Bechtolsheim's lesson


October 24, 2008 By

Bechtolsheim helped turn Sun, Granite, Google, VMWare and now Arista into some of the most successful startups ever. You could pick worse role models than Andreas von Bechtolsheim, when it comes to starting a company.

The Sonatype I joined is a loose confederation of top open source developers, tackling really hard problems, validated by some of the largest enterprise software development teams in the world.  Jason Van Zyl and Brian Fox have managed to get this team focused, and they are delivering iterations on Maven, Nexus and M2Eclipse with better predictability than most more traditional teams I have worked with. And the users I talk to are excited about and keen to use these products.

So what should I do as the new CEO of this company? Many would choose to impose structure and bring in an executive team than will predict revenues, define corporate messaging, create multi-year product schedules, international expansion and more.

See what Bechtolsheim has to say in this New York Times article: “One mistake a lot of start-ups make with the encouragement of venture capitalists is to hire the whole management team upfront, You have a lot of people twiddling their thumbs and spending money.”

It resonates with me. Customers are already expressing interest, so rather than invest in aggressive marketing and sales, let me make it easy for these customers to transact with us. Rather than having product managers offering R&D their own biased opinions, let me further facilitate the conversation between users and our engineers. And rather than drive to an ‘industry standard’ percentage for R&D costs, G&A, Marketing and Sales, let me minimize all the none-core staffing.

A venture backed company like Sonatype needs to impress investors, and high-profile executives coming from top enterprise software companies are a standard way to do so. I suggest that the VC’s should be impressed instead by our focus on open source to drive product excellence and corporate communications.