Starting Fresh (Again, Like Before)

Posted in Entrepreneurship 2

In 2001, my friends Misha and Matt, whom I had worked with in my tenure at Insync, reached out to me with an idea they had for a network security firm.  This was fortuitous timing, as my position at Questia at the time was hanging on by a thread, with the third round of layoffs looming.  We talked for a while about some technologies I had been designing to solve similar problems, and from this Alert Logic, inc. was born.  We struggled for the first several years, our plans were complex and the market wasn’t yet ready to hear them: SaaS was a term not yet on most firms’ radar (and when it was, it was about how you shouldn’t let your data live elsewhere), the idea of being both an MSSP and a core tech play was still laughable to most, and our plans for white-labeling through hosting providers kept hitting the same snag: we were too small for the big hosting providers.  But, the team persevered, we built new technologies, we hired analysts, we did everything we could to keep the business growing.  There were certainly times we all wondered whether we were going to make it, but then the traction kept coming and both the revenue and the team grew at an accelerating rate.  I, along with the rest of the team, put everything I had into the business – every waking hour seemed to involve Alert Logic.  The focus was always on success — often to the detriment of interpersonal relationships and our social lives, but to be fair: starting a company is a lot like being a parent, you’re not going to let anyone get between you and your child’s well-being.

In 2010, I had a little side-project going on.  I was determined to create the first open-source hardware company in the photographic motion control industry.  It was a hobby that had taken over a full third of my loft at the time — I had a small machine and electronics shop right next to my living room.  I took a sabbatical from Alert Logic to set everything up, and Dynamic Perception was born with Jay.  At the same time, Alert Logic was growing even more fervently, and when I came back from sabbatical I had to give some serious thought about where the best place for me was.  I have always been best at reaching into new markets and doing whatever it takes build a product that people like, and prove the value in that market.  I found that opportunity again at Alert Logic, and moved from Chief Architect to Principle Architect in the Emerging Products team.  This, to most people would be a downward move, but it let me focus on what mattered to me: running hard and building brand new products.  After completing the demonstration version of the automated IDS for AWS product, I stepped back to think about where I should go from here…

With nearly 150 great employees and more amazing development talent than I had ever seen before at Alert Logic, I realized that my child was now on firm footing, and becoming its own thing — no longer in need of constant attention from me, and I had another one growing at the same time at Dynamic Perception.  So, closing off an amazing decade of creation and hard work, I left AL to focus full-time on DP.   In the past few years, Alert Logic doubled in size and revenue, and DP grew fast and hard as well.  Both have come to be household names in their respective markets.  In August, the deal had been done with Welsh Carson to acquire a majority stake in Alert Logic.  Also in August, another deal was struck: my interest in Dynamic Perception was being acquired by my partner, Jay.  You could say this was an exceptional summer for me (and you’d be right).

Why the latter deal, you might ask?  One of the things I learned most about during the past few years is how difficult the electronics development process can be, especially for those with little to no experience.  I have a very real desire to make this process easier, more fruitful, and more rewarding.  To this end, I’ve chosen to focus on building a new set of products and services for makers to help get over the many hurdles I’ve had to cross, to learn and create faster, and to make projects that are better and safer for their users.  Our first announcements about product will come close to the holidays, but we’re already hard at work.  I hope to do my part to help make Houston a focus of the electronics industry and an even more important location in the maker movement than it is now.

So, here’s to fresh starts, again!

  1. Couldn’t agree more with regards to the hardware movement. What the hobby-ist MCU (Arduino,MSP430,STM32, etc…) explosion has done to the maker community is profound. Your starting to see a lot more HW startups than ever before. The success of Kickstarter and many of its projects has led to an awakening by VC firms. Interestingly enough this comes at a time of IoT (Internet of Things) and much discussion about “Whose going to dominate the market?”. Apple, Google? How about everyone…this should be open space not locked by a closed ecosystem. My question to you, what troubles did you face with electronics development? What can can be done to ease the process? I can see obstacles like the FCC certification being a huge hurdle. Large volume manufacturing. Kickstarting shouldn’t be the only option to launching a product. It would be nice to duplicate what Apple did for mobile development in the hardware space. A 16 year old could pay $99 and get instant access to a large market along with a full featured development platform. Looking forward to your future announcements. Any free time you have, I would like to pick your brain. Thanks!

    • Hi Daniel,

      I agree with the points you’ve made here! Here are some of the problems I’ve seen:

      1. (1) New makers face a highly disparate and disjunct development environment for their projects: there is little connection between their EDA, their debugging tools, the circuit on their breadboard, and their IDE.
      2. (2) New makers tend to fall into two camps: primarily electronics focused with more difficulty learning the software side, or more software focused with more difficulty learning the ee side – there is a technology hurdle that must be overcome here, to inline one activity with the other.
      3. (3) FCC/CE are “black arts” to most, when they shouldn’t be – I don’t believe CE/FCC testing are the problem people make it out to be, and the results of doing so are typically a much more robust, and safer product. This process can, and should, be made easier and cheaper – but the solution happens long before the testing, much earlier in design with the right resources/tools to identify and resolve problem areas
      4. (4) A huge problem I’ve seen as well is the need for most designs to test with real components (Spice doesn’t cut it for logical designs interacting with firmware), only to find they’re dead-ends. Getting components is costly and time-consuming. See back to #1 – it is possible to ensure that the component is needed before purchasing and waiting for delivery.
      5. (5) Hyper-micro manufacturing. You’re spot-on there, and a lot of people are talking about it. I think we’ll see viable solutions in the next five years. You can’t really convert an existing HMLV EMS shop into a single-unit order EMS overnight, it’s better to start from scratch on that. Let’s see how much money people throw at the problem. =)
      6. (6) The maker movement is not yet well-served by the sharing and design tools. Where is real provenance? Where is real abstraction away from the overall design to sub-system design? Re-usability is broken by being forced into cut-n-paste. The current model of “modules” in some systems out there are just a brief start down that path, but don’t solve for EE what OOP solves for software. The only real OOP out there in EE that I know of is too expensive and too difficult for most projects (See Zuken CAE). Much work is needed here to bring OOP design tools to the free/open-source maker world.

      These are just a few starts. I’ll be focusing first on tools that solve #1 — the integration between design and real-world, and glueing everything together more seamlessly. There have been a lot of partial answers to those problems out there, and I think it’s high time to go ahead and look at integrating that entire chain into one connected toolkit (no matter what tools one uses) – I believe that #4 is also more easily solved by doing this. =)

      Edit: odd, ordered lists don’t show up properly in my comments. D’oh. I’ll have to fix that css later. I’ve added numbers by hand.

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