Interview with Deb Noller, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Switch Automation

Deb Noller is a dynamic leader who brings more than 20 years’ experience in technology, sustainability and commercial real estate to her role as CEO of the Switch Automation team. She helps large enterprises apply technology for more efficient business operations, resulting in millions of dollars in cost savings for Fortune 100 companies. Deb loves cycling, strong coffee and mentoring young women in the tech industry.

What does Switch bring to the marketplace?

We are the first enterprise-wide platform for digitizing buildings. Most products in the market tackle buildings on a building-by-building basis. Switch offers scalable technology that lets people take a holistic view of their buildings and get everything under a single pane of glass.

What was your motivation while building Switch?

Frankly, buildings are an incredibly wasteful resource on the planet. I grew up in New Zealand in the seventies, and I value and appreciate the environment I had when I was a child. Buildings use 40 percent of the world's energy. Half of that - 20 percent of the world's energy - is used for heating and cooling. We could easily save 30 percent of the energy used to heat and cool buildings. And we could save six percent of the world’s energy if we just paid attention.

I’m fascinated by bringing efficiency to the industry.

What do you think is the most challenging thing you're facing at Switch?

It’s definitely the market. We are in one of the biggest and oldest markets. Real estate is the largest industry on the planet, but it’s also one of the last industries to be transformed by technology. The people involved in real estate are not familiar with how to buy technology, so a lot of people are trying out pilots. This causes both start-ups and established proptech companies in the space to burn time and money.  

The biggest challenge is determining how we can make the market move faster. To do so, we have to educate the market.

Can you tell me a little more about your background before starting Switch?

I studied national park management in the eighties, then later did a bachelor of commerce with a major in computer science. I met my co-founder, John Darlington, when we were both programmers. We started our first business in the nineties which handled logistics and freight tracking for large mining companies and became incredibly successful.

John and I were later introduced to building products and building automation because somebody was bringing a product into Australia, and it couldn't control the Australian lighting systems.

Out of all of your experience, what do you think best prepared you for your current role?

The first business that John and I created was a labor-based model. From this experience I learned very quickly and very early on that a labor-based model is not scalable. Later on, I looked at all the real estate markets and I noticed that most of the services have labor-based models. 

I also learned early on that you can use technology to have a digital business model. This allows you to grow a scalable business and go global. With technology and a digital business model, you can deliver a better experience and provide a better service while also producing higher margins and achieving higher levels of engagement with your customers. I’m fascinated by the concept of growing a global business using technology. When I look at real estate, I see an enormous opportunity to do exactly that.

Going back to the first day of working on your startup, what advice would you give yourself?

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient. Take good care of yourself. Take good care of your family and your friends. No matter how much work you do, it's your family and friends that we have backing us up, so make sure to look after them.

What entrepreneurial lesson took you the longest to learn?

Technical founders find it difficult to learn the rigor around the sale. Learning to accept that half of sales is a science and building a sales team is extremely challenging. I have built a sales team three times, and it’s been difficult every time - though  this may be a result of the market Switch in.

What constitutes success for you, personally?

Success to me means having an impact. When we get our technology into tens of thousands of buildings and it becomes the global standard for how people manage buildings, then I will consider Switch Automation successful.

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

Resilience is key. If you do not have resilience, give up now. You could get a nice job with good pay. There are many startups that will value your wisdom and skills.

Without resilience, you will not be successful.

Do you have any insights for the next generation of entrepreneurs who are specifically working in your space?

Give up now... or take the resilience that any typical entrepreneur should have, and multiply it by 100.

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.


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.


“From the Courtroom to the Conference Room” An interview with Mike Burshteyn, CEO, CryptoMove

As CryptoMove's Founder & CEO, Mike Burshteyn drives all company business strategy and execution. Before starting CryptoMove with his father, Boris, Mike was a cybercrime and data protection attorney. At Perkins Coie he worked with leading technology companies like Google, Uber, Amazon, and Microsoft, as well as startups in hypergrowth, on data privacy, security, intellectual property, and computer crimes. Mike was the #1 ranked college debater in America at UC Berkeley.

What does CryptoMove bring to the marketplace?

CryptoMove protects data with continuous fragmentation and moving target defense. Current data protection methods leave sensitive data, keys, and secrets as an easy stationary target at rest. CryptoMove’s key vault product is all about protecting authentication tokens, API keys, application secrets, SSH keys for cloud services, and secrets for containers and Kubernetes. Developers who do cloud native development or use cloud services, today, find it difficult to manage keys and secrets at scale. CryptoMove has this revolutionary technology that can help to solve those challenges.

If you're working with cloud services, if you're working with containers, an effective secrets management tool like CryptoMove can increase your speed of development, make life easier for developers, and also provide additional security.

What was your motivation while building up CryptoMove? What was your drive pushing you forward?

It all started with my co-founder and our CTO, Boris. He invented this technology. For decades during his career he was building distributed systems and he was always thinking about how to do that more efficiently and more effectively. Thinking about the question of “what happens if encryption fails” led Boris to developing CryptoMove. When he needed a business partner, that's when I ended up quitting my job and joining in. By the way, we are a family business — my co-founder is actually my dad. TL;DR: my dad invented this technology and needed help with the business so I jumped in.

What do you think is the most challenging thing you're facing at CryptoMove?

That's a great question. There are so many challenges with a startup all the time. I think that right now the biggest challenge that we are facing is this idea of how do you scale the organization. We've been experiencing a lot of growth: new customers, new users, new team members. Every time that you experience significant growth in the company it seems like everything has to get rebuilt in terms of the processes, whatever everyone is working on and whatever everyone is focused on. Being able to do that rapidly and in a way that maintains a really high standard for execution is a big challenge.

Can you tell me a little more about your background before starting CryptoMove?

I grew up in the Bay Area and my parents are both software engineers. They used to work at all kinds of startups and tech companies. When the dot-com bubble burst, I remember asking my parents “where did the traffic go?” because all the roads cleared up. So, I kind of grew up around tech. I ended up in college at Cal - most of my time was spent on the debate team,  where we were ranked number one in America. We would research all sorts of different topics and actually one of the things that I researched quite heavily was cybersecurity and data protection. After college, I ended up working at a startup. It was a great opportunity to learn a little bit about all the different ups and downs and parts of the startup, and I ended up starting my own ecommerce business focused on debate research for students, which was fun.

Soon after college, I ended up going to law school and became an attorney. As a lawyer, I ended up in this practice group at Perkins Coie doing data security, cyber crime, intellectual property, litigation, and privacy. We were working for technology companies, startups, big ones, small ones. I had a lot of exposure to cleaning up messes, such as API keys improperly checked into GitHub. Now, coincidentally, CryptoMove’s product is meant to avoid that. Meanwhile, my dad was working on CryptoMove in stealth, prototyping it. We were helping with the patents and standard legal work. What he really needed, though, was a business partner. So I went to my bosses at the law firm and they encouraged me to take the leap. That was about 3 years ago.

Out of all of your experience, what do you think best prepared you for your current role?

I don't necessarily think any one thing prepared me. Frankly, every day and every challenge we encounter is something new and unique. It’s all about being flexible. My approach is generally to try to learn as much as possible from people around me. There seem to be a lot of startups where founders knew they wanted to start a company and they took a very deliberate path towards doing that. In the case of CryptoMove, it kind of just happened and wasn’t necessarily our plan. We're just trying to do the best we can, taking advantage of opportunities.

Going back to the first day of working on your startup, what advice would you give yourself?

Apply to the Alchemist Accelerator, which we actually did. Not on the first day, but a couple weeks afterward. I would definitely do that again. I would just try to iterate as rapidly as possible. I think that's something that I would say could benefit any startup. Create a hypothesis, test it quickly, and iterate and move on. CryptoMove today, our product, our go to market strategy, everything about the company, could not have been predicted 3 years ago. It took a process of rapid iteration. That’s been really important.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from Alchemist?

Alchemist was huge for CryptoMove and for a lot of companies in our class. We were first time founders and even though we had a lot of startup experience, we had never raised VC funding. Alchemist set us up for our first investor, Tim Draper and Draper Associates. We met at an Alchemist Investor Feedback Summit. Alchemist set us up with our first customer, which was the Department of Homeland Security via a scouting program they had, that led them to look at Alchemist start ups. Just working with Danielle, Ravi, Ash, and everyone helped give us the building blocks of the common pitfalls that you face in a startup. Even now, Danielle is an observer on our board. We have continued to work closely with Alchemist. Across the board it was really valuable to us.

If you could do Alchemist again what would you do differently?

I think that there are things that we did while we were in Alchemist that in retrospect we shouldn’t have done. For instance, we spent a lot of time going to a bunch of pitch events with corporations. In some cases they were helpful but there is a lot of corporate innovation tourism that is easy to get sucked into. When we were working on our product and asking users for feedback, that was the most valuable thing. In many cases, corporate innovation teams are just cycling through Silicon Valley almost like they are at a zoo. It’s a common pitfall for a startup, especially at that early stage. When you meet with big companies you think you can get a big contract with them, but in reality they’re just enjoying the scenery and taking some notes on startups. Alchemist calls this “corporate tourism.” Just to take note of what really qualifies a lead and whether there is corporate innovation tourism going on can save a lot of wasted cycles.

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

I think that there are different lessons for different people. For me one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make is that in a startup there are ups and downs every single day. Especially as the company gets bigger, you could have massive wins in one area and fires in another area happening simultaneously. You can’t ride that emotional rollercoaster. Also, since I was a lawyer and I was a litigator, I was doing a very specific type of work that required being extremely aggressive, either defending client interests or going after cyber criminals. There’s a shift in style. There definitely was an adjustment period. I can’t write long emails anymore and definitely don’t check all my punctuation. Obviously, you can’t negotiate a business deal the same way you negotiate a settlement in a lawsuit.

What constitutes success for you, personally?

For me, for my co-founder, and I think, for everyone at work, success at CryptoMove means different things for different people. But, we all are excited about what we’re doing, about building a new product from scratch. Take CryptoMove’s technology, this idea of moving target defense and moving target data protection, which no one has ever heard of before. People think it's crazy when they first hear about it. We’ve got this really innovative technology, patented globally, that is really changing how organizations such as our government and military protects its data. That is exciting. In some ways success is being able to do it for another day, because it means we’re growing. Startups are always on a fixed timeline. There's a runway. You're always trying to get to that next level. As long as we can wake up and keep doing it, we know that we're succeeding.

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

It is really great to take advantage of the Alchemist network. There are people with expertise in different areas and you can fast forward a bunch of learning by engaging with the right people. At the same time, you have to really be careful about applying advice to the specific context of your business. I think that there's so many resources, especially in the Alchemist network that can be leveraged.

Do you have any insights for the next generation of entrepreneurs who are specifically manipulating and working with data?

When it comes to data, in the security space and for security startups, it's such a crowded (and overfunded) market that it can difficult to stand out. We've done certain things, like making our product SaaS first. We really focus on our users, which are developers, devops people, security engineers, rather than just trying to sell to IT managers. It’s a very different approach than what you'll see with most security startups. In today and tomorrow’s worlds, data may very well become the most important resource—as impactful and as distributed as oil. Given this, CryptoMove’s data protection innovation via fragmentation and continuous movement and mutation is vital.

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.