Jonathan Seelig Of Ridge: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
Trust your co-founders. If you have truly diverse skill sets, you won’t always see the specific contributions that the others are making.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Seelig.
Jonathan Seelig, is co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Ridge, the world’s most distributed cloud. He works with early stage technology companies as an investor, advisor and board member. He was previously co-founder of Akamai, which was the world’s first CDN. Mr. Seelig is a frequent speaker at cloud industry events.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I studied Physics as an undergraduate — and when I graduated, I realized that my classmates who were going into careers in Physics were a lot better at it than I was. So instead, I decided to try and get a job in the technology field. I ended up working for a telecom equipment company in Israel as my first job out of college.
The first set of products that I worked on was compression equipment for voice telephony. It allowed telecom operators to put 8 times as many calls on the same long-distance bandwidth as they could before.
I grew up in Vancouver Canada, but my mother was from Boston and my father was from Israel. As a kid, I remember the scheduled long distance phone calls to my grandparents. They were always brief and at low tariff hours.
I loved working on equipment that was going to mean that more people could communicate at lower prices. That first job really put me on the path to be an infrastructure geek for much of my career. Most people don’t think much about the underlying infrastructure and technologies that make our networks work — but it fascinates me.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Ridge is my second startup company. I started it with my co-founders almost 20 years after I started Akamai, my first startup. Akamai has become a very large, successful, innovative, and profitable company. But getting there wasn’t easy. At Akamai we pioneered the Content Delivery Network or CDN. We installed servers in lots of data centers around the world.
The very first servers we installed were in a data center in Waltham, MA. My co-founder, Danny Lewin (who was tragically killed on 9/11) and I drove the servers out to the data center in the back of my car. We didn’t realize that we were supposed to bring our own tools to install the servers in the racks — so we ended up using the screwdriver from the spare tire kit in my Mazda to install our first rack of servers.
At Ridge, the challenges have been very different. Building a company in today’s market is quite different than it was 20 years ago. The signal to noise ratio is very different today — it’s much harder to get seen and heard. On the other hand, the infrastructure market is so much bigger than it was 20 years ago. And today, every company in the world is thinking about how to leverage modern cloud and network capabilities to drive their business.
We have also been building Ridge across multiple geographies through the Covid crisis. That has been very difficult. My co-founders and I started out seeing each other almost every single month — and then we went nearly two years without being in the same room.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The motivation for us at Ridge is to finally see the incredible promise of the modern cloud come to fruition. Cloud infrastructure shouldn’t just be leasing a server instead of buying it. It should create a new level of performance at global scale. Seeing that vision become a reality is very motivating to me and to our entire team at Ridge.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, I already shared my story about not having any tools to install servers in a data center. I’m sure there’s some sort of “right tool for the job” lesson to be learned from that one.
In the early days at Ridge, we held a weeklong company meeting at our office in Israel. At the time, I think that Tel Aviv had more Lime and Bird scooters per block than any other city in the world. One of our top developers who was in from Europe had never ridden an electric scooter and was excited about trying one. He set up an account, unlocked his scooter, and went tearing down the street, teetering and weaving… My co-founders and I looked at each other in a panic, and one of our other developers and I hopped on scooters and went chasing him down. We basically just flanked him on either side so that if anyone was going to get hurt it wouldn’t be him. I guess the lesson is that you might need to put your body in harm’s way to make sure your top technical folks stay productive.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have been in the market talking to customers for years about the benefits of having highly performant, distributed infrastructure for their applications. Creating a vision of what the next infrastructure wave will enable is exciting and daunting. What is thrilling to us is that now we have people who proactively come to us and say, “We’ve heard what Ridge is capable of, and we know that if we want to make our new application function at the level that we need it to, we’ll need to talk to Ridge.”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well, I don’t think that I’ve cracked the code on this one… One thing that I have learned is that we all have a lot more energy and motivation when we play to our individual strengths, as opposed to constantly trying to fix our shortcomings. At some point, my co-founders and I realized that although each of us have our own weaknesses — which probably aren’t going away or be easily fixed — we each have different strengths and each of us can make massive contributions to Ridge.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person or community you are grateful for that helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I was very fortunate when we started Akamai to have an early investor named Gil Friesen who really served as a mentor to me. Gil didn’t know technology — he came from the music industry. But Gil knew that the only way to build success was to constantly try to delight your customers. Gil opened remarkable doors for us in the early days at Akamai –I think that 8 or our first 10 customers came through introductions from Gil.
At Ridge, we’ve benefited enormously from the communities around Cloud Native Computing and Kubernetes. The open standards community is driving so much innovation in this space — and Ridge’s vision is strongly informed by that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
So at Ridge we’re still working on bringing goodness to our customer base …. but I’m confident we’ll get to the entire world before too long. Seriously, not everyone considers the cloud as a “make the world a better place” commodity, but we actually do think that what Ridge is doing — untethering the cloud from a few big providers and bringing the cloud and cloud-native capabilities to every location — will accelerate the development of many new applications, in verticals such as health care and manufacturing, that have the potential to improve essential services for everyone.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Trust your co-founders. If you have truly diverse skill sets, you won’t always see the specific contributions that the others are making.
- Have a hiring plan — and be flexible enough to change it. At Ridge, we imagined building most of our go to market team in the US. We happened upon a couple of outstanding people in Israel for some of those roles — and then Covid also hit — and we shifted to having much of that team in our Israel office. The flexibility gave us a better result.
- Relationships matter… And they take time to build. Some of our earliest customers and partners at Ridge took well over a year to start working with us. We just kept in touch and kept reminding them of what we might be able to do for them. The persistence paid off.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I really don’t know.” At Ridge we have a number of strategic decisions that we just don’t have enough data to make, yet. It takes fortitude to live in some of that ambiguity.
- You may think you have an amazing new idea to bring to market, but to others it may fly like a lead balloon. That doesn’t mean it’s not amazing — it just means that you may not yet have understood yourself the full value of your idea and how it’s best explained to outsiders. Sometimes you just have to sleep on it a bit.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!