Solomon Hykes – dotCloud 1 of 2

“You only get luck if you give yourself enough time to get lucky.” dotCloud makes it incredibly simple for developers to deploy and scale their applications.

Matthew: This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and to share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies. So I’m very excited today because I’m here with Solomon Hykes who is the co-founder and CEO of DotCloud. DotCloud is the simplest platform for developers to deploy their application in the cloud. Solomon, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio. 

Solomon: So I’m a crazy engineer. I grew up in France, even though I don’t sound like it at all. I went to school in France, then engineering school in France too. I remember being completely mystified by what was going on in California, it was kind of my dream to go there. And then my first year of engineering school I got this internship at a research lab in San Diego. So I went there for six months, and I was completely astonished. I went back and continued my studies and for a few years there was no more interaction with California. It was this little dream for six months, and then I graduated, got a job in France, and then another one.

I was always excited about servers and automating them, setting them up, adding more servers, getting those to work together. And that’s always been a problem. Stuff that everybody has to do, most people don’t like doing it, I loved it. So I always looked for that part of the job. That lead me to start working on different pieces of software that helped doing that. That became my obsession. I open sourced some, I eventually started using others for consulting, so I would help other business do that. 

So eventually I make my way to another job in LA. So I’m working in LA, I’m working with the TV/movie industry so we help these guys move files around. They’ve got big secured networks, servers everywhere, it’s a lot of fun. But when I’m in LA, at some point I’m contacted by Google. I start interviewing with Google, and flying up there to Mountain View, and I stay with a bunch of friends. They show me, yeah, it’s Silicon Valley, we’re doing start ups, we’re doing this, we’re doing that.

I thought this is really exciting, you can do your own thing. Eventually, a few months down the road, these interviews were going on forever with Google, it’s like it would never end. I got fed up with it and then I quit my job and started bootstrapping this idea of automating server deployment. That’s when I met Sebastien, my co-founder. We bootstrapped a way, by the way, this is all in France. So the stupidest thing in the world was to quit a job in California and go back to France to start a business. So we did that for a few years, and made every possible mistake, and eventually by complete luck I guess, and a lot of trying, trying, trying made it into Y Combinator. That kind of shifted our vision of the world. That was summer 2010. And a lot of things came together, and that was the beginning of DotCloud.

Matthew: What makes DotCloud unique? Who’s it for, and why are you so passionate about it?

Solomon: So what’s really exciting is there’s this kind of thing going on with software development right now that makes it really exciting. Basically it’s becoming incredibly fun to write software, to build applications. You can do things incredibly easily, and there’s tools accessible to you, open source databases, frameworks, all sorts of languages. You can just kind of plug things together, and get started it’s a lot of fun, it’s very gratifying.

A few years ago you had to write everything from scratch. If you were in the initial engineering team at Yahoo for example, you had to write a lot of C, you had to move a lot of servers around and today you can just get started with Ruby, or Python, PHP, [MoBootyB], MySQL, what ever. It’s a really exciting time to be in. What makes us unique is we’re a platform built for that. 

We’re a platform built for developers that want to chose a certain database, a certain language, a certain work, and put it all in the stack and then they want to start working as easily as possible. So you’ve got a lot of places you can go use just this piece, or just that piece. But if you want to have fun and just mix and match components together, then DotCloud’s built for that from the ground up. 

Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist, and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?

Solomon: One big trend is definitely clouds in the largest sense, and it’s become a big buzzword. Cloud really means not going to do all that stuff ourselves. We’re going to let someone else do it. It’s easy for us in this tech little world. Thinking that’s obvious, Amazon, whatever, but there’s millions of developers out there. 

There’s millions of apps being written, and most of these guys have never heard of what’s going on here. The fact that all of these people, although they don’t know it yet, in three years are all going to be using some sort of cloud platform. That’s really exciting, they’re all going to go faster. They’re going to think their job is fun, they’re going to get more done. That’s a big trend, and it happens to be worth a lot of money. There’s a lot of IT money, a lot of R & D money going into software projects.

Matthew: So what inspired you to start DotCloud? You mentioned your adventures trying to get a job at Google, but was there a specific aha moment or was it the series of events that lead you to that. What’s the story?

Solomon: I think there’s three steps. The first step is that particular technical challenge of automating server deployment was always there, even in school. The second step was at my second job realizing, wow, everyone’s re-inventing what we were inventing in my first job. So I’m sure, probably my third job is going to be kind of the same. 

So that was the second step, realizing there’s something that everyone has to reinvent in each company. And that’s when you start thinking about things like inefficiency and making the inefficient more efficient. 

The third was definitely as we were part of Y Combinator, looking around and realizing there’s 30 other start ups here. And there all software developers, and we could definitely help them. Until that point it seems obvious in retrospect, until that point all this tech, this cool automation stuff we were doing, it was all for [inaudible 07:57]. All for people like us that liked servers and wanted better tools to do what we did. 

These guys thought it was cool what we were doing but they didn’t need it. Because they knew how to do it already. But when we looked at hackers, or people that write software, they don’t want to deal with that stuff, they just want to write their app. And they want it to be up. When we realized that, that was definitely aha moment. Okay. What we do is not just fun, it’s not just efficient, it’s really, really useful for a lot of people. That was a cool moment. 

Matthew: Who are your co-founders? How did you meet? What qualities or talents were you looking for in a co-founder? How did you know they would be a good fit?

Solomon: I joined Y Combinator with my co-founders Sebastien Pahl. We met in France, we went together through this phase of bootstrapping and making mistakes, and trying to get customers to pay for cool software we were making, all of that stuff. I think the number one thing is we worked together before, and that means the relationship has been tested. There’s been tough moments, there’s been moments where you wanted to quit for a few hours, and you didn’t. And you didn’t in large part because you weren’t alone, and the group worked.

You can’t tell how a relationship goes until things go bad a little bit. The other thing that was really amazing was very quickly we ended up with a founding team of five people. So this evolution from two to five, and really today we say, all five of us say we’re all the founders of our cloud, pretty much. 

That was really, really lucky of us. If you can get a core group of people that are the center of the company. They feel like they are the center of the company, that’s really valuable.

I would say, you’ve got to be flexible in what it means to be the founder. And really you’re really a founder in the heart. You’re a founder if you feel like you’re giving more than anyone else. You’re putting in the craziest hours. You’re not necessarily paid well for a long time, but you’re, okay, with it, because you know it’s worth it. Finding people that are complimentary that you can rely on, that have gone through tough moments with you is super important. 

Matthew: From idea to product launch, how long did it take, and when did you actually launch the product? 

Solomon: Launching was our very, very scary thing. It took us a while to launch. We tried a few times and we couldn’t launch. We were really scared and I was freaking out. I was thinking that we were cursed, we’re never going to launch. We’re incapable of it, and now we’re better. But I think the big lesson is to not hold on to that fear of the product not being good enough. 

One thing we did was overestimated our importance. You’re launching something in the beginning, and if there’s 50 people that are aware of it, when it’s first available, and I mean the very, very first test version then you’re lucky. We sure felt lucky that 50 people were aware of DotCloud version But somehow in you mind as you think about conquering the world and at the same time you’re stressed out about your product not being good enough.

The combination feels like the entire world is watching. You’re going to press that button, and the New York Times is going to say, DotCloud sucks, they tried it and it’s awful. So that’s kind of paralyzing. But remembering that you’re just a start up is really helpful. We’re just a start up, we’ll push an upgrade later, we’ll get feedback.

This is the advice you get from every blog and article on startups in the world, that launch early. It’s like watching someone dragging, I had heard that advice before. I went into DotCloud knowing, yeah, we have to ship early, and ship often. But you don’t really understand what it means until you are actually in that situation and you have to, and you’re forcing yourself.


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