Interview with David Roth (AppFirst)
AppFirst is an application performance management solution for IT problem resolution.
I interviewed David Roth, AppFirst co-founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to David for the interview!
How would you describe AppFirst in under 50 words?
AppFirst has built the most scalable SaaS platform for collecting, aggregating, and visualizing risk metrics for business critical applications and their infrastructure. Our solutions provide Tech Execs in the eCommerce, Online Gaming, and SaaS industries with the fastest way to ensure their technical operations are meeting their business goals. In fact, any company that considers their applications to be critical to their business success needs AppFirst.
What made you decide to start working on AppFirst?
It’s been clear to our founding team that applications are the business and businesses are successful through their applications. Yet, in more than 20 years of building enterprise software companies, I felt it was unacceptable that more than 80% of the time end users knew about application performance issues ahead of the people technically responsible. Technologist has been forced to settle with tools that were supposed to prevent this but didn’t.
My vision for AppFirst has always been to provide a democratized approach to providing complete production visibility so that all applications run at their best.
What’s your background?
I worked for a division of IBM that sold to NYNEX in the 80’s. I worked at Microsoft in the early to mid 90’s and I have been a serial entrepreneur since leaving Microsoft in 1995 (over 17 years now). My experience ranges from enterprise services, business-to-business e-commerce, IT automation, and application virtualization before starting AppFirst. Most importantly my background is in innovating new & better solutions to known unsolved problems in high growth markets. With AppFirst we are utilizing cloud computing, big data and social collaboration to finally enable application performance for the masses.
What technologies have you used to build AppFirst?
To build AppFirst, we have patent-pending collection technology that enables only AppFirst to see inside any application and provide a complete view of the relationship between all parts of any application architecture and the resources that they depend on. All with the lowest CPU overhead in the market.
All of our collection is compressed & securely sent to our SaaS backend, which is leveraging NoSQL technology, such as Hadoop, for vast scalability and unleashes a number of Big Data benefits.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing AppFirst?
Our first big technical hurdle was building our patent pending technology to provide what I call a MRI of your production application. This inside-out view had to be done in a way that is safe, fast and easy.
The second hurdle was taking the most comprehensive amount of information about applications and their infrastructure and building out a massively scalable SaaS backend that aggregates this data and quickly readies it for actionable insight.
I’d consider the last of the big three challenges to be powerful visualizations that help accelerate business critical meaning from this information, as well as tackling the future challenges of bringing consumerization and gamification to this enterprise cloud platform. Our users want to get all the benefits they’ve come to expect in this social technology age but in the context of our solutions.
How long did it take to put together AppFirst?
AppFirst went from an idea in the Spring of 2009 when we filled out the corporate documents to a VC funded start-up going into the Summer of 2009, and in less than a year we were able to get our initial platform launched, swept the awards at the Under the Radar conference and had our first paying customers in place upon launch in April 2010.
Is your Miss Nothing Data technology still patent-pending?
Yes (it is now referred to as C.H.I.P. Collection). As you know the patent process takes a long time, but we should be more than half way through the process of getting our patent claims approved.
How do you promote AppFirst?
- Social Media and Blogging
- Brief the leading industry analysts
- Partnerships with Public & Private Cloud Technology and Service Vendors
- Trade Shows and Conferences
- We sponsor the OpenStack NY Meetup
- Contribute content to Forbes.com
- Best of all, word of mouth from our hundreds of happy customers telling their professional and social networks
Congratulations on your $4m Series A funding round in partnership with Javelin Venture Partners last year! How is the partnership going?
Thank you. Javelin, along with our other investors from FirstMark and First Round have been great partners to AppFirst. We look at our board of directors as a strategic asset and extension to our company. They have provided great advice, introductions and net net they are great partners in our success.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
Since AppFirst wasn’t even an idea 5 years ago, I’d say that it would have been great to have known 3 years ago that building out a SaaS freemium success has typically taken the most successful companies over 5 years to establish. Another key lesson is being laser focused on a specific community to earn their love. I have great respect now for this lesson and it would have been great if we could have made tougher decisions a few years ago regarding a more narrow sub segment of AppFirst users. On the other hand, where this did not happen as fast, what did take place is we built out a massively scalable platform that has now enabled focused applications and solutions to segmented communities such as specific DevOps groups that have very unique pain/needs in common.
What do you think the software industry will look like in 5 years from now?
The days are over regarding on-premises software. I challenge you to find a recently funded venture backed software company that isn’t built as a service or at least it’s significant in their strategy. I believe the key to the future is that no one vendor will be the one-stop shop and therefore the future is a rich ecosystem of complementary and competing players. All running in the context of on-demand/elastic computing with public, private and hybrid clouds that ideally will provide a federated nature to provide the user the best of both worlds: rich choice of application solutions and platforms of where they best run – all without the fear of vendor lock-in.
Where do you see AppFirst in 5 years time?
I see the AppFirst platform in the center of this ecosystem with rich business and technical risk management solutions that help our most senior or executive users make real time decisions about their applications and infrastructure based on having the most thorough visibility to how they are running today, what their options are, and how they are running in comparison to their peers. As the tech executives utilize us as their information platform to ensure their CEO and board can see the strategic and operational value of the new age CTO/CIO, we will continue to leverage the underlying foundation of information to enable DevOps teams to deliver on a proactive basis of solving problems before end users experience any issues. There, our vision of software just working for “everyone” is realized.
Has AppFirst got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
On one hand, I am amazed by the feedback and growth. The cool thing is we have built AppFirst at every stage with key customers and partners that have made it very clear on the pains they’ve needed someone to solve. Everyone at AppFirst considers our customers to be the center of our universe. Another part about being a SaaS-based company built on the concept of agile and continuous deployments is that our users are able to see the speed of their feedback turn into features unlike I’ve seen in any company I have ever been a part of. With that said we strive to only get better at this everyday. No matter how cool the feature is or the creative spirit of our team, customers and partners will have us busy for life, always working on what’s next.
AppFirst works on the premise that it is successful only if your customers are successful. Any customer success stories you care to share?
We have a story from Christer Svensson, co-founder and owner of web technology agency, Isotop.
The other day I was in a car with a friend working with IT. I told him about AppFirst since he complained about the way they have to do server monitoring now (it takes sometimes takes them a week to do monitoring setups). In under 20 minutes he had registered at AppFirst and installed our collector on 3 Linux servers, all from his iPad while they were in the car.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
Our largest competition comes from companies cobbling together their own custom solutions leveraging a combination of open source technologies. Therefore, with AppFirst our goal is to provide our customers with a scalable platform and extensible solutions that bring their DevOps teams new levels of speed & control while providing their CTO’s with the visibility that aligns their IT Operations to their companies business goals.
Who are some of your existing partners?
We partner with the leaders in PaaS, IaaS as well as Systems Integrators that are rolling out public, private and hybrid solutions. Our partners include EngineYard, Amazon, Rackspace, GoGrid and SoftLayer.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Our biggest hurdle at this point is prioritizing our areas of focus areas of users we want to tailor unique solutions for on top of our platform. Our partnerships play a big role in this because they often have their own subset of user types. Think of these unique solutions as being both vertical in nature, such as our latest work of Business Risk Management tailored to eCommerce technical executives, as well as community-focused such as Ruby developers. In my mind, the key to scaling AppFirst is staying focused on our platform, further enriching solution toolkits, and starting templates that can make it easy for SI’s and industry partners that already are leaders in various verticals and/or disciplines to build solutions.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I am the most proud and excited that AppFirst has gone way beyond proving we can build what people need in helping their businesses run better by ensuring their applications run at their best. The fact that today we are going forward with partnerships that massively scale AppFirst by building us into their cloud fabrics enables us to achieve ubiquity over time. That is very exciting. It’s fun going from hundreds of customers to thousands and from 70 countries to 170 countries… that’s where we are going!
Can you convince the reader to start using AppFirst in under 50 words?
It’s 1:30, do you know how your application is performing? Or are you waiting for your next complaint from a customer? AppFirst uniquely helps you visualize and manage your business and systems risks so you can be proactive and ensure business success. Plus, we have a free version and it only takes a couple of minutes to get up and running!
Finished reading? Check out AppFirst!