Pivots, somersaults, jaywalking.
A startup that hasn’t pivoted, doesn’t exist.
Pivots, somersaults, jaywalking – are all parts of a startup’s journey. Anyone who says otherwise haven’t told you the complete story. Luckily Isima isn’t one of those. Believe me when I say this because, folks, I have seen it all. I’ve taken and been part of companies going IPO, sold a startup to Apple, am on BODs of public companies and also moonlight as a venture partner at a VC. There are days when I describe my life as nine part-time jobs and it is fun most days. But, I digress, coming back to Isima.
We go long ways back
I have known Darshan for almost a decade. Seth Neiman, (my lead investor & partner @ Emotient) and I tried to hire him. He instead, he chose to join DataStax and build perspective to start Isima. During Isima’s incubation, he and Monish spoke with me in the summer of 2016 and I immediately saw the potential. For additional perspective and to test my thinking, I had them talk with, Seth as well. During our diligence, it became clear that their proposition was great, based on a fundamental thought, and could shake the data-cloud-edge industrial complex. However, our initial gut instinct was that the GTM seemed hard. So, we decided to pass. Yes, you heard it right, we initially passed on Isima.
Breaking the camel’s Back
It all worked for the best. Let me explain how. I kept in touch with the team. In Jan 2018, about 18 months after our initial conversations, as I continued to see these two were toughing it out, I decided to get serious. These operational executives had graduated as entrepreneurs. I say this because for the first time I saw them ‘park their darling’ (without losing the zeal), to solve the problem that the market was begging them to deliver today. In a brainstorming session we had a light bulb go off on how tweaking the product direction could impact the GTM fit. This was my last straw, and I decided to join them as their Chairman to guide them on GTM aspects of an enterprise sale. As we worked through looking for seed funding, I saw them build a product, a team on their own dime, before raising seed round with Engineering Capital. Few folks I have interacted with my career have shown this level of commitment (going 24 months without a traditional job) to the cause, especially when they have young families to feed and mortgages to pay.
Within 3 BOD meetings after seed funding, they signed up credible customers, up-sold them, and got bi(OS)™ into production. Everything was happening by the textbook from a BOD perspective, and we decided it was time to raise a Series-A. This is where their next quality shines – flexibility on the approach towards their goal. While we were nine months away from the planned fund-raise, they hustled to get behind the BOD’s decision and prepared to hit Sand Hill road again. Seeing what I had seen, I put my credibility behind them whole-heartedly and advocated their case at Sway. Over multiple rounds of thoughtful discussions between the GPs at Sway – Bill Malloy, Brian Nugent, Najib Khouri-Haddad – and the founders’, things started to line up. As in the seed round, I saw them think strategically for the long term and choose Sway as a partner. The fact that this is the largest capital infusion Sway has done to date for a Series A, should say enough about how much conviction we at Sway have about Isima. As both the GPs and the founders felt I was a critical link to realize the full potential of Isima, I happily sat in the role of Series A board director.
While being the CEO of Emotient, a company founded on machine/deep learning (AI), there is one key lesson I’ve learned – it’s all about the data and data management. The algorithm is academic. Dealing with messy data, conducting accurate experiments, is real life. So when I experienced bi(OS)™ in production, essentially demonstrating the ability enable the masses to adopt AI/ML without requiring academic perfection, I see the birth of a new persona within an enterprise – data tinkerers. No more looking up to silicon-valley for perfection, data innovation can come from anywhere – by a startup in Pune or an IT department in Pittsburg. In bi(OS)™ they have the same partner that the technology pioneers have within their technology teams.
Where do we go from here?
In a word, Up. The market is coming to bi(OS)™. Or said slightly differently, Isima is skating to where the puck is going to be. These two aren’t your typical startup founders in their 20’s with technology bravado driving the adrenaline rush; although one would be hard pressed to find two more credible technologists within the noisy make-beliefs of Silicon Valley. They are thoughtful, pragmatic, but undeniably ambitious to leave a mark on what is a once-in a 25-year disruption. This makes their journey worthwhile and I am thrilled to be part of the team.
build different™. be different™.
Read perspectives from my fellow partners in this journey here, here and here.