What’s the inspiration behind “NanoVMs”?
We didn’t come up with the idea. It’s an idea that has been stuck in academia forever, and a few years ago I started reading some of the academic papers behind it. I started tinkering around with some of the existing software and got super interested. At the time, no one had made a Go unikernel and so we had that done. The first time I booted that up on KVM it blew my mind and I knew that this was exactly what software infrastructure for the future cloud would look like. I dropped everything else I was doing to focus on this.
Before starting NanoVMs, you traveled the world. What did that time teach you and how did it impact how you run your business?
I’ve spent months at a time with nothing but a backpack on my shoulders and have been fortunate enough to experience how different cultures work. I think it’s an invaluable education. One learning though is that when you are trying to get to somewhere a) you have to get started and b) you have to just keep going.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from starting your own company?
I wouldn’t call it a lesson, but more of an insight. The ungodly amount of administrative paperwork and mundane tasks that need to be done. The sooner I can offload some of this work to others, the better.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I think the best founders get high off of risk.
There are so many decisions where I think the average person would sit and deliberate for days whereas as a CEO you just have to make a decision. Even if it’s a bad one, you learn to live with it. Most of the time the decisions aren’t as crazy as you make them out to be either.
We’ve already had some "competition" where people have tried to blatantly rip us off. At first you get pissed, but then it just makes you dive deeper and devise superior technical firepower. For instance, our new kernel is the result of that drive and it beats the crap out of everything else out there now. What’s the quote..."sometimes the best defense is a good offense"?
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
A lot of people don’t understand what we do because we have gone super deep technically. Who in their right mind decides they are going to create a new operating system with the goals of being faster and safer than everything else?
Hiring was also actually not as easy as I thought it would be. The vast majority of software engineers don’t have the skill set we need and it’s not something you can learn on the job. The ones that are good might like what we are doing but if they have a really cushy job somewhere else at one of the big companies it’s hard to get them on board. Maybe this becomes easier post-corona.
What’s your team culture like?
Technical. Very, very technical. Lots of startups and their VCs like to brag about their technical chops, but we literally are quoting Intel manuals in our tickets to argue various points. Also, our company is still so small that we don’t have any room for people that can’t deliver. As a result, it’s very merit based.
There’s a lot of personal freedom, but also a lot of personal responsibility. As for tooling, we have Slack and Zoom, but I’m the only one that uses Zoom and Slack isn’t used that much. We had an IRC channel at one point...we might bring that back.
What is your superpower?
I don’t listen to a damn word anyone says. When you are the pre-seed/seed stage it seems that everyone wants to give you advice. Most of it you should just ignore because whatever they would be telling you to do is their reflections on what might’ve worked in the past for them. The reality is that every single company is different, even if it’s just Dunder Mifflin vs Wernham Hogg.
Also, my work ethic. I feel like I was somewhat swindled when I first moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area. as I heard everyone worked like a dog and slept under their desks. I found just the opposite. People would come in at 10am, leave at 4pm, drink at lunch, “work from home” on Fridays, etc. I can code more in one Monday morning than some people can do all week. That is not because I’m smarter; it’s just that I’m working. I used to really hate all the yard-work that I had to do as a kid/teenager. Now, my work ethic serves me extremely well. From that alone, I can beat the pants off anyone.
What’s your kryptonite?
I have a minor addiction to buying $3 books on Amazon.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Like any software engineer, I have multiple email accounts. Some of those go to a text-only email client that I’ve used since the late 90s. People have also observed that I cuss like a drunk pirate when I’m fixing code I don’t like.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Don’t waste time. Whatever you want to do, just do it now. Don’t be the "no" in your life.