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Success Story Podcast

Ian Tien – CEO & Co-Founder of Mattermost | Open Source Platforms vs Closed Source Platforms

By August 24, 2022January 18th, 2023No Comments

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About The Guest

Ian Tien is CEO and co-founder of Mattermost, Inc., which delivers high trust collaboration to leading enterprises on a vibrant open source platform. Thousands of companies trust Mattermost for vital communications across the web, PC, and phone, with archiving, search, and integrations with hundreds of business applications. Ian has also won the 2018 Gartner Cool Vendor Award.

Ian previously founded SpinPunch, Inc., an award-winning online video game company whose titles were played by millions of people across 190 countries. He was formerly VP of Product at Flickme, a movie streaming startup backed by Sequoia Capital, Warner Brothers, and Sony Pictures. Before that, he ran product management for Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Windows Live Photos services (now “OneDrive”) and was product management lead for Hotmail (now “”). Prior, he led engineering teams for Microsoft Office in its enterprise software business across SharePoint and business intelligence product lines.

Ian holds over a dozen patents in analytic applications and is an alumnus of the University of Waterloo, where he worked at Trilogy Software during school, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he served as a teaching assistant for Andy Grove and Myron Scholes.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 — Intro
  • 03:39 — Ian Tien’s origin story
  • 04:35 — What was the career journey that brought Ian Tien to Mattermost?
  • 10:22 — What is the concept of open source and how was it important for Ian?
  • 16:00 — Conversations with VCs who are investing in an open source company
  • 22:45 — Is an open source program more secure than a closed source program?
  • 28:23 — What was Ian Tien’s customer acquisition strategy?
  • 31:12 — How to find, scale up, and maintain great talent?
  • 36:54 — Ian’s advice for entrepreneurs regarding open source companies
  • 39:49 — Evolving trends and common practices of remote work
  • 42:54 — Which software companies have done remote work well before Ian’s company?
  • 46:27 — Where does Ian Tien want to take Mattermost in the next 5 to 10 years?
  • 47:26 — How can people connect to Ian Tien?
  • 47:49 — Is there anything Ian Tien would like to redo in his career?
  • 48:34 — What keeps Ian up at night?
  • 49:08 — What was the worst point in building Mattermost and how did Ian overcome it?
  • 50:41 — The biggest challenge Ian Tien ever faced in his personal life
  • 52:01 — The most impactful person in Ian Tien’s life
  • 53:42 — Ian’s book or podcast recommendation
  • 54:00 — What would Ian Tien tell his 20-year-old self?
  • 54:14 — What does success mean to Ian Tien?

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Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures, and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas, and insights.

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Machine Generated Transcript


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Ian Tien, Scott D Clary


Scott D Clary  00:00

Welcome to success story the most useful podcast in the world. I’m your host Scott D. Clary. The success story podcast is part of the blue wire podcast network, as well as the HubSpot Podcast Network. Now, the HubSpot Podcast Network has other incredible podcasts like the salesmen podcast hosted by will, Baron. Now if you work in sales or you want to learn how to sell or peek at the latest in sales news, check out the salesmen podcast where host will Baron help sales professionals learn how to find buyers and win big business in effective and ethical ways. Now if some of these topics resonate with you, you’re going to love the salesman podcast, the psychology of the perfect cold call successful cold email trends for 2022. The four step process to influencing buying decisions, or the digital sales room the future of b2b sales. If these topics hit home, you’re gonna love the salesmen podcast listen to the salesmen podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Today, my guest is Ian Tien. He is the CEO and co founder of mattermost. mattermost delivers high trust collaboration to leading enterprise companies on a vibrant open source platform. 1000s of companies trust mattermost for vital communications across web, PC and phone with archiving, search and integrations with hundreds of business applications. Think about it like Slack plus notion. They won the 2018 Gartner cool vendor award. Previously the mattermost II and founded spin punch, there was an award winning online video game company whose titles were played by millions of people across 190 countries. He was formerly VP of product at phlegmy, a movie streaming startup backed by Sequoia Warner Brothers and Sony. Before that, he ran Product Management for Microsoft SkyDrive and Windows Live Photo Services, which is now OneDrive. And he also lead product management for Hotmail. Previous to that he led engineering teams from Microsoft Office and its enterprise software business across SharePoint and business intelligence product line. So he has an exceptional engineering and tech background. But he also has a really strong sales and marketing background. Surprise, he made an incredible CEO and he built mattermost into what it is today raised the multiple rounds of venture funding. We spoke about his origin story we spoke about matter most of the problems that he’s solving why he chose to go open source versus proprietary, comparing open source versus closed source, scaling up a startup finding your first enterprise customer finding product market fit, scaling up an open source company monetizing open source versus closed source, the problem that he was solving for how to find a problem in the market that will actually that will actually create a great business opportunity. We spoke about remote work, why mattermost fits into the remote work stack, why it’s the end to end solution for remote work and why we all these points solutions that we currently have are not going to be the future of remote work. We spoke about everything from sales to marketing, to raising money to hiring and retaining great talent spoke about culture, we spoke about security, we spoke about evolving trends and building businesses. So we wanted to everything tech, everything startup, if you like any of that stuff, which I’m sure you’ll do, you’ll love this. You’ll love this podcast. Let’s jump right into it. This is Ian Tien, CEO and co founder of mattermost.


Ian Tien  03:40

So when I was I was, I was a kid in elementary school, my mom made a career change from being an accountant to being a real estate agent. And as she was making this change, she would listen to you know, sales training tapes in the car, driving us to school. So you know, I’m this little kid and every time we get in the car with my mom, there’s Zig Ziglar and sales, training and motivational tapes and how you’re responsible for your own career. So you know, as a kid, I was sort of just indoctrinated with this like idea of being in sales and and going and building businesses. And and that just kind of always kind of stuck with me. Now I did pick the engineering route, I did pick computer science and sort of like the stem things because that was really important to my parts of my family. And then you know, putting those two together really ends up in a career around technology and business


Scott D Clary  04:36

you had. So you’re interesting because you are an engineer like you are technical, but you grew up with a sales background. So when you decided to start your first thing, you probably mitigated a lot of the problems that a highly technical founder would have, which is you build a great product but then you can’t sell it to anybody or you don’t know how to put it out into the world and the great product is one thing but then obviously getting Get out there. So even walk me through like your your career journey that brought you to matter most like matter most not the first thing you’ve ever done. So walk me through that progression in your life. And then we can go into why you started Matt? Like, why was that thing that you wanted to go into and double down on? That’s what you built a huge like a huge. Your personal brand has now been built around this incredible success. But what was before that?


Ian Tien  05:22

Yeah, so that’s a great question. I’ll maybe talk about a few way points. And we talked about, you know, starting off as a kid, and that sort of, you know, listening to the sales training as my mom was becoming a real estate agent, I joined this program in high school called Junior Achievement. And we have these little sort of micro businesses and you learn how to all what a financial statements look like. And we sold these candles with the dollar store bought a candle for $1, wrapped it in cellophane with the Label Label said meltdown was kind of a branded just a little label, we sold them for like $8, I’m like, Oh, they learn about margins, and you learn about inventory and cost of goods sold that was in high school, and it kind of had the bug for entrepreneurship. You know, as I went through college, you know, with internships at at different companies, I worked at E trade, I work at trilogy, and Austin, Texas, worked at a start up in DC and you know, had a lot of experiences. I ended up after college going to Microsoft. And in there I was there for about five years, I was an engineering in Microsoft Office, I got about a dozen patents from from that experience, I moved over to the strategy side and product management in And OneDrive. So, you know, had the had the sort of enterprise Microsoft Office experience moving over to consumer side. And, and then I went to business school, you know, if I was in, and if I was good at life, I wouldn’t need school. But you know, here I go again. And through B School, I ended up starting, you know, tried a lot of different ideas. And I ended up on one that was on video games, and an online games free to play was kind of blowing up. And at the time, you know, html5 was this big promise. And in B school, you know, with a friend, I put together this HTML html5 game engine, so we would use JavaScript. And we’d be we would basically use JavaScript, 2d canvas, a lot of html5, you know, affordances, and we could create these, these games online that didn’t require Adobe Flash. This was back in 2012. Or like, Hey, this is real cool tech, you know, what can we do with it? And then, and then we got into Y Combinator right after B School, and was there for three months. And at the end, you know, was that company with a company with a video game company was called spin punch. So we were part of part of summer 12 yc. And that’s with Coinbase. Brian Armstrong was in there. approver from Instacart was there. The Zapier founders waited mic. They were there and clever lever boosted boards. It was a great cohort Paul Graham was, was still running it back then. And we had these these video games and this html5 game engine and we couldn’t figure out how to monetize the game engines like JavaScript, no one wants to pay for JavaScript, could you license it, there’s no subscription revenue, what do you do with it? So you know, at the end of YC, we couldn’t quite figure out what we were doing. But the video games we created as prototypes at YC, they were making $1,700 a day. So we’re like, maybe there’s a game business, there’s a business here, but you know, it wasn’t subscription revenue, it was you know, content based, it was free to play. It was, you know, not the most sort of canonical, you know, investment there. But we ran that game business for about three or four years. And what happened was, and you know, it’s kind of chugging along, and it’s kind of fun, but games are like a ton of work. It’s like 100 hour weeks, it’s, you know, consumers 24 by seven, it’s like SRE and SAS and you know, micro payments. It’s it’s an art pipeline. It’s kind of crazy doing a games business. And as we’re doing this, we’re all remote. And we started using this this on like workplace messaging tool. It wasn’t slack, it was something before slack. And this company was a startup, it got bought by a larger company, and the system started breaking down. It would it would crash, it would lose our data. And we were like really frustrated. All of our 26 gigs of our data analysis, or game design artwork was all in this remote work platform. And it was failing. So we tried to export our data, and they wouldn’t let us and when we stop paying our subscription, they pay walled us from our own information, which was Wow, right, like, and at that time, we had about 10 million hours of messaging and our own games were like, we couldn’t build messaging. So we wrote it about three times and we ended up open sourcing, you know, the latest version that we were using, and that open source project just took off that was mattermost. And you know, our first customer was, you know, very successful electric car company that you know, really said hey, there’s an enterprise business here. And and after that we got you know, Samsung, we Got a number of really great customers, we have the Department of Energy. And we just wow like this is this is something that’s on fire. We raised 20 million Series A, a 50 million Series B. And here, here we are now it just continued to grow. And it’s a little serendipitous. But it really comes from Yeah, it certainly comes from what the market needs.


Scott D Clary  10:21

So it’s so yeah, so walk me through what so when you start this, you, I love, I love this story, because it’s such a powerful story, the entrepreneur that finds the problem in the industry, or the vertical or the category that they’re in, and they solve that problem, they build out that solution. So the landscape now, obviously, post COVID, I’m sure there’s a much more robust landscape for that kind of software. But when you were going into this, you had one that was obviously not playing nice with you and your team, and they were pay walling you and it wasn’t, it wasn’t the best possible solution. So when you build something, why did you feel the need to walk me through the concept of open source? I understand the cost of open source? So walk me through, why was that important for you? Because you were working for Microsoft, which is like, if I’m not mistaken, I’m not a developer. But I mean, like, that’s all proprietary, that’s all closer that Microsoft, not a company that adopts the open source mentality, and many other software companies don’t as well. So you went into this open source, you still found a way to get enterprise customers paying enterprise customers? How did you take this to market? How, what was what what made this successful outside of a great product, which is obviously important? What were the other things that made it successful?


Ian Tien  11:33

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think there’s maybe just to talk about that in a couple of categories. The first is, you know, how do you find product market fit? And you know, how do you serve that need? And I think that a lot of engineers, they look for, like intellectual logic. It’s like, what is the market? What is my analysis? And what works for me is an emotional reaction. When you see an emotional reaction, there’s, there’s a, there’s a need. So for us, when we were on a messaging system that was mission critical to us, and it went down, there was just an emotional response, like, oh, my gosh, like, that’s, that’s not okay, and what that’s not okay. It’s like, okay, what do I do to fix this? I’ll like, we will take money. And we will fix this, because it’s so important to us, where do you put our money to fix this problem? So you know, that’s a signal that people really wanted, you know, Slack is super popular. So mattermost, right now is an open source alternative to Slack and notion. So slack and notion and Trello. So we’re these, we’re an open source alternative that goes across many categories. And, you know, for us, you know, why open source was important or why controlling it was important is you can’t have downtime, right? When you’re running a 24 by seven SAS service, when, like, we weren’t venture funded, we were like, this was kind of like our money. We just can’t have downtime. We can’t, you know, lose revenue, we can’t have an outages for our players online. So we just had to control it, right? Like, I mean, the average company has 500, SAS services that they’re using, like, if everyone’s got a 9.9, you know, if they’re down to 0.1%, time, on 500 products, it’s still really bad. So we had to control everything. And we had to make sure was up all the time. So we saw their own need. So that was super important. And then also, you know, on the data side, because you know, when you’re typing these things into real time messaging, like who knows where they go to they go on someone else’s computer terminals read this, like that was a big concern for us. And we just found out that like, there’s a lot of engineers that have the same lot of engineers, SRE team SEC ops teams that have the same need, they’re sort of like, oh, my gosh, I have to control my collaboration platform, because you know, I want to make sure it’s always up, I want to make sure all the data is I control, I want to make sure that I can extend and customize it based on what we need. Because it’s so mission critical. So I think one sort of follow the emotion.


Scott D Clary  13:51

But still help me understand Oh, sorry, did you go ahead? No, I didn’t mean to interrupt.


Ian Tien  13:55

And the second thing about open source is, you’re 100%. Right. And you call it out, like I was at Microsoft during the Steve Ballmer era, which is probably the most one of the most anti, if one of the most, if not the most, sort of an open source culture you can kind of come from and where, and I actually, it comes from this person said, from Cid, from GitLab, the founder of GitLab, which is another sort of open source, DevOps tool chain, we were at a YC event, and I was one of my games company, and it was showing him on my phone this thing mattermost This is, you know, for messaging and why we built it, and instead said, You should open source that. And I’m like, coming from Microsoft, no understanding of open source, like, why would I do that? And his logic was really powerful. He said, It’s a prototype round, he spent three months on it. If you open source it and it’s popular, you can always close source and you didn’t really give away that much, but you’ll know that it’s successful, you know that people want it. However, if you open source it and no one cares, you should just stop working on it. Because if you give the whole thing way for free and no one cares, then it’s kind of over go do something else. And it was just a really powerful kind of explanation. So we tried it, and people really cared. And then we created this, this business off it that was mirrored a lot off of get lab get labs licensing structure, its business model, and instead was great. He’s like, just just take this, copy this, just do everything we do just like read our terms of service, read our license to just copy the whole thing. It’s all open source that was get labs culture. And we’ve, we’ve built a lot of our culture off of that concept of openness, that concept of like, yeah, that’s the point, right? It’s like, here’s, here’s something that here’s software in the world, and it’s open source, and you can build on top of it. And you can just generate, you know, a lot of value versus like 1000 companies rebuilding the exact same thing. And you know, just wasting all that productivity, no, just open source at all, let people build on top and top and top and make the world better. So there’s a wonderful, sort of double bottom line with open source and open source businesses.


Scott D Clary  16:01

I think it’s very interesting, because I find that and I want to understand the conversations that you had with VCs when you’re raising money, too, because you’ve looked at tons of businesses. And you’ve seen, obviously, that many are proprietary, many are closed source. And if you even think about like non software businesses, they’re always asking for patents and IP, and what do you have protected? And so when you scale this up, I think we’re on the same page, but many people could be listening, saying, Oh, that could be a liability to the business. So when you think about scaling up an open source, what are the what are the things that you think about? What are the conversations that you have with a VC that’s investing that allows them to wrap their mind around something that may not be what they’re used to, in terms of I’ve invested in this? And technically, anybody can see what it is. And technically, anybody could just copy that source code and go start their own company. That’s a scary thing. So how do you solve for that?


Ian Tien  16:56

Yeah, that’s a great question. We actually have an FAQ for investors. And one of the FA Q’s, it’s it’s public concern, a handbook. And we’re actually looking at right now what keep what keeps other companies from using your open source software to create their own offerings that compete with your paid products? So it’s a great question. And we’ve used we actually use the acronym tactical. So tactical is the acronyms like that every letter is a reason why they can’t, you know, forecast and use our own open source software sort of against our business. The T stands for test infrastructure. So you know, there’s a lot of test automation that isn’t open source. So if you go and forecast, that’s great. But like, if you change it, like, it’s, you know, we’re not like there’s a lot of our test infrastructure live, it runs on something called rainforest QA, which is a proprietary SaaS service where they actually have humans like help test, there’s no way to open source that anyway. So but the fact that the test infrastructure isn’t available, open source means that you can fork it, but you have to rebuild all of that. So that’s the T. A ‘s alignment in terms of the architecture. So the features that developers want are free, because, you know, that’s that’s for developers, the paid features are more for IT pros and executives. And guess what developers, if they forecast, they don’t like building the compliance features, they don’t like building the exact dashboards. So that’s another reason alignment of the business model, right? So the free stuff, like, try not to, like don’t monetize developers like that there’s not a business model, it’s like, if I get 1% of the developers, then you know, it’d be a big business, that’s not a thing. It’s the opposite. It’s like you will militarize every developer against you, you know, if you if you kind of don’t if you kind of build it that way. So alignment is really important. The C is for core committers. So making sure that all the people in the open source project are employed by us, which is a really healthy way to grow the team. It’s like, you look like you’re committing like you want to work here. And like, yes, we do. So that’s, that’s excellent. The T is for threat intelligence. So what happens is, most open source projects that are sort of responsible will have responsible disclosure policy for them to take security seriously. So if they discover something in our code base, there’s a very, you know, industry standard responsive disclosure policy, this is how you contact us, we will verify we’ll tell you, if we think it’s a bug or not, we will release the security patch, we will give we will be 30 days, so but at least the patch will tell people there’s a security patch that’s coming out, we won’t tell anyone what it actually fixes or what the vulnerability is, until 30 days after the release. So our customers or our customers and our community are safe. And then we disclose what it is and we credit the person who did the report. So that’s the very standard systems about how you patch vulnerabilities, guess what, if you forked us, no one’s reporting those things to you. And you know, when we release our patch and tell people what it is then the fork system has a day zero vulnerability. So that’s why and that’s what reason a lot of reasons people don’t fork eyes for innovation. So we have a very high velocity every month we ship new features and new improvements. So you know to fork that and to keep up with the innovation is very difficult. C is compatibility. So as you upgrade, all the upgrade scripts are for our genuine In software, if you forget, then the upgrades won’t work. And you can install our security patches and you can like, it’s gonna take a lot of effort. As for architecture, so it’s very like the system itself, it, there’s very little reason to actually fork it. So give you an example as our entire front end, right can be without any forking can be because the API’s are open, you can replace our entire front end. So which is like, Wait, you’re like a, you’re like a Slack notion alternative? Like, why would you replace the front end. So we had an open source project over in one of our government customers, or is in the public sector, there’s three engineers that rewrote the mattermost UI in Haskell, in ASCII art, to have a terminal interface to mattermost itself almost like replacing IRC, which is incredible. They didn’t have to fork this, they can actually build a module that interacts with with mattermost. So the A’s for the architecture, and L is for licensing. So licensing is the most trademark is we own the Animus trademark, the code is open source, but we own the trademark, you can fork it, but you can’t call it mattermost. So, you know, that’s, that’s more work and you don’t have the brand recognition. So that’s a Scott, that was a long answer. But the the acronym is tactical, and, and we haven’t, you know, document or a handbook. This is if you’re building an open source business, and you’re talking to like investors, you know, there’s a lot there’s a lot there. And, and I and this is built because we’ve seen things kind of go sideways with other you know, the elastics. The reader says the MongoDB is they had to change your licensing. There’s the, you know, the cloud giants that come in, and we’ve kind of thought of that from our inception and tactical is the framework for us. I


Scott D Clary  21:40

just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode HubSpot. Now pies, taking candy from babies, both things that are theoretically easy, but anyone who’s made a pie from scratch or attempted to pry a lollipop from a screaming toddler knows these things are in fact very difficult. But you know what is easy? Integrating automating and scaling your business with HubSpot. Now, the HubSpot CRM platform seamlessly transfers customer data into usable insights. Like what’s the average time it takes us to respond to a customer service request? Or how can we get better at it? The HubSpot service hub brings all your data and support channels in one place. So your team can spend less time hunting for information and more time delighting customers. Plus seamless connectivity with marketing and sales hubs means every person on your team has a crystal clear picture of your customer. Easy as HubSpot, learn how HubSpot can make it easier for your business to No, I love it. It’s smart. It’s very smart. And actually, the other thing that I think about when I think about open source is you build this community of people that are always like pressure testing your software. Talk to me about security. Talk to me about why open source, I watched a couple other interviews you’re in and just the security point of view is important more important than ever before with the amount of people that do get compromised. So when you roll this out, and when you build an open source project, is it more secure than a closed source?


Ian Tien  23:14

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it I think, you know, it’s not it’s many things, it’s not just the open or closed model, right? It’s the investment on security. It’s, you know, your internal process, security doesn’t come down to, you know, one or two things. The way that you know, think about, there’s sort of three principles to think about and security one is, nothing is secure, there’s always going to be vulnerabilities, all you can do is kind of move those around. So that’s that’s one. And when you’re open source software, you have a lot of visibility, and your customers are very motivated to work with you on security. Everyone runs us into the secure customers. We’re public sector, we’re in like the US Air Force, right? There’s like 20,000, US air crews that rely on mattermost in order to fly planes. And the security and the rigor that we go through is, you know, at that level, and then you’ll find us in many communities that have very, very high security standards. So I think that community, and that understanding it yeah, all software is vulnerable. We’ve got transparency, and people can report to us. And we have a system to address that. That’s all super important. So I think that’s one on security. That is for the open source model. I think the second is really about the second principle, which is the effort that goes behind a breach, right that goes behind an attack is proportional to the value of that breach. So what that means is, you know, if you can think of like, Hey, I’ve got everything in this giant cloud system, like everyone that world uses is cloud great, guess what? There’s going to be like an infinite amount of like resources that will be dedicated to breaching that like Mega fortress, right and all they need is a crack in the armor and they’re going to be going after it. What open source and self hosting lets you do we can do either cloud or self hosting. But what it lets you do is go is put that behind your own fences, right? So number one, your data is not mixed in with all these other you know, honeypot targets, you’ve got, you know, your stuff is off the side and it’s behind all your other security and the only people that are breaching it are the people that want to breach you not breaching you by accident by hitting somebody else. So I think that’s, that’s the second piece. And then the, the third is, is really just about the dedication to security. So one thing that I’m actually personally proud of is our security team and and how it works with how it works with the community. We just brought on a wonderful person Jerry Pirillo, who was the former CISO of the New York Stock Exchange as as an advisor. So you know, that’s just an example of how much we care about security. And he, you know, he he’s, he doesn’t hold back, you know, when his opinions and what we need to do, and it’s super helpful. And what I’m really proud of his a little while ago, we discovered as we’re because we vet all this all the software that kind of comes into mattermost. And we vet it very carefully. As you were vetting a certain library for SSO SAML Cemal, a SAML authentication, we found. We found a vulnerability in the Go Lang language itself and the XML parser. And this and we’re like, Wait, this can’t be true. And we looked at it, we’re like, Oh, crap, this is true. We never we never do that never went into. We were never exposed to that vulnerability. Our customers are not exposed that vulnerability. But there were a lot of other people that use go Lang, and use SAML SSO that had a vulnerability. It took us three months working with the Go Lang team and work with the downstream libraries to figure out how do we do a coordinate disclosure. So coordinate disclosure is tell them like we create the patch mattermost itself not to go Lang, you know, folks, but we create the patch itself, we created, you know, a reference for for how to fix it, we went through a very time series, we told the downstream libraries, we got them to prepare patches, we told the people, private and public companies and government institutions that were exposed to this vulnerability, that it was there, so that they can fix it quickly. And then we did a public disclosure. So we did it in a responsible way we cascaded it we gave people time, let people know, is it was important. And this was a big deal. Like it would, you know, one of the tech giants, you know, had had a delay, one of almost had to delay one of their launches because of because of this issue. So, you know, that’s what it means to be part of the security community, and, and really participate in not only the safety of our products and our customers, but of the general software community itself. So I think when you think about, you know what it means to be great at security, I think it’s not one or the other, it’s about, you know, how do you what is the whole story about your investment security. And the fact that it keeps things safe,


Scott D Clary  27:46

I was gonna say, it’s also the fact that it comes down to the culture of the company, and where you put your focus and attention to. So you know, I think it’s probably less about closed versus open and more about how forward thinking and looking the company is and where they want to spend their time and attention. I think that both both could, but if somebody is so so hyper focused on building the best possible solution, and is so hyper focused on security all the time, like you said, like, you’re probably you’re probably leading the way in some security and some of the things you do for security that any other company could do, but you’re doing it just because it’s a focus of yours. That’s the sort of the the takeaway that I get, but I want to I want to pivot. So now we’ve spoken about, like the, the the engineering side of the business, but also, you know, the fact that you landed, large enterprise customers starting a new company is, it’s also very impressive. So when you’re taking a product like this to market, you just casually said, we landed an enterprise customer, a lot of people would love that to happen to them, when they’re trying to take a new SAS product to market. So how do you take a product like this to market you, you understand you solve the problem that you have? But how do you identify your ICP, your buyer persona? How do you go in? And how do you sell that first version? When you have no other customers? What was your What was your first customer strategy? How did that close?


Ian Tien  29:05

It’s really about building something that people want. I think there’s, you know, there’s a simple algorithm to teach at YC, which is like, you know, talk to customers build product, you know, exercise and exercise, basically stay healthy, right? And that’s, that’s so important, because like people can burn out but talk to customers and build product, like that’s the loop. And I think what happens is people don’t realize how powerful it is, and talking to customers, and just like, Well, hey, you came to our website, we open source slack. Well, why open source slack? And it’s like, oh, we need this for like data privacy, like full stop. And we need this SSL feature. And we need we need this. It’s like, would you pay for that? Yeah, we’ll pay for that. Like, that’s it. Like, that’s the market discovery, just, you know, put something on the web create, like, we use discourse as a forum. So Bucha like be able to talk back and forth. You know, we email a contact us form, and people just fill out the contact us form, we’d be like, Okay, well, here’s, here’s what I want to know. Like, why, why are you why you’re interested matter most and like, and then use put that down in the drop down list. Oh, it’s a HipChat replacement. it Oh, it’s for like, you know, we were deployed the free version, we want to get, you know, these paid features. So it just conversations. And as you have more conversations, you can you can speed the conversations, you can have them, you can categorize things. So just don’t stop talking to customers. And then don’t stop building product. And then always stay healthy. That’s really important. And do those three things. It’s magical, how quickly you can move I think people they get, especially in the early stages, they get very distracted. They’re like, Oh, should I be speaking at a conference? Or should I be talking to investors? We spent very little time talking to investors. And everything, just you know, and the thing is, investors don’t really want to talk to I mean, yeah, they want to kind of talk to the founders, but they really want to do is talk to your customers. Right? So then, you know, whatever logo list you’ve got on your website, they’re going their back channeling, they’re like, Okay, what do you why do you use it? Why’d you buy that? And then when the the good investors, when they’re ready to talk to founders, they’re very happy context. So just build a great business. And, and don’t worry about like networking and speaking and just just talk to customers build the product, like, and the feedback. Yeah,


Scott D Clary  31:11

yeah. When you’re scaling up, and you, your technical yourself, but one of the things that I thought was interesting. And one of the things that is interesting now, at least for me, because I came from a SaaS company, where we had a lot of, we had a lot of difficulty with this, but hiring great talent, and most importantly, development talent as a startup, when these are just obviously, like, these are numbers that I can’t verify. But I, you know, you see the Netflix’s of the world paying 300,000 Plus for a developer, a software engineer, and then some and then you look at some of the US localization into the salaries in the valley, like how do you find and scale up great talent and retain great development talent when you don’t have a 20 50 million plus dollar investment?


Ian Tien  32:00

Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m like, so the people that are money motivated, great, Gobi go work in hedge funds, right, like, just, you know, don’t even think about Netflix, just go straight to hedge funds, like in it, because they make a ton of money. And, you know, they don’t really create that much value. But like, you know, you’re basically advanced day trading, like go create, you know, high velocity training, trading, right. Like, there’s, if you want to make money, just go make money. If you want to build great software, if you want to think about, you know, the impact that you’re going to have, if you think and think about the personal growth that you’re interested in, whether it’s a technical, whether it’s the languages, or it’s, you know, being on the manager track, or however you think about it, you know, what is growth? That is, you know, that’s just a different frame, think about what the frame we have is impact, its growth and its connections, right? Connecting connecting to the other human beings that are, that are on the mission with you, right? So for us, you know, the impact is about being open source, like you write it once. And if you do it, right, like it never has to be written again, right, like we have if you’re into an open source, Slack, open source notion, open source Trello. And, you know, coming up sort of open source, you know, huddles, right clubhouse, we’re adding the audio piece to, you know, once you build that it’s an integrated suite, like it never has to be built, again, you’ve made your mark in software history, like, if that’s important, you know, that’s, that’s one of the pillars that we’ve got at mattermost. The second one is personal growth, half of our managers at the company are promoted from within. So you know, that track and that dedication to enabling managers and making them successful is also super important to us. And the third is, you know, we have staff and 20 countries, we have contributed, we have 4000 contributors in the open source community. And it’s the ability to sort of like, you know, walk off a plane in like, you know, 20 different cities around the world and have people greet you at the airport, have your friends, you know, show up. And I think that that connection, that like concept that’s like, oh, yeah, people aren’t like machines. And if they’re not cogs in a machine, that they’re here with other human beings to go build something that’s meaningful together. You know, that’s, you know, that’s the people that we want. So, if there’s people that care about, you know, we spend most of our life working. And if impact growth and connection is important, that’s what your life’s about, then we want to work with you. If your life is about, you know, how many Netflix options can I have in my portfolio? Then you should work for Netflix,


Scott D Clary  34:33

when you when you try. So what are some of the strategies that you use to find people like that


Ian Tien  34:42

56% of the staff that matter most 56% of our hires come from referrals. So the people that like, Hey, I love working here, this is really great. You know, that’s, that’s more than half of our team and I think when you think about NPS Net Promoter Score, it’s like when people really enjoy working You hear and they tell their friends. And they get more and more people in like that those are the best hires.


Scott D Clary  35:06

No, no, as long as they so you focus on you focus mostly on referrals. And then you were gonna say anything else? Sorry, I think we’re like, it’s like a two second delay. So I never know. Go ahead. Sorry.


Ian Tien  35:16

Another source of referrals is referrals is the majority. And we’d love to continue that and keep going. Because that really means that people enjoy here and love it. And they’re bringing on all the folks that they know, the second biggest source in the early days definitely was the open source community 4000 people contributing, and just saying, hey, let’s work together, like, let’s, let’s do this professionally. So, a few months after we released our commercial version, we got this person who pinged us and they’re like, Look, I’ve, I’ve never contributed open source before. But I would like to contribute a translation infrastructure for every string in your system, I have got this pull request that localizes everything, and I’ve translated everything to Spanish. And it’s 10,000 lines of code, would you be open to this pull request, which is kind of bananas. So what happened was, is this person was working in South America, and their company was reselling mattermost, but it had to be in Spanish. So this person actually translated all of mandamus the right way, not with hard coded strings, but with the actual infrastructure. But every month, you know, we talked about why it’s difficult to fork matter was every month, we’re pushing out new features and innovations, it took them a week to like merge it back in. So it was in this person’s best interest to offer that upstream. So that we could, you know, put that in the product, make it better for everyone and make that person’s life easier. We hired that person. So you know, that’s just a great way, you know, to say, because it’s a great offer, it’s like, well just stop what you’re doing and want to work on the main Lateline product rather than than derivative. So that’s another great path to hiring.


Scott D Clary  36:53

Do you do you have any tips for because you’ve built this exceptional community? And you’ve done it because you’ve built an open source, an open source focused, focused company, but do you have tips for entrepreneurs that would like to tap in the same power of community? Any any things that you’ve done to foster a stronger community? Because you mentioned as well, you know, if you go open source, and nobody cares, and maybe you should start something new, but you never know, you still have to put an effort into try and build and foster that community to see if you even give it a chance. So maybe for somebody who like is an open source? How is easy? There’s obviously open source is an easy way. But is there other other things that you do to build and sort of support that community?


Ian Tien  37:32

Yeah, I think there’s three key principles. I think there’s clarity, speed, and safety. So clarity is saying, This is how you become part of a community, right? For us, it’s like, if you want to be developer, here’s like, hundreds of backlog tickets that were not working out hundreds. And you can pick one of those tickets and go work on them. So that’s, that’s clarity, right? And it’s like, if you don’t have a ticket, we’re probably not gonna accept it. So don’t go and spend a whole bunch of time like, this is not Linux where like, you spent a bunch of time, right, something in everyone’s poop who’s on it in a public forum. This is, here’s your tickets, go, go. They’re all approved, like go pick one of them and do a project. So clarity is really important. And then how the process works, like what the expectations are on feedback, and reviews and all those things for clarity. The second is speed, right? Like when you see when you see an open source project, you know, get back to you quickly versus like over weeks or months from a volunteer system, it just creates a totally different dynamic, like people understand like, yes, like, I worked really hard. And there’s like looking for like a thank you or like an emoji emoji, it’s like, it means so much to have that that speed and responsiveness. And the third is safety. Like people don’t understand how important safety is to the open source community. And, and safety happens a number of levels. I mean, there’s also the code of conduct, of course, but it’s also that you don’t get rejected, being rejected is actually in some open source communities the norm, right, like, like some parts of Linux community, for us, like, I think it’s the worst possible experience, you can give a developer to reject their pull request. And I would consider any pull requests that’s rejected. Our failure not not the contributors, because we have to have the clarity, like, clear here, the tickets, here’s our style guide, we have linting automated, we have the code code, go format, all these all these tools to get in the right way to help you get a pull request that will get merged. So if it doesn’t get merged, and you did all the right things, that’s like, that’s completely our failure. So people have to feel safe what engineers want, they want, they want to complete a closed problem from A to B, and they know that if I go from A to B, and I do my work, you will do your part and merge the pull request. So that kind of safety that people’s time won’t be wasted that you know they can participate in environment that’s very inclusive, is is so important. So clarity, speed and safety and I think that’s applicable to many other domains.


Scott D Clary  39:47

Now, it’s very, very smart. And the last thing that I wanted to sort of get a, an understanding of you work in you’ve built a product for the remote work worker, you’ve, you’ve built a product for the reality that everybody has faced in the past two and a half, almost three years, God forbid. But so what are some of the evolving trends? Like if somebody is building a business? How do people like to work? What are the best practices? What are the tools outside of matter most? What are the tools and resources and, and nuances of remote work? Because you’re you’re living in it every single day?


Ian Tien  40:23

Yeah, I think that it’s, it’s evolved, we think about three ages of remote work, right? The first one started the 2000s. Like, well, we have email, that’s amazing. We have email, and we have intranet. We’ve gotten digital, right? Like, you know, 2000s, that’s, that’s kind of like basic communication, basic remote work. I think the second is, maybe 10 years ago, we came up with point solutions, right? So it’s like, Okay, I’ve got my, here’s my email client, here’s my voice and video client, you know, here’s my, you know, I’ve got a ticketing system over here. And I’ve got like a Incident Management System over here. And here’s my compliance thing. And where I think the Third Age, where we are right now that needs to happen is really integration of the suites, right? Like you need a suite. And the reason is, because there’s way too much time wasted between Well, I got a message over here, and I got a ticket over here. Let me reformat this and put that over there. And let me like, add, let me let me off into my zoom. So I can have a call. It’s just it’s so much extra work. It’s toil. And it’s it’s a really a broken experience. Here’s the analogy is that imagine took like a, like a physical building. And then you had like the conference room and the hallway and the whiteboard, and the sticky notes from all different vendors. And before you can touch the doorknob, you had to like often and put your MFA and like, Okay, well, I’m gonna, I’m gonna hallway, often, often I have to put my MFA and it’s like, oh, you’re not allowed to have permission, can I go in the hallway? Like, that’s the that’s what it feels like today to work remote. And how it should feel is just one system. Everything’s integrated, all the permissions are integrated, all the formatting is consistent. And it’s all built to work together. So if you go back to the, you know, the late 2000s 99 days, it was inconceivable, it’s it was, you know, today, its inconceivably of email address, book and calendar is three different apps, it’s just like, impossible, it’s like, I would never, no one here would use that. And that’s kind of like remote work today, it’s all point solutions, your email, your address, book, and a calendar are all different. And like, it’s just, it’s, it’s gonna get way, way better. So I think the integration of the tools, and having a smooth experience is apps, like that’s what the world deserves. And surprisingly, I think open source is actually delivering that faster than proprietary. And usually, in the past, open source has lagged but you know, open source slack with open source notion, those two things really need to fit together in terms of formatting in terms of, you know, workflows, and open source, you’re going to be able to do that faster than closed source.


Scott D Clary  42:54

I was gonna say, because I agree with you, like wholeheartedly, but it’s always the issue of when you build an all in one anything, it’s there’s an exceptional amount of work that has to be done. Because you have all these points, the world is full of point solutions right now. But where you’re taking matters like that, so I see where your vision is going to be for for your own company, like that’s what you want to build for the world. That’s the goal. Is there any just for people to draw a reference point in any other software suite? Would like what who’s done this? Well, before? Like, would it be like Adobe with like, the Creative Suite? Would it be like what, who else has done this very, very well, that even you would be like, I want to, I want to create remote work tool sets, similar to how this company has done it for this category? Yeah, that’s


Ian Tien  43:42

a great question, Google and Microsoft easily. So here’s the thing, Microsoft, because I came from Microsoft is all open source internally, you can see all the source code internally, Google same thing, but it’s not public. So here’s the thing, it’s actually easier to build a suite than the point solutions, why shared security, shared authentication, shared permissions infrastructure, you know, shared, scaling, shared database, everything’s shared, it takes you take away set like the to build like five point solutions, probably costs, you know, two to three acts as much as building an integrated solution. And that’s why you know, the sweets from these, these tech giants are so powerful. They’re open source internally, you have all the source code, you have a lot of reuse. And that’s why it’s so powerful. So what you do is okay, how do you compete with the tech giants open source provides that platform complete transparently. People can build applications inside mattermost. The same way we can like we have no competitive engine building these. So when we build open source notion inside of open source, Slack was built on the same platform. It’s technically a plugin. And then as we build Incident Management, right, so this is, you know, how do I escalate SRE issues and have dashboards reporting on all my outages and performance metrics, that’s that’s an application gets plugged in. So the difference is, Well, imagine microsoft office is open source. Imagine how much you know Vation you could create when developers can solve their own problems. Imagine G Suite was was open source people, like, we know what I don’t like this button, I want to change this button. If we create plugins they can they can, they can manipulate however they want. But imagine that, you know, G Suite itself would absorb the innovation from the community. And that’s where I think the world is going. I think in terms of sort of bidirectional read write, you know, just being able to influence just to influence the platform using every day. That’s like, easy reads like, that’s what’s going to win the market, right. So I can have something where I have to wait for people in Redmond to like, make some decisions that will benefit me in two or three years? Or do I want to be able to change the code, write my myself write the plug in write the customization talk about how cool it is, and watch that innovation go upstream into the platform, and and make the world better for everyone else for all of my peers? Like what does that feel like? So ultimately, you know, open source is just it’s coming bottoms out, right? Boom, it took out servers, boom, it took out databases, boom, it took out virtualization with, with Kubernetes. And you know, this whole layer, it’s coming through DevOps tool chains with GitLab. Now it’s coming to collaboration, and software is software never breaks down, it doesn’t appreciate, you know, software works. So we just build layer upon layer, and the world can be more open and everyone can contribute. That’s just the way that the world is moving. And I think it’s a it’s a really exciting place an opportunity.


Scott D Clary  46:27

So then to sort of finish this up someone who’s in some rapid fire, just pull some last sort of entrepreneurial insights out of you. But where do you want to take mattermost? What’s what’s the what’s your goal in the next five to 10 years?


Ian Tien  46:41

We see Yeah, we we see a $15 billion opportunity 30 million developers in the world, we can see a $500 like sweetened with $5 per year sort of sweet offering that replaces a ton of other tools, we probably can reduce people’s cost by two thirds in terms of collaboration, infrastructure and tooling, and make people more productive. So it’s a it’s a huge market. And we really want to be that number one DevOps collaboration platform we want, hey, if I want to do any collaboration that’s above the codes, like, Okay, I’m not making decisions, we got lots of tool chains, great lots and lots of tool chains. Here’s where we collaborate, here’s why we bring it all together. That’s, you know, and being part of that stack for the world in terms of how developers work. You know, that’s what we’re all working towards every day.


Scott D Clary  47:26

And then also, where can people reach out to if they want to reach out to you website, social, all that stuff? Where do you want to send people?


Ian Tien  47:34

Yeah, I’m on Twitter at E and tn. So I’m happy to take any questions or comments there and mattermost is a matter


Scott D Clary  47:42

Okay, perfect. Okay, so let’s do a couple rapid you could you can do rapid fire, you can take longer you want doesn’t matter to me, I’ve nowhere to be so take your time, if you want. But if you had to, would you would you if you started again, would you redo anything? Or would you do it all the same? But if you would redo something differently, what would that be?


Ian Tien  47:59

If I redid something on the journey, I’d probably raise capital VC capital earlier. I think that the board is absolutely wonderful. Some of the best folks I’ve ever worked with, you know, Ollie regarding from yc. Continuity, and Tomas Tongass from from Redpoint are both like Excellent. So, Andrew Nicholas, co founder page dirty sweat, Jane, it is 28 just wonderful, folks. If you’re an earlier,


Scott D Clary  48:24

I’ve never heard that before. I’ve never heard somebody say they’d raise VC money early. It’s because you found the right VCs. It’s because you feel the team? Yeah. Yeah, very good. If you had to pick one thing that right now, still keeps you up at night and stresses you out? What would that thing be?


Ian Tien  48:47

Yeah, but probably moving fast enough. I think that, you know, we can always it’s always about speed of execution. So like, you know, how can we go faster? Like, what are the things that are holding us back? What are bottlenecks? And how do I as the leader make, like, remove those impedances to human beings. So it’s always about speed and going faster and not missing out on the opportunities that are ahead of us?


Scott D Clary  49:08

What was the what was the worst point the biggest, you know, shit hit the fan moment in building this and what was that? How did you recover from it? What did you learn from it?


Ian Tien  49:23

We had a customer that had an outage because of a plugin that was contributed to that, but from the community, it was like a small tiny plug in that you know, was ddossing the server and just like spilling these log files, you know, all over the place. And it was just so embarrassing. But I think that was we had a lot of we lost trust with that customer. Right? The customers like you know, mattermost had never gone down. You know, its history of its the history of mattermost was for years like 20 minutes total outage time and that was only for upgrades. Right that’s multiple upgrades. But 20 minutes in hit straight, and then it was down for hours because of this sort of plugin that overloaded, you know, certain systems that we didn’t anticipate. And we kind of moved too fast, right? We just we didn’t have, we didn’t think through sort of scale issues and sort of Sideways. Sideways configurations enough. So that was still I, like all flashbacks, like having a customer down. is just not not okay. And this is a, this is a self hosted customer. So that was probably the most difficult, I think,


Scott D Clary  50:33

yeah, but it makes you it makes you it makes you smarter, it makes you makes you a better entrepreneur, better company, when that does happen. So you know, it’s like a, it’s a learning, it’s a learning opportunity, for sure. Biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your own personal life, what was it? How did you overcome it? What do you learn from it?


Ian Tien  50:58

Yeah, I think the key thing is like, when you become a venture back CEO, there’s, you know, you have to move at a certain velocity, and you have to bring on like, you have to operate in a different way. So when I was in the video game company, in the earliest mattermost, we were profitable, and you run a profit company a certain way, when you’re in a VC backed company, you have to deploy capital in a different way, you have to bring on a different set of leadership and have to think in a very different way. And that that transition was took me some time. And that was difficult. And every founder CEO has to go through that. And some of us make it and some of us don’t. So just catching up, and it’s, you know, it’s a 10,000 hours number, right? It’s like how to get 10,000 hours, I’m past that 10,000 hours now. So I’m like, Yeah, but that’s working, you know, a lot, you know, for the week. But getting getting to be a venture back CEO, takes time. And you know, goes back to the earlier comment, I wish I did raise earlier because I could have had more time, the chairs a venture back CEO, and you know, learn things earlier in the journey rather than than a little bit later. So, you know, got to where it needed to be, but it took it took a minute.


Scott D Clary  52:03

If you had one person, obviously, there’s been many, but take like one person who’s had an amazing impact on your life, on your journey on your business. Who was that person? What did they teach you?


Ian Tien  52:21

You know, I worked with this professor and B school that was public company, CEO. And that person was, you know, one, the best legendary manager, just amazing thought leader. And I just, from that person, I understood what leadership could really be, you know, this is someone who’s, you know, just, there’s, it’s so weird, like, That person could give me a look right? Or give just have a look or have an expression. And it would communicate, like so much, right? And an email, like, one sentence was just so high impact, just watching how he would, he would trust me to do certain things with very little direction. And I would like, I’d be up to, like, you know, 4am trying to, like, do what he asked at the highest quality I possibly could. And, like, you know, how, like, what is it about that person that, you know, creates so much motivation for me to go and, and, and execute on, on what their, what their vision is. So, just seeing someone be able to just seeing what that was like was, it’s incredible. For me, it’s something I’ll always remember that person who unfortunately passed away, but it’s something that’s always with me, it’s like how good you can be as a leader. I’ve seen it and you know, how can I how can I work towards you know, that level is is something always think about?


Scott D Clary  53:43

If you had to recommend a book or a podcast or something that somebody should go check out.


Ian Tien  53:49

High output management. That’s the it’s a management book. And I think every every leader should have it. It’s got so many basic 32 years old, 3435 years old right now, but it’s, it’s a classic.


Scott D Clary  54:01

If you could tell your 20 year old self one thing, what would it be?


Ian Tien  54:09

Buy Bitcoin.


Scott D Clary  54:12

Good advice. That’s very good advice. And last question, what does success mean to you?


Ian Tien  54:21

Success for me is is really living up to all the gifts that I’ve been given. I’ve had tremendous advantages in life in terms of family in terms of education in terms of opportunity that a lot of people don’t have, and how do I live a life that’s going to be worthy of where I started?


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