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Power to the Underdog

I try not to go into a first meeting with any preconceived notions. It’s easy to misunderstand what’s really going on if you come into it thinking you know who someone is and what they’re capable of.

I don’t care about pedigrees. I want to know what a person has done, and what they plan to do next.

A lot of people make assumptions about me based on my accent and where I went to school. But the real story says a lot more about me and how I see the world. I grew up in a small industrial town south of Birmingham, England called Redditch. Knowing what it took for me to get from there to here... let’s just say I always bet on the scrappy underdog.

An early photo of the Built team after a big customer win.

In 2017 I flew to Nashville to meet Chase Gilbert for a one-hour meeting.

After a serendipitous three-hour dinner with his parents, I heard all about his growing up.

It wasn’t what either of us had planned, but I learned something about him that would have been impossible to learn from a piece of paper: he’s the kind of person who keeps executing on whatever he says he’s going to do.

Chase is non technical, didn't go to a "target" school and had no start up experience before founding Built, but I’d back him any day.

Chase laid out a much bigger vision than his early product hinted at: Beginning with construction loans for banks, he was going to build a construction finance platform to manage risk, maximize productivity, and improve the customer experience. He walked me through every step along his product roadmap, and understood every detail of his market.

It was clear that he was prepared, and he had an insatiable desire to succeed. I wasn’t able to invest at the time but eventually joined his team to work on finance, operations and go-to-market.

Built is in a huge vertical market, competing against Excel sheets, and is proof that legacy markets are ripe for technology disruption.

The founders of Corelight, early in their bootstrapped days.

The founding team at Corelight is both phenomenal and atypical. Gregory Bell, the founding CEO, had never worked at a startup and has a PHD — in English. Vern Paxson is a professor at Berkeley and founded the open source project on which Corelight is based, in 1994. Greg was a network manager; he intimately knew the risks of managing a network and had used the open source product every day at his former job.

Together they are commercializing one of the oldest and most important security open source software solutions. Their customers power some of the most important networks around the world.

Greg had a vision of using the network as a wedge into the security market and then expanding from there, using open source as the differentiating factor. He understood that in open source businesses, you need to keep the community happy, as well as your paying enterprise customers.

Armory Executive team at dinner together in the early days.

DROdio and I first met at the AWS conference when Armory had only a few hundred thousand in revenue. On a napkin in the restaurant, he drew out the entire software delivery lifecycle and how the legacy players in the different categories would be taken out as we move from on-premise to multiple cloud environments.

He and his co-founders are so driven to build a giant business that they committed to ten-year founder vesting. The combination of market clarity, long term alignment and intimate knowledge of the pain their customers felt was deeply compelling.

I started rowing when I was in middle school. I couldn’t shoot or kick a ball, but rowing seemed easy enough: pull as hard as you can for six minutes and try not to fall into the water! Crew opened new doors for me, including at Harvard, where I competed on the team for four years.

Rowing is a silly sport which I love. You go backwards really slowly and it’s boring to watch, but the relationships you build are unbelievable.

You spend all your time with the same eight people in a small boat; you literally can’t do it yourself, and if you’re not in sync, things go awry.

There’s a very direct correlation between how hard you work and how fast you go. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Dancing with my sister at a family wedding. If it wasn't for her, I might not be here. I was inspired to pursue science and tech to help put her through school.
I recently got engaged. It’s too bad she doesn’t have a sense of humor.