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Episode 010

ConductorOne’s Alex Bovee on the critical ingredients of a high-growth startup

A conversation with the CEO and Founder of ConductorOne

Alex Bovee sees three critical ingredients to building a high-growth startup: a founding team with innate grit for entrepreneurship, a good idea, and great timing. ConductorOne has all three. In this episode of Spotlight On, Alex shares his founding journey and encourages entrepreneurs to focus on building unique solutions that address unmet market needs.

ConductorOne is an access control solution that helps companies secure identity across their cloud and on-premises apps and infrastructure. In 2020, Alex joined Accel as an Entrepreneur in Residence (and was our first virtual EIR, for obvious reasons) before we partnered for their Seed later that year. The episode covers the founding story, identity market, ConductorOne’s unique approach to building a company out of Portland, Oregon, and the advantages of getting a startup team together in the same room. Alex also discusses the challenges faced during the early iteration phases, the importance of timing, and the inspiration that can be found in competing against large incumbents.

Conversation highlights:

00:00 – Alex’s background and early interest in entrepreneurship

04:51 – Identifying current gaps in the access control experience

07:44 – Complementary skillsets that make startup founders successful

08:50 – Transitioning from COVID to an in-person culture in Portland, Oregon

17:00 – Early iteration phase challenges

19:00 – Finding inspiration as an underdog competing against large incumbents

25:18 – Takeaways from RSA 2024 and the biggest trends in security, AI, and identity

Featured: Alex Bovee, CEO and Co-Founder of ConductorOne and Ping Li, Partner at Accel

Learn more about Accel’s relationship with ConductorOne:

Explore more episodes from this season:

Access Spotlight On Season 1 episodes here.

Read More

Ping Li (00:36):

Welcome to Spotlight On, I'm Ping Li. I'm your host. I'm here with Alex Bovee, co-founder and CEO of ConductorOne. Welcome.

Alex Bovee (00:44):

Thanks a lot, Ping. Thanks for having me on.

Ping Li (00:46):

So Alex, maybe we can start off by telling everyone a little bit about ConductorOne, what the company does, and what the product does.

Alex Bovee (00:53):

Yeah, absolutely. So ConductorOne is an access control solution for modern companies. We think of ourselves as being a platform, the identity security space, helping to secure identities, onboarding, offboarding, governance, compliance, and really just be that end-to-end solution to make sure that breaches don't happen for companies and employees get the access they need when they need it and so companies can stay compliant.

Ping Li (01:17):

Cool. And we'll talk a little more about the product, but first, before we get there, let's try go back a little bit. A couple years I first met you when you were at an Accel portfolio company that was called Lookout in the security space years ago. And then we kind of reconnected when you wanted to start a company and you called me up, but it was the middle of the pandemic and I was like, okay, well I don't know how this is going to work, but we have EIR programs, which are these entrepreneurial residence things as you know, and you're like, well, I'm game for that. I'm like, well, we don't have the in-residence part because it's all virtual. We're all in Covid lockdown.

Alex Bovee (01:51):

Residence is your residence.

Ping Li (01:53):

Exactly. So take me through why that was, you thought that was a good starting point for you.

Alex Bovee (02:00):

I've always felt like I had that entrepreneurial bug. I've always known I wanted to start a company and when the pandemic happened I was really developing this idea a little bit for what was eventually ConductorOne and we were talking about it, but I really needed the opportunity and the space to build that sort of conviction around the business and the opportunity. And that was why the EIR, I guess the entrepreneur in my residence was so interesting and appealing was it really just gave me the space to develop that conviction in the business and the opportunity while I was also pulling together that founding team of obviously Paul and myself.

Ping Li (02:39):

And do you think this was something that you've wanted to be, an entrepreneur forever, or how much of it was the idea that kind of pulled you into doing it at the time?

Alex Bovee (02:48):

I mean, I think there's something remarkable that I feel like really has to happen to truly build a high growth startup. You have to have a founder who wants to do it, which I think I've just innately always had. I cut lawns when I was a kid. I was very much kind of that person. And then you have to have a good idea that makes a lot of sense, that can turn into a high growth business and then the timing has to work out. And when you get those three ingredients, I think that's what really creates an opportunity for a great business. So I would say the ingredient of feeling like an entrepreneur was always there, but the timing and the idea is the piece that also kind of came together right at that nexus. And that was the founding of ConductorOne.

Ping Li (03:35):

And the idea, was this something you were seeing because you had Okta before ConductorOne's in the identity broader space? Was it something you were seeing with customers? How much did that play a role into the idea?

Alex Bovee (03:50):

A lot of it actually, yeah. So I was running security products at Okta, but the way that we were thinking about security was very kind of secure the front door like authentication. But when I would talk to CISOs and security teams that had put strong authentication into place, they're worried about, well, do people have the right privileges and permissions and how do they get the access they need? And so you'd get what I would call - my background's mostly in product. So in product you get these whiffs of problems where people will articulate kind of the need for a solution but in different ways. And so that was just kind of like a whiff of, hey, there's something else here where clearly there's a problem that's not being solved right now as companies go out and they adopt the cloud and they've got this sprawl of identities where it doesn't feel sufficiently addressed.

(04:42): And I was hearing the early signs of that. The other piece that I was getting some signal on while I was still at Okta was really also just understanding that the market was not well served with existing solutions. You either had a lot of manual processes in place for a lot of mid-market companies and there's some legacy solutions that were more geared towards large enterprises. And that just again, is one of those kind timing and pain point and the why now, the adoption of cloud and again, the proliferation of identities and the sprawl of permissions that really just created this urgent pain and need where it felt like there was a big opportunity to solve that.

Ping Li (05:27):

So it sounds like a lot of the customer interactions you had at Okta was kind of informative in terms of that initial spark of ideas. 

Alex Bovee (05:35):

Yeah, absolutely. And there's a little bit of a tie in there too, even to Paul and my story. So Paul and I worked together - my co-founder, Paul and I worked together at Okta, but we would be out selling his product, advanced server access. And some of the feedback we'd get sometimes from prospects was, we don't log into, it's like, oh, what do you do? Well, we do access via AWS's control plane. And so there's switches like that where I realized, oh, there's this whole new pattern and paradigm for managing access, which is much more around the identity and the permissions and the lifecycle. And so it was really kind of just a lot of signals like that.

Ping Li (06:15):

And so you brought up Paul, you didn't know Paul before Okta?

Alex Bovee (06:20):

I did not. I first got connected with him when we acquired his previous company.

Ping Li (06:27):

And was it one of these things where love at first sight, you saw Paul and you're like, man, I got to start a company with this guy? You hear those stories or was it kind of like, Hey, you guys stumbled on the same idea every time you went to go see customers and we looked at each other like, Hey, we got, what was that kind of formation?

Alex Bovee (06:44):

There's definitely an element of, Paul is the most exceptional technologist I've ever met in my life. And so when I kind of talking about those ingredients of starting a company, like an idea, a timing team, and having that entrepreneurial spirit, if you can pull together, get someone on your team and found a company with people who have exceptional skillsets like that, you always do it. And so it was a little bit sure. Love at first sight. Yeah, I guess that's a fair thing to say.

Ping Li (07:20):

Yeah, no, it's cool.

Alex Bovee (07:22):

Yeah, he's a great guy, an exceptional technologist, and I remember thinking if I was ever going to found a company to be with that guy.

Ping Li (07:27):

Yeah. What are those qualities that you think make co-founders really click? Right, because that's for me magic when co-founders figure out a way to come together.

Alex Bovee (07:41):

I think so much of it is trust, and that's why a lot of, I think Paul and I's relationship works so well too is we didn't speed date and then decide to start a company. We actually worked together through some really hard challenges while we were at Okta, relaunching his product and went through those trials and tribulations and understood and saw how each other worked and had an opportunity, I think to build a lot of trust there. So I think that's the foundation of any good, just relationship in general. And then I would say really complimentary skillset. I'm definitely a lot more outbound. I don't mind the sales part of things and marketing and Paul's obviously a great technologist. I think we overlap on product, it's our safe space. We love nerding out on that, but that's common ground, but very clear sort of delineation of responsibilities and ownership and then just extreme trust.

Ping Li (08:36):

Yeah. One of the things I thought was interesting, I'd love to hear your perspective was when you're doing the virtual EIR, you were in Florida because you were in obviously the Bay Area with Okta, and then you went to Florida during the Covid period and after things started opening up, you decided to move to Portland, which is where Paul is from and lives now. You both live in Portland. Take me through that thought. Was that like, Hey, look, co-founders need to be next to each other because there's a lot of sausage making and it's easier to do it all in the same kitchen, or was it that just you want to live in Portland?

Alex Bovee (09:14):

It was really that. I mean, I never had any desire to live in Portland. We felt a little like nomads when we were in Florida. We didn't really think that was the permanent destination, but we weren't sure what was next. So I like to say that I followed Paul up to Portland, but part of the reason for that was it was very intentional. It was that, look, I want to be in the same area of vicinity as my co-founder because I think some things like building trust is so much you're making these hard decisions. You're really going through a lot of ups and downs and trials and tribulations. It's so much nicer to be able to say, let's go grab a beer after work and talk about that and work it out and just banging out ideas and solving hard problems. There's a qua just being in the room together that you just figure things out faster. And I don't know why. I don't know if it's the mediums with whiteboards and things like that, but it just works better. 

Ping Li (10:13):

What's been the experience of building a company in Portland?

Alex Bovee (10:18):

It's been pretty good. I mean, I think in many ways we've created some asymmetric sort of advantages by being there because we, there's a little bit of a tech scene in Portland, but it's not as competitive as the Bay Area, let's say, for talent. So we've been able to really build, we're very EPD centric in Portland right now. So we've been able to build just a phenomenal team there with extremely reasonable office rental rates. Our San Francisco office is probably about a third as nice as our Portland office, but three times more expensive. So it's very cost efficient on things like that. But it's also just, again, it's nice to be able to really attract great talent because we're the coolest game in town, and that feels, that's just great.

Ping Li (11:14):

But when you first started, you're still coming out of Covid. People were very distributed. Your team was actually very distributed. If I on correctly, I think 12, 18 months ago, you guys really started making Portland and San Francisco kind of hubs. What about the culture aspect of that being in the office? Have you noticed a difference since you've been, or did you feel like the culture was already being built virtually and it's just kind of cemented it?

Alex Bovee (13:05):

I would say our culture is really oriented around, so we have a bunch of values, be the conductor, for example. So it is really around how we want our team to be. I think the office is really just creating a space for everyone to collaborate more efficiently, have an opportunity, particularly for the younger folks on the team. They just want to be around people. I think the longer you get in your career and if you've got kids and things like that, I think sometimes the social aspect of the office is not outweighed by the commute. So we see a little bit of that dynamic. If you've got a family and things like that, maybe you don't, you'd rather have the work from home flexibility, but just creating the space, making it fun. We haven't mandated, everyone has to be in the office this many days a week, but we try really hard to hire in those locations. We try. Paul and I are in the office probably four days a week just to lead by example and just be there. 

Ping Li (14:13):

It's been an interesting journey in terms of how you kind of brought people back. And it does feel a different in terms of the ability to accelerate into decision making growth and everything else. And even hiring, I think has been different too because people come to the office, they see other people in the office, oh, this is the company I'm joining, right?

Alex Bovee (14:31):

The energy is so good. I mean, the energy is so good when you're interviewing candidates and a conference room and they're seeing everyone working and it's great.

Ping Li (14:41):

Yeah. So switching gears a little bit, I said we're going to talk about the product now. So I'd love to, I guess there's two parts to this question. One is like, Hey, you got this long-term vision. Talk a little about where you see the product in, I don't know, X number of years, three, four years, and then how did you go through the process of figuring out what to do day one? Because you can't build everything day one. So how do you figure that out?

Alex Bovee (15:09):

Oh, absolutely. So our vision and our mission is to secure the workforce. That's what we talk about all the time. And the way that we're doing that is we're building, as I mentioned, an identity security platform that secures access, governs access, makes sure companies are in compliance. That is a very broad set of capabilities and kind of things that you have to do and problems that you have to solve for customers. So in our product, we automate user access reviews, we enable self-service. We enable just in time permission escalation. We give you visibility in your identity. So there's a lot of capabilities really that our goal during the, I would say the first sort of year of the company was to explore all of those different kind of entry points and really figure out and hone which ones we wanted to start, which one or ones we wanted to start with.

(15:59): We always knew we were building a compound platform, like a horizontal platform that was going to solve lots of problems, but the entry point was not clear, do you start with access reviews or do you start with this, or do you start with that? And so there was some discovery there, and it's actually, I look back sometimes on our series seed investment deck and so much the graphic and the vision of the platform with all the boxes on it of what we wanted to build. The words have changed a little bit, but it's pretty consistent. 

Ping Li (16:35):

They're pretty much the same.

Alex Bovee (16:36):

To what we're doing today, and a lot more of 'em are filled out and actually built, which is just, it's so inspiring.

Ping Li (16:41):

That early iteration phase when you're kind of building where you're trying to figure out what the product insertion is. What do you think worked for you guys? Because it's clearly starting to really take hold. It's kind of very repeatable now, the insertion. How did you pick up all those boxes on top of that platform? How do you narrow that down? Because I think that's really critical for any startup.

Alex Bovee (17:04):

I mean, I think the truth is the process of discovery in my mind is the process of trying to take someone's money. And it is just truly saying, I think this is the pain. I mean, our first product was access reviews, and we literally sold it to a customer based on screenshots and mockups and things like that and Google slide deck. But that process allowed us to say, someone is interested enough in what we're building here, that they're willing to continue the conversation and keep this going. Eventually it turned into our first customer. And I think that process of discovering the market is just about, you can have hypotheses all day long, but you have to just go try to get someone to pay you to do a thing. And that's pretty much what we did.

Ping Li (17:58):

Yeah, no, you guys engaged the customers very early on in the journey, which even in some ways is pre-product. You guys were out there trying to.

Alex Bovee (18:10):

Because its tricky, a lot of conventional wisdom around how you do discovery and things like that. And sure, you can ask people about their problems all day long and they'll tell you about, they may not be willing to pay you to solve. So it is truly about trying to understand what the most painful things are. And at the end of the day, to me, the market efficiency is, and the true demonstration of values that someone's willing to exchange money for a problem being solved.

Ping Li (18:43):

And so kind of zooming back out to the big platform vision, I mean, if you hear the way you articulate the platform. You're talking Okta, you're talking SailPoint. I mean, you're kind of going, right, at least in the case of SailPoint, exactly what they're, they've been doing for, I don't know, two decades or so. How do you think about that? Is that, holy crap, how am I going to compete to someone that's got customers big balance sheet, a little startup?

Alex Bovee (19:17):

I love it. I mean to me, the fight's inspiring and I'm inspired by knowing that the customers that we sell to do not feel like the existing products are sufficient for them. So yes, big balance sheets, yes, big teams, big companies, all those things are true, but they're still not solving the problem because there's an opportunity for us to come in and to go deliver extreme value for these customers and solve their pain points. And I think there's so much we really understood, I think when we started the company, what was broken about some of those existing solutions. And so we really built into the product day one from a first principle standpoint, here's the things that must be true about the product we're building because we want these things to be true three years from now, four years from now, from five years from now, because this is how we're going to compete against those really large incumbents.

Ping Li (20:20):

Give us an example of something that you think you guys are doing fundamentally that a sail point couldn't just do with throwing bodies at.

Alex Bovee (20:29):

As an example, user experience, which I know has talked about a lot or kind of in generalities, but the reality is staffing up designers on our team early, making sure we cared about the UX, making sure it was beautiful. Those are things that they kind of permeate the entire. Now a better example maybe is time to value. This was one thing that we just heard consistently with those existing solutions is extremely long drawn out implementations. Gartner just published some statistic that said, I think 50% of IGA deployments are distressed. It's a not so secret secret that usually companies pay anywhere to two to three times the software cost and services to get them going. To me, those are just anti-patterns. Companies want things that just work. They want them to be opinionated, they want to be able to flip products on and get value out of them very quickly. And so we built a very opinionated product that was able to get up and live and running very quickly.

Ping Li (21:32):

When you got funded, it was kind of a pretty good time to raise money.

Alex Bovee (21:39):

It was pretty frothy.

Ping Li (21:40):

It was pretty frothy, and therefore a lot of other companies got funded. So a lot of other startup competitors. How do you think about the competitive landscape that you live in today and how has that changed now that the funding environment is a little different?

Alex Bovee (21:56):

I would say I've evolved my personal opinion on this quite a bit. I think when we first started ConductorOne, I would say I had an unhealthy obsession sometimes over competitors. And I've definitely evolved that a little bit too. I think you need to be competitor and market aware, but if you're too focused on what everyone else is doing, you're not focused on your customers and your product, and you just have to constantly worry about that and worry about what are your customers doing or what are they asking you to do? What are you doing with your product? What are you doing with your business? And kind of understand what maybe folks are doing on the periphery, but don't worry about it. Use it as input into decision-making potentially, but don't be obsessed about what everyone else is doing. Yeah,

Ping Li (22:48):

Yeah. Well, it's one of many inputs.

Alex Bovee (22:51):

It's one of many inputs. Exactly.

Ping Li (22:52):

And not over rotating.

Alex Bovee (22:53):

Exactly. And it's too easy too sometimes I think to look at a competitor, look at someone else doing something and think, well, maybe we should do that too. But you don't have the context on why they did it if it makes sense, or are they selling to someone different? And so there's so much context around ICP and product and things like that that get lost if you lose sight of your customer and what you're trying to do.

Ping Li (23:18):

Yeah. And something you said earlier about starting a company is timing is really important. Is there something that you saw or you are seeing today in the market around identity and broader IGA that you feel like, man, this has to happen now. Yeah, you can't wait another year or two to start this company. What was the things you're seeing in that?

Alex Bovee (23:42):

Yeah, the things that we saw, there was a handful of trends. One was just the massive explosion of cloud and infrastructure. So companies went from maybe using a handful of SaaS and sort of the mid 2010s to over a hundred SaaS applications, and they're in three different public clouds and they've got a hundred AWS accounts and things like that. So just the sheer sprawl of applications. And then when you multiply that by identities and permissions, it really rapidly becomes a non-human scale problem. And when you apply a security lens to that problem, you realize this is where attackers are going because in the cloud and in general identity, there's sort of the, I know it's a little cliche, but identity is the new perimeter. But really what that means fundamentally is how your company will get attacked and you will, how your data will be breached is going to be based on some identity being popped, having too many permissions. Lateral movement is just SSO in the cloud. And so we really saw that as the security frontier was going to evolve, it was going to evolve from just securing the front door to really how do you think about securing all up identity in your environment.

Ping Li (25:03):

Yeah. Well, speaking of market timing and what's going on in the space, RSA was last week, it was as it usually is pretty crazy. 

Alex Bovee (25:15):

I’m still tired.

Ping Li (25:17):

It continues to be an important conference obviously. What were your takeaways from that as it relates to what you guys are doing? I mean, there's a lot of hype around AI and a lot of other things, but what were your takeaways from that?

Alex Bovee (25:30):

So I would say two big takeaways. I think one is just the validation of security platforms as a trend that's happening. I think a lot of people have sort of predicted that, but I think we are seeing some consolidation around different categories or resource types and sort of security vendors that sort of secure those resource types. 

Ping Li (25:54):

I heard one quote just saying the CISO, unless you're replacing two things, don't buy it.

Alex Bovee (26:02):

Yeah, that sounds right.

Ping Li (26:04):

If you're going to buy one thing, you better be replacing two things.

Alex Bovee (26:06):

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So I think that's a very real trend, and I think that speaks to the strategy that we had day one. And the reason we built this company is we saw, we believed the same thing was going to happen to identity. And then the second part of that I think is maybe a little self-serving, but identity's hot and that's exciting.

Ping Li (26:27):

Why is that? Because it's not new. I was surprised too at RSA how there's still so much talk around identity, even though I feel like every year you talk about identity in certain categories. I think you're right have gotten consolidated quite a bit. The buzz is kind of worn off. But I mean, there hasn't been an attack recently that would've caused that. I mean, there were a bunch last year, right? A little less this year. 

Alex Bovee (26:55):

We were having a CISO dinner last night and everyone was kind of joking around that the problems are always the same problems. They just kind of get a little, people talk about 'em differently and new solutions and things like that. And I think the same truism is it is for identity. It's like identity has always been the problem. It's that's

(27:19): How we've talked about it and things like that. That being said, I do think there has been a little bit of a shift happening in the last few years that I think both Paul and I predicted and saw, which is identity is increasingly becoming a security concern. So it used to be that identity was just directory, it was an implementation detail of how it got people access to things and what identities become because now it's credentials are attached to access, attached to authorization lifecycle, all these things. Identity is kind of the keys to the kingdom. And so security increasingly has a really big hand in making sure that identity and access is compliant, that you have good governance, that you're securing it. So it's becoming increasing a security.

Ping Li (28:12):

Yeah, I think it's becoming an attack surface. That's right. Which I think is a big delta from before. I also think you and I've talked about this before, that the non-human identities become a problem that it is not just Alex, but all the other things. 

Alex Bovee (28:30):

Alex is a part of all my service accounts and my OAuth tokens and API keys.

Ping Li (28:34):

Yep. Yeah. So I think that's just making a bigger surface area. So I think we can't go through any podcast without talking about AI. Yeah, let's do it. So AI and identity, is there a lot of AI on everything or is there actually you think a real, both from two ways, from a product perspective, are there things you can use AI for to make identity products better? And two, is like AI a threat to that identity, a attack surface as we talked about?

Alex Bovee (29:08):

Yeah, so I, I'm always a little bit skeptical on big trends like that because you just see marketing kind of sprinkling AI dust all over.

Ping Li (29:17):

It's good for fundraising,

Alex Bovee (29:18):

It's really good for fundraising. We're going to transform media into next gen AI identity. So we'll figure it out.

Ping Li (29:23):

Figure it out. C1, AI.

Alex Bovee (29:25):

There you go. There's the kind of hype and the buzz and that. And then you got to distill it down and say, well, what is AI and its current incantation or what AI will be in a year or two actually going to be really good at? And given that context, how can you actually apply this to your product to solve a meaningful problem? It is mathematical at some level, and at least in our space, you think about AI as being really good at parsing language and making sense of it and kind of distilling that into a set of instructions or summarizing things. That's kind of what AI is good at right now with LLMs. And there's lots of opportunity to do that, to use those capabilities in the identity governance context, which is sort of some of the capabilities that we've built into our product, like help desk integration, for example, to automate access request creation just based on someone typing something. Those are things that allow you to make a really truly magical wow product experience that solves a customer problem, may not be sprinkling AI dust all over it, but it's actually meaningfully solving a real problem.

Ping Li (30:36):

And I think a lot of that plays out just in simple ROI for the customers, right? That's right. Efficiency just goes, it's such a manual process today on the whole things site. What about, are you seeing a lot of AI driven attacks on identity based attacks?

Alex Bovee (30:54):

We haven't seen, we have not seen. I mean they're certainly the ones that had gotten into the news. I think I would not be surprised to see, I think I wrote a blog post on this maybe about nine months ago, more of a proliferation of AI making kind of script kit attack tools like better and more efficient. When you think about phishing texts and phishing emails and things like that, just the ability to use AI to produce a message that's tailored to a person maybe based on their LinkedIn profile. These are all things that are extremely, would be a very manual artisanal attack in the past, but is now literally something you could just automate with kind of off the shelf tooling and open API key. So I think that's going to really change. There's always these asymmetries that happen occasionally in security where you really want the attack to be more expensive than it is for you to defend it. If it's asymmetric in the other direction, that's where you have a problem. And I think what AI is going to do is it's going to shift that asymmetry a little bit, which is candidly good for companies like us that focus on preventing and making sure that things like access is shaped correctly in the first place. And we help people achieve zero standing privilege because if and when those attacks are successful, you want to make sure they're not going to actually impact your business.

Ping Li (32:25):

Yeah. It is an arms race, as you said, as long as you can make it more painful for the attackers on the defense side.

Alex Bovee (32:32):

That's the key. Yeah.

Ping Li (32:33):

It's the cost equation. So I guess just wrapping up here, I'd love to get your take on two things. One is you kind of went through this journey of last couple years, building the product, figuring out what works, get insertion. Now you're in that kind of customer acquisition scaling. What are the things that you think you really need to nail in this next phase to get to the next level? Right. It is. Every startup has different phases of growth.

Alex Bovee (33:03):

Yeah, absolutely. So it always stems from execution, I think. And execution is acquiring new customers while also making your existing customers extremely happy while also building new products. And you kind of have to hold all three of those things in your head. It's a little bit of a different game when you first get started because you acquire a handful of customers and your whole objective in life is to make these 10 people extremely happy with your product. But you get to a point where you're scaling and you're like, I got to make all these people happy and I got to build new stuff and I got to acquire new ones. And all that really has to work together. So I just think a lot about execution and how do we move as fast as possible? How do we make quick decisions? How do we make sure the team feels enabled and trusted and has the right ownership they need to be able to go execute well?

Ping Li (33:55):

Yeah, no, I think it's that. It's going from being focused on one thing, just making the customers love your product to now figuring out how to make many customers love many products and figuring out all the different features you need to build across a different wide set of customers. 

Alex Bovee (34:14):

It's exciting as a founder too. You see your job changing. My job is changing from working directly on a thing to make it successful like a product to make it successful, to working on our business, to make our business work better, to make the whole company more successful. So as that scale happens, your job as a founder really shifts to, you're a lot less kind of in the individual problem solving and a little bit more like I'm diagnosing the machine and figuring out, okay, what's broken over here with trials? How do we make that better? What's going on over here?

Ping Li (34:51):

Has it been hard to not be able to be fully hands-on fully deep because you have to be multi-threaded.

Alex Bovee (34:58):

Now, as you saiid, it's so hard. I mean, I think it's probably one of the most challenging things as a founder is just constantly changing your altitude and you have to do it from meeting to meeting sometime. Sometimes you are in the weeds and then sometimes you do have to, okay, now we're working on this other thing and I'm flying at like 10,000 feet. So it can be challenging.

Ping Li (35:20):

And if you had to look back now on the last couple years, anything you would do differently?

Alex Bovee (35:28):

The advice I would give to my early founder day, early founder, Alex, it's been interesting. The journey for me has been one of, I would say, wanting to make the right decisions. And so sometimes taking more time than is necessary to really be analytical about something to make a decision. And what I've found in 98% of the cases is my intuition and my gut was right almost immediately on things. And so my only advice to my early founder self would just be, trust your intuition. You're going to make mistakes. That's okay, but just make decisions quickly. Most decisions are reversible at some level, so if you mess it up, you can always fix it and things like that. But it's just about getting the at bats because decision making is like any skill. You get better at it the more you do it and it's kind of up until you get better at it and you're more efficient at it and things like that.

Ping Li (36:29):

Well, I think you made a lot of the right decisions to get to this point, Alex. So keep it up. Thanks a lot for joining us.

Alex Bovee (36:36):

Thanks so much for having me on. Ping. I really appreciate it.

Meet your host

Cloud/SaaS, Enterprise IT, Security

Ping Li

Ping Li joined Accel in 2004 and focuses on investing in business software applications and cloud native technology platforms. Learn more about his expertise.
Season 1 of the Spotlight On podcast, by Accel