DockerCon 2015: Outside the Echo-chamber

DockerCon tore through SF last week and the feeling is that we are at the apex of the hype cycle. Fear not, we at Redpoint are here to (attempt to) distill signal from noise. Here’s a recap of the top story-lines as we see them along with some thoughts…

You down with OCP…?!

What happened: Docker and CoreOS got on stage, kissed and made up and announced the Open Container Project (‘OCP’). OCP is a non-profit governance structure, formed under the Linux Foundation, for the purpose of creating open industry standards around container formats and runtime. You may remember back in December ’14 CoreOS made headlines by announcing rkt, an implementation of appC, the company’s own container image format, runtime and discovery mechanism, which, in contrast to Docker’s libcontainer, was open, both technologically and in its development methodology. Then in May at CoreOS Fest, CoreOS’s inaugural conference, momentum for appC appeared to be gaining steam and image format fragmentation seemed inevitable. Instead, a mere seven weeks later, it appears Docker and CoreOS are willing to put aside differences to work together (and with the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Red Hat, and Intel) towards an open container spec.

Our take: The big winner is the broader container ecosystem. There are at least half dozen credible alternatives to Docker’s libcontainer emerging, and while competition is generally a good thing, the introduction of multiple different image formats creates ecosystem fragmentation which constrains customer adoption and broader momentum. Consolidation around the OCP spec will ensure interoperability while enabling vendors to continue innovating at runtime. More importantly, by agreeing on low-level standards, the community can move on to solve higher-order problems around namespaces, security, syscalls, storage and more. Finally, the loser in all this appears to be the media now that there’s, at very least, a ceasefire in the Docker-CoreOS war.

Docker Network and more dashed startup dreams

What happened: In early March of this year Docker acquired Socketplane to bolster its networking chops and the fruits of that acquisition were displayed in a new product release called Docker Network, a native, distributed multi-host networking solution. Developers will now be able to establish the topology of the network and connect discrete Dockerized services into a distributed application. Moreover, Docker has developed set of commands that enable devs to inspect, audit and change topology on the fly – pretty slick.

Our take: The oft-forgotten element to enabling application portability is the network – it doesn’t matter if your code can be executed in any compute substrate if services can’t communicate across disparate network infrastructures. Docker’s “Overlay Driver” brings a software-defined network directly onto the application itself and allows developers to preserve network configurations as containers are ported across and between datacenters. The broader industry implication here is that Docker is continuing to platform by filling in gaps in the container stack. The implication for startups? You will NOT build a large, durable business by simply wrapping the Docker API and plugging holes.

Plug-ins and the UNIX-ification of Docker

What happened: Docker finally capitulated to industry demands and announced a swappable plug-in architecture and SDK which will allow developers to more easily integrate their code and 3rd-party tools with Docker. The two main extension points featured were network plugins (allowing third-party container networking solutions to connect containers to container networks) and volume plug-ins (allowing third-party container data management solutions to provide data volumes for containers which operate on stateful applications) with several more expected soon.

Our take: For a year now there’s been an uneasy tension between Docker and the developer community as Docker became less a modular component for others to build on top of and more a platform for building applications in and of itself. The prevailing fear was that in Docker’s quest to platform, it would cannibalize much of the ecosystem, create lock-in and stifle innovation. Docker’s party line has always been that “batteries are included, but swappable,” implying you can use Docker tooling out of the box or swap in whatever networking overlay, orchestrator, scheduler, etc. that works best for you.  The plug-ins announcement is a step in that direction as it appears Docker is finally not only talking the UNIX philosophy talk, but walking the walk.

Container Management Mania

What happened: Whether it’s called “containers as a service,” “container platform,” “microservices platform” or plain old “PaaS”, it’s clear that this is the noisiest segment of the market. We counted no less than 10 vendors on the conference floor touting their flavor of management platform.

Our take: Everything old is new again. The evolution of container management is analogous to that of cloud management platforms (“CMPs”) when virtualization began invading the datacenter. There were dozens of CMPs founded between 2006 and 2010 the likes of Rightscale, Cloud.com, Makara, Nimbula, etc. Several have since been acquired for good, but far from great, outcomes, and the sea is still awash in CMP vendors competing feature for feature. Correspondingly as the compute abstraction layer moves from the server (hypervisor) to the OS (container engine), a new breed of management platform is emerging to provision, orchestrate and scale systems and applications. Will the exit environment this time around mirror the previous cycle?

*   *   *   *   *

Stepping out of the echo-chamber, the big question remains around adoption. There are some technological gating factors that will inhibit enterprise deployments in the short-term – namely persistence, security and management – but the overwhelming constraint holding back containers appears to be general lack of expertise and established best practices. The good news is that these are “when” not “if” issues that pertain to ecosystem maturity, and the steps taken by Docker last week will only help accelerate that process.

With the groundwork laid, we see an exciting year ahead for the container community.  The inevitability of container adoption only feels more inevitable now.  There are many hard problems to solve, but hopefully (fingers crossed) there is now more alignment within the community.  Start-ups and large enterprise companies alike can begin, in earnest, the real work required to drive broad adoption of this technology in datacenters.  Hopefully we will look back a year from now and feel like this was the year that the technology moved beyond the hype phase to real adoption.


Great Companies Are Built by Great People: Redpoint Seeking Community + Events Manager


Over Redpoint’s 15 year history, we’ve been lucky to partner with exceptional entrepreneurs who change the world with great ideas and companies.  In the process we’ve built a deep and wide community of founders, friends and partners in the industry.   One of the best parts of our community is that those in it love to convene, connect and compare notes on everything from practical advice to shared common experiences.

We are currently seeking a talented, detail oriented and ambitious Community + Events Manager with 2-3 years of experience who can help bring our network together on a consistent basis through curated events and social channels.   This person will work with myself and our head of marketing and will be an important part of the Redpoint team. This is a brand new position that can be based out of San Francisco or Menlo Park.

More details are below. If you know someone we should talk to please send a note to me at [email protected]

Community + Events Manager Profile

You are passionate about start-ups with a love of convening entrepreneurs around common goals and interests. You know that big ideas can change the world, but that standing out through smart execution means everything.

You get excited about the power and possibility of thoughtfully curated events and amplifying them with social channels. You’re not just a community manager, you’re an evangelist for your people. You know who they are, their passions, idols and heroes and what keeps them up at night. You learn by listening and observing as much as participating. You plan events in your sleep and obsess over the details.

In this role you will be tasked with organizing a regular cadence of meet ups, dinners and workshops.  You will build and maintain a portfolio company resource center of actionable tools, content, and other relevant materials to help our founding teams. You are  just as comfortable on social media as you are IRL and you know how to integrate the two. Maybe you just saved this post on Pocket.  If you had to summarize Hooked in 140 characters you wouldn’t be fazed.

You know how much your work matters so you also are passionate about using the right tools to measure impact and evaluate programs.

Do great work and make an impact with a team who loves to support founders!


Announcing Redpoint VI

Today we are pleased to share the news that Redpoint has closed Redpoint VI, a $400 million early stage fund. Like its predecessor funds, Redpoint VI will be invested in Seed, Series A and Series B rounds of the next generation of industry-defining consumer and enterprise startups.

Redpoint was founded 15 years ago based on the core values of teamwork, respect and fairness and those principles still guide everything we do today. Since 2014 our companies have had 4 IPOs and 6 M&A events with a market cap in excess of $8 billion.  In total Redpoint  manages $3.8 billion with 434 companies funded and 136 IPOs and M&As.

But numbers only tell part of the story. Redpoint has been lucky to partner with many exceptional founders and develop deep, long-term relationships with people who change the world. There’s no better example than Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, and an entrepreneur Redpoint backed twice before becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence and then joining the firm this year as a venture partner.

Entrepreneurs are re-imagining the world at an ever faster pace. With Redpoint VI, we are excited to continue supporting founders pushing the forefront of technology, creating new markets, and transforming industries as we have with Stripe, Sonos, Twilio, PureStorage, HomeAway, NextDoor, RelateIQ, Zendesk, 2U, Qihoo 360, Kabam, Beepi and Luxe, among many others. We look forward to what comes next in support of the next generation of exceptional entrepreneurs.


Does Your Start-Up Know How to Interview?

Knowing how to effectively interview and evaluate candidates is critical to finding the right talent,  yet most companies don’t take the time to help their teams learn this important skill.  If you don’t train your teams to properly interview candidates you can end up hurting your ability to attract rock star talent.  The good news is that interviewing is a skill that can be taught.

With all of the advice about various types of technical interviews and the “right” way to interview a prospective candidate, how does a start up figure out what type of interviews are best for them? This was the focus of a recent panel event I moderated hosted by the folks over at RockIT Recruiting. The panel was a mix of engineering and recruiting leaders and founders. Here’s a recap of what we discussed.

Find Your Mojo

There is no one-size-fits all solution to figuring out what the right type of interviews are for your company. Be thoughtful about what’s right for your own circumstances and avoid automatically trying to emulate larger companies. Aline Lerner, engineer-turned-recruiter and founder of interviewing.io, pointed out that these larger companies may already have a strong brand which in many cases gives  them a larger supply of candidates. Start-ups need to view the interview as an opportunity to evangelize the company’s vision.

Define the Right Questions

When determining what actual interview questions to use, startups need to use challenging questions but not to make them so hard that no one can answer them. Jared Friedman, Co-founder and CTO of Scribd, suggested having questions that start simple and get progressively harder.  He doesn’t expect that the candidate will necessarily finish a lengthy question in the allotted time, but he likes to see how the candidate approaches it. Another tact is to ask average or slightly above average questions but then grade the candidate harder. If a candidate doesn’t do well on an average question, it tells you more than if they don’t do well on a very hard question.

Emil Ong, Principal Software Engineer and Engineering Lead from Lookout, described their practice of “Hackernoon Days” where people across the company participate in mock interviews with each other. This is a great way to evaluate new interview questions and engage employees as part of the process. Scribd built a wiki of interview questions that have been added to over time, largely from actual scenarios of problems they’ve dealt with over the years. They make a point to test market questions with Scribd’s actual engineers to understand how to qualify and rank a “good answer”.

Assess the Right Fit

An important consideration when hiring people is culture fit, but this is also an area many interview teams don’t know how to assess. Aline from interview.io looks at technical culture fit – is the culture pragmatic or academic? Does the team prefer to just get things out the door or do they believe in testing? A way to see if there is a match to your tech culture fit is to ask questions about their past engineering environments– what they liked, what they would do to improve it, what broke, and how it could have been prevented. You can also ask the candidate outright what defines a good set of best practices to see if it’s aligned with yours.

A critical part of being able to assess for culture fit is to understand what your culture is in the first place. Soham Mehta, who founded Interview Kickstart after spending six years at Box as an Engineering Director, advices companies to define their culture as simply as possible. Make sure employees know your culture and know how to describe it. Then you can evaluate against it.

The market is competitive and if start-ups don’t put the effort into knowing what is important to them – values, culture and technical skills – they will struggle to hire the right people. Your talent brand grows stronger as your company gets more skilled at interviewing, so it’s a good investment of time to put thought into your interviewing process in the early days.  Start off by defining your values because that is what everything in your business, especially the interview process, needs to reflect.



Duo Security: Making Advanced Security Available to All

Today we are excited to announce that Redpoint is leading a growth investment in Duo Security, an emerging leader in the two-factor authentication market. Dug Song and his team have architected an enterprise security solution that is elegant, highly effective, and easy-to-use and deploy. We’re proud to back such a renowned security team expanding the two-factor authentication and access security market to all enterprises.

It is no secret that security breaches are the frequent subject of newspaper headlines. Hackers are becoming more and more sophisticated, and the cost of each breach continues to rise. One of the most common causes for these high-profile security breaches is employee credential theft. With more employees logging in remotely to a variety of corporate data and cloud services, hackers with stolen credentials can access large amounts of sensitive corporate data. While virtually all enterprises have advanced perimeter security defenses, these defenses are not optimized to stop a hacker logging in to a corporate server or cloud service with stolen, yet valid, employee credentials. Two-factor authentication solutions emerged to solve this problem initially through hardware-based token products that proved to be very expensive and cumbersome to use and (not immune from being hacked, as RSA found out a few years back). As a result, until recently, only the largest enterprises embraced two-factor authentication, leaving thousands of other enterprises vulnerable to security breaches based on credential theft.

Recognizing this opportunity, Dug Song and Jon Oberheide (both previously of Arbor Networks), set out to solve the problem by creating a flexible, easy-to-use, two-factor authentication solution for all enterprises leveraging the ubiquity of the smartphone. With Duo Push, users simply type in their credentials and with one-tap on their smartphones they can log into their corporate VPNs, SaaS platforms and on-premise applications. Entire enterprises can be deployed in a matter of hours through a fast self-enrollment process, removing the need for complicated provisioning of hard tokens or clunky mobile apps and SMS codes. Additionally, Duo Security provides easy integration with dozens of cloud apps and allows enterprises to create many custom security features and policies.

Sometimes the most interesting opportunities happen when the right technology meets the market at just the right time. In the case of Duo Security, enterprises of all sizes are realizing the perils of credential theft and the need for two-factor authentication for their employees. By providing the most secure, least invasive, most usable solution to this problem, it is no wonder that Duo Security has managed to quickly grow and land over 5,000 customers including: Facebook, NASA, Box, Paramount, Toyota, and WhatsApp. Dug and his team are committed to providing their customers advanced security solutions beyond two-factor authentication, and just today announced Duo Platform which allows IT teams to define policies for access, automate enforcement of controls based on risk, gain visibility into access-related security threats and get insight into the security profile of end user devices.

Redpoint’s growth fund looks to partner with emerging market leaders and founders who want to build large independent companies. We are very excited to be working with Dug and his team, which now includes Zack Urlocker as COO. Zack previously held that role at Redpoint portfolio company Zendesk and no doubt plans to bring the successful Zendesk growth playbook to Duo Security.

Congratulations Dug and team on the tremendous progress so far. We are looking forward to working with you on the journey ahead!



Andy Rubin Joins Redpoint

Most people know Andy Rubin as the creator of Android. I know Andy as a twenty-something engineer at WebTV who had built a sleeping loft above his cubicle so he didn’t have to leave the office. 20 years, 3 successful startups, and 2 billion Android devices later, Andy is joining Redpoint as a Venture Partner.

WebTV was one of the first companies I ever backed as a venture investor. It had one of the most impressive groups of technical founders with whom I have ever worked, and Andy was one of the first engineers they hired. I noticed Andy was exceptional right away, not only because of his loft, but because he possessed an uncommon combination of technical skill and vision. He developed the first platform that connected the web to people’s televisions. WebTV grew rapidly and ultimately sold to Microsoft for $500 million.

When Andy left Microsoft and co-founded the smartphone pioneer Danger, Redpoint was early to invest. As CEO, Andy built Danger from nothing into the must-have tech gadget of its time with over 2 million devices, and fans like Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg. Danger invented and deployed many of the core smartphone services we use today. Among Danger’s technical firsts were integrated messaging, mobile video, over-the-air OS updating, and the app store. Soon after Danger achieved scale, Andy left and joined Redpoint as an Entrepreneur in Residence. He was a colleague to Satish Dharmaraj who was incubating Zimbra in our offices and later, also joined us a Partner.

It was in Redpoint’s offices that Andy first conceived Android. Ten years later, Android has become one of the most widely adopted technologies in the world, an operating system powering billions of devices. Andy’s expansive vision isn’t just limited to technology. Android’s success depended on discovering the right go-to-market model and pursuing the key business relationships that were required to make it the enormous success it is today. Andy sees what’s possible well before most people.

Whenever I visit Andy, he always has the newest thing, the yet-to-be available gadget.  Years ago, he smuggled from Japan the smallest flip phone in production. He kept robotic dogs as pets. Andy bought one of the first Segways and immediately drove it up a half-pipe, just to see how the gyroscopic systems would react. At Google, he modified a huge auto manufacturing robotic arm to make a cappuccino and stamp the Android logo on it in chocolate. Later, he had a near life-size humanoid robot that followed you around. It’s this wonder and passion for technology that enabled Andy to change the world three times over.

We started talking in earnest about Andy joining Redpoint twelve months ago over a cup of coffee at his wife’s bakery in Los Altos. Andy had some big ideas about the evolution of hardware and software, but he wasn’t sure whether he would pursue them through his own hardware-focused incubator, Playground, or as a partner at Redpoint. Ultimately, we decided he should do both, and so we partnered a fourth time. Andy has become a Venture Partner at Redpoint, and Redpoint is the first investor in Playground.

Andy is a perfect complement to our team at Redpoint helping founders of mobile, marketplace, SaaS and infrastructure companies achieve their ambitions. There isn’t a founder out there that won’t benefit from Andy’s ideas, experience and industry connections.

Andy is already evaluating and backing companies with us, and we’re excited to see how he can help Redpoint founders moving forward. We’re thrilled that he’ll be a part of our team identifying the next great startups and working with teams to realize their full potential.


LinkedIn Buys Refresh

Today LinkedIn announced that it is buying Refresh, the mobile app that helps you discover common ground and build stronger relationships by serving up dossiers on the people you meet, just as you need them.  We’re proud to have backed founders Bhavin Shah and Paul Tyma from the company’s early stages and we’re excited to see Refresh join forces with LinkedIn.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it takes to be a successful founding CEO over the years. Some founders spend years speculating on the next hot trend with sizable market potential, then convince themselves they’re in love with the idea. Occasionally, it works. But most great founders are driven by something else — an experience or insight they’ve gleaned from the real world that they believe can lead to something much bigger. This was the case with Refresh.

Twelve years ago, Refresh founder and CEO Bhavin Shah was head of business development at LeapFrog when he received a call from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Federal Government was in the middle of in rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan and seeking ways to improve the nation’s infant and maternal mortality rates. Many of the population were illiterate and lacked basic education on health fundamentals like immunizations and sanitation. The answer, they hoped, was the LeapPad: a book that could read itself aloud.

Two years later, Shah found himself en route to Afghanistan to help distribute the devices when he received a copy of a briefing book addressed to Tommy Thompson, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. The thick binder was full of reports related to the trip: weather forecasts, itineraries, and personnel dossiers. The first meeting on the docket after landing was with Dr. Sohaila Seddiq, Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Health and head of the women’s health initiative. Shah noticed that Secretary Thompson was studying his Briefing Book; Shah could follow along too, since he had a copy. This was Thompson’s fourth meeting with Dr. Seddiq, it told him. It knew where they’d first met, the promises he’d made, and a smattering of other details that had been meticulously recorded by Thompson’s aides.

The meeting proceeded seamlessly, Secretary Thompson conversing with Dr. Seddiq as if she were an old friend. As Shah watched on, he began to see that the binder wasn’t merely for streamlining logistics and keeping up appearancesit changed the dynamic entirely.

It quickly became a trend. In the minutes before pulling up to the Royal Palace to unveil the LeapPad project alongside Afghan President Harmid Karzai, Shah watched as Secretary Thompson once again pored over the binder, periodically checking key points with aides. An hour later, Thompson was congratulating President Karzai on his recent election success, referencing long-ago conversations that quickly rekindled their rapport. The tablet’s debut was a marked success.

After arriving home, Shah found himself wishing for a binder personalized for his own life. The idea faded, but it never disappeared. Six years later, as Shah looked at the growing amount of information people were sharing publically, as themselves, he found himself thinking back to the binder, to how powerful the right information at the right time can be — and Refresh was born.

We’re happy for Refresh to team up with LinkedIn on this next phase of its journey.  We remain intrigued by the next wave of applications coming out of advances in ambient intelligence.  And although they may not all contain stories with Afghan presidents, we’ll continue to look closely at founders with those aha moments.


Building a Strong Talent Community

Redpoint‘s reputation for supporting founding teams was the main reason I joined the firm last fall to head up Talent. My role is to work with our companies and help them build the right sized recruiting and talent programs.  I love working with our founders and finding ways both big and small to help our companies grow and succeed. Now that I’ve been here six months and worked closely with Redpoint’s partners, I have an even greater appreciation for the issues our companies are facing at both the early and growth stages.

Recently we brought together a group of talent leaders from our companies, including Beepi, Vurb, Homejoy, Coin, and others, to have them meet one another and share their experiences building talent programs. Turns out this group is so passionate about talent there wasn’t enough time to cover everything, so we focused on three main themes. Below is a summary along with some practical advice from Redpoint talent leaders on what helped them be successful their roles.

Branding: What’s Your Talent Brand?

In this highly competitive market, your company’s reputation and brand are key factors in being able to hire the right talent. How you showcase who you are as an employer greatly impacts your ability to attract – and retain – great talent. Every company should be thinking about their Talent Brand and even small, early stage companies have easy opportunities to focus in this area. Highlighting your culture and employees on your company career site through things like videos, pictures, and testimonials from employees is the best place to start, but there are so many other areas to think about. Many of our companies work with LinkedIn career pages, Glassdoor, The Muse, and Stack Overflow, to tell their story where the candidates are looking for jobs. A great piece of advice from the VP of People & Brand at Pocket Gems, Carrie Simonds, is that developing the content to show off your Talent Brand shouldn’t be only recruiting’s responsibility. Partnering with Marketing and PR is a great way to develop your company’s narrative and ensure there is a consistent and compelling message across all channels. Most importantly, make sure your narrative describes an accurate picture of what it’s really like to work at your company because candidates and employees will know when it’s not authentic.

Engagement: Turning Employees into Recruiters

Everyone who is working at a high growth company needs to make recruiting a top priority. That’s right, I said everyone; growing your company shouldn’t be solely on recruiting’s plate.  The best ambassadors for your company are your employees and when employees are engaged with recruiting, it helps your brand and has the ability to attract talented stars that are already in your employees’ networks. Most companies will say that hiring and recruiting are priorities, but do their calendars reflect that? That is a question that Coin’s Head of Talent, Jack Shahin, calls critical. Actions speak louder than words. If employees aren’t spending time interviewing, attending meet ups and events to help find talent, taking time to help with outreach to candidates, then recruiting isn’t a priority.

To help employees get out there to network and meet potential candidates, pair employees up to attend events together or, even better, host an event at your own company – a great way to show off your office space and an easy way for employees to talk with many people about what it’s like to work at your company. Schedule time for an entire team to get together and have a sourcing session and don’t let them leave until they each give you 5 names of potential leads (bring food)! And since people love talking about what they do, get them to write it for a company blog – a great way for candidates to get insight on who their potential teammates will be and for these employees to feel valued.

Another great way to help employees think like recruiters is to get them involved with creating the job descriptions – ask them if they would be interested in the job the way it’s written and if not, have them help write a better version. Use interview debriefs (yes, you should be having them for every candidate) as opportunities for employees to really think about how to add the right talent to the team. Prabha Krishna, who is leading recruiting efforts at Jaunt, says when they review candidates, the interview team asks “will this candidate help us hire the next person?” By trying new ways of engaging your employees and having them be the voice of your brand, it’ll be like you have a whole company of recruiters and your recruiting efforts should be much more successful.

Success: Measuring the Value of Talent Acquisition

So your company is trying all these different recruiting methods and hiring people across the board, but how do you really know which methods are working? How do you measure the success of your efforts? There are many different types of metrics you can use .  Our group of talent leaders relied on these:  time to fill the position, cost of recruiting per hire, sources of hires, the percentage of hires that come through employee referrals, quality of hires, how long candidates are in each stage of the pipeline, offer acceptance rate, and reasons for any declines. There is also tremendous value in a satisfaction rating, by asking new hires (and candidates that ended up not getting hired) how the recruiting process went so you can get real feedback on what people are experiencing as they go through your recruiting process. By telling the right story to your business leaders, they begin to understand how valuable the talent acquisition programs truly are.

We all know how tough it is to attract and hire a rock star team, and having a strong talent leader in place to partner with the business is critical. The dialog with Redpoint’s Talent Leaders during this event let me see first hand how strong and creative this group is; I know we’ll continue to learn from one another for quite some time. It’s exciting to see all the great employees they on board at their companies. I can’t wait to meet up with them again and hear how they did it.

Drop me a line if you want to connect about any of these topics or if you’re interested in becoming a talent leader at one of our companies.



Backing Collective Health

I don’t like my existing health plan.  I have good coverage and access to great doctors, but I still find the overall experience to be really frustrating.  Every time a member of my family sees a medical professional, an onslaught of mail follows providing a lot of data, but very little insight.  “THIS IS NOT A BILL” is stamped over the countless statements I receive, but in the barrage of numbers there is no clear explanation of benefits or a summary of where I stand relative to my deductibles.  Deciphering the communications takes way too much time and I have an uneasy feeling that somehow I am getting screwed.   The web experience for customer service and support is equally baffling, so much so that I most often opt to calling customer service and sitting on hold for a while to get basic questions answered.

What’s worse is that as an employer, I have very little control of building the health care plan I want for my employees.  Outside of very large companies, businesses are stuck choosing from a limited set of plans that aren’t customized or differentiated in any meaningful way.  Aside from payroll, healthcare is the single most employee benefit a company provides and, by and large, their employees aren’t really satisfied.

Now imagine a health plan that provides great coverage and access to the best doctors, while also providing an incredibly easy to use web and mobile interface to access coverage data, deductible information, and even anticipated costs of pending procedures, etc.  As an employer, imagine having the ability to build your own plans optimized to your employee base and offering truly differentiated benefits.

In an effort to make this a reality, we are pleased to announce our investment in Collective Health.  Collective Health is a technology company that has built a powerful software platform and partnered with leading healthcare networks to provide a breakthrough healthcare experience for employees and employers. It is the healthcare plan I want and I believe you will too.

While we were drawn to the product and market, as always, our primary motivation is the people.  Founders, Ali Diab and Rajaie Batniji, have built a remarkable team bringing to together data scientists, designers, software architects, healthcare experts, and actuaries uniquely suited to take on the task of building a better health plan.  It is a bold idea and we love partnering with teams with huge ambitions ready to face whatever challenges may come.  We are thrilled to partner with them on their journey and look forward to helping discover how good a health plan can be.


Why Every Tech Company—Large and Small—Needs a China Strategy

Everyone knows that China is a complex place for U.S. companies to do business. From the obvious cultural and language differences to the regulatory landscape to the sometimes unpredictable political climate, it can be a country where even the most experienced entrepreneurs and executives stumble. Nonetheless, it is an increasingly vital component of any company’s long-term strategic plan, particularly when it comes to tech.

That is why Redpoint recently hosted a gathering of our founders and CEOs to talk all things China. Our firm has been active there for more than a decade, investing in excess of 30 China-based startups, including such standouts as Qihoo 360, iDreamSky, and APUS. With offices in Beijing and Shanghai, Redpoint is an established, well-networked presence on the native tech scene. More than that, we have friends who know what it takes to be a winner in China. We invited two of them—Tao Li, a former Qihoo 360 executive who is now CEO of APUS, and Jim Wilkinson, Alibaba’s Head of International Corporate Affairs–to share their perspectives.

Most global tech companies already understand the importance of China. But startups often misunderstand that many of the same economic drivers apply to them as well. They believe that because they are small or just getting to market, they don’t yet need to consider the China question. This kind of thinking is short-sighted. Why? It comes down to the three Cs: Cash, Customers, and Competition.


China is awash in cash and anxious to invest it. Tech giants like Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and others are investing in homegrown and international startups like never before. In fact, the number of venture-backed technology companies coming out of China has increased six-fold in just four years. “Every U.S. company needs to have a strategy to get money from China,” explains David Yuan, the partner heading up Redpoint China. “It is increasingly a funding source. This is a way for Chinese companies to learn and penetrate the market.”

This spending spree is in part due to a maturing local venture capital community as well as the emergence of big global brands and platforms like Alibaba in China. One-third of the top 20 Internet companies as measured by market cap are China-based. They are looking to deploy capital in ways that can increase their reach both domestically and internationally. Wilkinson says Alibaba, for instance, “will look at anything to attract more people to its platform or improve the user experience.” That, he says, translates into opportunities for innovators with disruptive technologies as well as companies selling goods and services that China’s massive population wants. That’s why Alibaba in 2014 alone pumped cash into a wide array of startups, from Lyft to FirstDibs to Tango. This investing trend is likely to accelerate and include outright acquisitions, some of which will be very high profile companies.


Whether on the consumer or enterprise side, China represents an endless stream of possible customers. The numbers tell the story—700 million internet users, more than 300 million online shoppers, 520 million smart phone users—just to name a few. It is virtually impossible to ignore such a gargantuan market, which is why companies of all shapes and sizes are teaming up with China’s behemoths to bring American goods to Chinese consumers. Even giants like Amazon, which just announced the opening of a storefront on Alibaba’s Tmall.com, understand the importance of partnership. “Companies can go through Alibaba to get to the China market,” explains Wilkinson.

In fact, going through Alibaba or other native platforms may be the only way for U.S. consumer companies to reach China’s population. While seemingly more open than it was even five years ago, China remains a country governed by a strong nationalist interest, which often shows itself through protectionist policies. The Chinese government is actively discouraging local companies from buying American products and services due to security concerns as well as a basic philosophy that all key markets should be dominated by homegrown companies.

Both Wilkinson and APUS’ Li caution anyone looking to do business in China or with Chinese companies to first understand the rules of the game. Wilkinson says most people’s notions about China are outdated. He advises companies to visit multiple times to educate themselves before doing deals. That means not just understanding the business climate but also the political and regulatory climates as well. Even better, says Wilkinson, is finding a Chinese entity to guide you. “It’s very hard to go it alone,” cautions Wilkinson. “You need a partner.”

Putting in the effort is more than worth it, says Li. Significant opportunities are still available in China, particularly for those focused on the enterprise space. That market, says Li, is only now developing as China looks to the U.S. and elsewhere for the next waves of innovation. Smart young companies can and should take advantage while China’s tech and business community still welcomes their ingenuity and next-generation insights. “At the entrepreneurial level, you can do well in China,” explains Li, noting that won’t always be the case as China continues to move up the learning curve.


While China can be a potent partner, it is also a ferocious competitor. The local tech scene, once content to copy successful U.S. business models, is now able to innovate and develop in ways that rival the U.S. like no other country can. Indeed, China has the talent, resources, and ambition to match and in some cases outdo Silicon Valley on the global stage. Look no further than Li’s APUS for proof. In just six months, the company, known as a launcher for Android, has more than 100 million users—almost all of whom are outside of China.

To some, China’s broadening influence may seem threatening. But smart entrepreneurs should instead view it as an opportunity, particularly in the U.S., a market that is coveted by Chinese tech companies. “Chinese companies want legitimacy on the global stage,” explains Wilkinson. “They crave it from the financial centers in the U.S. So working with U.S. companies is like they’ve made it.” Adds Li: “Most Chinese companies want to be in the U.S. but they are not ready.”

That is because just as Americans struggle to understand the ins and outs of the Chinese market, the Chinese have the same problems when it comes to entering the U.S. They need—and are actively looking for– American partners to help pave the way. Li says it’s important to take advantage of this educational period now. China will only need our help for so long, he says.

Beyond the U.S., China’s interest in other countries, from Brazil to Indonesia to Russia, can yield more possibilities for startups. Li says Chinese companies are globally focused and looking to build products and provide services for U.S. startups with breakthrough technologies. “China will be a bridge into other big markets,” says Li.

This is all good news for Silicon Valley and U.S. tech companies in general. Done smartly, companies in the U.S. and China, both large and small, can find ways to help one another. Redpoint is seeing that every day and remains committed to working with the only other country in the world with a self-sufficient ecosystem devoted to finding and bringing to market the next great innovations.