Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 43: Dakin Sloss and Ajeet Singh

In large companies innovators have to work twice as hard – they spend time fighting the system. In a startup, your ideas turn into reality really, really fast.

A startup founder needs to never lose sight of the vision, but be extremely adaptable to pretty much everything else.

Lots of people have visions. Most are hallucinations.

In a startup, you don’t fight the system; you are the system.

And realizing your vision as a founder takes equal parts determination and flexibility.

How startup ideas are conceived and nurtured was the focus of the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

dakin-sloss

Dakin Sloss

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

  • Dakin Sloss, co-founder of Tachyus, which offers predictive analytics and quantitative optimization for the petroleum industry
  • Ajeet Singh, co-founder of ThoughtSpot, provider of search-driven analytics
ajeet-singh

Ajeet Singh

Listen to my full interviews with Dakin and Ajeet by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Dakin Sloss co-founded Tachyus, providing predictive analytics and quantitative optimization for the petroleum industry, in 2013.

Prior to Tachyus, Dakin co-founded OpenGov, a platform to share, visualize, and analyze government financial data. Before OpenGov, he built California Common Sense, the open data and government watchdog non-profit.

Dakin was recognized as one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016. 

While building OpenGov, Dakin learned that founders must maintain the vision for their startup idea while being flexible about how best to achieve it:

Lots of people have visions. Not as many people can figure out how to make them happen.

One of the hardest parts about starting something is being very firm in your big picture vision, and being extremely adaptable to pretty much everything else.

For example, customers usually have a good intuitive understanding of the problem they have. But they can struggle with communicating exactly what that problem is and exactly what solution they’d like. Your job is to help them figure that out.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Ajeet Singh is co-founder and CEO at ThoughtSpot.  

Prior to starting ThoughtSpot, Ajeet was co-founder and Chief Products Officer at Nutanix, an enterprise data storage industry. Ajeet learned the ropes of enterprise startups at Aster Data Systems, where he was Senior Director of Product Management.

Prior to Aster, Ajeet worked at Oracle where he was part of the team that first launched Oracle Database to the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Leaving a big company like Oracle to work at a startup was an eye-opener for Ajeet:

In a large company, you come up with new ideas but then you are mostly fighting the system. When you move from a large company to a small company, your ideas turn into reality really, really fast.

Once you realize that your ideas will get implemented very quickly, you think, ‘I’m the only one watching,’ so the bar for your idea actually goes up. You have to make sure that you looked through all the implications of what you are suggesting. Ideas have to be that much higher quality because there are not too many people watching.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

One of the things Dakin struggled with at OpenGov was how important it is to get team communication right. Being the smartest person in the room doesn’t always mean you’re the most effective, he said:

We made so many silly communication mistakes – like we weren’t doing consistent one-on-ones and we weren’t facilitating good communication across the team. We were growing really fast and we would deal with issues as they came up, rather than proactively making sure everyone was working really well together.

So much of building a company is about people, independent of the particular subject that you’re focusing on, and so much is about setting things up for it to be a great environment for people to collaborate, to trust each other. A lot of small things – things like how you set up meetings, and how you schedule out your week – have big, cascading consequences. If you get them right, things are really smooth. If you get them a little bit off, you have a lot to fix.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Here’s how he makes sure the Tachyus team works well together:

Companies really thrive on rhythms in the same way that people, or families, or relationships do. So we dedicate the beginning of each of our week to our leadership team meetings and then an “all hands” meeting. These seem like small things, but they turn out to be really important, because as you’re pivoting, changing your business model and changing your product, there need to be some things that are stable to keep people on the same page.

The really the big advantage you have as a small company, is that you can get a lot of things wrong but as long as you get people around the table that are flexible, are good communicators, and are smart, you’re going to be able to figure a lot of things out. You may be in the wrong market at first. You may be in the wrong product at first. The key is getting your organization set up to be adaptable.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Having the opportunity to make a difference in the world drives Dakin, and so does working with like-minded people

Part of what’s fun about building a company is bringing together people that have a shared thesis or shared world view. There are obviously lots of differences, but creating an environment in which those people thrive and can collaborate together, it’s a new type of community basically.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Rather than put work into creating a new markets for his business ideas, Ajeet looks for business opportunities in existing markets. He explains:

What I am excited about is opportunities in very large markets with multiple multibillion dollar exits and where the technology has become old.

The most important thing is to come up with an idea that solves a big problem. Your solution has to be 10x to 100x better, compared to what is out there. People already have an existing way of solving the same problem.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

At Aster Data Systems, Ajeet and his team ran into challenges trying to transition their product to mainstream customers:

We had a lot of success working with large web companies. Companies like MySpace and LinkedIn became some of our biggest customers. We tried to sell inside Silicon Valley, so these were all tech companies. We were mostly selling our product to engineers.

As we tried to sell outside the Valley, it is a very different world. Selling to an IT person or businessperson in the middle of Chicago is very different from selling to a LinkedIn engineer.

We struggled with our messaging, how we positioned our product to companies that were in the Valley versus outside.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

He carried the customer lessons with him to Nutanix and it paid off:

At Nutanix, most of our early customers were on the East Coast. We learned that if you are building a product for enterprises, start with the East Coast. You can scale much better. Your learning will be much, much better.

There are 500 Fortune 500 companies and there are global 2000, and there are another maybe 1 million small and medium businesses in the world. A lot of them do not have the engineering talent that companies in the Valley do.

So if you’re building a product, you’ve got to build it, test it, position it for the large market and the large market is not the Valley – unless you are building technology for developers, then Silicon Valley is a great place to do that.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Ajeet added that Silicon Valley’s unique startup ecosystem offers founders a chance to do things they could never do elsewhere in the world:

There is no place like this anywhere else. When it comes to cultural diversity, the freedom to express yourself, the freedom to fail, being able to talk about your failures with pride, these kinds of things just don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

You can go to a coffee shop and run in to a billionaire. If they have been successful, they want to give back and they are very open about giving you their time.

I have been really fortunate to have some really good mentors and advisers over the years from whom I have learned a lot.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Dakin and Ajeet by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Coming up next on the blog: Jackie Ros, founder of Revolar; and Christina Stembel, founder of Farm Girl Flowers

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 to hear these upcoming guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere:

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