How Netscape Shaped Deep Sentinel’s Growth
In this episode, Learn how Netscape shaped Deep Sentinel's growth in its early days and how they are using the same principles today. Community plays a huge part in leading any business or organization, and David Shares his experience from earlier days and how it helped him start and scale his business.
Deep Sentinel is the only security system that delivers the experience of a personal guard at every customer's property. It uses deep learning with wireless security cameras to enable live guards to intervene within seconds of a perimeter breach and before the criminal enters the property.
Know more https://www.deepsentinel.com/
How Netscape Shaped Deep Sentinel’s Growth
In this episode, we have a legend David Selinger, one of the Cofounders of Redfin and now a Founder at Deep Sentinel. I actually invested in Deep Sentinel through my family office. David, it's great to have you. How are you doing?
I’m stoked to be here right now. I'm excited to have you as an investor. The ability to reach out and expand back into a vertical that I love, real estate, is exciting, and I'm having a blast with it.
David, tell us a bit about your journey. How did you go about becoming an entrepreneur and how did that journey eventually lead you to where you are now running Deep Sentinel?
Becoming an entrepreneur was an accident. It was a function of the world at the time and where I was. I grew up in a really small town in Southern Oregon called Grants Pass. I grew up in a suburb of Grants Pass called Merlin, with a total population around 300, 350 people. The path wasn't super direct in that regard. I then got a chance to go to Stanford, which is where I think my eyes just got blown open, not like the gradual opening.
I remember I started at Stanford in 1996 and that was the heyday of Netscape. I remember one of the first things I did was walk the halls of Netscape. Not because I was an employee, but just because Netscape was the thing you installed. You got your computer, you got to college, and then you got this high-speed internet in your room, which was mind blown like all by itself.
I could watch things like the Brian Boitano episode at South Park in my room. This will actually pivot into Deep Sentinel a little bit. Netscape was just down the street. It was in Mountain View, 5, 10 minutes driving. I borrowed my friend's car and then I tailgated people into the Netscape building. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term tailgating, that is when an employee who looks like they know what they're doing walks into a door with key card access. You look to the side, look like you know what you're doing, talking to your hand as if you have a cell phone. I was a college kid, so I couldn't afford a cell phone, but I looked like I knew what I was doing and I just walked into the building.
With technology, the world is your oyster, and anything can happen.
My first experience becoming an entrepreneur in the tech world was breaking into Netscape illegally and just walking around and seeing what people did. It was just invigorating. It was this energy of technology and the world is your oyster and anything can happen. The world's first webcam was in the Netscape building. It was on a fish tank, I think.
Fast forward to my career at Amazon. One of my best friends and coworkers there was this guy named Russell Dicker. His dad was one of the senior executives at Netscape and he was the one that set up that webcam that I had come across. I walked around and I tried to capture the energy. I looked into conference rooms, I looked at what they were working on. They were looking at these CRT monitors, banging away, writing code and creating the internet for all intents and purposes. I fell in love. I wanted to be a part of that story. That was really the moment that I decided I wanted to become an entrepreneur.
You were studying at Stanford. How did you make that leap? Did you drop out like everyone else or stopped by and took a careful path? It sounds like Amazon was one of the stepping stones.
No, I, I dropped out. I entered at a company called FlyCast and that was even further interesting to me. They went public while I was an intern. I started working there at nights while I was still going to Stanford. I was like, “I need to dig in and become part of this.” At the beginning of my junior year, I dropped out.
What year was this?
This was 1998.
I'm curious how the next two years went.
I dropped out. I joined three startups over the course of the next couple of months. I was your traditional startup whore, being from place to place. I went to FlyCast full-time for a bit. I went to a company called the Dolores Group, which was a bunch of MBAs out of Stanford, which is the dream at the time. If you can get MBAs from Stanford, you could raise money. Sure enough, we did. We raised money from like Heidi Roizen and all the super amazing people at that time.
As a group of MBAs frequently do, it had a lot of dreams and a lot of ambition and ideas and not that much execution. Unfortunately, I learned the value of execution at that company. I went back to a company that was started by a bunch of my friends called FlyCast. That was a mobile application layer company doing ASP cloud computing in the internet for multiple customers, which eventually became SaaS. Mobile's a little bit too early on SaaS, but it gave me the idea and then a flavor for what hyper-growth could look like. As you mentioned, I did end up going back to Stanford to go to Amazon. I finished my degree right after the dot-com crash.
Did you finish it because of the dot-com crash where you realized you should go back to school and get a golden parachute or a backup plan?
No. I actually worked full-time while I was at school, too. It felt like the right time to do it because the opportunity cost externally was lower because I actually joined a company called Dutch Brothers, which is a coffee company. It's a traditional coffee company. It's an awesome one. If you don't know Dutch Brothers, take a look. You can watch some cool stuff about the CEO who was on Undercover Boss a few years ago.
It is a sick company. It started in my hometown of Grants Pass and I was friends with the CEO. I asked him if I could become a partner and take over the technology. We figured out this awesome deal where I got to be a part of that business and go back to Stanford and help them explore the internet and growth and stuff like that.
When everyone else was looking for a golden parachute, every other company was pulling back its marketing spin.
Interestingly enough, you asked if it was just a golden parachute? The answer is absolutely not. Let me tell you why. I busted tail while I was doing that. We at Dutch Brothers were like this hyper non-tech company that slings coffee from the coolest baristas on the West Coast. We started our eCommerce site in 2001. This is right when everyone else was looking for a golden parachute. Every other company was pulling back their marketing spin.
That was contemporaneous with Google launching the world's most scalable, cost-effective, amazing advertising platform, AdWords. I discovered AdWords at Dutch Bros. I was paying $1.52 a lead for people to buy $500 coffee makers and converting them at 50%, making hundreds of dollars hand over fist. it sounds like the story of a golden parachute, but in a lot of ways, like when you, when you peel back the onion, it was not. I was leaning in, in every possible way.
I was leaning into Dutch Bros. I was leaning into Stanford. It was so awesome to be there. I was taking twenty units a quarter. I was meeting every Nobel Laureate that Stanford had to offer. I was 110%. If there's a theme of my life, if you did a reference check on me of anyone I've ever worked with at any point since I was six, intense would probably be the first word that comes out of any of my life their mouth. Whether they like me or hate me, love me or just tolerated me, intense.
I was doing this at Dutch Bros. I actually had a nonprofit I was running at the time and I was 100% all-in at Stanford. How do I tie this to Amazon? Amazon had on-campus interviews. I was doing fine. I was making enough money that I was great. I'd already made a bunch of money in dot-com. I was driving around in an M3 all over campus. I thought I was the hottest little punk in the universe.
I went to this Amazon interview and I'm sitting across from this guy named Neil Roseman. He was the VP of Consumer at the time. I was like, “Amazon seems cool, but I got this other thing going that’s way sweeter.” He's like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “Check this out. What I do is I go on Google and I buy AdWords for $0.50 to $1.50. I find these people all over the country that are looking for these niche products in the coffee space, where my margin is hundreds of dollars. I'm converting it 50% because there's nowhere else they can buy this stuff.” I'm basically paying $3 for a customer making $150 a pop and just doing that hand over fist.
Neil's eyes light up and he leans across the table. I kept talking. I was just talking, I was so full of myself. He goes, “Go back to those numbers again. You acquire a customer for between $1.50 and $3, and you sell them something for $500 and you put $100, $150 in your pocket.” I was like, “Yeah, all day.” That interview became the business justification for a project that became Aura Bomba! which became the very first $100 million customer of Google.
I joined Amazon and ran their R and D department. I didn't end up running that project, interestingly enough. My friend, Blake Scholl, did. He is now the CEO of Boom Supersonic, if you know that company. In fact, right behind me is a model of the Boom Supersonic plane. Blake ended up running that project and that was the first $100 million annual spend that Google had ever achieved on AdWords. This is a long answer to your question about the golden parachute, but this little tiny coffee company in Oregon ended up changing the trajectory of Amazon and Google. How's it about them apples?
How did you jump from that to Redfin and Deep Sentinel?
My research at Stanford was on AI, robotics and data. I’ve always loved data and AI. While I was at Amazon, I decided I wanted to buy a house. I had that quintessential entrepreneur moment where I realized, “This market is so horrible.” The moment that really told me that was my real estate agent, who was a friend of a friend, the typical way of finding a real estate agent, sitting across the table from me at a coffee shop, trying to convince me to buy this house. It was a horrible buy. Let me just set that up. It was the wrong price. All the comparables were in the wrong direction. It was a bad house. It wasn't a fit for what I wanted.
It was slightly outside of my price range and it was slightly outside of the neighborhood I wanted to live it. All boxes had a big red X in them instead of a checkmark. I realized I was sitting across the table from someone whose only interest was to get me to buy. He makes 3% on this transaction even if I buy the wrong house, as long as I buy it with him.
His biggest risk isn't that I buy the wrong house. That's my biggest risk. His biggest risk is I realize that he's a buffoon and an idiot, and I buy my house with someone else. With all respect to him, he had no education in real estate, understood nothing about math and was fundamentally unsophisticated as it came to finance. Here I was getting advice on this incredibly important purchase from a fundamentally unqualified person whose only incentive was to sell me something that I didn't want. That was my entrepreneur moment. I think I literally got up and I just walked out.
From there, I went and found some guys working on the problem. This was David Eraker and Michael Dougherty. They were related to some of my friends from Stanford and still at Amazon, but I learned that they had had this same realization that this market was forked. The only advantage that this real estate agent had was the fact that he had access to the MLS, which gave him sales comp data. I was like, “This is horrible. That's public record.” I remember this moment sitting down with Michael and David and they were like, “Yeah, it's public record and no one gets access to it. That's what we need to change.”
I was like, “I love these guys.” These guys are passionate about this. I'm pissed off and they're passionate. That's a good match. They had been trying to build this Windows app to fix this problem. Michael had this totally crazy, cracked-out vision of, “Let's take all the interactivity you can have on a Windows desktop app and let's put that on the web.” I was like, “Michael, you're crazy. There's no way you can do that. You can't have interactive buttons and stuff like that.” This is before Web 2.0, by the way. This truly was a crazy idea.
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How to Leverage Data in Order to Make Managing Real Estate Seamless https://youtu.be/aGwxwSGKR1o
Why a Lack of Data Impacts Real Estate Asset Decisions https://youtu.be/IFmYE8wNBbo
What the Future of Property Management Looks Like https://youtu.be/zvOwrAkfpwM
About Zain Jaffer:
Zain Jaffer is an accomplished executive, investor, and entrepreneur. He started his first company at the age of 14 and later moved to the US as an immigrant to found Vungle, after securing $25M from tech giants including Google & AOL in 2011. Vungle recently sold for $780m.
His achievements have garnered international recognition and acclaim; he is the recipient of prestigious awards such as “Forbes 30 Under 30”, “Inc. Magazine’s 35 Under 35,” and the “SF Business Times Tech & Innovation Award.” He is regularly featured in major business & tech publications such as The Wall Street Journal, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch.
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