MobileIron: Bringing Mobile Magic to the MOBL Workforce

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It’s hard to imagine now, but when Bob Tinker, Suresh Batchu and Ajay Mishra first walked through the doors at Sequoia in January 2008, building a business around enterprise mobility seemed like a pipe dream. Blackberry’s position looked unassailable. The iPhone, which had shipped a few months earlier, was dismissed by everyone in corporate IT as a toy for consumers. The iPad and AppStore did not exist, and the letters “BYO” (“Bring Your Own”) were more likely to be followed by a “B” for “Bottle” than a “D”  for “Device”.

Yet the founders’ conviction was unshakeable. Bob, Suresh and Ajay had spent the prior six months talking to customers. They saw the emerging gap between an employee’s desire to work efficiently on a device of her choice, and a company’s need to secure corporate data. They realized iOS and Android would inevitably make their way into the workplace, creating a new and complex world for corporate IT to manage — and the opportunity for a new kind of company to help them. It was hard not to be impressed by the combination of Bob’s vision, Ajay’s product instincts, and Suresh’s technical depth. We quickly decided to partner with them, and joined Storm Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners as MobileIron’s first investors.

As often happens with the most visionary companies, MobileIron initially struggled to find its footing. The financial crisis was at its height; purchase orders were sparse and, the few that did materialize were smaller than expected. In retrospect, this was a blessing. Those challenging early days helped Bob shape the culture around his values of frugality and resourcefulness. They gave him time to build out the management team, and allowed the technology to mature.

It was not until 2011 that the world started to catch up with MobileIron’s vision. That’s when smartphone shipments surpassed feature phones, and mobile devices out-shipped PCs.  More importantly, apps and devices available to people at home overtook what was provided to them at work. Employees’ expectations changed and everyone from the CEO on down started using their personal iPads and storing files in “consumer applications” like Dropbox. IT departments could not keep up, and suddenly mobility became the number one priority for almost every CIO.

In the space of several years, MobileIron had sold to over six thousand customers, grew revenue to over $100m in 2013, and built a team of more than 500 people. Looking back over the company’s remarkable journey, two key things stand out:

First, Bob and team got the big decisions right.  In our very first investment memo about the company in January 2008, MobileIron describes its business as “enterprise mobility management”. That’s exactly the same term as Gartner uses today for its Magic Quadrant. From the beginning, Bob and team saw the bigger opportunity beyond Mobile Device Management (MDM), and built a platform for applications and content. As the space has evolved, and customer needs grown more sophisticated, MobileIron has moved with it, maintaining its leadership position in a very dynamic and competitive market.

MobileIron’s second standout quality is its unassailable belief in its own destiny. Bob and team have always focused on the long term, and were never distracted by the acquisitions of competitors, or the technical fad of the day (anyone remember “telecom expense management”?). All the founders have stayed with the company, and are as energized today about the future opportunity as they have ever been. Today’s milestone is just the latest in a series of events that demonstrate the company’s long-term commitment to building a lasting company. 

We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to partner with Bob and team as they build such a transformational business. We are also thankful to have shared the journey with Tae Hae Nam at Storm Ventures, Matt Howard at Norwest Venture Partners, Frank Marshall, Tim Danford, and Paul Holland at Foundation Capital. Finally, we owe a particular debt of gratitude to Gaurav Garg, our former partner and now founder of Wing Ventures, who led Sequoia’s initial investment and remains intimately involved with the company today.

Huge congratulations to Bob and the entire team at MOBL. We could not be happier for you.

- Aaref Hilaly, on behalf of Sequoia Capital 

“Most companies, when they’re doing good, they enjoy today’s wonderful life. They don’t worry about five years later—but I worry about five years later.”

— Jack Ma, Alibaba via WSJ

What company: Max, Jan, Kevin, John, Jerry, Adi, Fred, Arash, Elon, Brian, Reid, Julia and Chad. http://seq.vc/e4u1

What company: Max, Jan, Kevin, John, Jerry, Adi, Fred, Arash, Elon, Brian, Reid, Julia and Chad. http://seq.vc/e4u1

Major Congrats to SamA and YC

We’re delighted to add our voices to the growing choir shouting words of admiration and congratulations to Sam Altman on his new role as president of YC.

We were fortunate to have gotten to know Sam when he founded Loopt, where we became an early business partner and investor. He was still underage when we proposed going out for celebratory drinks after signing the term sheet. Even from the beginning, it was clear to us that Sam is whip smart and possesses a keen understanding of how technology will change our lives. That’s why we weren’t at all surprised when years later, after Greendot acquired Loopt, it added Sam to its board.

There is no doubt that Sam is an operator who knows how to scale businesses and navigate his way around Silicon Valley. These qualities, in addition to his experience as a founder, makes him a uniquely great choice to lead and scale YC and continue to disrupt the way interesting companies are built in the future.

Four Numbers That Explain Why Facebook Acquired WhatsApp

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WhatsApp Co-Founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton

Earlier today, Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp for $16 billion. It’s a spectacular milestone for the company’s co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, and their remarkable team.

From the moment they opened the doors of WhatsApp, Jan and Brian wanted a different kind of company. While others sought attention, Jan and Brian shunned the spotlight, refusing even to hang a sign outside the WhatsApp offices in Mountain View. As competitors promoted games and rushed to build platforms, Jan and Brian remained devoted to a clean, lightning fast communications service that works flawlessly.

This approach has served WhatsApp well and its users better. WhatsApp has done for messaging what Skype did for voice and video calls. By using the Internet as its communications backbone, WhatsApp has completely transformed personal communications, which was previously dominated by the world’s largest wireless carriers.  

For the past three years, it’s been our privilege to work shoulder-to-shoulder with Jan and Brian as their close business partner and investor. It’s been a remarkable journey, and we could not be happier for these talented underdogs whose unshakeable beliefs and maverick natures epitomize the spirit of Silicon Valley.

Those less familiar with WhatsApp and its wonderful product will marvel at how a young company could be so valuable. Many of those people will be in the U.S. because there’s no other home grown technology company that’s so widely loved overseas and so under appreciated at home. WhatsApp reminds us of other companies that we partnered with — like PayPal, and YouTube — whose founders chose a similar path to Jan and Brian. Today PayPal and YouTube are both household names around the world. Tomorrow the same will hold true for WhatsApp.

The Bet-the-Company Pivot That Led to Nimble Storage’s IPO

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In July 2009, Varun Mehta—a first-time founder—was driving toward a courageous decision: giving up a sure success for a long shot at disrupting a major category.

Nimble Storage, the company he started 18 months earlier with Umesh Maheshwari, was testing its product, a flash-based caching appliance, or “cacher,” that sat on top of existing storage systems and dramatically improved I/O performance. Beta customers loved the cacher and it looked like a hit. Shockingly, Varun and Umesh wanted to kill it. Instead, they proposed building a primary-storage system that incorporated flash, a much bigger opportunity, but a far riskier one.

“I loved Trivial Pursuit as a child, so I was drawn to Thor’s marvelous vision of developing a trivia network on mobile that thoughtfully integrates social features. QuizUp taps our desire to learn, keep in touch with friends and connect with strangers who share our niche interests.”

— Roelof Botha on our latest partnership QuizUp in VentureBeat

A Conversation on Philanthropy with Bill Gates and Sir Michael Moritz

Giving away $30 billion is hard—at least if you want to do it well.

Bill Gates, the world’s greatest active philanthropist, has not only given away that much, but he’s built a foundation that is capable of making sure that money is spent on projects that will make a big difference in the world.

At Sequoia, we’ve long worked with nonprofits and other philanthropic organizations. These groups make up most of our investors, meaning the profits generated by the companies we partner with support their work. So we were thrilled when Bill agreed talk to members of our extended community about philanthropy.

The event took place last month at Airbnb’s new San Francisco headquarters in front of an audience of about 200.

In a wide ranging conversation, Bill and Sequoia’s Sir Michael Moritz discussed which problems are best left to the market and which require philanthropic intervention, the political and geographic problems that often prevent scientific breakthroughs from reaching the people who can benefit from them, and how to get involved in philanthropy even as you work full time.

Here’s a video of the event:

Barracuda IPO: How to Take a Bite Out of a Market

Exceptional entrepreneurs can still succeed in a market that already seems saturated, especially if they combine a simpler product with a better business model. That’s the lesson from Barracuda, which is going public Wednesday. 

Dean, Michael and Zach in 2000 founded Affinity Path, a white label ISP for universities, churches and other nonprofit organizations. Email spam was just becoming a big issue. They would have needed to spend 10 times as much on its infrastructure to handle all the unwanted messages. 

Companies like Postini and IronPort were already trying to stop spam. But Dean, Michael and Zach concluded they were too costly and complex. 

Instead, the team developed its own solution for blocking spam.