Patrick Sullivan: I worked in sales at Xerox. They have a world-class sales program. At the end of the day, I learned a ton about the business side. You get quite an education on how companies are built. You work with so many companies that you start to see how companies operate. I did that for seven years. A long time ago, I still remember my dad telling me, “At some point in your life, you should never work for someone.” That stuck with me.
After seven years at Xerox, I did pretty well. I was at a bar with a buddy and I’ve known this guy for a couple of years. He looked at me and said, “I heard you’re good at business. I’m trying to start a company. I’ll deal with the product stuff and you deal with the business stuff.” I’ve known this guy for a couple of years. I was ready to move on from the last company. I asked him, “Just for my knowledge, what are we going to be doing?” He said, “We’re going to disrupt telecommunication.” I liked the idea of trying something new.
Sramana Mitra: What was the idea of disrupting telecom? What were you going to do to disrupt telecom?
Patrick Sullivan: I didn’t know this at that time. Behind the scenes, telecom has always been a black box for everybody. This was back in 2009. No one really knew how stuff was working behind the scenes. All the major carriers were really slow to innovate. His vision was to make an open source platform that people can use to create their own products. Their products can be anything that is related to telecom. People can build on top of it just based on API.
Back in 2009, that was pretty revolutionary. Everybody tried to make the network contained. His vision was to build a distributed open network. That’s what we started with. In 2009, we were still in the housing crisis. Tech was starting to come back to life. We started anew with a bunch of venture capitalists and angel investors. We were going to them saying, “We’re looking to build large-scale distributed platforms that people can connect to via APIs.”
The funny thing is the venture capitalists and the angels weren’t interested in us at all. They were like, “Why would you want to build a platform when you can build an application?” Apps were the big thing in 2009. We had 50 meetings with venture capitalists. In all 50 meetings, they’ll say, “You really should be just building an app. Platforms are too much work.” A lot of venture capitalists follow where people are going.
Sramana Mitra: It’s been true since the beginning of time for venture capitalists.
Patrick Sullivan: It’s hard for entrepreneurs because they have a vision. They see it very clearly. Sometimes, it gets frustrating when you can’t explain it to other people. We were coding on the side, but we didn’t have anything to show them. One day, Darren and I sat down. We were pretty frustrated. I said, “I can sell your knowledge. I can sell what you’ve gained through the years. Why don’t we just sell consulting services, take that consulting services, and build that into a company and at the same time, build our own product?” Darren was open to that idea. At this time, we were working out of Darren’s apartment.