Solomon Hykes – dotCloud 2 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 Wise: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about dotCloud that you’d like to share with our audience?

Solomon: So, we, so far we haven’t talked about numbers that much. We talk about thousands of developers. We’re very happy with out numbers, certainly. We like showing cool apps that people have made on dotCloud. We like featuring developers and companies that are using dotCloud in cool and interesting ways. I mean, our growth chart looks like this, or maybe like this. Well, it’s going up. But yeah, I don’t think that we have any specific numbers. Thousands and thousands.

Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to launch a company. What was the hardest part about starting dotCloud and how did you overcome the obstacle?

Solomon: The hardest part was launching, for sure. And the hardest part was, and I guess still is, putting yourself in the mind of the people that will use you. And it’s tricky because there’s this dilemma that you have as a founder. You’re supposed to have the vision and you have a strong idea of what the product should be and will be. And you’ve got this intuition and that intuition is usually right. 

But it’s kind of wrapped in all sorts of preconceived ideas about who these people are that are going to use it. And you never really spell out your assumptions and you have to peel off these assumptions one by one. And you’ve got to think, well, I’m completely convinced of this. The product’s going to be like this and like that. 

But what am I assuming? Am I assuming my user is a developer that’s already experienced, he already knows how to use this. He speaks English. You know he lives in San Francisco maybe because he’s going to see my little ad. I don’t know, everyone has their own. But we all do, we all have those. And we have to peel them off look at them and say, okay is this true, do I have test it? 

So it’s not being stubborn and sticking to your vision and saying everyone is wrong. But it’s not running after people in the street and saying, what do you want? Tell me what you want and I’ll make it for you. It’s kind of this weird combination.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before?

Solomon: We’ve realized that there’s a lot of different developers. I think you start off programming in a little community, and there’s a lot of these communities. What’s really interesting is we’re building a platform that helps all of these communities. And we have to learn that not everyone knows Python, not everyone knows Ruby. You know not everyone knows what caching means, not everyone uses GIT. 

Some people program in Windows, yes it’s true. They drag and drop things on FTP drives to upload. And that’s totally fine; it works for them. So it’s really easy because you’re a technology company and you’re targeting tech savvy people, to assume that they’re tech savvy in the same way as you. So, yeah, just because you’re targeting tech savvy people doesn’t mean you’re done targeting.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult. So we want to dispel some myths here. My question to you Solomon is, what talents or skills come easily or intuitively for you? What’s been difficult and how have you managed that?

Solomon: I think what’s been difficult in the beginning was to admit that you can’t be the best for everything in your company. It sounds horrible, but, as a found you’re used to doing things yourself. And it’s hard to kind of let go and say, okay, I’m going to let you do this. But you can’t really just take marketing and just throw it at someone. You’re always need to be doing marketing. But you can’t do all of marketing. 

And I remember being really scared at that transition. Right, I’m doing this myself. Obviously I’m not experienced and good enough to keep doing it myself. But then I look at another company and I see this team that’s doing everything and it looks like they, the CEO just magically made them appear, and now there’s a marketing team. And same for engineering, same for everything. And that transition was really scary. 

So that’s the hard part. Learning to transfer something that’s yours to other people in the company. But the good news is once you know how to do it once, you get better at doing it again and again. So knowing when to delegate and I guess what it means to lead. That’s a difficult transition.

Matthew: What’s the most important message you’ve learned since launching dotCloud?

Solomon: Don’t give up. Don’t give up, for sure. Yeah, looking back it looks like we got lucky and then lucky again and lucky again. And we did. But you only get lucky if you gave yourself enough time to get lucky. Alright, so, keep working on it. And that’s the other dilemma, that’s the master dilemma, the mother of all dilemmas. Right? You’re supposed to stick to it no matter what, and then just keep doing it. And you’re going to hear people telling you it’s not going to work, everyday. 

I had people telling me it wasn’t going to work every day. And you know, you keep doing it, but at the same time when do you actually listen to advice and change things? So you have to be completely in a straight line against all odds. But then you have to be adaptable and flexible and listen. So, how do you do that? I don’t know.

Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before starting dotCloud?

Solomon: I would have liked for someone to remind me of what really matters. And I’m thinking mostly of our initial experience, bootstrapping and being completely on our own in France. Which is a pretty [host-style] environment for a tech company. And there’s a lot of people that want to help you, but they’re not sure how. And you get a lot of advice that’s true, it’s correct, but it’s irrelevant because it’s helping you in places that are not that important, right? 

Knowing how to file your taxes as a small business is not that important. Knowing how to incorporate well, knowing how to you know manage the day to day of the small business is not as important as the product. And getting people to use your product, getting feedback from those people, targeting them properly. The company is just a shell around a product, and people using the products. And I would have liked someone to I think beat me up with a stick everyday and remind me of that. And that’s definitely what Paul Graham did.

Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your development?

Solomon: There’s a few. We were very lucky for mentoring mentors. Paul Graham was definitely incredibly helpful because he had that big stick and he was using it. Product, product, product, people using the products, products. That was really, really helpful. There was a guy who’s sitting on our board now called Mark [Verstin] who works at Apple who was, he was with us from the very beginning. From that crappy period bootstrapping it in France. And he was also telling how dotCloud sucked in all sorts of ways. 

But he was doing it differently. He was saying, he wasn’t saying it’s not going to work. And he wasn’t saying, oh that sounds great, which means you know, I don’t really care. He was saying, well this precise thing completely sucks. Maybe you should do something else. And that was very helpful and he kept doing it for years. 

And he didn’t give up on us, so, find people that are willing to put some time and energy, right. Not everyone has money to invest in your company. But someone who you think has vast experience that can help you, and has made mistakes in the past, and is willing to put the time to sit down with you to talk about it, that’s valuable.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about starting a startup? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Solomon: Product. Product and realizing you’re not going to get it right the first time. Yeah. 

Matthew: Solomon, before we close I would love for you to give our audience your vision for dotCloud and how you hope it will change the world.

Solomon: Well, I believe in software being a big, big factor of change. By writing code indirectly or directly, you can change a lot of things in the world. And the fact that we’re in this period of time where a lot of people are going to be able to write codes, quickly, that does a lot of stuff and has an affect on the world, that’s really exciting. 

And so the future for dotCloud is very simple. It’s a platform that can run any application in the world, regardless of what language, framework, database you use. You come to dotCloud you get started. You use what you need, you combine components. And you start doing the useful stuff. You start writing code, you start changing something in the world, somewhere.

Matthew: Solomon it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at dotCloud. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more, and join their community, you can visit them at This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much Solomon.

Solomon: Thank you.


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