Interview with Dijam Panigrahi, COO, Gridraster


Dijam Panigrahi, COO, Gridraster

“Passionate and excited about how technology is challenging norms and changing the way we interact and engage with the world around us. Particularly excited about the convergence of mobile technology, cloud computing and AI.”

What does Gridraster bring to the marketplace?

We observed, and we strongly believe, that augmented reality and virtual reality will change the way we interact or work and live in the long run. But we also had a strong feeling that if all those things were to be possible, they have to be made possible on a mobile device. On Oculus and other heavy devices, not all those experiences are possible.

As part of our team’s previous functions in Qualcomm, Broadcom, Texas Instruments, and Apple, we have worked on mobile, the network, and the cloud. We have seen a few technologies merging. For example, data pipes are becoming thicker, and you can do more using the network. The cloud computing thesis is falling into place with the virtualization of GPU’s. We saw that you cannot do this sort of intensive experience on the mobile device, but mobile is the only way that we can actually make this use case of this medium mainstream.

What we can do is leverage the cloud infrastructure, which is available to act as a co-processor to the mobile device, and be able to enable any kind of complex intense immersive experience at scale, not just trying to confine it to a single device or two. Essentially, what we bring to this industry is the software stack to allow any content provider to enable those experiences on any of the devices over the network so you don't need those heavy devices anymore. You can use the software stack that we are building to make the experience possible across different devices.

Can you tell me a little bit of your background and the team’s background before starting Gridraster?

We started the company back in 2015. Before that, in all of our fourteen to fifteen years of experience, we worked on the next generation of network-based products, whether it's the first dual processors for the smartphones or the 3G and 4G networks. We have built those products and taken them to different markets, international markets and scaled the revenues from zero to multimillion dollar sizes.

So I bring mostly product and business development expertise. Rishi Ranjan is the technical brain. He was a system designer within Qualcomm and Broadcom, working on the product for five or six years ahead of when they came into the market. Venkat Dass brings expertise in delivering to the customer. As part of Broadcom, he was the person who was applying 4G, 3G, and LTE into the networks for Samsung and Apple. He led our engineering effort. 

Recently Bhaskar Banerjee, somebody we knew over the years, joined us from the Apple team, where he was working on the immersive display technologies there. Now he takes over the CTO role. 

How does your experience in business development and product management help as Chief Operating Officer? Could you talk a little bit about your experience more on the BD side versus your co-founders experience on the technical side and how you are able to bring that together?

What we're doing is deeply technical, and we have multiple patents that have been filed, a couple of which have already been approved. We weren’t trying to do a research project, but rather make something commercially viable. That’s why we wanted to have multiple people come together.

When we started out it was Rishi and I who were both outward facing. We both had the technology base but we wanted to commercialize it. Before we conceptualized it, we actually spoke to at least fifty customers, trying to understand their pain point. I was trying to understand how it was going to be used, what business problem we were going to solve, what value it was going to bring, and how we can take this technology and productize it. Rishi was focusing on how you map that out from the technical requirement and from the systems requirement so that the engineering team, at that point led by Venkat, could implement it and come up with viable product that we can show to customers in our target audience.

We continued to iterate and evolve our roles. We started developing the product and we raised some funding and strengthened our team. Rishi focused more on the fundraising and top leadership and Venkat focused more on ensuring successful deployment with customers.

There are a lot of specific applications to aerospace and industrial industries. Can you go into detail on those applications and give a few examples?

Those use cases were developed from the conversations that we were having. The first part of the process for us was: okay, we have this awesome technology, how do we leverage this? 

We needed more data points that in a certain industry, there is a problem they're facing that we can solve. When we went out to the market and spoke to the customers in aerospace and defense, we talked a lot about value for price. For example, the HoloLens costs anywhere between  $3,000-$5,000. That's going to be pretty expensive if you’re looking at medical, education, or any other industry. But the amount that the aerospace customer or automotive customer or any of the manufacturing companies were actually spending on a device like Hololens was humongous.

For an aerospace customers that we're working with today, one use case is the manufacturing process where they're building out the spacecraft. What they're doing is aligning the virtual CAD models, which are pretty heavy and complex, onto the physical assets. When you're overlaying those virtual assets on top of the physical spacecraft that you're building, you're identifying spots where it needs to be put. If you can get those accurate overlays done using our technology, the cloud infrastructure, which you can do to almost a millimeter precision, you are able to save big by cutting down the time required to do the job and eliminating errors. 

Another use case is engineering design. One of the automotive companies has been designing cars using the clay or foam model. The problem is, any changes that you want to make to the design takes weeks and months. Now they're replacing the clay or foam modeling with the mixed reality pieces where you could overlay those virtual assets very precisely on the physical assets . This they can do now in near real time instead of waiting for weeks or months.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from Alchemist?

Learning to stick to the process and believe that the outcomes will come. If we focus on the outcomes too much and we don't focus on the process, we won’t have a scalable design. That's the thing that I found very valuable that we got from Alchemist, whether in the fundraising process or the building process.

If you were in Alchemist again, would you do anything differently?

I would get my co-founders to be much more immersed in the program instead of it being mainly me.

From my side, I think many of the processes, like for example creating a customer advisory board, we created over a time period, but we could have done it much more quickly. If you look back it looks pretty crystal clear but in retrospect there are many things I would have done differently. The two things I will say is that I would have put up those processes much earlier and I would have gotten my partners to be more involved in the Alchemist program.

What is the most challenging thing going forward?

Exploring product market fit. I know that our technology is going to be applicable across different domains and different industries, but we have to navigate that over a time period. Considering the team that we have, we can only focus on maybe a couple of use cases and a couple of industries. Based on all the data points that were available to us and customer conversations we had, we decided that aerospace, defense, and automotive will be our focus in the short term.

What entrepreneurial lesson takes the longest to learn, or are you still learning?

As an entrepreneur you're learning every day, such as, for example, building up the team. I’ve learned the value of letting go of certain roles. Maybe you at this point are the best person to do certain things, but maybe it's a good time to let go of a few of the things because it frees you up to focus on some things that are more important that others cannot do.

For example, my co-founder is the best in terms of technical skills, but as a CEO you know he has much more things to do now. But if he continues to get into the technical chops, he may not be able to do the CEO role effectively. 

Beyond that, from a sales point of view, everything takes longer than what you expect. 

Do you have any insights that you want to share to the next generation of Alchemist founders?

Bring the right team. Before you even build any of the product, validate with the customers or the users who are going to use it. I'm sure that's been said so many times, but when you are technical founders, you are so convinced of the technology that you lose sight of viability.

Apart from that, you are trying to build a business, not building a company to raise money. Sometimes that part of the process gets mixed up,as if you're just trying to raise another round. Right from the beginning I think you should be focusing on building out a company which can sustain itself. The capital should be able to accelerate that growth but should not be the end goal.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.


Vinod Khosla: Building your Initial Team 2

Vinod Khosla is the founder of Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. His firm invests in experimental technologies such as biomedicine and robotics. Khosla co-founded computer hardware firm Sun Microsystems in 1982 with Andy Bechtolsheim, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy. He spent 18 years at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (now called Kleiner Perkins) before launching his own fund.

We have noticed that there is a really strong network effect when you adopt the strategy of only hiring really great people. What’s your take on this?

An incredible network effect that’s seldom recognized. I’ll give you an example. I was talking about this particular company, the first four people they've hired, and we are talking about a really great person. I said, I’m not going to send him to them, because I look dumb in front of him, because I sent him to these tactical people. You wouldn't want to be interviewed by those people.  

With that strong network effect, how do you bootstrap?

Initial hiring is way more important than you think because of its multiplicative effect. So it's worth taking a little longer when you hire those people. You may pay them more in equity. That might be fair.. When we hired Andy Bechtolsheim and Bill oy, they were magnets for all sorts of people.

What's your feelings about remote and distributed teams?

Remote teams are hard to manage, but I don't invest because people have distributed teams or remote teams. You have to be doubly committed to keep a uniform culture. What makes it really hard is if the remote team is all junior people. So if the leaders in the remote team don't have credibility in the main team, then you're going to have a very hard time making it work, or keep the best people in the remote team, because they won't be motivated, because they don't feel part of it.

What are some of the irrational behaviors of investors, and how do you decide if you're missing out?

Investors really aren’t rational. When you say, if you're missing out, that's an emotion, not rational. I always say, keep in mind, investors only have two emotions; fear and greed. You know it.  So confidence in the team that matters more than anything else in getting your money. A very important question I’ll ask is for the next three people or the three most important people you're hiring in the next year. It’s not who they’re hiring, it’s how they're thinking about what they need. What that will mean for years two, three and four in terms of the teams, is for me, a way more important question than your financial forecast. But you have to keep in mind that most investors are emotional. When they're taking longer and longer and ask you more due diligence questions, the due diligence doesn't matter, they’re just fearful. So you got to say, how do I get the confidence up, it's not just answering their questions, which you’ll have to do.  

Typically, how long do you think it takes for most people before they feel like they know whether they're in or out?

There really isn't an answer for that. It's the dynamic you create. For really great teams, you really decide within hours whether you're going to invest or not. The due diligence is largely irrelevant. If it’s really uncertain areas, there are many things. If Twitter was starting up today, how do you do diligence? How do you know what’s the market? You just say, what confidence do I have in this person, and how rich is this opportunity space. Those are the only questions you can answer. You're not going to research the answers, use your best judgment. 

Others actually take serious diligence. At the seed stage, most things don't take a lot of diligence. So it's mostly in between, for most good investors. The people who are not that great as investors actually think they can diligence and don't know what's diligence and what's not. On your side, when you're writing, you're doing your spreadsheets, you know you're making shit. You know the answer and you just put the assumptions to be answered. Great thing about spreadsheets is you can hide all your assumptions. 

What do you think about solo founders versus co-founders?

I actually don't have a view one way or another. What matters is not what percentage you own, but the probability of success. If your expected value is ownership percentage in terms of probability of success, the far bigger variable to get far less attention is the probability of success. I always say, if you look at the risks in your business, adding more talent can increase the probability of success, then don't worry about the ownership percentage. 

I’ll give you a very real example. When my son did his startup, I had him keep a 60% pool. Nobody heard about it. But then he called the VP of engineering of Quora, and said, do you want to be my co-founder?  He said, no. To give you a sense, he was a fresh graduate out of Stanford. But you’d never get somebody like that, as a co-founder, but because if he had this school, he was able to attract somebody and that guy Shavia, is a great guy. He was head of machine learning for Netflix, and then became VP of engineering of Quora. The first three people he hired were three really valuable people in AI, they were old men making seven-digit salaries, and left to join a startup at 150K or whatever the salary was. Why? Because they got enough confidence. My son was able to give them 3-4%.

So now they have. So they’re just battling for somebody, somebody who is a great machine learning guy from Apple. His other offers are like seven-digit offers. He was one of the co-authors on the GAN paper with Ian Goodfellow. The guy called him and said, I looked at your team and I want to talk to you. Now, the other people all are offering really high salaries, so I don't know whether he went with them. But you got a chance because people looked at who you have, and the best people want to join. You have to work harder to get it going, but that's how I would answer the co-founder question. By the way, even at Sun, Bill Joy didn't join initially. Six months later, we just called him a co-founder. Hey, you’re going to be an attractive enough magnet, let's just call you co-founder. It doesn't matter.  

This, I’m very proud of. Sun was very successful. But after the first 15 or 20 people that we hired, Eric Schmidt was in the first 15, became CEO of Google. Carol Bartz was in the first 15, she became CEO of Yahoo. At least a dozen companies worth more than a billion dollars were started by the first 15 people at Sun. I was 25 when we started. I only wanted to hire really smart people, who shouldn't normally want to work with me.  That's the way to do it. But it paid off.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.

Vinod Khosla: Building your Initial Team 1

Vinod Khosla is the founder of Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. His firm invests in experimental technologies such as biomedicine and robotics. Khosla cofounded computer hardware firm Sun Microsystems in 1982 with Andy Bechtolsheim, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy. He spent 18 years at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (now called Kleiner Perkins) before launching his own fund.

If you had to pick the single most common mistake that young startups make, what would it be?

Let me explain the process of building a big company, assuming that's the goal. It's like you’re trying to climb Mount Everest, but nobody ever got to the top of Mount Everest without going to Basecamp first, and then camp one, camp two, camp three. The other thing you notice; you look at the route to Mount Everest and it is not a straight line. I always say “be obstinate about your wishes, be flexible about your tactics”. Tactics are about zigging and zagging, but vision is about where you want to get to.

What if the vision is wrong?

You can adjust the vision along the way. That happens often. Here's the single biggest problem: a company doesn't depend on the plan you make. A company becomes the people you’ve hired, not the plan you make. This is hard to believe, but almost always true. I think the first 10 or 15 people you hire dramatically changes the probability of what you become. 

People don't think in these terms. The hard part, in this way related to Mount Everest, is getting to the base camp where the first few zigs and zags are very tactical. You might say, let me just hire a coder or somebody who can call customers and do sales. But once you have enough of those people, you may not have the team to go after the vision. So this split personality between worrying about the vision, worrying about the day to day tactics, and hiring for both is the single largest mistake I’ve seen.

We were just talking about a company that started about six months ago. They have hired five or six people. The first five people they've hired are low-level technical people who are there just to get the tasks done. I actually don't think they'll be able to hire the people they need for the bigger vision because people on the outside look at who they will be joining. It's really the hardest decision to make: how practical to be, how strategic to be. I always say, in hiring, be strategic with people who can be tactical because they can do a lot more when the time comes. It’s okay if they can just call for me, or do customer support for a while. After getting past the first few zig-zags, these are the people that will help build the company’s vision.

The right personality is in people who know they can do a lot more, know the vision, are into the vision, but are willing to do everything. So all of you probably recognize that characteristic, but the implications of hiring the wrong, tactical-only people comes two years later, three years later, because you can’t hire the people you need for the life vision, and because you can't scale. Everybody knows what to hire in a VP of engineering or a VP of marketing. The question I always ask is, this VP of engineering you’re hiring, will he or she make your VP of marketing better? 

Nobody asks that question, but it is the single most important question I ask. What kind of questions would you ask the marketing person? The VP of engineering may not know what makes a great marketing person, probably doesn't, but knows the right kinds of questions to ask. He’ll tell you a lot about the VP of engineering operating outside their domain, and also how they might add to this evolution of strategy of the company, which is what we are referring to.   

Do you have some advice about how to build up a quality enterprise sales team?

Yes. On our website, there are two documents I'd suggest companies at this stage absolutely look at One is called ‘’Team Building,’’ and the other one is called ‘’Gene pool engineering for entrepreneurs’’. Unlikely you’ll just be asked about hiring great people, which anybody can tell you, but it's not actionable, because I don't know of anybody who says they try and hire not-great people. It is specifically thinking about what your risks are and how your engineered gene pool is, who you're hiring to go after your risks. Those two documents are worth looking at. 

Then I would say, hiring each functional person is very different. Actually, sales is much easier to hire and fire than marketing. Here's the reason why. A salesperson is a very tactical person, and the best sales guys don't want high salary, they want high commission. If they don't meet their quota, you don't pay them. If they do meet their quota, you're happy to pay them a lot. 

In the early days of Sun, all the sales guys always made more money than anybody else in the company, because they were animals and you just want them to be that. If they weren’t, they left because they had very low base salaries. These people would do much better at IBM or DEC, because they had a high base and low commission. We purposefully made it very low base and high commission. The best guys had so much confidence in themselves. They’re just self-selected.  

Is it really that easy? You just change the comp and then suddenly you have a team full of winners?

Yes, comp works for sales people. Marketing is different, we can’t do that, we need much more cerebral people, who think more deeply about the short term and the long term. That's much harder. Marketing is harder than just about any other function. If you call somebody at Google, and say, ‘’Hey, you’re VP of Marketing for YouTube or something, help me recruit this person,’’ they don't have a clue on how to hire a marketing person for a startup. Here's why, what marketing people do mostly is make what I call maintenance marketing. You're selling widgets, you’re selling trucks, you're selling cars, you're selling clothes. 

What marketing people do is incremental. Everything is defined. The marketing people are essentially doing maintenance marketing. An ad campaign here, a press release there. What startups have to do is figure out from scratch what's a new way to sell, what's the new positioning for them. It's like starting from ground zero. So startup marketing people have to be almost experimentalists in every sense of the word, clever and out-of-the-box thinkers. 

Those are not the characteristics in bigger companies, where people have done marketing for an established product. It’s so different than marketing for a startup, where you're trying to find leverage, you're trying to find a new product market fit. In fact, that evolutionary product design, like, oh, we're doing this, but this thing looks incredible, let's just try that. That's where products evolve in startups and good marketing people are that agile. They don't have long term marketing plans; they don't have PR agencies. Any startup that wants to hire an agency is generally a bad sign. I hate startups hiring agencies because it means they don't understand their product. 

If not agencies, where do you find these mythical people?

They’re usually in other startups. But sometimes, you'll find engineers in your own organizations who are just asking great questions. I find really good startup marketing people are just people who think from first principles, as opposed to people who think from tradition, like this is how press releases are done, this is how ad campaigns are done. Good marketing people are first principles thinkers. Generally, one of the other mistakes is to say, if you're selling retail, let's find somebody from retail. 

When I have to choose between domain expertise and better thinking, I’ve always picked better thinking for that function. Interestingly for CFO, I picked domain expertise, because their job is much more linear. So my point is, sales is different than marketing is different than finance. Each one requires you to have this art of saying what's the right way to think about this person. In these papers, I actually define if you're hiring for a position that you've never worked in, how do you go about hiring. You should read this. They’re on our website for a reason. Meant to be a resource to all entrepreneurs, whether in our portfolio or not.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.


An Interview with Nikolaus Volk, Co-Founder, KYTE

Team KYTE: Ludwig Schoenack, Nikolaus Volk, Francesco Wiedemann

Nikolaus graduated from Technische Universität München with a BSc. in Engineering Science. He then went on to pursue a MSc. in Engineering at Stanford University. He worked at Uber as a machine learning engineer, where he built large scale (ML) systems and infrastructure on top of sensor and location data. In 2019, he co-founded KYTE with Francesco Wiedemann and Ludwig Schoenack, where he serves as the Technical Leader.

What does KYTE bring to the marketplace that wasn't already prevalent?

We allow customers to rent a car for a day, a couple of days or weeks. We're completely redefining the experience of how people rent vehicles. For our customers, we make renting a car as easy as ordering an Uber just with the press of a button because the car comes straight to your door.

KYTE doesn't really define itself as a car-sharing or car-rental company, since you don't own the cars. How does your model work?

Yes, that's correct. We are a technology and logistics platform. We virtualize the supply from car-rental companies, dealerships or directly from auto manufacturers. We work with these fleet professionals because they are really good in what they are doing with respect to buying and selling vehicles. And we are building what we are good at: customer experience, distribution, technology, product etc. For our suppliers we are building what we call cloud-fleet infrastructure to make these vehicles then easily deployable to any demand.

Can you tell us about your journey before starting KYTE? What was your motivation for building up KYTE? 

We have been observing a lot of what's going on in this space. The three of us realized that ride-hailing has developed over the last couple of years, scooters have transformed micro-mobility, and the car-rental space, in our opinion, was the last missing piece of the entire mobility landscape, where we identified a large gap in terms of a) user and product experience and b) supplier needs.

Personally, I used to work for Uber as a machine learning engineer for a couple of years. I was always really fascinated in dealing with the physical and the digital world, how to basically make the physical world smarter, more intelligent and more efficient. At Uber we called that working with  “Bits and Atoms”. And my two co-founders were also in the transportation space: Francesco on the product side for BMW, he was developing mobility experiences for the end consumer. And Ludwig developed large automotive strategies as a consultant for McKinsey.

How did you meet your other co-founders?                              

Francesco and I met during undergrad study together. We have known each other for more than 10 years now. Ludwig and I met through his (now) wife a couple of years ago in San Francisco and pretty quickly concluded we can (and should) build a company in this space together. The three of us are all German, so that’s another common factor I guess.

How did you assign roles to each co-founder? How did you distribute the work amongst yourselves?

We are very lucky that we all have very different and complementing skill sets while shill sharing the same traits and principles for running and building a company - I think this is very rare. In general, when building a team and assigning roles, it always comes down to maximizing value for the company and ensuring that everyone can bring in their best side to the table. It is important to have very clear functional titles, not in terms of C-level or hierarchy, but more in terms of ownership or responsibilities. All three of us have very different skills and backgrounds. Francesco has great product intuition and understands the user’s perspective. He is the natural product lead. I am much more a tech person with a focus on software, backend, optimization and analytics. I love running highly efficient technology teams. Ludwig, given his consulting background, his MBA, his ability to understand people and find best possible business outcomes is the perfect fit to run both the operational side of the business and to deal with all of our suppliers, which are essentially the engine of our business.

What do you think, out of all your experiences, has prepared you the best for your current role in the company?

The high speed at Uber is definitely one of the biggest influencers for me, and also for us. What I mean by that is the capability or drive and push the needle and move incredibly fast and aggressive. Just by having this mindset in terms of how to build things and how to scale, we think we can actually capture market share very quickly. But for obvious reasons we all bring very unique and valuable skill sets and experiences to the table that in sum define how we run the company.

What is the most challenging thing you’ve faced at KYTE so far?

I think it's keeping the focus on a few things to work on. It’s so easy to get distracted because there are always 500,000 things that we could work on all the time. We have tons of ideas, and there are all these different directions that we could explore, and that could all make sense, but given limited resources and limited capital, we really need to keep the focus. It's by far the most challenging thing, but I think in probably any startup and this is not particular to us.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for you at KYTE? What is the one bottleneck that you're trying to fix right now to get to your maximum potential?

At scale, in order to ensure scalable and massive vehicle supply will require hard work, really hard Business Development and superior technology and excellent performance. On the other side, for right now, we’re a consumer facing company, which means there's an entire consumer marketing side to it. Really nailing the product-channel-market fit, i.e. which customers we acquire via which channels with what specific messages and value propositions, and the specific channel mix that is scalable is hard, but probably for any consumer startup.

What made you transition from an engineering role or from other roles that you could have gotten straight out of academia to build a startup?

I was always somebody who wanted to build and ship things very quickly. Kyte gives me the chance to actually have real impact, ship tangible products and go with a pace which is impossible in a bigger organization.

What would be the most valuable thing you learned at Alchemist? How was your experience there generally?

The most fruitful experiences always had to do with the people at Alchemist. Looking back, the level of how Ravi, Ash, Danielle and the rest of  the crew helped us push through the tough times. They also had a lot of patience with us. We essentially created the company within Alchemist. They were amongst the first believers and amongst the people who motivated us, gave us energy and spread the love for Kyte. Another thing to highlight is the advisors there. I am sure they did a great job with all the companies, but I feel like particularly for us, a bunch of the Alchemist advisors had a very significant impact on the company. We are very grateful for them.

For future Alchemist accelerator batches, what would you have done differently in order to maximize what you’ve gained out of Alchemist?

We definitely gained a lot. However, if we could do something differently we’d probably be even more thoughtful about how we choose advisors and how we worked with them. We could have tried to better understand how they could have an impact, and then how to best utilize them to get the most value from our time with them.

What entrepreneurial lesson took you the longest to learn or you're still learning? What would you say is the best advice you've gotten regarding entrepreneurship that you've taken and implemented?

It goes back to what I said before, you always have to force yourself to keep the focus and not get distracted. This is across the board. I would say this is something which I still need to remind myself of every day.

Another thing that is important is to learn to communicate the confidence in yourself, the team, your company, and your product when you go out there and pitch advisors, investors or candidates. It takes some time to be good in switching quickly from “problem solving” mode (when you need to be critical, challenge your assumptions and reflect) to “selling mode” as we always call it, but it's very necessary. 

One more thing to add is the power of story. That probably gets underrated or undervalued a lot. The story is such a powerful thing in general. The story needs to be something that you really believe in and then you need to go out and convince others that you can make this story happen. The best stories are the ones where people first don’t believe it’s possible but then you convince them that you are the one that is gonna make it actually happen.

What constitutes success for you in the center of the startup? What would you consider to be a successful outcome and how would you determine that?

First of all, the center of the startup are obviously the people, the entire team. I strongly believe in the people first, then products, then profits hierarchy. And for us as a team, success means creating value in some way. A successful outcome is building a massive company (or at least having the continuous ambition to do so and building something that has the potential to be massive).

Do you have any insights that you want to share to the next generation of founders?

First, focus on the problem and then build a business out of that. Do not put too much focus on fundraising early on. That will come naturally if you put the right attention on the problem, the product and team at the beginning. If you do join Alchemist, make sure to involve the Alchemist crew to a fair degree early on as that definitely helped us tremendously. Also mingle and spend time with the broader Alchemist community, your current batch and other batches. It’s quite a powerful family and network when you know you are going through this together and help each other out.

Do you have any insights regarding the mobility landscape?

It’s an all-or-nothing kind of market. It's highly competitive, and has gotten very hyped over the last couple of years. However, the beautiful thing about that market, about transportation in general, is still: if you get it right, it can be really massive.


About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.