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The Founder Formula
The Founder Formula

Episode · 3 years ago

Phil Tee, Founder Moogsoft - How to Maintain your Tech Startup’s Ethos as you Scale

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Today’s guest is Phil Tee, Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Moogsoft. In this one, Phil tells the story of Moogsoft’s name, why he intentionally tries to make the company’s culture different than other tech startups around San Francisco, and how he’s managed to keep the ethos of the company intact after several years. 

“There’s a fantastic line from a Cat Stevens song: you may be still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not. You’ve got to keep the dream alive.”

There's a fantastic line from a cat stephens song. You may still be here tomorrow, but you dreams may not. You've got to keep the dream alive. The founder Formula Brings you in behind the curtains and inside the minds of today's brave executives at the most future leaning startups. Each interview will feature a transformative leader who's behind the wheel at a fast paced and innovative tech firm. They'll give you an insiders look and how companies are envisioned, created and scaled. We hope you're ready. Let's get into the show. Hey, mark, super excited today we are back and we have another exciting guest. Yeah, I'm a very privileged to have this next guest on our show. We've got filthy, who's the CO founder, Charemers CEO of Moosoft, but that's that's kind of a little bit of an under cell. He's got a string of others, startups that these that he's had going back to the late eighteen hundreds and where he's put together some amazing technology companies, and we'll dig a little bit into that. But Phil, Hey, welcome to the show. Well, it's a great pleasure to be invited and great to talk thank you very much for for bringing me along. Yeah, absolutely. Hey, for a little bit of context for our listeners, sure tell us a little bit about moves off and about your other startups, kind of what they do and why you started. Sure so, for one reason or another, I've had an affinity with the service assurance space for a very long time, going all the way back through to having co founded a company called Micromeus and wrotor product call net call, which is pretty well known if you worry about fult management and for monitoring in large Gal enterprise situations. So move soft is no different to that. And you know, after Micromus, that another one with river...

...soft, and I've been sort of continually fascinated by this problem of how do you know if you are monitoring, whether or not you are delivering a service and a customer experience that is acceptable to your digital services? The reason why I'm doing it all over again, but apart from the fact that you know, running companies are starting companies is fun, is that the business that we do changes when the nature of how people build digital services changes, and that is absolutely happened in the last ten years with the mass arrival of cloud, of containerisation, virtualization in every strike, and it means that you have to take an approach that is very different and in the context of moves off today it's about using artificial intelligence to automate the process of detecting faults, remediate theating faults for large enterprises. And really that's the space we call Alps, the moves off plays into, which is growing very fast. It's very exciting. It's a very new area and you know, we're just loving life building another what is hopefully at scale, you know, big company and value partner to all of these big enterprises at it now. That's perfect and we certainly enjoyed the relationship we've had with moves after over the years, watching things grow, a lot of the collaboration we've been doing and certainly the customer response we've got back. That is from whatever it's worth. You guys are scratching the Itch, but there must have been a point in your career where you were sitting down and you said, Hey, I think it would be a good decision for me to give up my paycheck and quit the day job and go out roll the dice on a start up. Can you tell me a little bit about kind of that decision and what made you jump off the cliff. Yeah, it's a funny one, that is because, you know, oftentimes I do get asked the question, you know, how do you start a company or what's it like to be an entrepreneur? And I think it's sort of...

...a deal of creative ignorance is is necessary. I actually remember the day very, very, very well when I stopped having a proper job, quotes UN quotes. You know, walked into what was a very nice company, I was working for, very secure job. You know, enjoyed my job, enjoyed my colleagues and signed and I drove the twenty or thirty miles back to where I was living in London at the time. And this is weird feeling of elation and sitement and anticipation that kind of filled with and almost like a feeling of really being part of the enterprise world as opposed to just a cog in the wheel. But I think what made me do it was plain old, simple, dumb, stupid arrogance. In a sense, I thought I could do a better job of building the tools to help people monitor systems than the company that I was working for. I thought they were missing the very obvious point about how people wanted to consume these products. And, you know, curiosity and you know, ignorance of the risks involved. Inside I'd know what you really meant start a company. When I when I got off the ground, sort of led me to have a go. And you know, several decades later, you know, I still don't count myself as having a proper job, if you like, in the sense of, you know, having to you know, outsource the worry of putting, you know, a paycheck at the end of the month. You know, I love the cut and thrust of building as something without the end of a safety in Itt and certainly it takes a lot of creativity and insight to kind of spot that gap a that, you know, the company, I'm out is not actually solving the problem. There's nobody out there that's actually addressing this properly. But what in your background do you think when you looked in the mirror you said, hey, that's the guy that's going to do this. What in your background made you believe that you could actually accomplish this? So I was the large pot bought up in a corner shop. My Dad had again a very good...

...job which he left to run what ended up being a stringer corner shops, and I always remember him saying to me, when I was a young teenager, said you know, remember one thing, son. It doesn't matter who you work for, they're an idiot, so you may as well know the idiot really well. So there you go. I guess I probably entrepreneurs and was part of the part of the daily life. I think that's great. You mentioned your father's influence. What did your family think when you said he guess what, I think I might give this a give this a go. Well, the thought I was mad. They you know, we asked all of the normal questions, like when you know how you're going to hey, you going to pay yourself? You know what's you have you really thought this through? Fil you know you have this kind of Nice wallpaid job. You seem to be sort of doing pretty well for yourself. Has it or going to work out? But you know, I think that they knew that I was adventurous. I guess by nature I had a tendency of doing things that they didn't do. I came from a very ordinary background. I was the first one of five to get a university and to kind of give you a bit of a feel for it. You know, here I am sat in San Francisco, six thousand five hundred and thirty five miles away from where I was born and brought up. My other four siblings all live within ten miles of what was the original family home. So, you know, I guess there were kind of used to me sort of doing the outline, I think, but I know that family pays a big, you know roll, certainly with Moostaft. Could you relate the naming of moves up now? The name came about? So we love cows at home and you know there's a there's a sort of an apocable story about a bet on name of the company after a can. But it was certainly the case that when we when we got the company off the ground, there was a family conversation around, you know,...

...having going to name the company, of what we're going to do, and we decided to kind of, you know, take this kind of family affection, if you like, for cow themed characters and turn it into the moos original move soft head and the moves offt name, of course, is Moo. Right. The noise of car makes followed by Gusoft, the girl, because we didn't want to spend the money on the moodcom or the mouse off, which was very expensive url. But now that it was it was choose a name that kind of encapsulated the you know, the the support that I get from my faci name. You know, I look at the logo, it's that's slightly cheesy. You know, I feel the support that I get at home for what it is that I have to do, which, you know, is at least as big a sacrifice for them as it as it is for me, and it makes me feel good. But you know, the other thing about as well is is Moksoft is a friendly company and the atmosphere that, you know, I like to encourage in the office is a welcoming and, you know, an assuring place for people where they can bring their creativities in their efforts. And I think there slightly tilted curious looking cowhead, the funny name, the fact that we move a lot in the office kind of sort of goes to underline that company with a serious purpose but enjoying themselves doing it at the same time. Yeah, fill this. This is tied. You guys definitely separate yourselves from other kind of Silicon Valley it startups in that regard, much, much more softer, approachable company. So, you know, mission accomplished. For sure. They're glad to hear it because, you know, the one thing that I would hate is, you know, to put up barriers between yourself and what you need to hear from from your customers, from your employees, from your partners. You know, you need to be approachable, otherwise you just going to create an information wark. Yeah, you know, well done. It's fascinating as I listen to you know, going all the way from the UK out here to San Francisco,...

...and I have a bunch of questions around that, but one that's that's really pertinent. As you come all all the way out here you have to start a company. How did you pick the rest of your team, the founding members of the group? So Mike, my cofounder, and I go way back. We were involved all through micromus and Riversoft in one form shape or another. We've known each other for a very long time and Mike is Somebody with whom, you know, I have total trust and confidence and you know, he is ultimately the one individual with whom I can shut the door and have any conversation with about how I feel about life, universe and everything in the company is specific and it's important to have in your fanning team people like that that you can say that about. But it wasn't just then. They're also, you know, the early, if you like, the first six or seven people that joined. We sometimes talk about the founding for because there were two other engineers that you know we're working for us within a month or two of the company existing, and they were both people that we'd work with before as well. So I guess you know I will put a strong emphasis on trust, but of course, as you quite rightly say, you know we up to move the company to San Francisco from London and you know, there's no there's no shortage for just good people judgment. I hire on character, always have done, always will. Do you know what's in somebody's resume, what's in somebody's experience, is secondary to do you have an individ a jewel with high tegnty, with high intelligence? You know who has who can articulate the motivation that they have to want to do this, and if you can do that, then you know you'll end up. You'll make mistakes, but you know you will end up building a better team. So when you made the transition out to the out to the bay area, of course I'm going to I imagine one of the motivations was being able to get in...

...front of the venture capital firms on Sand Hill and could make your pitch. In doing so, that's got to be a very daunting a very daunting expedition. I imagine you didn't go out there, make one pitch and someone handed you a check. You relate a little bit about the how did you put your pitch together? What were some of your disasters in front of the VC's and how did that all come about? So I mean just just one thing's probably worth while saying. So the company existed for about a year and a half, two years before we moved to the US, and we boot strapt during that period. We actually made some deals. We sold some times and software customers, and it was when we did one particular deal with a very large longstanding customer moves office is now seven figure amount, I probably shouldn't say who or what, that we decided we were going to raise this series a financing and the intention always was was going to be that it was going to be raised in the US and would precipitate the move of the company over to were to the west coast of San Francisco specifically, and I spoke to everybody. I thought, actually, that it was going to be much more straightforward to raise the series eight than it ended up being. It was two thousand and thirteen. Most people forget about two thousand and thirteen, as that as the mini winter in what has otherwise been a kind of a decade long boom cycle in tech. So it was a little bit harder and we pitched pretty hard what we thought was a compelling proposition with moves off. But you know, the AI hype cycle was not in full swing. We were very focused on the enterprise and most of the financing was going towards companies really selling to, you know, the mid market more than where we focused. And we spend a lot of time talking to people who, you know, got turned off by the fact that we weren't yet in the valley or, you know, we had the sort of slightly quirky English acts and or, you know, weren't quite sort of from here. But the funny thing was was I...

...was getting ready to give up and do other things and you know, work out other ways to carry on bootstrap in the company. And along the way I had heard a bunch of people say you must go talk to John Lescar but I couldn't get in front of John Wellsgar, you know, I couldn't get time in his diary. And in the finish I was heading back to with my last day on the last trip and I was heading back to the airport and I dropped in on a friend of mine who used to be a venture capitalist and was now running something slightly different and he I was relating this story and he said you mean you need to talk to John, and I'm like, you know, and he picked up his cell phone and called him and literally I drove the fifteen minutes around the corner to meet with John After that introduction, and you know, the rest is history. We basically went to lunch, struck a deal over lunch and you know, the diligence happened. The series a closed and you know, here we are. Well, that's you know, that's a fascinating story. I'll tell you what. You got a good friend, I think. I'm sure you've bought him many, many lunches those early days. I know I'm talking with a lot of companies that there's a lot of fun memories for those and sometimes, you know, it's easy to forget the long days and the hair pulling and there the one person you hired that was the big mistake or what have you. But looking back, certainly on those early days, do you have like any of those several moments on the positive CIDEBER, it's like Hey, I think we've got some I think we've made it. You know, those gratifying stories of where he changed the customers life, so to there was this company that I taught about that was the big deal that that precipitated the series a. You know, I hope this doesn't come as a huge shock to anybody listening to this, but you know, software is pretty complicated and most of the time early on it doesn't work very well until you get it fixed and then, you know, everybody forgets about the early run. But I remember we were trying to get the very early prototypes of the move products up and running there and...

I was on site in Santa Clara and we just can't get the dancing work and it was it was nearly there, but it just wasn't there and and in the finish I went with the customer into into a meeting room and said, you know, what you're asking for is, you know, a B and C and it's that really what you want. And you know, we kind of kick this around and this light bulb went off that we could achieve this in what became the feature in the product we now refer to as cookbook. And you know, we spent about an hour describing it. I drove to the airport, I got on a plane, flew back to the UK, I started coding it a little bit, you know, and all through the weekend. So I was flying back on the Sunday back to the west coast. I think I had to go back for a birthday potter or something. You know, it was kind of rackling around in my head. Anyway, cut long story short, I got on the plane and I wrote cookbook in the time it takes to fly from London San Francisco. It was so clear in my head what had to be written. Drove from the airport very excitedly to the customer. You know, there's still a couple of things that crashed a couple of times on running up, I think the first time, but then we finally got it running around about midday and it gave us perfect results. It was like immediately started giving us exactly the promise of AI OPS and move soft, and I remember high fiving here on the time and get going. You know, we've got a product here, this is something which we could you know, we could sell everywhere, and it was just an incredible feeling. And you know this kind of we used to start to refer to these coding sessions on seven and forty sevens as sky lap was sort of became a little bit legendary. The you know, send fill on a on a long flights and you get a bit of software at the end of it. That's better than just getting in flight peanuts. I suppose it's also it's also a lot better than inventing Skynet, which has a bad reputation. Yeah,...

...you know, we get a little bit touchy about the whole Skynet thing with with Ai, but the other side of it, by the way, is flying coach across the Atlantic isn't miserable experience and you know, burying your head in a laptop and having mega coating sessions actually is a way of dulling the pain. Well, you have a bit of advantage there. You know, they call that the cattle car right, and so with with moves up, you've kind of got some heritage. But so one of the things we do hear about a lot of startups is that the proverbial pivot factor's almost like a cult of the pivot out there, and you know, we do encounter coupies, the pivots so much they pivot themselves out of existence. What is your take on this, the mythical pivot? Have you guys gone through some significant pivots? If so, you know how did you arrive at that? Or did you have an opportunity to pivot but you decide to stay true to the original vision? And how do you balance that? You know, it's an interesting one, that is, and I very much agree that there is a kind of a tendency for startups to over it orright. I mean, you know, everybody in a fail fast and all the rest of that kind of stuff from is kind of common currency, I are but you need to let strategies also have time to, you know, to bake, and it's all about sort of really balancing correctly that business of you know, not sort of beating head into a brick wall until you bleed to death and also not running around almost in a kind of a random walk. From a strategy expected, I would say it moves soft. We've done a lot of the journey to cloud native as involved a lot of fairly big changes move and you know, there are arguably plenty more to come. I think from a business perspective, the go to market as involved a number of reethinks along the way. But but the fundamental ethos of the technology, what we're trying to do,...

...the problem we're trying to solve, the culture of the company as stayed very much true to what it was back in, you know, generally the second two thousand and twelve when the company started. Yeah, I you touched on something that I think. I think there's quite a salient point, and that is may containing the culture. You guys have had some really nice roller coaster success over the past couple of years and you know it. Watching you guys grow and you know, as your customer basis increase some additional fundings of additional staff and so for. How do you go through that scaling exercise and keep that? You mentioned the term ethos. How do you keep that ethos in intact. It's an interesting one and I think it's important that you acknowledge culture. So one of the mistakes that you can make is to assume that it just happens right. Assume that whatever made the company good early on, it's just going to sort of magically continue to thread its way through, you know, the the business as it keeps growing. And actually it's not true. You need to celebrate the things that bring the company together. You need to, you know, get together as a business and, you know, use the the sacraments and the memes of your culture frequently. You know, I move in the office. You know, we, you know, get together as a company and we do social events and, you know, as all companies do, but there's always the presence of, you know, the kind of the you know, the original founding sort of ideals of the business around you know, serve to lead you employee first as being really about the hire Arcu, being in service of the people, being a commune for mutual betterment, the you know, the greace and the precious stuff. You know, we reiterate it continuously the whole time. You know, whenever I talk to...

...the company, a point to where we failed to live up to our cultural values and what we're going to do about that. So you make it a think you give it life by breathing life into it and talking about it and I think it's just it's so, so, so important that you know you become the company that you want to become. There's a fantastic line from a cat stephens song which dates me. You know you may still be here tomorrow, but you dreams may not. You've got to keep the dream alive. That's actually pretty key and I can attest the very first move soft meeting I went to and you walked up to the microphone and and did the moon and everyone else did the moon and I looked around thinking, I think I'm in the wrong meeting. I I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but it does permeate. You know, the folks that we deal with, certainly from moves offten. It is a unique it's unlike any of the companies in the space, you know from a cultural point of view. But speaking of that, so do you track other companies in the space, whether it's an incumbent that you know maybe is ready to jump in and throw billions of dollars and and mountains of dead bodies that are particular problem, or are some new, you know, the probibial two guys in a garage kind of a thing? Do you track the competition or you let the competition deal with itself, or what's your take on that? We like to think of ourselves, as as as I think we've justifications, leaders in our space and the way in which we deal with competition is by keeping up the pace of innovation and not letting that drop and, you know, let them worry about where they position the market. You know, of course we're aware of other people making competitive offers to our customers. You know, for the last part of good portion of the deals that we win end up, in some form shape, being a competitive bakeoff or some sort of competitive positioning against other businesses. But I...

...really don't lose any sleep about competition and here's why. And at a given point in time, you know, we've got some features, they've got some features. We've got a price book, they've got a price book, and a customer is going to make a decision based upon, you know, capability, price, funny for money, all that kind of fun stuff. And really what gives me confidence is maintaining the company that you are means that you will come up with the better set of features, the better price, but the better value, repeatedly, rather than it just being the one off. You know, you happen to have a bright idea at the beginning of the business and it's just sweat that until the other guys catch up and overtake you. And you know, I think move soft, true to itself and run to the best. Misability is a formidable and fast and competitor and I would not want to compete with us, so I don't worry about it. Yeah, yeah, definitely I do think whether differentiators that you guys have, of course, is that deep roots in Ai. Over the past years we've seen the you mentioned earlier, the Ai Hype Cycle. We've seen a lot of companies jump in and basically turn their marketing department loose on all their material and sprinkle it with all the appropriate AI words, separating out what I would say is true ai from fake ai search, certainly for a company like trace three, is always been responsibility we've taken on ourselves. How do you grapple with that out in the workplace, when you're in POC's or Bake offics or ur FPS are what have you, against companies. You know full well they don't have those Ai Chops. They're just a rules bace system. And how do you tackle an issue like that? So I mean generally speaking, what comes to the rules based approach, not being sort of overly technical about what we do, is a kind of rigidity, in a Brittleness to the strength of...

...their correlation. So you set traps, you encourage the customer to change the data sets, you and try and push for use cases where there is change involved, which you know puts them on the back foot because they have to go and re implement their rules based system. I mean, you know, the end of the day, the customer really cares more about whether or not they're getting the capability that they want rather than how it is done. So whether we use AI rules based systems or Voodoo is kind of irrelevant providing their kind of get the the end result that they're looking for. So, you know, although the temptation is there to point to the you know, fifty two patterns and the Peer Review Journal papers and the fact that we do primary research and moves often, Yada, Yada, Yadae. Yeah, we tend these days to sort of stick to the let me talk to you about the business value that we can bring and let me show you that that business value is robust to your environment. And typically, if we can keep the conversation at that level and framed in that way, the other systems kind of self identify themselves as second best. Yeah, definitely makes sense. You use the term a little while ago where you talked about the sacraments. There certainly is a mythology on around start ups, and with every mythology there's certainly a set of myths. Having gone through this several times, what would you say as a myth out there that that you found in starting companies as, frankly, just untrue? Yeah, you know, so, you hear a lots. There are lots actually. You know. My favorite one is is you know, you don't have to have the best product to win, which may be true, but having the worst product will guarantee failure. You know, actually what you need to have is the best product and the best go to market, and you know there is no substitute for that. I would also say that working a hundred and twenty hours a week is guarantee. You know,...

...you have to do that to be successful. Actually, it's what you do in the working wheat that is more important than how you work and where you work and when you work, that kind of stuff. And I think one of the things you get to know as you do it a few times is there is no substitute for wisdom, experience and application to get there. And you know, the other myth is, you know, it's and it's in this environment. I kind of, you know, I kind of almost I almost worry about saying this because it might make me sound so unfashionable as to, you know, rule me out of all of the decent parties, as it were. You know, everybody focuses in on your valuation as a Private Company and there is a myth that being a Unicorn means anything and it means the square root of nothing. You know, it's not about how you build value as a private company. It's about how you build value was a public company and how you build value for your customers and how you build aney for your employees. That, ultimately, is injury. So chasing after, you know, a celebrity venture capitalist with a, you know, an awesome term sheet does not build the company. Getting the investors does not make him magically happen for you. Having a great proposition, a great market, the will, determination and skills to succeed is what you need. That's awesome. That's that's great film and I love that you're talking about, you know, a focus on the customer and earlier you're talking about, you know, the business values, not so much focusing on the valuation and such. For any CIOS that might might be listening, would you mind doubling down again? I know you talked about how, you know, you met with the CIO and you've got some gratification in the sense that they they helped you build some new functionality.

We talked a little bit about, you know, maybe some specific success stories where maybe maybe a customer CIO walk up to you and just said, Hey, they feel I'm so happy that you started this company. You really you really provided something that no one else could. And maybe talked a little bit about the success with Moos off. Yeah, I mean, you know, I mean we have a whole bunch of seven year old company and that's a whole bunch of those sort of sort of wind stories, of success stories, but you know, there are a few that sort of stick in my mind I remember a being a conference and listening to, you know, the head of production platforms, a go daddy, talking about how moves off to being instrumental in their ability to open up in fifty three new geographies, that adding a single SUR head. You know, I heard you know them go on to explain how that, you know, automated away needed ninety four percent of their Aur zero. I saw, you know, a recently at a at a large Wall Street for National Institution where, you know, within a month of deployment, moves offt you know, that managed automate ninety eight percent of the Al Zero in bound workload away. And, you know, I've got a very nice phone call from the CIO. They're, you know, congratulating me on actually being one of the few vendors that are delivered what we promised. Maybe that's maybe that's a collective note of shame to the software industry. Well, Phil this was certainly been very lightning for me. I really do enjoy the time that I've got to spend with moves after with you and make Sylvie, and I learned actually a lot, a lot of stuff I didn't know about moves after this and certainly your background and and very heralded the career with with a number of different ventures. I just like to thank you for coming in today. A greatly appreciate you, you know, being very...

...frank and kind of opening up, opening up the war chest of experience. They're very, very well done. Thank you so much for coming by. Detect founders journey. Greatly appreciate your time. A total question great tool community. Thank you for invites me along again. Yes, absolutely, thank you. Thanks, Phil. See You. That was Bil t, CEO and founder of moves off, and with that we're going to wrap this episode up and we'll pick you up next time see it. Trace three is hyper focused on helping it leaders deliver business outcomes by providing a wide variety of data center solutions and consulting services. If you're looking for emerging technology to solve tried and true business problems, trace three is here to help. We believe all possibilities live in technology. You can learn more at trace threecom podcast. That's trace, the number threecom podcast. You've been listening to. The founder formula, the podcast for all things start up, from Silicon Valley to innovators across the country. If you want to know what it takes to lead tomorrow's tech companies. Subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time,.

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