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Kinetic Ventures Interviews Edwin Miller:Five Questions

This interview originally appeared in Kinetic Ventures IX, LP Second Quarter Report 2014 on July 30, 2014.

9Lenses is a powerful software platform that rapidly captures the insights of employees and customers in one place so that organizations can confidently navigate critical business decisions.

1. What makes 9Lenses unique?

People have been tracking or organizing or trying to understand all the machine data in the world and have done a pretty good job of that. At 9Lenses, we focus on human data; organizational intelligence. What we are trying to solve is what’s the best set of questions for any problem you are trying to understand. Think simultaneously interviewing 1,000 people in your organization and then rapidly organizing the output. With that sort of capability, we allow anyone to question and discover the best questions to be asking. As we aggregate these questions, they become apps. Just like Salesforce has apps on their SaaS platform, we have apps and those apps allow anyone to question rapidly and then more importantly connect all that data, make rapid decisions, and maintain the data securely.

2. Why is this a big opportunity?

We set out to be disruptive as an Internet player, not really knowing what the real market opportunity was going to be. What we’ve found is that there are three big markets that we are disrupting. One of these is the management consulting industry and as you know, just that alone, just management consulting is a $355B a year market, according to Gartner. Further, Gartner says anywhere from a third to a half of that is spent on discovering a problem, understanding what the problem is, and understanding who might have an answer to that problem. So let’s assume we are disrupting a third.

Now why are we disrupting? It’s because the consultants, like Accenture, which are very brilliant people, have been allowed to ask questions, form their hypothesis, come back 6 weeks to 6 months later and say:“Hey, here’s your problem,” on PowerPoint. It’s not connected to anything at all. In the future, the consulting industry is not going to get to ask these questions outside of a platform, they are going to be forced to do it in a platform because it’s inefficient for five managers to ask the same questions all day long and then later attempt to connect that data. We ask the questions simultaneously to thousands of people and then very rapidly, connect the data. So that’s a big disruption.

3. You’ve been a venture backed CEO before, what is different today compared to five years ago of running a start-up venture backed company?

Everything is faster, it just is. I remember my first CEO job, I think I was 30 or 31-years old. I remember having 90 days to kind of just sit around and think about what I wanted to do before I ever had my first board meeting. Today, you start a business every 30 days. You’ve got 30 days! It’s just changing and everything is changing so rapidly. With China and India, we didn’t even think about that in 2000; I did 5 years ago. But every day the pressure of here is the idea. Can you protect that idea globally? Is somebody going to have a knock-off immediately? Can you protect your code? It’s hard to get patents now.

So as a venture-backed CEO, the number one thing is to find that addressable market, solve the pain, get good enough software as fast as possible so that you can live with your customer. It’s very iterative. Now every two weeks we are releasing code. The good news is every two weeks we release code, we can get immediate feedback from the customer. The bad news is, if you messed up on that one release out of 50, you just hurt your customer and that itself has a lot of risk but you cannot not do it, because you’ve got to be living with your customer and getting that feedback on the market immediately, so it’s… I would say, the market and how fast they move… that has changed.

4. Is it different to run a start-up on the East Coast versus the West Coast from your perspective?

It’s materially different. Number one, the cultures are just different. The West Coast will make a bet. But they are betting with hundreds of millions of dollars on a big idea or a big opportunity and I think they have an appetite for the big bet. If you are an entrepreneur on the West Coast and you lost your last venture and didn’t do well, they count that as a good thing.

You’ve learned something that you need to know. Like in baseball, that first strikeout as a kid, helps you understand what that feels like. That first strikeout means a lot more. It seems that on the East Coast a strikeout is like a black mark. I can’t believe you lost, I can’t believe you lost this money, what is wrong with you. And I must say, the government and the banking institutions, that kind of conservative thinking where I’m located may influence the culture differently than the Stanford type of thinking of experiment then pivot.

5. What do you predict will be the biggest surprise for technology investors and entrepreneurs in five years from now?

I think one of the surprises will be you start to see how you need both the East Coast and the West Coast mentalities. You have to be able to think really big but measure how you get there. So I think there is going to be some really big wins that were very efficient uses of capital which I think will be surprising to the West Coast. They will be amazed when they see a company that only took in $10 million and built a billion dollar business. They are used to spending a lot of capital fast to get to an answer. At the same time, I think the East Coast will continue to be amazed by and perhaps surprised by an entrepreneur who may in the future get paid $5B with no customers but the promise of uniques. I think it’s going to go both ways.

You can download the full Kinetic Ventures interview here.

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