Thursday, 19 May 2016 11:16

Evan Goldberg's advice for tech startups

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Evan Goldberg's advice for tech startups Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net/images

iTWire today had a face-to-face chat with Evan Goldberg, founder and chief technology officer of cloud-based ERP vendor NetSuite. iTWire asked what he could teach software developers about starting a company.

1. Find your North Star

Goldberg's background is as a software developer. He previously worked for Oracle as a programmer and developed skills in building large scalable applications.

Goldberg left Oracle and started a company. Not NetSuite yet; this first company failed and Goldberg says he "learned a tonne." Particularly, he learned "you need great systems to make a company".

He started NetSuite on that basis – that great systems were essential. Goldberg was in the fortunate position of having Larry Ellison of Oracle as an investor in his previous company and discussed his plans for a new business with him.

Ellison drove the core idea of starting with accounting and making sure it is delivered over the Internet. "Make sure companies don't have to worry about software and how they are getting it."

Goldberg says he didn't know accounting at that time, but he did know how to build scalable systems, and how to build extensible developer-centric systems.

This became what Goldberg calls his "North Star." He says start-ups need to determine their "North Star" – what would be the foundation they establish to enable growth?

Goldberg wanted to do systems software because he learned in his first company that he failed because of a lack of good systems. Ellison said the back office is the core of a company's information.

From this conversation, it was determined that the new company would build a whole suite and deliver it over the Internet. This was Goldberg's North Star – to build a system to run a business. That business was originally named NetLedger, and is now known as NetSuite.

"One of our points of success is we've stayed true to that," Goldberg says. "You will get pulled in a lot of directions by early customers but you need to stay true to your North Star."

Goldberg cites the dashboard as a key feature of NetSuite and asserts NetSuite had a dashboard long before competitors. "The dashboard was what I was really looking for when starting NetSuite," he states.

"NetSuite is the first and last business system a tech company will ever need," Goldberg says.

NetSuite customers include GitHub, box, Atlassian, CommVault, New Relic, HP, Splunk, Qlik, Tableau, Nutanix and DocuSign among thousands of others.

2. Find funding

A business needs funding, just like a body needs blood and oxygen. While Goldberg was funded by none other than Larry Ellison, he assures iTWire he had "no advantage there" and still had to work 80-hour weeks.

Goldberg says there is a whole new generation of ways to get started. For those in the Silicon Valley area, there is an established network of angel investors. No matter where you live, Goldberg cites KickStarter as a viable path for new startups.

"There are many different routes besides a single angel," Goldberg states.

3. Retain the things that made you great

Possibly paradoxically, Goldberg says if your company is going to grow from small through medium to enterprise, you need to know that you won't actually reach your North Star.

This doesn't mean you give up on it; far from it. The challenge is to keep innovating. When your organisation is a large one you need to focus on "how do we reinvent ourselves while maintaining a culture of innovation", he says.

Goldberg says NetSuite has moved through the entire software company evolution. In the start-up phase, challenges were gaining early stage funding, dealing with rapid growth, working out how to bring the product to market and how to satisfy early customers but stay focused on where you want to be.

In the mid-market phase, the challenges became gaining customers, gaining late-stage funding, scaling the business and globalisation.

At the enterprise level, the challenge is to "seek to preserve everything about your company that was great when you were a start-up" while dealing with maturity, acquisitions and divestitures, and liquidity.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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