Reflecting on How to Foster Lasting Success, AI & ML and Cybersecurity

First published on December 18, 2017

Harry Stebbings from The Twenty Minute VC wrapped up 2017 with a series of podcast interviews with the Accel team. While the series offers a deep-dive on the topics, trends and companies that our team collectively thinks about—it’s also a peek into the learnings and musings of some of our individual partners.

First up in the series is Accel partner, Jake Flomenberg. We first met Jake when he joined Cloudera as its first business hire. In those early days, we got to know Jake quite well (and you can read more about Cloudera’s start from Ping Li here.) After Cloudera, he decided to join Splunk where he ran a good chunk of product development there before returning to the Accel family in 2012. Since then, Jake has invested in companies including Demisto, Sumo Logic, and Trifacta.

Some of the highlights from the discussion follow below. You can also listen to Jake’s episode of 20 Minute VC here.

No Sacred Cows—How to Foster Lasting Success

The idea is lasting success is pretty simple to understand. But it’s incredibly hard to achieve. Jake shares the advice he gives to companies on how to stay relevant and innovative—especially in the face of competition.

  • “You have to do what it takes to move quickly and disrupt yourself. Continually ask the question of ‘Hey, there's no sacred cows.’ [And] go back to the drawing board [to determine] if you need to give up this line of revenue stream or something that's going to be more exciting in the future … That [mentality] gets harder and harder as the company grows, but it’s critical for sustained success.”

Making Sense of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Founders named it the most overhyped buzzword of 2017, but we believe when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), we’re still in the early days of the problems these technologies can help solve. Jake reflects on some of the unexpected ML standouts like Slack, and the impact that these technologies will have specifically on workflow and seamlessly unearthing meaningful data.

  • “With the amount of work that Google, Baidu, Facebook and now Apple and others are pouring into algorithm development—and quite frankly, also open sourcing so much of that work—it is very, very hard for me to fathom the business model that will make that work. [As a result], for me, the most important factor is workflow and secondly, data: what is the problem that you're actually trying to solve and how can you bring that data to bear?”
  • “An example of [workflow] is Slack. If you talked to the Slack team three years ago, would they consider themselves a data company? No. Would they consider themselves an AI company? Definitely not. But what they did do is solve this very difficult communication problem in an elegant way and over time they amassed a really, really interesting dataset. [As a result] they built out a phenomenal AI and ML team and now they're using that data to enhance the customer experience. And so you can build a very significant business without the data and algorithms, but it really all starts with workflow.”

Securing the Future

Lastly, Jake gets into an area that he is “tremendously excited about”—security. He talks about the ever-evolving space and how both Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and startups are grappling with the increasing sophistication of breaches and hacks. He also discusses the types of security trends and innovations that he believes will become more pervasive.

  • “There's a few areas that I'm tremendously excited about. The first is this notion of security orchestration and validation. What I mean by that is a lot of these CISOs have already made a tremendous number of investments in security products and [they want to know] how can I get more out of what I've already got? How do I make them more efficient?”
  • “[While there are a lot of questions around it] I think cloud security is very, very interesting. Data security and encryption will remain interesting. Container security will increasingly become interesting over time.”