Editor’s note: What worked in the desktop world isn’t adequate for the mobile world. Operating systems and networks in the wireless last mile cause suboptimal experience and even volatility and bottlenecks. Twin Prime solves those issues and enables customers to create fast mobile apps everywhere for a rich mobile experience. Twin Prime launched its mobile app acceleration solution earlier this month and is already racking up customer success stories with apps used by millions of people worldwide. In this interview, co-founders CEO Kartik Chandrayana and CTO Satish Raghunath discuss trends in mobile app acceleration solutions and also share insights and lessons learned in their startup journey to date.
How did your company originate — what inspired you to launch the company and what was the original vision/hope?
Kartik Chandrayana: The growth in use of mobile apps, and the fact that mobile apps are 3x slower than websites. The combination of these two factors highlighted the uniqueness of mobile. Further investigation confirmed that existing acceleration solutions could not solve this problem. Given that between Satish and I we have over 30 years of networking, network software design and telecom experience, it was natural for us to tackle this rapidly growing problem.
Please describe the business issue in mobility that your product solves.
Kartik Chandrayana: Content on mobile devices is primarily consumed through apps. For businesses reliant on app engagement by their customers, download speed is of critical importance. A poor mobile Web experience can cause a 1 percent drop in revenues for every 100 millisecond of delay. In wireless networks, 70 to 90 percent of latency occurs in the last mile access network (e.g., the connection between the cell tower and the handset). Twin Prime is the first company to focus on this location of most mobile latency challenges.
What else differentiates your product/service from competitors?
Satish Raghunath: Our solution provides the fastest way to adapt to changing network characteristics. The “secret sauce” is our Global Location and Context-based Acceleration Strategy (GLAS) technology, which helps cope with the variations in wireless networks through automated hypothesis testing – deciding which connection strategy is the best for the device and geographical location.
The technology then automatically selects and deploys a custom optimization strategy to improve content delivery. These strategies are designed to be specific to wireless network characteristics and operating conditions including device, application architecture, network type, quality and geographical location.
How did you determine the right pricing for your product?
Kartik Chandrayana: Pricing is based on the number of monthly active devices in an organization. Given that a majority of our customers are experiencing high user growth, we created a tiered model, with per-unit flexibility specifically built in for high-growth organizations.
Please describe one of your company’s lessons learned and where it occurred in the time line of your product development.
Satish Raghunath: We went through a phase early on in the product’s life when there were a lot of choices (sometimes conflicting) in how we move forward. With finite resources, doing it all is rarely an option. The lesson we learned at this stage was one of priorities. The way we went about clearing the air was by asking what we, as a team, wanted the next milestone to be and what would take us there. It helped us focus on the aspects of the product that would help us prove the value of our technology quicker.
What challenges in product/service development or taking your product to market did you encounter that you didn’t anticipate?
Kartik Chandrayana: The biggest issue we face is customer time. Like every busy corporate executive, our customers have meetings, priority projects and other items that keep them occupied. Finding time on their calendars to meet with us is a constant challenge. The good news is that once we meet with our customers, we move quickly into software integration and purchase.
Who are the advisors behind your company?
Kartik Chandrayana: Twin Prime recently announced $9.5 million in Series A funding from top-tier venture firms that include DFJ and True Ventures. As a result, Om Malik, partner at True Ventures, and Bubba Murarka, partner at DFJ, also joined our board of directors.
What is the story behind your company name?
Satish Raghunath: When we were naming the company, we wanted something that reflects a broader quest. So we were looking for math problems that inspired curiosity. A close friend suggested that we consider the Twin Prime conjecture, which was an unsolved problem at the time we founded the company. The name appealed to both of us as simple, easy to recall and meaningful. Incidentally, the proof of the conjecture has been discovered since.
From your observation, what is the most challenging aspect of innovation, and how are you overcoming that challenge at your company?
Satish Raghunath: Innovation often involves iteration and time to realize benefits. The challenge is in being able to foresee the benefits and making the right trade-offs. The way we have tackled this problem is to use the iterative nature of innovation to our advantage.
When there is a big idea, we tend to break it into the smallest realizable piece and make it part of the mainstream offering. We then measure its impact. If the impact has been positive, we go further and broaden the implementation and start the cycle again. This lets us work around resource constraints and allows us to rapidly bring new innovations to market.
What challenges did you encounter in recruiting/hiring/retaining the right talent?
Kartik Chandrayana: “Never compromise, and only hire the best” is the mantra we follow fastidiously here at Twin Prime. While everyone says that, not everyone follows through on this promise – especially when a company is continuously resource constrained.
We believe in the saying “you’re only as good as your weakest link” and would rather extend the hiring period by several months than bring in people that ultimately don’t work out. These sorts of people might solve immediate short-term issues, but wind up creating problems in the mid-term that others in the company have to ultimately fix.
What is the most interesting way you used social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to acquire customers or employees?
Kartik Chandrayana: I have a very recent example to share with you. There is a site call Product Hunt that finds and reviews new technology products that they feel are best in class. We were lucky to be chosen by Product Hunt as the mobile app acceleration solution worthy of review. Understanding the value of this endorsement, we created a Twitter campaign that sent our target customers to the Product Hunt site. It was a great campaign for us, as our targeted prospects got to read the positive reviews of our technology from other developers all over the world.
What has been your toughest moment/day so far? What happened, and how did you pull yourself up and become inspired again?
Kartik Chandrayana: With any startup, my personal belief is that things are never so good that they can’t get better and they are never so bad they can’t get worse! So there are plenty of what I refer to as “learning moments,” and I recall one that happened recently.
Over the past six months we have tripled in size. Growth naturally begets ups and downs. One of the consequences of this rapid growth was when one of our original engineers resigned. It came as a shock to us because he was doing really well and we communicated that to him as well. The problem that led to his resignation was that with rapid growth we had become siloed, which sometimes led to ineffective communication.
This led to a key learning, which we’ve since taken to heart: It is incumbent on all of us at the company to introspect, break the silos, continuously enhance our communication structures and care more about each other’s work. So, while we lost a talent, we gained from the experience.
In your opinion and observances (or your personal experience) what is one of the top pitfalls in mindset or approach that first-time startup leaders make?
Kartik Chandrayana: Trying to do too much at once. Since startup leaders are often personally vested in the companies they create, many feel they need to execute any idea or opportunity that arises. I don’t think this is a successful strategy.
A better approach is to choose one or two big opportunities – for example, choose a primary customer target, then do the best to understand their needs and ensure success with them before going to the next group. The propensity for success is greater with this approach than with a more shotgun style, as only by truly understanding your customer’s needs can you solve them better than anyone else.
What have you already realized it will be necessary to do in order to build a corporate environment that will enable your employees to move beyond the early stage of a startup?
Satish Raghunath: Decentralized decision making and lightweight measurable processes are key to growth. Individuals and teams must be able to own product components and move fast to meet customer requirements without someone being the bottleneck. There must be objective mechanisms to measure and identify when things are not working.
Who is your personal software company or software executive role model? Please describe why that company or person is your model.
Satish Raghunath: Rather than a particular company or exec, I am inspired by products that identify and solve a problem really well. One example that comes to mind due to the number of times I have relied on it in the past is an open source database product called sqlite. It is a great example of clearly addressing a problem and building a durable solution for it.
What book (business or non-business) have you read during the past three years that influenced you, and how did it influence your actions or decisions?
Kartik Chandrayana: One of the books I keep going back to is “The Soul of a New Machine,” which my wife recommended. It talks in detail about the challenges of running an engineering company and, although it’s an old book, the lessons are still valid today.
Ben Horowitz’s “Hard Thing about Hard Things” has some great insights for a founder CEO. The insight that I relate to most in the book is that we usually hire for lack of weakness rather than strength, and in a startup sometimes that maps directly with agility.
And I really liked “The Gone Girl.” It was a great read and great movie too!
What do the next 12 months hold for your company?
Kartik Chandrayana: The next 12 months is all about deploying our go-to-market strategy. Since coming out of stealth, we already achieved revenue-generating status and know what it takes to gain customers. As such, we will invest in our marketing and sales efforts to accelerate customer acquisition over the next 12 months.
Kartik Chandrayana is co-founder and CEO of Twin Prime Inc. and leads the company’s strategic direction and business execution. He brings more than 15 years of network engineering expertise. Prior to Twin Prime, Kartik led engineering teams at Blue Coat Systems and Cisco Systems, where he focused on industry-leading R&D on storage networking, WAN optimization and high-speed TCP among other areas.
Satish Raghunath is co-founder and CTO of Twin Prime. He leads Twin Prime’s product strategy and roadmap. Satish has more than 15 years of experience in network software design at leading networking companies including Juniper Networks and Nortel Networks. At Juniper Networks, he was instrumental in improving router technology and contributing to the development of a cross-company services platform. At Nortel Networks, Satish researched and prototyped several networking technologies to make networks application aware.