Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise, founder of FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn more about building products and starting companies.
So, it’s with great pleasure that I’m here today with Michael Wolfe. Michael is the founder and CEO of ccLoop. He’s a serial entrepreneur. He’s been a founder and founding employee. An executive at four start-ups.
He was a co-founder of Vontu, an enterprise security software company acquired by Symantec for $350 million in 2007. And he spent two years at Symantec, including a year as the CTO of the Enterprise Product Group, a $4 billion business with 5,000 engineers inside of Symantec.
Prior to Vontu, Michael was a founding employee and VP of Engineering at Kana, a pioneer of web-based CRM. Kana went public in 1999 at a multi-billion dollar market cap and generated several hundred million dollars in revenue.
I first heard about Michael when I read one of his blog posts and I said to myself, “Wow. He knows a lot about being a founder and entrepreneurship . I’ve got to meet this guy and share his story.”
So, with that said, Michael, perhaps you can give us a little brief bio.
Michael: I think a few things to highlight. I actually grew up in the Army. My Dad was in the military so lived all over the country, went to a different school almost every year. And I wouldn’t draw a direct line in terms of that and what I’m doing now. But, I think maybe some of the uncertainty, change, I really enjoy that. I guess it’s maybe part of why I do what I do. I have a technical background, so computer science background. Did a lot of teaching when I was in college and really enjoyed that. That application of technology to problem.
And then, it’s really mostly been start-ups. I have a couple big company experiences. Mostly start-up experience. I actually like working with folks with both. I think there’s good lessons to draw from both. But, right now, I’m definitely a start-up guy.
Matthew: Excellent. And so, I know that ccLoop, you guys haven’t publicly launched. So, we won’t get too much into product and features and that stuff. But, how did you come up with ccLoop? What’s the story? Was it an ah-ha moment or was it something you’d been researching for a while?
Matthew: Why’d you start it?
Michael: So, I was an entrepreneur in residence at Benchmark Capital most of last year. They funded Kana and Vontu and ccLoop. And it’s the second time I did that. I did that back in 2002 before Vontu, as well. And there’s a bunch of stuff that came together. I think that there is a piece of ccLoop that’s really just the idea. And I’ll talk a little bit more in a bit about kind of where the idea came from. There is a piece of it also where I really just wanted to start another company. I really used that time at Benchmark to look at a lot of ideas, talk to a lot of entrepreneurs.
And part of that experience was getting very passionate about continuing to build products that are really focused on business users. All my companies, except the first one, have been primarily business applications. I’m a huge believer that business problems that really affect the end user, where the end user can find your product, get benefit from your product. And they’re the customer. Contrasted to where the enterprise and IT is your customer. In other words, go directly to the user and ultimately maybe to sell to the company, as opposed to going to the company and having them bring you into the user.
It’s something I wanted to do. So, I was looking at a lot of ideas last year that met that general characteristic, almost knowing the business model I wanted before the idea, which I think is a little bit backwards of how most people do it. But really enjoyed those attributes. And then ccLoop was the one. When the idea came about as part of a brainstorming session with a friend of mine, and I can go into more detail on that in a minute. But, it was just kind of a light bulb. It was like after a year of looking at ideas, this was the one. And the next day I did the slides and then I was off and running.
Matthew: So, Michael, given your domain expertise and experience as a serial entrepreneur, what are some of the technology and market trends that you’re seeing in this space?
Michael: I’ve spent a lot of my career either selling to corporate IT or else being part of a corporate IT department or doing projects with corporate IT. So, my answer, which is cloud computing and consumerization of IT, that answer’s not original. I think most people who would [inaudible 04:40], you’d probably get the same answer from those people. I actually think those trends are almost underrated in terms of the impact they’re going to have. Not just on the technology, even though the technology’s pretty incredible.
I think the role of IT, the role of the user in an organization, who gets to make the decisions, who drives the change, the pace of change, I think is completely changing. And I think those IT department out there who think cloud computing is just a different data center architecture, where I think the entire role of IT, the kinds of people you need, and the relationship between the user and the IT department is completely going to change. And I think that’s actually not even appreciated yet in terms of the impact that’s going to have.
Matthew: Excellent. And then, we want to dispel some of the myths that people have about being a founder and being an entrepreneur. We tend to think that founders kind of make it look easy to start things when we know it’s very, very hard. So, what are some of the things that you make look easy? What are some things that come easy for you? And what’s a challenge and how do you work with that?
Michael: I think that, for me, I think we like to glorify what we do. If you talk to a lot of founders, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m a risk taker and I’m taking so much risk. And I’m flying by the seat of my pants.” And there’s certainly risk in terms of we don’t know what’s going to happen. This company could be out of business in two years.
For me, and maybe again because my Dad was in Vietnam when I was the age my kids are now. For me, risk is not, “It might fail and I’ll have to go get a job somewhere.” Risk is when there’s really a lot to lose. So, I think that doing this is easy. I think the idea that there’s some huge sacrifice, you’re not sleeping at night, you’re this big, daring risk taker, I don’t feel that. For me, I would feel like I was actually taking more risk if I was in a big company job that I didn’t enjoy and I was stressed all the time. And my skills weren’t progressing as fast as they are doing this. So, I would not consider myself a risk taker even though this is really all I’ve been doing.
Matthew: Excellent. And then, we know that most start-ups are started by multiple co-founders. And in this case, with ccLoop, you’re an exception. You’re the sole co-founder.
Can you speak to that? Have there been any challenges or what’s been unique about being the sole co-founder of ccLoop?
Michael: Yeah. I think that is a little bit of a myth. I mean, there are plenty of single founder companies out there. In fact, three out of the four companies where I’ve worked have been single founder companies. Ariel Poler, who’s an investor of ours, was the founder of IPRO. Mark Gainey was the CEO and founder of Kana, my second company. And I joined him a few months after he founded the company. And then Joseph Ansanelli was my co-founder, along with Kevin Rowney, our CTO at Vontu.
Joseph actually had a lot to do with getting this company started because the original idea came out of a brainstorming session I had with him about how his new company was collaborating. So, he’s actually on our board and is a great adviser to the company. Then I have a great adviser board. Kevin Harvey from Benchmark is on our board. Mike Maples is an adviser to our board. And I think that it’s not founder, it’s not two founder, three founder, one founder. It’s do you have an experienced set of people around you?