A Pivot that Worked: The Docker Story

Dan Scholnick
Feb 4, 2019 · 6 min read

Originally published January 22, 2014

For the vast majority of startups, the path to success is not a linear one. Nearly all founders face that moment where their company’s continued existence comes into question. I joined my first startup, Wily Technology, in 1999 right around that moment. Lew Cirne (also the founder of New Relic) hired me to help build a new product to take the company in a different direction. Few people know or remember that the company I founded, Flurry, began by offering a consumer-focused email client for feature phones (remember those?). After a dramatic change in direction, today it’s the leading analytics service and advertising network for mobile applications. DotCloud, the company Trinity funded in 2010, morphed into Docker in 2013.

As we celebrate Docker’s recent success and its closing of a significant new round of financing, I thought it would be worth sharing the story of how dotCloud became Docker and some of the key lessons we learned. Though today we all expect Docker to be a runaway success, there was a time when we weren’t so confident about the company’s future.

Before I get into the story, there are a few points that need highlighting up front. First, this is the story of how the Docker pivot happened, not what ultimately made Docker successful. I’d argue that the way the company pivoted maximized its chance of success, but even a pivot done correctly won’t always change a company’s outcome. Second, as a board member, most of my interaction during this period was with Solomon Hykes, who was CEO of the company at the time. A lot of people inside the company were involved in the pivot, more than I can single out in this post.

First some history…

Reality strikes

Profiles in ignorance and courage

Thanks to Solomon and his team, we have a business called Docker that’s on fire and changing the world of software infrastructure. I wrote a bit about how that’s happening in a previous blog post. What follows are some lessons I’ve learned from this experience.

Raise more than you need

Skinny down in times of trouble

Pick your board members well

Don’t always listen to the experts

The value of vision

It takes a village

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