I grew up in Bulgaria. I was lucky enough to finish high school a year after the Berlin Wall fell, and for the first time it was feasible for somebody like me to leave the country and come to the U.S. to get an education.
My parents were workaholics, although there was no benefit to being a workaholic in a communist country. My mom was a seamstress and my dad was a car mechanic. They taught me the value of hard work, even if there isn’t an obvious benefit.
I found myself at Stanford during the very crest of the dotcom wave and ended up making a career in the tech industry.
I have always been in product management and product marketing at B2B software companies: a couple of startups, a few larger companies like VMware or Google. The three people who stand out as great mentors are Kamal Shah, who was my boss at Siebel Systems (now he is the CEO of Stackrox – a Sequoia portfolio company), Raghu Raghuram, who was my boss and mentor at VMware for eight years, and Diane Greene, who doesn’t need an intro.
Every company is now a software company, and B2B software is changing radically throughout the value chain – from how software is built, to how it is delivered to customers, and how it is serviced and supported. Engineering teams are using new tools and processes to code; open source has become the de facto standard for how software is built. All of these disruptions create interesting investment opportunities.
I tend to build lasting relationships, which means that I value loyalty. I tend to be personally very loyal and I behave in ways that seem to evoke loyalty in other people. I have multiple friends I’ve known since first grade or before. Now we may live on different continents, but we find ways to keep in touch. I do take a keen interest in developing people.
Product people often tend to think that it’s all about the product. Having an awesome product is absolutely necessary but not a sufficient condition for company success. Many product teams at B2B companies know how to build a product, but they often flail when it comes to putting that product in the hands of customers.
I have been in the trenches as an operating executive for 20+ years of my career and I have fought many of the battles that founders are fighting or will have to fight. And because of that operational experience I have deep empathy for what they are facing.
There are three areas where I can be particularly helpful to founders. The first one is interpersonal, group and organizational dynamics, which I think is 80% of what entrepreneurs are dealing with.
The second one is building a product management function. Every technology company starts with a flash of brilliance from a founder. And by definition every founder is the first product manager and the first chief product officer. But when a company grows, the founder needs to build a system that can consistently and predictably build a high quality product. And there’s a big difference between being the person with the sleeves rolled up building the product versus architecting a system that can continue developing the product vision and execute on that product vision.
Another area that’s dear to my heart is product marketing, which is about how to put a product in the hands of customers. How do you develop the right positioning and messaging? How do you talk about your product in a way that is authentic yet differentiated?
During my year long sabbatical I did a lot of diving, and I got to be face to face with a sperm whale. Imagine this enormous creature that’s literally shaped like a submarine, coming at you, mouth gaping open! It was such a humbling experience.