Why did I leave Microsoft to start Dolittle?
I am so happy to be part of our new company Dolittle that we started 1st of January 2018. It has been my lifelong dream to help shape a company from the very beginning. It took me nearly 15 years to get here. Why did it take so long, one could ask? Kids that haven’t even graduated (and in some cases not yet in their teens) are creating companies faster than you can write a blogpost. So why soooo slow?
I loved my job at Microsoft! I didn’t leave Microsoft because I was tired or disgruntled. But this was one of the main reasons for me to delay the jump to becoming a founder. I had a great manager, great team and a vision from Satya Nadella that I believed was on the right side of the history.
Secondly, I understand the importance of timing and having the right people with you. Great ideas are abundant, but without the ability to execute, they are worth ZERO. In summary, I would never have left Microsoft to go work for another similar company. So if I was going to leave all this behind, it had to be something that made a dent in the universe.
Let’s go back exactly 365 days, to a sunny spring day in London. After a cost analysis workshop we did for UK based software houses, I found myself in a fascinating conversation with my co-founder (then Microsoft colleague) Einar Ingebrigtsen. Einar shared his vision of how he could change the world by enabling businesses to write software with the help of their domain experts rather than people without domain knowledge writing code. A common outcome of “external” people writing software like this is software that no one was happy with but just had to accept in the end. This often leads to companies changing their processes to accommodate the shortfallings in the new software.
As a former developer that ended up with a focus and passion for business development (and particularly new business models), this intrigued me. However, sadly since I stopped developing in 2005, things have just gone from bad to worse. First, everyone outsourced their IT to someplace far from them and became awesome at procuring new best of breed IT monoliths from vendors who loved to lock-in the customers. I believe at some point there was a rating or some benchmarking of who is the best CIO based how much you were able to outsource. So next thing they did is to integrate everything as tightly as possible using yes you guessed it — offshore teams from the cheapest countries, mainly helping the IT vendors locking you in for the next 10–20 years. This is heaven for Software vendors who was making over 80% margin on maintenance & support(http://info.tsia.com/xaasplaybook) on software that is based on antiquated architectures from the seventies!
The timing was perfect
The digitalisation race started sometime after 2010. Everyone saw how Salesforce and Google were coming for incumbents on-prem businesses that were making them upwards of 80% MARGIN! What other industries made that kind of numbers? At the same time, other non-tech companies started to build software for their customers, one such early example I remember is GE with its Predix platform. This sparked massive interest from heavy asset industries like Oil & Gas, Shipping and Energy. However, just because you want to become a Software Company, it doesn’t mean you are one? So this sparked the age of owning the whole value chain and creating some sort of platforms by hiring a lot of resources from the same vendors they outsourced to in the first place.
The idea to help democratize software development from rigid IT-driven vendor structures to domain business users was the mission that trigged me to quit my well-paid, safe and excellent job and start a new company with Einar and Michael Smith.
Naturally, a good idea alone was not enough to jump ship. Einar and Michael had been developing a framework based on Domain Driven Design by Erik Evans. Already back in 2009, they started on the code that became our core platform when helping companies like Komplett and Statoil. You can read a more technical explanation here.
Now that we had the vision, IP that was battle tested and people you can work with as a team. I just had to try this, so in June 2017 I decided to pitch my idea to an actual customer. We could obviously work with a small customer in the start, but that wouldn’t have proved our point. So I went to one of Norway’s biggest and most global companies in what I thought was very conservative industry, shipping. However, Wilhelmsen was not a typical shipping company. They recently hired an outsider as their Chief Digital Officer, Inge Sandvik whom many of you seen at Startuplab while he was helping build Filmgrail services. Luckily he understood our value proposition even though we were far from having a polished message :) He challenged us to prove our approach as a viable solution to what they were already doing.
To shape the maritime industry
In the middle of summer vacation, Einar and Michael started coding the first version of Smart Rope and after two weeks of work delivered a working code that could show the tension from ropes with IoT sensors provided directly to a dashboard a ship’s captain could use to moore his/her vessel. When demoed the first version to the business owners in end of August, I remembered feeling very proud and lucky to be part of something bigger. It was a small thing, but it at least it proved that we are on something that is needed.
From there on things went fast, we had our first customer, but that was not enough. Wilhelmsen meant when they said, “They want to shape the Maritime Industry”. They offered us a Joint Venture where we will own 50:50 each and become a strategic company for the group while we continue acquiring customer outside Wilhelmsen. You can read the PR message from Wilhelmsen: https://wilhelmsen.com/media-news-and-events/press-releases/2018/wilhelmsen-hits-the-digital-turbo-button/
Today we just hired our 9th member in Dolittle (Sindre Wilting) and working with several new products in Wilhelmsen and new partnerships with other great companies that we will share soon. Our most important objective is to create one of the most vibrant Dolittle open source community from Norway. We are not doing this alone and not the first ones to try this, but we believe in order to create a vibrant community you need people using your code in real life applications. So for us going forward having a fully functional framework that jump starts your software projects rather than wasting precious time and resources on plumbing technical infrastructure, is our number one priority. And we are not far from releasing something soon☺
Thanks for reading my first post as Dolittle, and I will continue posting our thinking around how we develop our business models as I didn’t elaborate on how we are going to make money but stay tuned:)
We just embarked on our adventure and looking forward to seeing what others will create using Dolittle soon. Hopefully, I will meet amazing companies and people on this adventure, but there will many challenges, and to that, I say “challenge accepted!”.