Nextgenterprise - The Winning Ingredients with Alex Polvi, CEO of CoreOS

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Nextgenterprise    |    next • gen • ter • prise    |    \ˈnekst-jen-te(r)-ˌprīz\
(1) someone or something at the cutting edge of next generation enterprise technology

Our Nextgenterprise series profiles incredible founders at the cutting edge of enterprise technology. Today we’re featuring Alex Polvi, Co-founder and CEO of CoreOS, an open source operating system for Linux containers and a Y Combinator company backed by Google Ventures, Accel Partners, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

1. Why Enterprise: You can tackle any other sector, vertical, industry – yet you chose one of the hardest nuts to crack. So, why enterprise technology, for you?

In founding a startup, there are two main ingredients: domain expertise and passion for your product. These two combined are a winning mix. My first professional job involved running servers while I was an undergrad at Oregon State. From there I went to Mozilla and Google before I founded my first startup Cloudkick, which offered a server management platform. My peers and co-workers are also very familiar with and passionate about server infrastructure, so it made a lot of sense for us to build a company around it. If I had to choose between the two ingredients though, I would have to say that domain expertise is the more important of the two. There are enough odds against you in starting a company, so you want to have every advantage you can.

2. Enterprise Challenge: What’s the greatest challenge you face in selling to large enterprises and what do you and your company do to overcome this?

Balancing short term practicality against innovation - Enterprises typically fork out money for short term fixes, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to big innovations. If you’re a twenty person company getting half a million dollars from a large company, you’re going to do what they want you to do, even if you have to shut down the other grand visions you have. Enterprises really drive you to just fix the problem that’s on fire right now, but as startups, I feel that we’re also tasked with changing the world. The art of a good product is balancing these competing interests. For instance, the iPhone completely changed the world, but it still has practical features like being able to make phone calls on a legacy network.

Navigating the procurement process - Hiring people who are capable of dealing with the logistics of enterprise sales can be difficult. As a startup founder, I know the intricacies of Linux and integrated systems, but I don’t know the intricacies of procurement and enterprise agreements. Trying to learn the things you don’t know or hire people to do the things you don’t know how to do is incredibly difficult. I think places like Work-Bench, that offer guidance from people who have spent time on the other side of the procurement table, are doing a lot to bridge this gap.

3. Scaling: What is the #1 piece of advice you would tell someone starting out an enterprise company (hiring, sales, etc.)?

Hiring has been our top priority from day one, and hiring does not stop after you bring people in through the door. Hiring means building a great team and making sure that the customers are really happy. The leaders of the company need to be full-time recruiters on top of building a great product (although, you will need to eventually scale the hiring in a way that won’t place all of the responsibility on the founders).

We are in a market where money doesn’t really matter to the best people anymore. In such a market, I think there are three major components to hiring amazing people. Essentially, everyone wants to be a valued member of a winning team on an inspiring mission. As a startup founder, you have to make sure all of those things are in place.

4. If you were not a startup founder, what would you be?

When I was little, I aspired to be an armored car driver - I thought that would be pretty cool. But now, if I’m able to build hardcore technology with a great set of people that I enjoy working with and make that into a sustainable business… Well, I don’t know what else I would be doing with myself.

Do you know exceptional enterprise founders? Nominate them for our 'Nextgenterprise' series.

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