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Conversation with Adept Cloud’s CEO on Launching a Software Collaboration Solution

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Editor’s note: Adept Cloud, Inc. was launched in 2011 in Palo Alto, Calif. Its adeptCloud platform provides a private collaboration solution with uncompromising security. In this interview, co-founder and CEO Frank-Robert Kline discusses not only the product’s differentiation in the market but also the complexities of launching a product in a “noisy” market. 

SandHill.com: Please describe your product and how it provides business value for your enterprise customers. 

Frank-Robert Kline: Public cloud providers such as Box, Drive or Dropbox have a fundamental security flaw when it comes to business data — to use them, the enterprise’s sensitive files must be uploaded to their central servers. Enterprises have long been the main bastion of sensitive data solutions given the additional privacy concerns typically facing very large companies.

Whether your concern is regulatory, legal, security or privacy, a third party hosting your data is flatly prohibited for many businesses. Because your data is hosted at their data centers, these public cloud providers also require you to pay for hosting services, resulting in very costly deployments for businesses with large amounts of data.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, private cloud providers’ solutions are known to be complex, costly solutions requiring custom hardware deployed inside businesses, and they lack the ease to access less sensitive data on mobile devices. With adeptCloud, no hardware is required to deploy, your data is private, you can use your own storage solutions, and we support any device and operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and BlackBerry).

Unlike typical private solutions, adeptCloud is managed in the cloud. Cloud management enables deployment in minutes and alleviates systems complexity, saving time and money. With adeptCloud, businesses requiring privacy can collaborate easily and privately, without the complexity or cost. 

SandHill.com: How did your company originate?

Frank-Robert Kline: Co-founder and CTO Aaron Nathan and I have a unique background deploying complex software in highly sensitive environments. Collaboration in these environments is an extremely difficult process owing to the myriad of security requirements. Universally, we saw complicated systems (for both users and IT) that offered little usability and yet required significant up-front investment.

adeptCloud came out of the necessity to answer the question: How do we provide the ease and usability of a Box or Dropbox with the data privacy and security of the private cloud? The answer was combining complete data privacy with cloud management. 

SandHill.com: What is the best advice you received about startups that helped you avoid a pitfall? 

Frank-Robert Kline: While working at Palantir, I discussed with Thomas Volpe, a close family friend, our thoughts of leaving to found a startup. Palantir is quite often ranked near the top of the best places to work and hardest places to get an engineering job. Great people, every need cared for — as opposed to jaunting out on our own with zero support. It didn’t seem rational. Tom went through a similar situation when he left his top post at Hambrecht & Quist to found Volpe Brown Whelan.

His advice was to just go for it, that you don’t want to look back and say “what if,” or wonder what the experience is like. The confusion I felt before that conversation, and the clarity afterwards, was significant then and still is to me today. 

SandHill.com: Describe an aspect of your company’s business that has been frustrating and how you worked through the challenge. 

Frank-Robert Kline: The collaboration market is noisy. Public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, virtual-private cloud — there are many solutions vying for attention, and many have quite a bit more money, people and headstart than we do.

Originally, we planned to offer a variety of services across public and private domains to both businesses and individuals. But in a crowded market our messaging became very diluted. We’ve now focused exclusively on providing the best experience to businesses that require file privacy but need to collaborate internally, externally or both. 

SandHill.com: What challenges have you encountered that you didn’t anticipate? And how did you work through those challenges? 

Frank-Robert Kline: One of the largest unanticipated challenges was in how long it took to build our first Alpha release and the financial challenges that brought. I left Palantir in May of 2011. Our plan was to build the Alpha and then use this as a prototype to demo when searching for financing. By the time we “finished” the Alpha prototype, it was late November. Scheduling investor meetings over the holiday season was near to impossible and our round ended up closing in March of 2012. My personal finances had essentially been depleted at that point.

SandHill.com: What is the most recent success that your company / employees achieved that caused you to celebrate it together? 

Frank-Robert Kline: We recently inked our first enterprise deal for $20,000 over the first five months plus recurring revenue. adeptCloud will be the critical link in privately transferring personally identifiable information across organizational boundaries.

SandHill.com: What challenges have you encountered in recruiting, hiring and retaining the right talent? 

Frank-Robert Kline: Especially at the early stages when a startup is little more than a concept and your reputation (the latter not including startup experience), it is a significant test to convince others to drop everything they are doing and join you and, in a few cases, to move across the country. Our core team has been involved together in various projects. But even with reputation, it is a difficult and high-stakes process. 

SandHill.com: How did you determine the right pricing for your product? 

Frank-Robert Kline: We’re still working on it! We based our Starter plans ($30/month for 10 users) and Business ($50/month for 10 users + $10/month for additions users + $100/month for adeptCloud Onsite) off of comparative cloud-based solutions that alleviate traditional up-front costs required by private cloud solutions. For enterprises, we’ve been working with them on a one-by-one basis to determine how much integration and development they will need. 

SandHill.com: If you could spend an afternoon this month with a top exec in a well-established software firm to learn some insights from the exec, who would you choose and why? 

Frank-Robert Kline: I would love to spend an afternoon with Rick Nucci of Boomi (now Dell). Boomi excelled at managing private infrastructure from the cloud. We talked with Rick on the phone recently, but the analogy and sales-channel is similar in such a way that I would love to listen to the first-person knowledge and experience of how to exercise, by definition, a walled-off market with cloud-managed software.

SandHill.com: How and when did you scale your sales and marketing operations, and what challenges did you need to overcome in that effort?

Frank-Robert Kline: With the pilot program launch, we brought on the team from True Sales Results to develop a direct sales plan to go to enterprise customers and assist in developing our first substantially representative set of customers. We’re simultaneously working to scale the presence, information and materials at adeptcloud.com.

The challenge at the moment is the chicken-and-egg problem — potential customers would like to see substantial existing customers. We’re working hard to get that representative set to make the sign-up process easier for CIOs, IT and leads. 

SandHill.com: What non-software business or social leader has most influenced your approach to your personal life or your career? 

Frank-Robert Kline: My dad has always been the biggest positive influence in my life, both personally and professionally. As a venture capitalist focusing on technology, when it was take-your-son-to-work day, we flew up to San Jose from Los Angeles and drove through Silicon Valley to meet with the founding teams of the startups and businesses he’d invested in. I was completely hooked on tech, meeting great CTOs over the years. I always very much respected the friendly, calm, knowledgeable manner in which he held himself, even in tense situations. Recently, in August, he was best man at my wedding. 

SandHill.com: What is your top advice for first-time entrepreneurs? 

Frank-Robert Kline: A tough lesson for us, as first-time entrepreneurs ourselves, was that given the breadth and depth of advice from a variety of accomplished, trusted sources, it’s a requirement to have the perspective, thoughtfulness and confidence to synthesize that advice into a cohesive world view. In our initial inexperience, we were ready to take advice; but with a lack of cohesive, contiguous synthesis, our direction and progress suffered.

SandHill.com: What do the next 12 months hold for your company? 

Frank-Robert Kline: At the start of November we publicly launched a pilot program of adeptCloud designed to engage businesses with sensitive data collaboration use cases with our solution. We are jointly trying to prove the market for the solution as well as cohesively designing the future of adeptCloud with our customers’ use cases.

We’re also looking to close an additional financing round in early to mid-2013 to enable us to build a business development team to focus on direct as well as Web outreach, and additionally continue to grow engineering to support additional deployments and building the platform forward.

Frank-Robert Kline is the co-founder and CEO of Adept Cloud, Inc. An architect of the adeptCloud platform, Frank-Robert most recently was at Palantir Technologies designing and developing the back end for critical, high-scale intelligence analysis. Frank-Robert has specific experience deploying and integrating critical business infrastructure in highly sensitive environments. At Cornell, Frank-Robert designed the Artificial Intelligence for the Cornell DARPA Urban Challenge Team. 

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