To celebrate our 13th birthday today, I sat down with Catchpoint's co-founders and my friends, Mehdi Daoudi, Chief Executive Officer, Drit Suljoti, Chief Product and Technology Officer, and J. Scotte Barkan, Chief Technology Officer (dialing in from Long Island after a long week of patch fixes), for an informal chat.
We looked back to the days when they all met at DoubleClick prior to the three of them (along with Veronica Ellis, now a Principal Engineer at Eventbrite) founding Catchpoint. We looked both at where we are now and what’s next for the wider field of monitoring and observability.
We hope you enjoy sitting down with us as much as we enjoyed a moment - in an always busy schedule - to sit down together!
Happy Birthday, Catchpoint, and thank you to all our amazing employees, customers, and investors, as well as our wider community, all of whom work together to help make the Internet better.
Meeting Of The Minds
Eva All right, guys, I get to ask you some questions now. Let's go with something that's been burning in the minds of some of our newer employees. How did you guys first meet?
Mehdi How did we first meet? Wow, I forget. How did we meet?
Drit I know how I met you, Eva! I remember that you were my onboarding HR person back on June 15th, '98.
Eva Oh my God. And I tell everyone you are the youngest person I've ever hired. Hopefully it was legal… Were you 17? 18?
Drit No, no, no! I was 19. Nobody knew and everybody thought I was 21. I was going to happy hours drinking, and then I turned 20 three months later, and everybody was like, "Wait, you're 20? What?!"
Eva And nothing has changed in the past 20 plus years. You still look the same. Mehdi, on the other hand, we can talk about it later.
Mehdi Yes. Yes. That's should just stay off the record forever and ever.
Eva So, tell me guys, what was the first encounter between you?
Mehdi I have all those emails. I was a sales engineer at DoubleClick, and Drit was in support. We were solving a customer issue with delivering ads for IDG. And with Scotte, we first worked together on something on the backend at DoubleClick – some questions about the ad server he was working on.
Scotte Yeah, Mehdi was the intimidating guy on the main product who was always stressed.
Mehdi Not much has changed, right?
Scotte And Drit, I didn't really notice you until we were at a meeting where Drit was constantly trying to ask for things on the product side, and he was getting a wall of nos. I stood up and walked out in anger. I don't remember ever doing that before or since, but I just remember being really ticked off on Drit's behalf. Although, Drit didn't actually seem ticked off about it. I felt it wasn’t the way to treat somebody who was just trying to help our clients. So that was my first experience with Drit and Mehdi.
Eva So nothing’s changed about Drit or Mehdi. Drit’s still trying to do the best by our customers, and Mehdi is still a little intimidating.
Mehdi Well, I think you can say that we are consistent.
“We Could Do Something Together, As A Team”
Eva Alright. And what was the process where you guys got together and decided to start a company? How did it happen?
Mehdi So, the first thing is a very important piece - the four of us (because there was Veronica as well who also worked at DoubleClick, with me on the monitoring team) - what we did at DoubleClick for three years was to work together as part of an R&D team. I convinced our CEO and CIO that we needed a true R&D team to go and do fun stuff. We had a bunch of people that were burned out, including Drit, Scotte, Veronica, and myself, and we needed something different to do. So we went and created a lot of cool stuff. We literally learned how to produce very quickly, very cool things, solving real problems.
One of the biggest successes was this malware system that we built at DoubleClick with no experience in security. Seeing the four of us work on something which we had no experience of and seeing it through from scratch gave us a sense of confidence.
Over three years of R&D, we created 20-30 different projects. Some of them became big, some of them could have been big, some of them even led to other companies starting products. We created this really cool website where employees at DoubleClick could submit ideas, and that's what became in other places, companies on their own.
After the Google acquisition, we said, listen, we could do something together as a team. And that's what we did.
Eva So let's talk about Catchpoint’s first offices. Can you tell me a little bit about the first office that you all worked together in… otherwise known as Mehdi's garage?
Drit Yes, we met at Mehdi's garage in LA. The idea started there in the week of July 7th, 2008, but we were only there for about a week. Our first proper office was an apartment in New York at 76th and 3rd Ave.
Mehdi There was a good burger joint near there.
Drit Yeah. It was a good burger joint. JG Mellon. We really loved that place. We were working out of the apartment for what, six months? Until Lehman Brothers went kaput and the whole of New York City went to crap.
Mehdi A great year to start the company… 2008, highly recommend.
Drit We began the startup and then it truly hit gloom and doom, and we were like, "Wait a second. Why am I paying $1,400 a month in rent for this apartment?"
So, the second office was my real apartment on 89thth street and 1st Ave where I was living, and we worked around my dining table. We had two interns there in 2009, believe it or not. The first full time employee we hired, we interviewed in a Starbucks next to my apartment, but his first day was at the new office that we had. It was a real office.
“We Haven’t Changed Our Mission Since Day One”
Eva So double question, who was your first customer and who is your longest standing customer?
Drit It’s the same four customers. 7, Edgecast, Google, and FreeWheel. They’re still our customers today.
Eva What was your original mission, and has it changed from 2008 to today?
Mehdi I don’t think it’s changed. We've always believed that the monitoring strategy that does not include an end-user mindset is flawed, so we've always wanted to make monitoring better and we have always brought that mindset to it.
Throughout the first few years, several VCs wanted to give us money to do something else. Back in 2010, a venture capital firm asked us to drop everything we were doing and to go build an ad serving company. We said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
I think in some cases we have been a little ahead of our time, but overall, we haven't changed our mission since day one, which is proof of a product-market fit I’m not a big fan of fads that come and go.
“Hire The Best People You Can”
Eva All right. What have the three biggest challenges been since day one?
Mehdi Having to do this via Zoom.
Drit Yeah, COVID, COVID. I still have a hard time adjusting to doing everything remotely. That probably has been the hardest.
Mehdi I think the biggest change is obviously going from four to almost 300 people, and that is an incredible challenge. It can be formidable to think that Catchpoint is now 300 people and 400+ customers. The other one is that we have some of the largest companies in the world using our product, and I never stop reminding myself of how awesome that responsibility is. We never take it for granted.
Eva Scotte, this one’s for you. What do you like most about Catchpoint?
Scotte Generally? It's the people. The people you want to work with, the people who stick around, and the people who are truly part of who we are and what we have been.
Eva Mehdi, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to start a company?
Mehdi I'll start by giving a piece of advice to myself if I could go back in time. That is, don't believe that the hardest thing to do is to build the product. You have to balance that with sales and marketing. You can build the best product, but if you do not have the means to get it to a market you will fail. So that's one piece of advice. Second, if you're going to raise money, do it in one shot. Third, hire the best people that you can.
Eva OK. A lighter one for you, Drit, or actually for all of you. How have you seen each other change over the last thirteen years?
Mehdi I think all of us have matured a lot over the last thirteen years. I think we’ve all learned to rely on other people rather than thinking we can do everything ourselves. I feel I’m the only one that has lost hair in this whole equation. I think that’s unfair.
Scotte Sorry, Mehdi.
Drit That has nothing to do with the company, dude.
Mehdi I feel that burden has not been shared equally among us.
Drit Hey, we have grey hair. That’s the way I’ve changed.
Mehdi Not Scotte. He’s still blonde. He hasn’t aged.
Eva Scotte… Anything you’ve seen change?
Scotte I think I’m just truly grateful to our employees for making our lives a lot easier. The challenge is always to find people that are smarter than you, who work just as hard or are harder working, and who are responsible. Those qualities can be hard to find. But you do find them. It just takes time.
“Grit, Persistence, and Humility”
Eva OK, everyone. Here’s a tough one. Which five words describe Catchpoint?
Mehdi I would definitely put grit there.
Drit Yeah, grit or persistence. One of the two.
Scotte Humility for sure.
Drit Yeah, grit, persistence, humility. No backing down. Learn from failure. Three words… I don’t know how to do that.
Eva All right, I think we have enough there. Mehdi, what are the Catchpoint core values and why do they matter to you?
Mehdi We haven't had it easy and it has been very important to have people on our team that don't give up. To have people that are floor sweepers, that can climb up and down and do whatever it takes. Teamwork is very important and although it's always a work in progress, that's why the core values are great… Essentially, they come down to humility and having that floor sweeper attitude. We’ve done a good job at hiring for that, and it shows. So overall, I think the core values have been good to us.
Eva What is something that surprised you about starting a company?
Mehdi How difficult it is.
Scotte Exactly what I was going to say. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard.
Mehdi What we see from the outside is always that it’s easy. You read a story on TechCrunch that the company went from here to there, went public, and sold for $15 billion. The reality is that it is very hard. It’s hard to convince somebody to give you money. Whether it's a customer or an investor, it is not an easy thing.
When you think about it, 2008 was not a great year to start a company. It took us until 2013 to raise venture money, so that was a long time. We bootstrapped it, invested our own money, used our own people's apartments to save money, et cetera. You have to remember that all of us worked without a salary for five or six years. Let's not forget that. But at the end of the day, I think those will be incredible stories to tell.
Drit They're already incredible stories to tell. When we tell people when they join that we didn’t get paid for the first five years, most of them are amazed.
Mehdi It means that today, we appreciate even more the 300 employees and 400+ customers because of the sacrifices at the start.
“Catchpoint Will Play a Much Bigger Role In the Future Than We Ever Realized”
Eva Okay, final question. Mehdi, this one is for you. Why does observability matter?
Mehdi Observability matters for so many reasons, but I believe that in the long-term - meaning over the next few years - that the traditional way of monitoring and looking at things is going to be over. I mean this in the same way that Tesla is trying to make cars that can drive by themselves… Ultimately, observability is simply a means to an end and that end is automation.
Observability is very important in this context. You cannot have machines take actions if they don't understand their surroundings, and I believe Catchpoint is the company that allows you to see whether you have enough battery (or fuel) in the tank - as well as to gauge the surroundings of the vehicle… and for us, the vehicle is the digital experience. I think we're the only ones that are on this mission to always provide true observability and user experience that encompasses the surrounding view, which will ultimately be what drives automation in the long-term.
So, I think Catchpoint will play a much bigger role in the future than we ever realized. That's why I said earlier that sometimes we have been a little ahead of the game in terms of what we’re doing here. I think that what we do with the data we provide will be even more useful in the future.
Eva Well, I think that’s a great note to wrap things up on. Thanks guys. And happy birthday!