I am not entirely sure what that is.
And the Google/Facebook/Instagram well has not exactly “gone dry”. But it sure feels like steady-state to me now. It is a must-do but you can’t beat the competition there anymore because everyone is there.
So here we are. At the cusp of something new because we need it. Now we need to figure out what it is.
The 20 Trending VC Sessions at 2020 SaaStr Annual!!
It’s still early — the 2020 SaaStrAnnual.com isn’t until March 10-11-12 in the SF Bay Area — but we can already start seeing some of the hottest VC sessions at Annual.
There will be almost 1,000 (!) VCs at Annual and folks will be handing out term sheets!
A bunch of sessions aren’t even up yet — for example, we just added David Wadwanhi, ex-CEO of Appdynamics, now partner at Greylock — so take these trends with a grain of salt. But at a minimum, these sessions are already … fire!
The Next Iteration of “Software is Eating the World” 2020 with Atrium and Andreessen Horowitz
I guess it’s not a total surprise this session is so popular. An update to the iconic Software is Eating the World is tough to pass up. But grab your spot fast!
State of the Cloud 2020 with Bessemer Venture Partner
A core piece of SaaStrAnnual.com content for 4 years straight, the Cloud team at BVP is back to share the latest trends in Cloud for 2020 and 2021!
Equality and Unicorns in 2020: Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures and Jason Lemkin of SaaStr
We’re going to do something a little different here, and both catch up on the state of Equality in Venture Capital and Cloud, and also revisit Aileen’s classic pieces in TechCrunch that kicked off the age of the Unicorn. We’ll do a deep dive into the latest metrics on what it takes to build something iconic.
Underserved Markets for SaaS Companies with NextGen Venture Partners, Precursor, Unusual Ventures and Backstage Capital
I’m excited this session is already 60% full. You can absolutely make a ton of money investing in The Obvious. Following the best investors into the most obvious founders. It does work.
But then, the Zooms and Canvas come out of seemingly nowhere and build decacorns and unicorns.
And you can really make a lot of money there, too. Beyond the Obvious.
Product Prioritization – How the Best Companies Choose What to Build and When with Menlo Ventures
You can’t do it all, and figuring our what to build, and what to put it off is one of the most vexxing challenge for founders and SaaS execs. I love this session and am glad it is proving more popular than I’d expected!
Build your SaaS on Customer Cash – a discussion on how to bootstrap, and if or when to use Revenue Financing with Timia Capital
Ok this session started as just a smaller workshop but boy, it’s already packed to capacity! Venture capital is great at all, but if you can avoid the dilution, why wouldn’t you? We’ll make sure we have plenty of sessions on alternatives to venture capital.
Sometimes I wonder if folks really want to hear about more “traditional” venture topics (e.g., going from A to B). Well – THEY DO!! 🙂
It probably also helps this is an all-star panel, with OG SaaStr speakers like Stacey Bishop and incredible cloud investors from USVP, Index and Canvas.
Go to this one.
Growing Product and Engineering Orgs from Zero to IPO with Redpoint Ventures and Looker
Ok this a session is a ringer. Combine ever-popular Tomasz Tunguz with Nick Caldwell, CPO of Looker fresh off their $2b+ acquisition is going to fill the seats, and it already has. The topic is a great one. How the heck to scale your product and engineering teams successfully. Nick has thought about this topic incredibly thoughtfully and personally I will be at this session to hear from him.
The Cadence: How to Turn Your SaaS Startup into an Army with David Sacks
If you follow David Sacks, you know he is one of the top thinkers in SaaS and Cloud. CEO of Yammer and COO of PayPal, he now runs $500m+ Craft Ventures. Here’s here to share how to really get it done.
Avoid the Hypergrowth Quicksand – How to Build a World-Class SaaS Board with Duo Security, NEA and Lead Edge Capital
Ok i am excited for this one. I heard Lorrie Norrington speak at Hubspot’s Founders Day at Inbound, and we reached out if she could put together a session on how to build truly inclusive boards. We’ll hear what she and SaaStr Annual veterans Hilarie Koplow-McAdams and Dug Song have to say on this critical topic.
The Secrets to Not Just Raising Money, But Building a Top-Tier Syndicate with Tribeca Venture Partners, IVP, and NEA
This is another VC session on a topic that is super popular, but I wasn’t sure a ton of folks would go to. I was wrong. This will be an inside look from IVP, NEA and Tribeca Venture Partners on how not just to pick 1 investor, but to build an ideal syndicate. Dysfunctional syndicates can almost wreck a start-up. Learn more.
Fundraising Myths: The Pitfalls of Hype-Driven Fundraising and Other Unsustainable Tactics with Defy Partners
Trae is one of our favorite OG SaaStr Annual speakers and Defy Ventures is on a tear. She’s back to teach us how to avoid the hype and build a sustainable start-up. I’m glad to see it is trending.
Work-Spouse: How to Pick a Co-Founder and Build a Partnership (without Wanting to Kill Each Other)
OK i love this topic and am glad to see it is already pretty popular. Being a co-founder is one of the most unique relationships in the world. It really can be like … a work-spouse. Especially when it works, and when you go long. It’s a nuanced topic and I’m not sure I’d personally use the term “work-spouse”, but it really can be like this — in both good and challenging ways. If you have a true co-founder, you probably get it. Go hear them share how to make it work, and go long together.
Sorry – this isn’t exactly 20. We’ll add and update this list as registration continues to grow.
What should a startup know before rejecting an outside investor?
Q: What should a startup know before rejecting an outside investor?
Know they may not be there later.
Investing in start-ups is very risky. Not only do most start-ups fail, but it is more than that. It’s really hard to do enough diligence in enough time:
- It’s hard to really get to know the team that well. You might have literally just met them. And often, they will have zero real track record, or close to zero.
- It’s hard to know if the handful of customers they really have, if any, will grow.
- It’s hard to know if they might quit if it gets too hard.
- It’s hard to know if they will spend too much of the money, too quickly.
- It’s hard to know if there might be a better competitor just across town.
There just almost never is enough time and bandwidth to know for sure if you should do the investment. Startups are … raw. And startup investment periods are often compressed.
And yet … and yet when you see a startup you think is in the top 5%, you want to invest. Often badly. And quickly. Because the great ones produce all the returns.
But that’s often a moment in time. If you stumble after, and/or the diligence gets worse, or you become even a tiny bit of a less attractive investment … that prospective investor will often fade away.
So if you say No, assume that’s it for that investor. They’re simply gone.
And if you say No, and have no one else that is out there with a backup Yes … assume you may not get another investor at all. At least, not for a while.
SaaStr Podcasts for the Week with BigID and New Relic — January 24, 2020
Ep. 301: Dimitri Sirota is the Founder & CEO @ BigID, the startup that provides advanced data discovery and intelligence for the data centre and cloud. To date Dimitri has raised over $145M for BigID from some of the best in the world of enterprise including Boldstart, Scale Venture Partners, Bessemer, Salesforce Ventures and Tiger Global who just a couple of weeks ago, led their latest $50M Series C. Before to BigID, Dimitri founded 2 prior businesses, the first in 1999 being a VPN security company called eTunnels and then the second being Layer Technologies where Dimitri enjoyed an incredible 10 year journey leading to their acquisition by CA Technologies in 2013. Dimitri is also an angel investor with a portfolio including Zume Pizza, Modalyst and TalentClick.
Pssst 🗣 Loving our podcast content? Listen to the start of the episode for a promo code to our upcoming events!
In Today’s Episode We Discuss:
* How Dimitri made his way into the world of enterprise software and came to found BigID as his third company.
* What specifically would Dimitri advise founders when the interests of their investor are not aligned to theirs? What is the right way to manage that situation? Does Dimitri believe that founders should always be raising? Does Dimitri believe when the money is on the table, you should take it? What is the right way for founders to think about valuation?
* What did the fundraising journey look like for BigID? What situation does every founder want to put themselves in? How does Dimitri think about runway and using fundraising for optionality? What does Dimitri make of the rise of preemptive rounds? How does Dimitri determine when is the right time to pour fuel on the fire?
Ep. 302: Customer expectations are at an all-time high, making it more and more difficult for companies to please them. Companies who understand their customers well are the ones who rise to the top over their competitors. New Relic, provider of real-time insights for software-driven businesses, has this formula figured out. Hear from Roger Scott, New Relic’s EVP and Chief Customer Officer as he shares his 7 tips and tricks for keeping your customers happy— and how to do so at a large scale.
This episode is sponsored by Brex.
SaaStr’s Founder’s Favorites Series features one of SaaStr’s best of the best sessions that you might have missed.
This podcast is an excerpt from Roger’s session at SaaStr Europa 2019.
If you would like to find out more about the show and the guests presented, you can follow us on Twitter here:
Below, we’ve shared the transcript of Harry’s interview with Dimitri.
Harry Stebbings: You are listening to the official SaaStr podcast with me, Harry Stebbings. I always want your feedback and I respond to all new messages on Instagram @hstebbings1996 with two Bs. It would be great to see you there. But to the show today and a company that’s been killing it in the world of enterprise software. I’ve wanted to do this one for a while and so I’m thrilled to welcome Dimitri Sirota, founder and CEO at BigID, the startup that provides advanced data discovery and intelligence for the data center and cloud.
Harry Stebbings: To date, Dimitri has raised over $145 million in funding for BigID from some of the best in the world of enterprise software including Boldstart, Scale Venture Partners, Bessemer, Salesforce and Tiger Global, just to name a few. Tiger, also, just a couple of weeks ago led their latest 50 million series D.
Harry Stebbings: Before BigID, Dimitri founded two prior businesses; the first in 1999 being a VPN security company called eTunnels, and then the second being Layer Technologies where Dimitri enjoyed an incredible 10 year journey leading to their acquisition by CA Technologies in 2013.
Harry Stebbings: I do also want to say a huge thank you to Alex at Bessemer, Ed at Boldstart, and Matt at Salesforce for some fantastic question suggestions today. Mojitos on me for that.
Harry Stebbings: However, that’s quite enough from me. So now I’m very excited to hand over to Dimitri Sirota, founder and CEO at BigID.
Harry Stebbings: Dimitri, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show today. As I was just saying, I’ve heard so much from Alex at Bessemer and then also from one of my favorites, Ed Sim at Boldstart. So thank you so much for joining me today, Dimitri.
Dimitri Sirota: Thanks for having me.
Harry Stebbings: Not at all. But I want to start today with a little bit on you. So tell me, made your way from Ukraine to the flattest place in Canada and then how did you make your way and your initial entrance to the world of startups? What was that aha moment for you with BigID in a pretty succinct, kind of three to four minutes?
Dimitri Sirota: Sure. It’s a long arc. I’m not a spring chicken. My family left the Ukraine many years ago in the ’70s and basically traveled to Israel. After a sojourn in Israel ended up in Canada in Winnipeg. The flat place that you mentioned, which is where I basically did my schooling. Left to do undergrad in Montreal, grad at UBC and basically ended up in Vancouver.
Dimitri Sirota: My entree into technology was that after I graduated from my masters in physics, I was looking for something to do that wasn’t physics and had an interest in this burgeoning technology industry. In fact, I think Mozilla was launched, I remember seeing it when I was in the physics lab. I was in that vintage and that was my first taste of the technology industry.
Dimitri Sirota: I worked in a couple of early tech companies for three years in Vancouver. Then I started my first company, a company called eTunnels, which focused on managed VPN for the emerging telephone companies, [inaudible 00:04:10] as we used to call them. After that I did another company in Vancouver called Layer 7, which we ended up exiting in 2013, for a few hundred million. That’s what actually brought me to New York and how I got introduced to Ed.
Dimitri Sirota: The company that bought us, Fortune 500 company called CA Technologies, I worked for them for two years, did my tour of duty until I vested, thought I wanted to start something new, had some ideas around the protection of privacy of personal information.
Dimitri Sirota: Didn’t know a ton of people in New York. Started socializing the tech scene and Ed Sim from Boldstart was very prominent there as was Gil Beyda, our other investor. Basically got them interested enough to write us a check. Got a cofounder in Tel Aviv, so we started the company in both New York and Tel Aviv. So when it gets too cold in New York, we can go to Israel. Four years later here we are.
Harry Stebbings: I mean what a charming man Ed is and I’m sure he was brilliant in the New York ecosystem. I do have to ask, and I know hindsight is a very difficult thing. But Ed also asks this, too. We’re both wondering, do you wish you’d come to New York and America sooner from Vancouver?
Dimitri Sirota: You know what? I do. I remember watching a movie about Bright Lights, Big City. It was a film from the 1980s starring somebody actually from Vancouver. New York always had this image of the Statue of Liberty and you can make yourself into anything and so it always had an appeal to me. It just never seemed like an opportunity.
Dimitri Sirota: While I was working on the other startups, I had a family, a young family, and my parents were in Vancouver. Really when we were exiting the business, we had a few suitors, some from the Bay Area, one from New York. We actually ended up going with the one that offered us less money because I really wanted to get to New York. Love the city, love the excitement, love the energy and basically ended up partnering with another company that brought me to New York. But 100%, I wish I was in New York a generation ago after I graduated university. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.
Harry Stebbings: I mean that’s fascinating you said that about the acquisition and maybe taking a slightly lower offer because of it being a better fit maybe for you and how you wanted to proceed in the next few years. Because I did want to touch on the fundraise. I’ve heard you speak before and you’ve said very specifically that one of the lessons from the eTunnels fundraise was working with investors and the challenges when you don’t see eye to eye. Thinking about that, maybe not taking the optimal in terms of price, how do you think about what specifically is the right way to manage a situation where investors and founders interests are no longer aligned?
Dimitri Sirota: I have a good situation at BigID. Maybe it’s because we’ve had some success over the last couple of years. But certainly we’ve been able to assemble a good group of people. The investors around our table are all supportive. Even when we’ve had bombs, they’ve been there. I, unfortunately, have had the opposite experience at eTunnels as you underscored, and a little bit more of a middle of the road experience at my next company at BigID.
Dimitri Sirota: Look, I think it’s important. Obviously, I’m on my third company. It’s been a lot easier to assemble a team around the table. I’ve gotten to know each of the investors in advance as it happens on the BigID occasion. Most of the investors actually wanted to invest in prior rounds and we ended up going with somebody else. They were first at the table when other opportunities presented themselves and so I got to know them.
Dimitri Sirota: I think you mentioned Alex. I got to know Alex from Bessemer through unusual circumstances. We were actually talking about the industry off and on informally and nothing about BigID. That’s what eventually led him to think through or at least talk or to lead our series C. I think there are hard lessons, like I said, or like you said, the experience we had in eTunnels was very eye opening.
Dimitri Sirota: It was a difficult time. It was 2001. I think many companies struggled in that period. But clearly I think that informed my behavior today, including in terms of raising. In terms of having that cushion and that safety net and the ability to have that flexibility that informs my decision. Having lived through two black swan events.
Harry Stebbings: When you say the cushion, do you mean the cushion in terms of extended runway? Or are there other governance features that you think is the cushioning that provides security?
Dimitri Sirota: For us it’s really about having the capital. Obviously having the capital at a reasonable price, it wasn’t diluted of all these other type of things. But we didn’t need to raise our C round that Alex from Bessemer led. We had plenty of money in our B round. We barely touched it. We were actually just basically finishing off our capital from the A round.
Dimitri Sirota: This most recent funding that we announced on Monday led by Tiger Global, we certainly didn’t need that, having not even touched any of our C round. But, again, it came with good terms at a low dilution, a good partner that was very experienced in taking companies to that next level and certainly with plenty of capital should we need it.
Dimitri Sirota: But a lot of that experience does borrow from the learnings from eTunnels and to some degree Layer 7 where we had much smaller amounts of capital raises. I think my entire raise at Layer 7 was 21 million and it came in drips and drabs, so we were always pressed against the wall. When things like 2008 occurred, that was a struggle to find our way through that and navigate through the turbulent waters.
Harry Stebbings: Yes, no, I’m just really intrigued. Reid Hoffman always says, “When the money’s on the table, take it. You never know what’s coming around the corner.” Would you agree with him then given that unique mindset that you’ve had from seeing the boom and the bust of the dot-com 2008 and then also capital rich environments?
Dimitri Sirota: It does. Capital has a lot of benefits. Obviously you need to spend it wisely. I think there’s been some examples recently of companies that are maybe overly aggressive. But having said that, it provides you not only insurance, but it allows you to bring forward other plans, whether they’re technology or sales and that’s always helpful in the market.
Dimitri Sirota: It also attracts attention. As much as I don’t like to say it, that matters. You have competitors and being able to outshine all these other stars in the night sky matters. You’re the one that gets noticed. You’re the one that people feel more comfortable around partnering with you. Capital has its virtues. It’s easy to abuse and misuse, but it has its benefits.
Harry Stebbings: Absolutely it does. I do want to touch on the element that you said there in terms of lessons from eTunnels and Layer 7 in terms of being much leaner in terms of real capital efficiency and raising itself. You said once on eTunnels you raised two to three paychecks ahead of time. How do you think about that kind of balance of being lean versus being cheap and actually hindering growth versus actually just being extremely capital efficient in those early days?
Dimitri Sirota: Look, there’s a difference between capital efficiency and just not having any money to do anything. There’s clearly companies that have bootstrapped their way to success. Atlassian is one that jumps out at me where they built a business around the proposition that you didn’t need to have expensive sales force and you can use word of mouth to basically get into the enterprise. There are other examples as well.
Dimitri Sirota: It really depends on the type of business you’re at and whether you have competitors or not. I think if you’re in an industry where it feels like it’s going to happen, and there’s a timing situation, like in the world of privacy where you have GDPR and CCPA and all of these external exogenous events that are going to trigger an investment community, there it makes sense.
Dimitri Sirota: Especially if you’re doing enterprise sales with an enterprise sales force and you’re touching enterprise data where you need to get it right, because enterprises are really persnickety about people that don’t treat their databases and their data and other things correctly.
Dimitri Sirota: You want to be able to provide those companies the level of confidence and assurance you’re going to be around, you’re going to be able to support them. You’re going to be able to take care of them in the way that they expect to be taken care of. Like I said, I think every business has a fingerprint and a profile.
Dimitri Sirota: In the 80s–there’s a book about What Color is Your Parachute? I think as an entrepreneur you need to figure out what color is the parachute of your business. But certainly for a business like BigID where we cater to the biggest of the big and we help them basically be more accountable around their most important asset, which is the data that they collect on their customers and their employees. It made a lot of sense, which is why we did it.
Harry Stebbings: Totally agree there, especially in terms of securing a confidence of those various big enterprises. When founders ask me the only element that I do pull back on, I’m just [inaudible 00:11:57] think about is the requirement to hit the next round valuation in a reasonable timeframe. I’m interested, how did you think about that? Given, as you said, you really didn’t need the cash, it wasn’t such a diluted round. How did you think about that lofty valuation and hitting it in the next 12 to 18 months? Was that a concern for you?
Dimitri Sirota: It is and it isn’t. In fact, in both cases, both my C and my D, we didn’t actually go with the term sheets that had the highest valuations. There were a number of factors that played into it beyond just the raw number. There’s the terms of the deal. There’s the type of investor. Do you want them very active? Do you want them not to be active? Do you want them to be close? Do you want them to be far?
Dimitri Sirota: I think with every round there’s been some strategic thinking. We’ve been fortunate enough in our A, B, C, D this time around, again, very different from eTunnels or Layer 7. This time around, we actually haven’t had to go out and raise. Our A was preempted, our B was preempted, our C was preempted, our D was preempted. We weren’t fundraising for any of them.
Dimitri Sirota: In each of those cases we had multiple offers. We did have some choice and we had some very notable, well-known investors separate from the ones we chose to partner with that were interested. Like I said, I think there was a number of factors that we considered beyond just valuation because we didn’t optimize our valuation.
Harry Stebbings: You just mentioned the two there, being the type of investor that you really want to work with and partner with and then also the terms. When you’re advising an angel investment, say, what terms do you say, “Hey, make sure that this is aligned and make sure that we have this in place”? Then I’m also intrigued for you personally, what type of investor do you find you most gel with and align with?
Dimitri Sirota: I think with me, it depends. I tend to like to build consensus in a board and talk through decisions and frankly make sure that most of the hard decisions are already decided long before we have a board meeting. Similarly, I don’t like surprises to be foisted on my investors. They’ll know about things that happened long before the board meeting once a quarter. I think for me, obviously, the ability to be able to work with individuals, transparency, honesty, integrity, all of those are considerations.
Dimitri Sirota: But having said that, I don’t think I have not gone with somebody because I didn’t feel that they had integrity. I think these are just generally things you want and things that I would encourage anybody else to do. But candidly, the best situation is, again, when you’re not raising so that it’s preempted. You have a choice of investors so you can maximize based on whatever parameters you care about, whether it’s valuation, where it’s speed of close, whether it’s terms, liquidation preferences, whatever those things are.
Dimitri Sirota: The best thing is to get yourself into a situation, create enough buzz that you do have that fortunate occurrence where multiple people want to give you money even when you don’t need it. That’s when you know you want it as opposed to going to Sand Hill Road and getting rejected over and over, which is obviously very, very painful emotionally.
Dimitri Sirota: Now in terms of startup people, a couple of guys or girls building their first company, that’s a little bit of a different consideration. I think trying to raise angel money, the best encouragement I would say is have prior success. Because for most investors, that’s the determiner on whether you’ll have future success. They’re betting on people as much as they’re betting on an idea or a technology because you don’t tend to have much at that early stage.
Dimitri Sirota: Now if you don’t have that experience, if you don’t have those past wins, the other alternative is really to have some industry credibility or to build that team around you to, again, give those early investors the confidence that you have something special. There’s a narrative around why you will succeed with these individuals and why maybe nobody else will succeed.
Dimitri Sirota: As much as possible, I think it’s being able to tell that story. Storytelling I think is something you hear a lot about from entrepreneurs and I think, to some degree, one of the markers of us being a successful entrepreneur is really about how well do you tell that story.
Dimitri Sirota: Why did you see the problem? Why is it you and your team, they’re going to be able to solve the problem? Why is this problem big? Being able to explain that effectively to early investors and compellingly enough is really I think the best indicators of success as a first-time or second-time entrepreneur trying to raise your first money.
Harry Stebbings: I’m so intrigued. You said one thing that really spiked my interest and it was the elements of really building consensus pre-board. I’ve joined my first boards within the last few years and trying to optimize how I am as a board member. What do you do as the founder to really align and build consensus pre-board? What really works in terms of solidifying that alignment pre-board meeting so there’s no surprises?
Dimitri Sirota: I talk to my investors a bunch, whether it’s over a phone, whether it’s over text. I think in the last two days I’ve talked to most of my investors, not necessarily about anything that has to happen at the board, but other things that we’re doing in terms of hiring. We have a fairly open line of communication and that obviously builds trust. So when I tell them good news, or bad news, or middle of the road news, they’ll understand why I’m doing it and that there is a degree of honesty around it.
Dimitri Sirota: I happen to be a person that, again, talks to them frequently. I know that there’s other entrepreneurs that choose not to, choose to basically treat the board as something that is immaterial or in their way. I happen to have more of a consensus. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time in Canada that I feel it’s important to bring people along on decisions. The best way to do that is, again, to build a relationship, a rapport.
Harry Stebbings: Well, I mean speaking of relationships and rapport, you have a great relationship with Ed. I was chatting to him before the show. We were talking about the recent raises and the over a hundred million in the last five months of 2019. It seems to make everything easier. But Ed asked a very good one. He asked a very poignant question being what do you think is the biggest challenge entering 2020 having raised over 100 million in the last five months?
Dimitri Sirota: Well, look, I think the more money you raise, the expectations grow commensurately. Now you need to balance that. Like do I hire a thousand salespeople that may improve my chances of selling a thousand times? But obviously that has impacts on territory and so forth. I still think that how you scale out, how you meet some of those increased expectations, which are legitimate. Obviously, they’re giving you that money to be able to execute and demonstrate on that. Then how do you balance that by also rolling out additional capabilities?
Dimitri Sirota: You now are servicing a lot more customers than maybe you were before you raised the 100 million. That’s probably why or how you got to the hundred million you raised, which is certainly in our case. We have far more customers at the end of 2019 than we had at the beginning of 2019.
Dimitri Sirota: Again, there’s a lot of thought that goes into the capital deployment and utilization that goes between, how am I directed at sales? Is it about opening new territories like federal? Is it about basically just providing additional coverage and head counts? How much is directed in marketing and whether it’s on brand or demand generation? How much goes towards engineering, both in support of existing product and introduction of additional product? How much goes towards channel building and creating indirect routes to market through system integrators and through other ISV partners and maybe through VARs. There’s a lot of factors that frankly we’re still working through in terms of our 2020 plan.
Harry Stebbings: Can I ask in terms of those planning capital allocation decisions, how do you think about when is the right time to really pour fuel on the fire for a specific strategy, product segment, international expansion projects? How do you think about when’s the right time to really accelerate on a project versus when to tentatively test and measure and optimize?
Dimitri Sirota: There’s a couple of markers and, frankly, I don’t think these markers are necessarily dissimilar from what you would hear from a VC, right? About repeatability, about the sales cycle, about having metrics that you can now base on that are demonstrably true. Whether it’s how long does it take to go from a POC to a sale? What is the ACV that they cluster in a particular bracket? Have you been able to show success ideally in one vertical, even better across multiple industry verticals and even better across multiple geographies? So those are all considerations.
Dimitri Sirota: But I think if you find an anchor use case, a problem that you’re able to solve repeatedly, that you’re able to demonstrate exists across not just one industry segment but multiple industry segments and multiple geographies. That to me is indicative of a problem that likely you could add capital to. That there’s more people that have this problem because you’ve already shown, hopefully, that people are willing to hand over sizable amounts of money to find technology to solve that problem. I think those are some of the markers that you look for in deciding when to raise and when to deploy.
Harry Stebbings: You mentioned there finding technology to solve a problem, suggesting a latent and ready and temporal demand. I guess my final question before the quick fire is a question of market timing. You’ve said before that one of your big lessons with Layer 7 was the future was maybe further out than planned. How do you think about market timing today then? For me as an investor, Dimitri, I have to say, I always say a risk I’m not willing to take is market timing because I’m not as clever as the market. Is that naive of me?
Dimitri Sirota: No. Look, I think market timing is hugely, and obviously I’ve spoken about this with regards to Layer 7. I think we were ultimately right and there’s a big industry around APIs, whether it’s infrastructure or just API services like Plaid and Twilio, etc. But we were early to market and there was a lot of twiddling of our thumbs and waiting for the market to emerge. Amazon to introduce their cloud and Apple to introduce the iPhone with their apps.
Dimitri Sirota: This time around we thought through the problem and realized there needed to be a compelling event. If you’re going to do something that’s blue ocean, something that’s new as opposed to displacing existing categories or replacing, like endpoint security is a replacement strategy. There’s existing technology and you’re saying, “I got a better mousetrap.”
Dimitri Sirota: But if you’re really thinking through about a blue ocean opportunity that is new, ideally there is something that is compelling. In our particular case it was the regulation. The regulations were going to force certain amount of budget and certain amount of spend. We obviously made a bet those regulations were going to get broader and stiffer in terms of penalties and that they were going to go globally. That was the bet we made.
Dimitri Sirota: But clearly we had a forcing function. There was a catalyst, which are the regulations like GDPR and now CCPA that created this compelling event. But certainly if you are, for an entrepreneur is thinking about a blue ocean opportunity as opposed to a displacement or replacement opportunity, it is good to have that kind of event.
Dimitri Sirota: The only other alternative I would say is where the ROI is so clearcut, where you’re replacing some manual task and the efficiency that you’re introducing is so overwhelming that would be the only other exception in terms of market timing around blue ocean opportunities.
Harry Stebbings: Well, I’m very glad that I’m not completely missing the mark there so that’s a relief to hear. But I do want to move into my favorite element of any absolute, Dimitri. I say a short statement and you give me your immediate thoughts in about 60 seconds or less per statement. How does that sound?
Dimitri Sirota: Okay, let’s try it.
Harry Stebbings: Okay, so your favorite book and why? What’s the must read?
Dimitri Sirota: I’ll tell you what I’m reading right now. I’m reading Super Pumped. It’s a great read and it’s really a reflection of the time we have today around technology and amount of money companies are raising and how they grow fast.
Harry Stebbings: What’s your biggest advice to first-time founders on successful board management?
Dimitri Sirota: Be honest. Be transparent. Overcommunicate.
Harry Stebbings: Tell me, is now finally the time for New York tech or is that still quite a lot of hype around it?
Dimitri Sirota: No, New York tech has matured across, it’s no longer just ad tech. It’s no longer just fashion tech. It’s security tech, it’s infrastructure tech, it’s all tech so New York can rival the Bay Area.
Harry Stebbings: What’s your biggest strength and then what’s your biggest weakness?
Dimitri Sirota: Biggest strength I think is that I’m thoughtful, strategic. Biggest weakness would probably be the same thing. I think through certain situations and try and find a path forward. Sometimes people who shoot from the hip have certain advantages.
Harry Stebbings: A question from the wonderful Alex at Bessemer. What does the morning routine look like for you, Dimitri?
Dimitri Sirota: I’d like to say it’s go to the gym every day, but for the last week it’s basically going to the pool and the beach because I’m on vacation.
Harry Stebbings: I would normally just lie. Whenever I’m asked this question, I’m like, well, I meditate at 4 a.m. I then go to the gym at 5:00. You can totally get away with it. Who was the first investor in BigID and how did that chat come about?
Dimitri Sirota: Gil Beyda and I got to meet him again as I was meeting folks in New York when I met Ed. And I think Gil Beyda from his seed stage fund and Ed, they basically cut us our initial $2 million to get BigID started.
Harry Stebbings: What do you believe that most around you disbelieve, Dimitri?
Dimitri Sirota: Increasingly, I think a lot of people believe in all kinds of crazy conspiracies and maybe it’s because of my background in physics or the principle of Occam’s razor. What always amazes me today more than ever is the things that you read about and see and the conspiracies that people believe both in the outside political sphere but also even in business. I think people are prone and very suggestible. I think that’s one of the things, unfortunately, is a trend that I’m seeing more and more of.
Harry Stebbings: Then the final one, what’s the next five years for you and for BigID? Paint that picture for us.
Dimitri Sirota: Well, in four months we’ll be raising again. Just kidding. Look, we have four years of capital, which is a great thing to say and great thing to do. I think for us it truly is the belief of being able to expand from that core use case that we’ve demonstrated is repeatable across industry verticals and geographies into a much broader platform play. And that’s really going to be the focus for us as we build our business and also enter new markets.
Dimitri Sirota: I think we’re excited about entering other geographies in Asia and Europe. We’re excited about adding new products to the business that leverage, that core use case around data discovery and data intelligence. That’ll take a lot of our energies for the next four years.
Harry Stebbings: As I said, I heard so many great things, both from Alex and from Ed. Thank you so much for joining me today, Dimitri. I can’t wait for the raise in four months.
Dimitri Sirota: Okay, terrific. Thank you for having me. Take care.
Harry Stebbings: So good to have Dimitri on the show. There are such exciting times ahead with BigID. If you’d like to see more from us or the show, you can find me on Instagram @hstebbings1996, with two Bs. I always love to see you there.
Harry Stebbings: As always, I so appreciate all your support and I can’t wait to bring you a fantastic episode entering the world of SaaS VC again next week.
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