“Measure, iterate and improve.” This core value for Appcelerator, the groundbreaking mobile app development platform recently acquired by Axway for an undisclosed but hefty sum, also reflects the entrepreneurial approach of its founder and CEO, Jeff Haynie.
The serial technology entrepreneur helped shape the Atlanta startup scene. Successes in the dot-com days, developing the city’s first digital incubator, eHatchery, and later creating the communications software provider, Vocalocity, made Haynie a shining tech star in the South. Then, he left for the Silicon Valley (some would say, rather unceremoniously).
Eight years later, Haynie is reflective rather than reactive. His kindly drawl punctuates thoughts on the Atlanta scene, iterative approaches to startup success, and advice to entrepreneurs. Here, Haynie tells Hypepotamus about his journey from founder of a small startup to a global game-changer.
What are some of the things you are proud to have achieved with Appcelerator before the recent buyout by Axway?
My biggest things, which I have been proud of, have been the ecosystem and community we have been able to build across the world. 100s of millions of people are end users using our product every day. Going from Atlanta with a small-time idea, to something where everywhere I go around the world, people know who we are in the technology space is pretty amazing. Second to that is working with amazing people throughout the life cycle of the company. There are the employees inside the company, advisors, and investors, but also the opportunity to work with people all over the world doing amazing things.
You raised over $90 million before the acquisition. Do you have fundraising advice?
Fundraising is a double-edged sword. My advice now, having raised money in Atlanta and through Silicon Valley before moving, is probably a lot different to what some experience now. I mean it is always hard to give this advice, but I would say don’t raise too much money too fast. You want to raise enough money to get to milestones, but not too much to get overly confident in a way that leads to bad behavior. Raise money if you can. I mean it is hard to take this advice if you don’t have the money coming in. But if in the situation to raise, to do it, find the right money to do it, put money in to execute a plan, yet don’t get sloppy and become undisciplined.
We raised more than 90 million dollars. Being someone who has raised over a hundred million over several companies from different investors, there are lots of different people at various stages offering funding. It is about finding the right capital partner at the right stage. Some partners we had would have been horrible as seed investors, but were great at a later stage. Remember that not all money is the same. Finding the right partners is really important.
You seem to have been at the forefront of the mobile app movement with Appcelerator, can you speak to developing in the mobility market?
Mobility still has a lot of growth in the ecosystem. But now we are eight years in with mobility in the market with a new generation of providers. Mobile has become part of a larger digital strategy. If you aren’t doing mobile, you are going to be in trouble. It’s gone from people being early adopters to being a mainstay.
Everything is going to be mobile. It is going to be a part of an overarching strategy. And there is plenty innovation still left within that.
Why did you decide to make the move to Silicon Valley from Atlanta?
We moved at a time when the whole world was different, and certainly Atlanta as a startup scene was different. It was certainly a whole different world versus a thousand other things that have happened since. In 2008, when we moved, the startup landscape in Atlanta was much harder than today. I had been in Atlanta my whole life. Moving to Silicon Valley was at a time of thinking for me to move into the big league, do something with a bigger stage, with larger players and money – the whole thing. Needed to boost our networking and products to get to where we wanted to go.
Coming to Silicon Valley has been a great experience. I wouldn’t say it would be impossible to do in Atlanta, but that wasn’t available to us then.
You started an incubator called eHatchery, can you tell me a bit about that and why you decided to close?
I joined at a time with famous Atlanta entrepreneur Jeff Levy, who worked at Relevant Knowledge when it merged with Media Metrix and went public in the DotCom days. I had the opportunity to work at that time with him while I was building a software development company and then helped build the software for his company. I missed the opportunity to be part of Relevant Knowledge as an employee through their IPO. Around late 1998, Jeff went to Bill Gross at IdeaLab! and he started this idea to create an accelerator, a for-profit incubator and he asked me to join him to help build it out. That was how that started and lifted off the ground.
I’ve always been a technical founder. At the time, there was only one thing in town – ATDC, which was more non-profit focused and a bit different than it is today. It didn’t have a profit motive, whereas with eHatchery we could match ideas with a physical space and accelerate business with tech and innovation, and foster the creation and launch of companies. This is much more common now with things cropping up like Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Tech Square Labs, but it was the only thing in town back then. Back then, the first million raised by a company went into building out your rack at a data center. Now that doesn’t exist. You can launch on Amazon for pennies and dollars and get on to growing.
In the end, there was some crash and burn. We raised about $14-15 million and put it into a wonderful building and space and some good entrepreneurs. It was nothing of its kind and reflected the Silicon Valley kind of space, where investors from all over the world came. We did a lot of great stuff and then the Dot Com collapse happened. We had a bunch of companies which were interesting Internet businesses, but the capital markets changed and things started shutting down. We wound down eHatchery and did what we could to make the most of it, but being part of that helped me launch another company, Vocalocity, in 2000. My co-founder, Nolan Wright, at Appcelerator worked with me near the beginning of Vocalocity and my other co-founder at Vocalocity worked with me at eHatchery (see how that works?).
What are some of your tips to startups at all stages of development, say from those starting out to those who have hit their stride?
There are millions of tips if you read my blog [with a laugh]. One thing, working with lots of founders and entrepreneurs, is that founders have gotten a lot better. There is still that struggle, though, of truly being an entrepreneur and not a wannapreneur. On the way to getting success, lots of people are going to offer you advice – everyone has three tips. The number of mistakes that I made from not doing what my gut told me versus what people suggested… Some people who gave advice were incredibly successful; one mentor was someone who was tremendously famous in the sales space, but you have to know that no one knows your vision, the context that you are in, other than yourself. On the other side, don’t be turned off from listening. You just don’t want to be willing to take any advice. At the end of the day, you get most of the credit and all the blame. Know how to synthesize advice and turn it into action as necessary. The number of times that people said we need to do this, when in the back of my head it didn’t feel right…Man, that advice is what gets you in trouble. No one is doing it out of malice, but it is good to systemize your own circumstances to filter to your own sense of need that is relevant to what you want to do.
After being chased by other suitors, what led to the decision to be acquired, and what are your plans now that Appcelerator is Axway?
For us, there were macro and micro things going on. There was just an opportunity to do it when we were approached. The timing is really good – when the market has some uncertainty to where it is headed. We started feeling last summer that we had such a good run, that, not just us but the whole market, is about to shift in the next two years. It could be a correction and could potentially be rocky. The market is going to shift, not necessary negatively, but we started feeling that those dynamics mean that we would have to raise more money to sustain any change in the climate and we also had some interest; we got more definitive in talking with people and it became clear – 1+1 could equal 11 [through an acquisition]. Axway wasn’t the first to approach us, but as we talked with them, it became clear that it seemed like a really good fit. Time with them turned into a deal. It just made sense. It’s not more complicated than that. [laughs]
Lastly, you mentioned in your recent viral blog post that Appcelerator isn’t your first nor last startup. Do you have an idea about what industry you hope to chase through a future venture?
No immediate plans, as I’m focused on helping Axway. I’m most excited about, on a high level, not industry-oriented but technology-solution oriented. In context of the acquisition, I’m interested in machine intelligence and analytics. Machine data is very exciting right now. See it becoming how you leverage data machines more to be self-aware and intelligent is a big area that I’m pretty excited about. Second is experience. We are moving towards an experience-oriented economy – the value of experience over the raw commodity of it. There are also more opportunities within the cloud. Just not the tip of it. Seeing that with Axway. Then there are robotics and computer vision, economist computing; testing machines to be task-driven machines to computers telling me how to do a better job.
Want to meet and hear from Jeff Haynie? He will be the keynote speaker at the 2016 ATDC Startup Showcase on May 12 as part of the Atlanta Startup Week.