Long strange trip…

It’s time to move on. What an amazing twelve years! It’s hard to get my head around it, but building a company from 2am brainstorming sessions to a real-live company with employees, customers, and partners sprinkled all over the globe is pretty crazy. It would be easy to say that we accomplished what Farnam and I set out to do at the beginning: build an infrastructure to save the Internet (from DDoS at least), and build something valuable for our friends and families – the American Dream. However, for me personally, it has been so much unexpectedly more.

It’s like trying to plan your life by picking a college major as a high school student. You think you’re picking a destination; however, you’re just picking a trailhead that’s marked with a destination you think you’d like to get to. You are in fact picking a path through unknown territory to a place you’ve only read about.

To make this more concrete with an example, I remember sitting down with Farnam at a coffee shop and interviewing our first VP of Sales – Arbor’s first VP hire. Not only did we not know what makes a good VP of Sales, we didn’t really even know what a VP of sales did day-to-day. Should they run Marketing? What is Marketing? Advertising? Hell if we knew… did we like this guy? We did – and that turned out to be the actual right question for that hire.

Well, suffice to say, it’s been a long time since 2000. There have been a lot of executive positions that have been filled and refilled since then – I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to count them via google and the way-back machine.

However, it turns out that building teams is only part of a founder’s job. Over the course of the last twelve years I’ve constantly shifted my focus as Arbor matured: I used to love to code – still do – I wrote the first version of the Peakflow system; I turned into a salesman – I was the pre-sales engineer that sold all of our early customer wins (paired with our VP Sales); I opened up EMEA sales, hired our early team there and sold the first customers; I stepped in as VP Product Management for three years – most thankless job in the company btw; I led our strategic entry into the Enterprise market with countless trips to NYC and DC; I was tasked with making APAC a meaningful contributor to revenue; I was tasked with M&A – find something to buy – pretty hard problem for VC-backed stock-only private-to-private currency; and I was tasked with M&A again – find someone to buy us; serve as a board member – until the acquisition; and most recently, come up with a next-gen fixed-line and mobile strategy. I’m not trying to write a resume here, but just to point out that wow… that’s a lot of stuff that was certainly not disclosed on the sign at the beginning of the trailhead that said, “Start a Tech Company and be its Chief Technology Officer!” You can see why I always groan on the inside when someone asks me what a CTO does.

The most unexpected part of starting the company, that was both humbling and weighed the most on me though, was the responsibility to the employees and customers that I felt. As a researcher, I was used to doing all the lifting on my own. I could be as risky and crazy with my ideas and projects as I wanted – the way to innovation. However, you quickly learn in a startup, that you need to share the load in order to carry anything meaningful. The problem is, once you’ve convinced friends (and friends to be) to relocate their families and join you on your crazy trip, the joint weight of that responsibility (kids’ shoes, medical care, food, mortgage payments) comes to bear on you.

We started raising our second round of funding Sept 1, 2001 – not good timing. We came to really appreciate our capital for the oxygen that it is. We closed it in February of 2002, the last dollar we took in fundraising. Needless to say, that a day didn’t go by when I didn’t worry about all of the families that depended on our decisions. Don’t screw it up, Rob!

Another unanticipated aspect of founding the company was the travel. For the past twelve years my home has been Northwest Airlines (now Delta). I spent more days on the road than at home. I’ve been {platinum, diamond} at {Northwest, Delta} since 2000 – at least Detroit’s (DTW’s) only one-hop from anywhere on the planet. I’m past the million-mile mark and closing in on two. I’ve used up all of my visa pages (and extensions) in two passports. As a kid, the idea of traveling to the South Seas was intoxicating. Last month I finally got there – spending a week in APAC attending Arbor’s customer summit in Bali. That trip along with some follow-on meetings with customers in Singapore gives a good example of my flight itineraries: DTW->AMS->SIN->DPS->SIN->NRT->DTW. I spent 48 hours travel time for about 72 combined hours in Indonesia and Singapore – multiply this by twelve years to approximate my travel. It was sitting on the beach in Bali under a tree watching the surf – and wishing I were only home – that it finally hit me. Time to take a break.

There are reasons why it won’t be so bad on Arbor for me to leave now. Arbor’s been on a hiring tear these last twelve months (and it’s still going strong). We’ve filled out the management team with great players, and have been building onto a fantastic engineering team as fast as we can hire in all three development centers: Ann Arbor, Boston and Atlanta. We’ve hired new product managers for the enterprise product lines that are full of energy and come from battle tested security companies. We just hired a new leader for our corporate development team and another for our security research team. I won’t spoil any of the surprises, but there are lots of great new products and features coming down the roadmap that are just what the customers need, want, and in some cases, don’t even know they need or want yet. The sales teams continue to do what they do best: overachieve in every region.

I remember meeting with a VC back in October or November of 2001 on Sand Hill Road with Farnam. Due to the terrible funding climate post Sept-11 attacks, we had scaled back our sights to just trying to raise a mezzanine round. He sneered at us, told us that denial-of-service was a fad that had passed, and that we’d be out of business within six months. It turns out that his firm is the one that no longer exists. Denial-of-service attacks – unfortunately for society – were not a fad. They continue to escalate in sophistication and magnitude. Arbor’s core market is only growing. Arbor’s acquisition by Danaher has gone smoothly. Two years into the merger, life is pretty much the same for most of the company. The promise of the acquisition has been playing out: stand alone Arbor backed with significant financial firepower. This combination of company and market stability allows me to be able to pick now as an opportune time to step off – without any worries.

We’re a long way from the winter of 2000, when our small band of crazies broke onto our building’s rooftop to raise the pirate flag; or the winter of 2001 when we drilled a hole through the roof to get a live Olympics feed for our “SOC”. These days people bang on the glass and feed the hackers. There are so many people that have made Arbor great, that I can’t call them all out here. You know who you are: Employees (what a horrible way to say friends), Customers, Partners, even Competitors – you’re all there! Thank you all, from the heart.

Your friend always,
-Rob

PS. If you get confused, just listen to the music play.

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