Day 1 at InfluxData - Brian Mullen
By Brian Mullen / May 25, 2017 / General
A funny thing happens when you turn 40 years old, which I recently did–you start everything off with something like “I recently turned 40.”
In early 2017 I found myself in the unique position of hitting this life milestone and exploring a new career move. There is a certain symmetry in the two. First, there is a period of introspection; an examination of the things one believes in and the things one likes to do. Next, there is a period of exploration; a look ahead at opportunities to adjust or attune one’s own life to fit those beliefs and likes accordingly.
That sounds heavy and existential, but the good news is that exploring a career move is actually fun–and you don’t have to go into Henry David Thoreau-caliber isolation to do it. Instead, it involves meeting a lot of talented people, learning about uniquely disruptive products, all while learning your own likes and dislikes along the way.
Eventually, that process led me right here to Paul, Evan and the team at InfluxData. They’ve built a product that is the embodiment of those things I believe in, and they hired a team that is both empowered and equipped to build a great company around it.
That said, it was still a big move. As my new colleague, Tim Hall aptly points out in his earlier post, “Changing jobs can be difficult when it means leaving a place you actually enjoy working!”
We had many sayings over the years at Twilio–some repeatable and some not. One of those sayings was that it’s only “Day One,” meaning that we are still only in the early stages of building this company. When I joined Twilio back in 2011, one could make the case that it really truly was “Day One.” We had 30 employees and 1 sales person. We had a single shared conference room, which served double duty for viewing YouTube videos and hosting product meetings. We had borrowed formica desks. We had an elevator that took 11 minutes to ascend 3 floors. And we had a lot of empty space in our candy-factory-turned-software-startup-HQ on Folsom St.
Over the next six and a half years, we built Twilio up from those humble beginnings into a public company with over 1 million developers and $300M in annual revenue. The day it went public in 2016, we all wore t-shirts with that familiar saying emblazoned on the front: “Day One.”
That saying has a dual meaning for me. It is the ethos from a formative time in my career, a hugely rewarding professional experience that I cherish and will never forget. More broadly, however, “Day One” is also a state of mind. It is the idea that what’s in front of you is immense, exciting and important.
And so while we pushed ahead at Twilio and prepared again for the next stage of post-IPO growth, I took a step back to contemplate my own Day One.
What do I believe in? What do I like to do? And where do I go from here?
As luck would have it, I was turning 40 at around the same time and was already asking myself these same existential questions!
Things I believe in...
Organic growth led by customers
While underway with his Y-Combinator data monitoring startup, Errplane, our Founder Paul Dix increasingly faced the challenge of dealing with time series data. He decided to dig into this underlying (and unaddressed) problem by building InfluxDB and sharing it publicly with the open-source community. It soared almost immediately. Before Paul could even book any public talks and speaking engagements, InfluxDB was already atop Hacker News and being endorsed by the developer community.
That was back in 2014. Since then, InfluxDB continued its ascent, gaining more adoption in the open source community. Along the way, their customers showed them where to go by using InfluxDB and building around it. The goal is to observe what customers are doing, then enhance your product to make your customers’ lives easier. The less time required to use your product, the more of your customers’ time you can free up to focus on other, more important endeavors.
Paul personifies this, as does the team he assembled around him. I could see that organic community engagement and relentless customer focus that is so crucial. InfluxDB evolved into the TICK stack–adding new products for important tasks like collection, visualization and analysis, and processing–all to support the customer patterns they observed.
For developers by developers
One thing I realized at Twilio is that developer empathy is either part of a company’s DNA or it isn’t–it generally is not learned. In that vein, my first conversations with the team at InfluxData were comfortable and familiar. No exchange of corporate jargon or pontification on world domination. Instead, we talked very candidly about the developer experience.
Now I cannot claim to be a developer myself (rudimentary Python skills aside). But I understand the important connection between the people building products and the people who use them.
Paul (CTO & Founder) is an accomplished developer and entrepreneur. Tim (VP of Products) is a longtime expert in building infrastructure software for developers and doing so at scale. And Mark (CMO) spent the last several years building and growing developer communities and did so while maintaining that open source authenticity (this is not easy).
From those initial meetings, I could see that the team meshed well and viewed the world through the same lens. Even in non-technical roles, the team remains steadfastly developer-focused.
Passion and true belief
When people say entrepreneurism is not for everyone–they really mean it. Some key requirements include: thick skin, no fear, reality distortion, and emotional endurance. How about starting an open source project from scratch, then building it up to tens of thousands of worldwide users? Simply take the previous set of requirements and multiply 3x.
Why would a normal person attempt either of these, let alone both of them simultaneously? The answer is that a normal person wouldn’t. But Paul Dix is not a normal person. He did both, and succeeded.
Reading up a bit on Paul and the history of InfluxDB, I was already impressed. Then I met him. He is excited, passionate, and comes from a place of deep, personal connection to the product. He faced the time series data problem himself when building Errplane and understands it intimately.
Things I like to do...
Build the foundation
Business development means something different depending on the product or company in question. At one end of the spectrum is a more sales-oriented BD, scaling out a strategy or channel that has already shown some level of success and repeatability. At the other end of the spectrum is a more foundational BD, which involves devising a strategy and building from the ground up. It is the creation of the program itself. Whether this is expanding into new geographies, establishing distribution via new channels or into new markets, it is this creative, figure-it-out-and-go motion that has always captured my interest. Drawing upon Eric Ries’ well-honed Lean Startup methodology, this kind of BD is a process of experimentation–build, measure, learn, then determine whether to persevere or pivot from an informed point of view.
Implied in the process of experimentation is learning. And that is a fundamental requirement for me in any career opportunity. The ideal scenario is to apply past experience to a new endeavor, making use of refined skills while at the same time learning a new technology or a new market. For me, InfluxData offers this perfect balance. While I have many years of business development deal-making experience, the realm of time series data software is relatively new to me. I am excited to learn what customers are doing with our product–ranging from DevOps use cases like Nordstrom to IoT use cases like SolarCity. And I am eager to sit alongside product visionaries like Paul and Tim who are leading its adoption.
Where I'm going from here
Today is Day One at InfluxData. Both for me and the company. The opportunity before us is immense, exciting and important. And I could not be more happy to be here.
Brian Mullen twitter: @btmulls