Originally aired on September 4, 2020 @ 11:00 AM - 11:30 AM EDT
Founder Focus is a “Humans of New York” style spotlight on the human stories behind diverse startup founders, their life experiences and perspectives, the origin stories of their startups, and the path they took to where they are today.
This week's guests:
Jezzibell Gilmore - Chief Commercial Officer & Co-Founder, PacketFabric
Anna Claiborne - SVP Engineering and Product & Co-Founder, PacketFabric
Hello everyone, I'm Jade and welcome to another episode of Founder Focus. I'm your host and today we will have, today our guests are Anna Claiborne and Jezzibell Gilmore. Welcome to our show. Hi Jade, thanks for having us. Thank you for having us. And for the viewers who are joining us, if you have questions for either Anna or Jezzibell, there's an email address down below and you can email in your questions. So let's get right to it. So very briefly, can you tell us what Packet Fabric does? Sure, Packet Fabric is a network as a service platform and what that means is that Packet Fabric has done for compute, or for network, what AWS did for compute. So we have taken network and put an API and a software layer on top of it so you can go to a portal or you can programmatically provision network services in minutes, just like you would provision compute services. Cool. Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of how you two decided to start working on Packet Fabric and perhaps also how you two met? Sure, Jezzibell, take it away. Sure. Well, I think we were all consumers of network services and for a long time, we observed the evolution in compute into cloud and how cloud services can be consumed and there were no movement on the networking side. And so we thought, you know, there has to be some way to make network services consumable the way that cloud services are. And as consumers, we'd love to be able to have our hands on that service. And when no one else did anything about it, we thought this is our opportunity. And so here we are. And how Anna and I met, oh my god, we won't say how long ago, we might be children. At industry conferences, maybe on a boat. So we'll just leave it at that. So lots of fun times. Absolutely. And a friendship was built and, you know, like-minded people, but maybe not so much like-minded personalities, but both very strong and ambitious and hardworking. So, you know. So I was introduced to the two of you through our partners team. Could you describe the partnership with Cloudflare that we recently announced? Sure. We actually, we just launched what I've been referring to as our glorious partnership just a couple days ago. And it's fantastic because it's going to allow both Cloudflare and Packet Fabric customers who want to use Cloudflare services, like Magic Transit, or obscure their CDN origin from the Internet. It's going to allow them to do that very easy by connecting to Cloudflare through Packet Fabric. And that offers a private, direct, and secure connection right over to Cloudflare from Packet Fabric, no traversing the Internet. So it's great for both keeping your origin servers off the Internet 100% and returning clean traffic from Magic Transit. So 2020 has been quite an interesting year so far. We're only about halfway through it. Interesting, yes. Yes, to say the least. I mean, in terms of Internet traffic, we are looking at unprecedented levels of Internet traffic. Can you tell us a little bit about how 2020 has been for you as a company and also yourselves as individuals and any adjustments that you've made? Anna, you go first. I know that. So in terms of Packet Fabric, I mean, obviously, nobody ever wants a pandemic to happen. But what it has done for the Internet is huge, right? Because we can't do things in person anymore. And so we have to do them like we're doing now, meeting over Zoom. And so it has driven network traffic up and to the right. The way it was going anyway, it just accelerated that a little bit. So obviously, it has helped people discover Packet Fabric for use, which is great, because it's ultimately great benefit to them, great benefit to us. And for me personally, I mean, I already worked at home and was somewhat of a hermit. I've actually been working remotely for the last 10 years. Oh, and there goes my daughter. So it's not been a huge rearrangement for me. And it's one of the great things about having a remote work culture is the fact that for us, there was very little disruption. As work-wise, it was very little disruption. So it made it easier to handle everything else that happened. And I think a lot of people that are in remote companies felt the same way because it's like, OK, well, work's already taken care of. So all I have is the personal aspect of it. And one of the big ones for me was just switching to homeschool, even though I'm very, very fortunate in that my husband is stay-at-home and has been able to work with the kids. There's still things that happen during the day, like things with teachers. So you definitely do have to. You have a new set of things to accommodate. But I mean, I guess the same can be said for school. So there's always something to accommodate there. Well, I think for a company, from Packer Fabrics' perspective, 2020 has been both challenging and really phenomenal for the growth of the company. As Anna said, we've been a remote company to start with. So it doesn't change our lives much. In fact, because we were a remote company, when the pandemic hit and everybody else was scrambling to figure out how to make things work, we were just doing our normal practice of keep going on with business. And also, continued expansion of business, both on the incoming business demand and that continued to grow exponentially, as well as growing the team, hasn't been any more challenging than what I would imagine a normal year would be, would you say, Anna? We've grown the team since last August. How large is the team right now? A hundred and eight, something, a hundred plus, right? But last year at this time, we were at 28. Wow. So it's definitely an year of growth for us. And I think as 2020 has been challenging in so many different ways, I think Anna and I were both traveling more, especially me, on the commercial side, we had to shift how we do business. We're no longer attending in -person conferences. And that's been really challenging because, you know, making those connections with your customers, partners, and I'm sure, Jade, that traditionally, if we were to build a partnership with Cloudflare, we'd be meeting up with the Cloudflare team. And I think, Anna, suffice to say that I don't think we had any in-person meeting with Cloudflare to wrap up our partnership here, right? And even though the discussion was started years ago and we had multiple meetings prior to get this completed, we did everything virtually. But having the pandemic also showed the world that it's possible to do so much remotely and the importance of infrastructure in support of that remote work. So to us, to me, I think we're lucky to be in the infrastructure business and there are a lot of adjustment that we have to make, such as being on Zoom a lot. Yeah, I mean, there's only two hard things in a startup, right? One, actually building a product that people want, and two, scaling. So in terms of like, is 2020 a better or worse year to be scaling? I would say that in a lot of ways it's better because we're a remote company already. And so we offer all those benefits to all of our brand new employees, which is great. Yeah, that's great. So as people who operate a 100% remote company, do you have advice for other companies that are transitioning into remote work? Like any best practices that you've learned over time or things like that? Yeah, because, I mean, how much time do we have here? I think probably one of the biggest ones that I've learned is that one of the hardest things to actually make work is a hybrid team where you have people in the office and then people are remote. So everyone's actually been given a great like, you know, get out of jail free card in this and that everyone is remote right now because that it's easier to, it's much easier to be binary about it. And then aside from that is just communication, right? Because you're no longer relying on people just like dropping by your office for things or ad hoc conversations. You have to be very deliberate about how you do things like hosting office hours for teams. And also, you know, figuring out the balance, like one of the most challenging things is figuring out the balance. So not making too many meetings and figuring out, you know, your process for communications and things. That's where the most of the challenges lie. And, you know, there's like, there's not just one solution for it, which is why I don't want to say, well, you just do this. But figuring out, you know, the offline communications is the biggest thing, things like ticketing systems, you know, are using Basecamp or using JIRA, how are engineering teams communicating? Same thing for like product teams, right? Is, you know, instead of having meetings all the time, you know, figuring out a good process for, and tools for communication. So that's what it, those are, I think, the highlights that I can hit in no particular order, just kind of frantically going all over the place to pick out some things that sound good, that sound interesting. So. Yeah. Go ahead. Sorry. No, I was going to just echo that, right? The tools becomes so much more important when it comes to collaboration, when everyone's remote, and also communication is so much more deliberate and conscientious or concise. But because you want to make sure you're giving enough detail for everyone to be involved and to understand what is happening, but not so much that people stop reading because, you know, not everybody's going to need that level of detail. So communication becomes a necessity in, you know, concise communication becomes a necessity in an all-remote organization. Yeah, I definitely hear you. It's easy to be inundated with this mountain of email every morning and incoming chats. Oh, yes. Yeah. So figuring out different process streams for that is important. You know, like that, that's a big one, right? Is, you know, what, what is, what is appropriate for chat versus email versus ticketing versus some other tool versus a meeting? So that's like one of the biggest areas of, you know, how to communicate. Also scaling. So, so you have scaled from like 25 employees to 100 plus in the space of a year. So that's like at least 4x. How, can you tell us a little bit about how you maintain continuity of culture, especially with that level of growth and also being a 100% remote company? Okay, so I will take a stab at this. First of all, the culture is the most important in a business because that is the soul of what drives what we do. So I think the interview process, everything starts even with the interview process. It doesn't start when a person's, you know, joined the company. So the value of the company and the ethos of the company is very much posted and educated and spoken all through from the beginning of the interview process as the daily practice. You know, it's a, it's a way of life rather than just something that we talk about or read about once a quarter. So, and with that said, you know, there is, we have chat channels and people work with each other. We promote open communication, collaboration, and it isn't just promoted across our own teams. It is the culture itself is promoted across the way we do business with all of our partners. So instead of, you know, putting up four walls and closing off our platform, we open the doors and make sure that we can partner with partners like Cloudflare and everyone else and bring them onto the platform to leverage what we built. And so with that said, you know, it is just a way I think we embody our own culture, whether it's remote or it's to customers, to our own employees. I'm not sure that I said that as concisely. So, oops. Maybe you can say it better. Well, I don't know about better, but a different, a different take on it is that, you know, one of the things that really helped us scale is that we had a lot of these processes in place before, like for hiring, like we have a very, very specific hiring process and that we always have a job description written up that is very clear on what the data, on not just what the qualifications are, but what a day in a life working in that job looks like so that people have a better sense of what to expect there and very clear rules and responsibilities. And then from that, you know, every, every single candidate fills out, you know, questions on exactly, you know, that are relevant to the job so that we can get a sense, you know, we're not just looking at resumes, we're looking at resumes in combination with questions that are exactly relevant to the job experience. And, you know, both in terms of, you know, like multiple choice, yes, no, and then also opinions so that we have a very holistic sense of, you know, what those candidates are about. And then even moving further than that, we, you know, we provide a project that people work on, you know, devote, you know, three to four hours on and give to us as part of anybody that we bring in for formal interviews. So we're, we're actually seeing their work product. So when we get to somebody, it's not like a quote, you know, we've looked at a resume and we think, hey, you know, they might be a fit. No, we've gotten, you know, we have spoken to them from several different angles, we've received written answers, we know what the work product looks like. And that all goes to helping a lot towards like cultural fit. And then once we get people in the door, we have really comprehensive training, you know, part of like, that goes down drilling down through, you know, engineering and engineering and product, you know, what each of the engineering teams does, how the system works, how things work. And, and this, and like having those things in place before you go to scale is so exceptionally critical. Otherwise, there is no way you're going to be able to maintain my culture. It's just not possible. So you're hiring right now, right? Yes! I'm glad you brought that up. And if you would like to see what we're hiring for, go to www.packetfabric.com career forward slash careers. And you can see all the positions that we are hiring for. Cool. Um, let's see. Do you have a story from the early days of your startup that contrasts with, with today? How long? I read that you've been around about five years, right? That's a, that's a pretty young company. As, as companies go, you've, you've come really, really far in five years. Um, can you give us a little overview of the timeline of the adventure and sort of contrast today versus, um, like early days of the company? Yep. So I'll go for it. Yes, we've been around for, um, almost exactly five years. Um, and the, the timeline of the company, um, is that, you know, in 2014, end of 2014, we got the team together, uh, founders and went to pitching, um, the idea to investor, uh, and really put the company together at the beginning of 2015. And then we went on to develop the service and product in stealth mode for, um, oh my God, a year plus. And I think I remember, um, all of the founders being, uh, contractors to the company because we weren't all employees and we hired our own first employee. And, you know, my, and I, my biggest thing was, wait, we're not the first employees of the company. Um, so, you know, it's, it's interesting, uh, perspective being of the founders. And then, um, we launched the services, um, to general public in 2017. And I think that was a nerve wracking moment, uh, at least for me, probably for Anna as well in knowing, you know, something you built and you truly believed in, um, it's out there. Do people actually want it? You know, uh, is it going to do what it says it does? And, um, not only for ourselves, you know, putting our visions to test, but we've asked, you know, many of our customers are friends of ours that, you know, we've, we've drawn ideas and input from, and they put their trust in us to put their network service requirements on what we've built. So there's both a sense of, you know, are we right in building out our vision and what we've built is reliable, but also the sense of, you know, uh, of, we have to deliver for the people who put their trust in us. Um, so definitely a lot of interesting things that we've learned since then. And wouldn't you say, Anna, since when we started with Packet Fabric, the, the idea of Packet Fabric evolved and continues to evolve. Um, so we are a very different company today than when we first started. Uh, yeah. I mean, growing up, like that's the, you know, part of a startup is like the nature, the nature of change and, you know, the more, well, our culture remains the same, you know, we've grown, we've had huge growth in terms of who's on the network and, and where the product is going. You know, we've added some features that we didn't think we were, you know, wherever we were ever going to add, and we've gotten rid of some that we thought would be amazing. So that's just all, that's just all part of the journey and figuring out what's going on. Um, as far as like a story that I think really well represents this is, so, you know, back after we first launched pretty much, yeah, the entire, the entire core team, um, from, from engineering, uh, also did customer support. And in fact, our engineering core team still does customer support. And I was on that, you know, I was on that rotation. And so there was one late night, it was about, you know, midnight. Um, somebody called me, uh, with questions about, um, with questions about a service. And we were sitting there, I said, hold on, you know, let me look up some logs. And we were just sort of chatting as I, you know, I was, I was telling him I'm looking up this information and, you know, he said, oh, I didn't catch your name. I said, oh, uh, it's, you know, it's Anna. And he goes, oh, what do you do there? And I said, well, uh, I'm one of the co-founders and, you know, I run product engineering. And he's like, he's like, I seriously have a co-founder on the phone looking at logs for me at, you know, almost 1am. I was like, yep. You do. And his mind was just, was just so blown. He's like, I cannot believe you answer the phones. I was like, well, we're a small team. Um, you know, like I, everybody has to pull their weight with support. So, um, yeah, that's, that's what we did. And, and, and thankfully, thankfully now I'm, uh, I'm only a, like a, a final tier escalation. So I rarely get calls and in the middle of the night anymore, which is obviously nice for my sleep, but I also talking to customers because I love staying in touch with our customers. It's really cool that, um, that your engine team, uh, does all of the, uh, does support ticket rotations. Um, I I've heard of very few companies, um, doing this as a best practice. It is a, it is not common as a best practice, but it is also why we have a customer satisfaction score. Like, I don't know if anyone knows what NPS scores are, but we have, we have one of, um, what does it tell us about 88, 80, 88. Nice. Almost unheard of. Yeah. The telecom industry standard is 27. And so we were told that 88 is world-class. So prior to us starting doing our NPS scores, um, you know, I didn't know much of it. I've certainly personally filled out NPS surveys for, uh, vendors that I've worked with, but, um, and, and I thought when we got 88, I was like, why didn't we get a hundred? I don't understand. I feel like we're so great. And then I read up more on it in, you know, that 88 meant world -class. And I was like, oh, wow, that's incredible. But that is what continues to motivate, um, us right to, to, to eat our own dog food, as Anna says, um, to that's, you know, that's what drives, uh, all of us to continue to bring this type of service to our customers. Yeah. Yeah. It's, um, it's the reason why most companies don't want to do this is because it is, uh, you know, first off you have to, you have to not be giving your customers a lot of reasons to call you, which we certainly, you know, we, our philosophy has always been provide people the ability to help themselves first, you know, through information and our knowledge base through being able to do things on our portals. And as a last line of defense, they should have to be calling us. So that is what has helped us do this is, you know, like, um, we would prefer our customers never want or never need to talk to us, but should they actually, but should they require that then they're going to get somebody who can actually answer their question rather than, um, just somebody who's going to take notes and escalate it eventually somewhere else. Yeah. And I bet any, uh, any actual breaking, uh, like things get fixed really, really quickly. It is. Yeah. And really the person, if you call someone generally, the person that you get on the phone is the person that can fix that thing for you right away. Nice. Our objective is really to empower the customers in the first place. And so when we designed the solution, um, is to give the customer the power to do what they want, uh, whenever they want. So they're not waiting for a person, right? And then that's why the portal is available. And that's why the automation is so crucial. Um, and so with all that, you know, and I think, um, we've always had the vision that the customer should be able to troubleshoot as much as they can. Um, if there's a problem without having to talk to anyone, any of us, and I, and I both been on the operation side in our previous lives, you know, we know the frustration that if we can't, we have no visibility into the services that we're consuming. And then, uh, you pick up the phone to call somebody, we'll open a ticket. And, and the person on the other end is just someone who's really escalating you to the next person and no one's really able to help you. So, uh, we designed so much transparency into the platform to the customer, our customers, our end users can help themselves. And then as Anna said, when there's a real problem, they should be able to reach somebody quickly and have that problem actually be solved, um, by someone who can affect changes. For that, um, in our last three minutes, um, I would like to shine the spotlight on, I would like to shine the spotlight on the two of you as, uh, as individuals, as people, um, and the paths that you've taken to where you are. Um, Jezebel, I, uh, I, I watched a talk of yours, uh, where you talked about your career transition. Um, can you tell us, tell our audience the story of your career transition? Oh, wow. Um, we only have three minutes, right? Two minutes. Um, well, so I didn't start in technology and I, when I was in school, I was art major, you know, I, I was a romantic, I was a dreamer. And in fact, I think that's what drove me to become an entrepreneur in technology in the first place. Um, and I believed in something that, um, I wanted to do and I saw, um, and I, I saw a space, an opening that, um, we can make a difference in. And I moved from art to technology because of necessity. You know, um, when I was in school, I never thought I had to make a living. And then you live in the real world and you're like, Oh, somebody, mommy and daddy's not going to pay rent. So, um, so I migrated into, um, uh, a role in executive administration, um, after I was leaving a law firm of learning that I didn't want to become a lawyer. Uh, and, um, I just became the EA to the CEO of above net communications back in the nineties. And I realized that there's an energy and a sense of innovation that we can change the world with technological innovation. And that's what really drove me. Once I started there, I had a taste of the startup life and what technology is capable of. Um, I did a lot of learning on my own and I had incredible friends, uh, throughout the community in support of the growth of my career. And hence I ended up here. And, uh, and Anna, you are, you're, um, you're quite the polymath with a background in, uh, you had done chemical engineering and genetics and technology work both before and after that, could you tell us about your path? Um, sure. So, I mean, it's pretty much just what you said. I think you've covered my path really well. Um, no, I just got a, oh, oh, I just got a note from Rena. We, uh, and our time is up. Yeah. I figured, I figured that that's why I was just like, well, I'll just give a smart ass. All right. Well, thank you both so much for being on the show. Um, yeah, thank you for having a great segment.