The Evolution Of Deep Sentinel And Work/Life Balance
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.
The Evolution of Deep Sentinel and Work/Life Balance
There's a segue into our next final topic because I’m deeply curious, being a founder myself, and you've been a serial founder with some great successes behind you. Before I do that, security is one of those needs we have that is difficult to solve nowadays. There's a reason why many people sleep with a loaded gun underneath that bed. There's a reason why people go and buy very scary attack dogs to protect their properties.
To have technology take that worry away from you is a groundbreaking proposition. It feels like when you build a company, you can either do it the old school way, which is to look at target market size, look at what competitors do and try to build something better. You can also do something that fundamentally changes the game and reinvents the paradigm. It isn't about features. It's about what impact that has on the core problem, preventing crime before it happens, for example.
How do you find the energy after being in tech for so long, company after company, and you're still giving everything you have in this company? It’s something I wonder about. I had a big exit too, and you get a little bit lazy after a while. It's a part-time job. I think I will eventually do a company because it's in your blood. The serial founder here who's wiser now, how are you running Deep Sentinel? Are you putting your life and 24 hours into it or do you have a balance?
Let me answer the direct part of the question first, which is, do I have balance? I do. It's critical to me that I take my daughter to school every morning. It's critical that I have dinner with my family every day. I have clear boundaries in my life. I’ve got two little girls and I got my wife. I’ve got to make them first. Getting a divorce because of a company and changing the course of my life is not an acceptable outcome for me.
How do I make that work at Deep Sentinel? I'll provide two perspectives on that. There are people that are way more successful than me too. They may have a different perspective. Keep that in mind. I don't think Elon Musk knows the names of his children. He's much more wealthy than I am. Maybe he does. I'll bet you, if you ask them to name them quickly, he will screw up.
This is one man's perspective. My first one is that I think boundaries can make you a lot stronger. Think about building a product from an engineering perspective, boundaries of the constraints that you decide you want to operate under. You maximize within those boundaries and they force you to innovate, be creative, and solve hard problems that you'd avoid the problem if you could break those boundaries. You run away like, “I have no budget. Therefore, I'll write this inefficient SQL query that takes forever.”
That's a bad building block ultimately for the other things that you want to do as a business. We know that technically, if you have a bunch of bad queries inside of your underlying backend, eventually, that will break everything and stop you from doing things that you want to do. It'll stop you from progressing in the business. It will stop you from innovating. That's number one.
I believe that you can use boundaries intelligently to make you better andf more robust. I use my boundaries to define how I manage my staff. I’m much more crystal clear with my staff, especially my direct reports. Here's where I’m available. Here's where I’m not available. Here's what I need you to do. I am going to dedicate 100% of my effort to make sure that you're successful in my delegations because I don't want to be picking up the pieces. One of my boundaries is I can't pick up the pieces for all of my direct reports because I have to make sure that I’m spending time with my family. When I didn't have to do that, I would do that.
I had a VP of Sales at my last company that wasn't doing very well. What did I do? I went and I flew 200,000 miles a year for three years. I compensated for having weak leadership. That ultimately ended up biting me because, A) it made my work-life balance horrible. B) It allowed me to keep this VP of Sales that wasn't performing the way that I wanted them to for two years. I suffered through that whole thing. My company and investors benefited. We grew revenue by 2X in those 2 years. It was awesome. At the end of it, I couldn't scale anymore because now I had a weak VP of Dales who had hired sales directors and hadn't built a good sales process. When I needed to step back, we couldn't. I believe boundaries helped me solve that problem.
It reminds me of an anecdote too. When we were growing our company, we went from $850,000 to $15 million to $56 million sequentially. We had a year where we stole. By stolen, I mean $56 million to like $65 million. I think that those were the numbers. It was a while ago. Prior to that, I was like, “My team is amazing. They've done a great job.” What you realize there's no, we weren't compensating for the growth. The metrics were hiding all the flaws. We would have grown three times faster had we had a better executive team or had we hadn't gone and spent so frivolously. You're growing and you're growing at all costs.
Build a belief that you’re making a dent in the world.
That was a year I spent retrenching. I spent getting the budget under control, reducing expenses and turning over a large part of the executive team that did a great job getting the company up. There were a lot of problems with some leaders and replacing them was the right thing to do. I probably never would have done that. We would continue to grow. That's what unlocked growth to $300 million, $400 million in revenues. I totally see that. Constraints are actually a blessing. Sometimes, when there's a problem, you reevaluate beyond the first order you see. It's like, “What's the next 3rd, 4th level here beyond this problem? How do we address the root cause?”
It forces you to face the hard truths. One of the things that I do is look at my calendar every week. One of my practices in that same vein is I look at what division, what problem am I spending time at? If I ended up spending too much time in a specific area for too long, this is a clear reason. It’s either I have the wrong people or I have the people doing the wrong things.
Those are the only two things that can be going on. If it's the wrong people whose at fault, that is mine. If I have the right people but they're doing the wrong things, whose fault is that? Mine. My activities, actions, and responses are very different. You asked the question about being a more experienced founder. From one man's perspective, this is how I make it work. That's my primary tool. It’s my time and then restructuring either people or roles.
That doesn't mean I’m not active, I’m not talking to my customers or I’m not engaged in our product development. That doesn't mean I’m not looking at the code. I attended the designery. I still love that. I still engage in that. But I’ve had to find the balance about how do I get engaged all the way down but not fix other people's problems. With that combination, I benefit from the experience. As a young founder, it was either I was down in the details and fixing your problems or I was not in the details.
What I love about where I’m at right now, I could literally describe to you what's going on on the circuit boards for our next generation of cameras. I can describe to you what the researchers were doing in the AI. I could describe to you the training that we're doing for our guards as we're bringing up our next traunch of guards in the Philippines, but I’m not making those things my problems. I’m using them to inform the clear boundaries and objectives of the people I’m delegating the problem to.
It feels like you're building a system rather than diving in and tactically trying to put puzzle pieces together. You're building a system that reinforces.
I’m trying to. The second thing that I would say is that as a founder, I would have gray hair if I had hair. The other thing that I have that I also didn't have when I was younger is that I have reserves. When COVID hit, because I’ve maintained these boundaries, COVID crushed us. We were raising capital and the venture capital markets shut down. We had not hit our growth inflection point where we’re spending a ton on marketing.
When I did need to go take my hand and put it on the fricking wheel and drive for a year, I had the capability to do that because I’m working 50 to 60 hour weeks most of the time. I was able to dial it up to 90-hour weeks for nine months. That's not what I wanted to do. That's not what the plan was. Nobody planned for COVID, or at least most of us didn't. Certainly, our government didn’t. The world's governments didn't. I had reserves. One of the things that my investors were commenting on like, “You don't need to do this. This is crazy.” We actually did a recap. We did hardcore work in 2020, and I was at 85 to 95 hours a week for 9 months. That was exhausting, but it wasn't horrible.
You had the energy to sprint. It wasn't a constant sprint way of operating. I know what that was like. You're burnt out, but somehow you're putting in the hours and you're ineffective, but you have to, just to maintain that normalness. During that time, you've taught your organization that they can get away with being inefficient or that you're always going to be around to fix problems. You don't realize you're getting in your own company's way versus realizing, “I have some reserves. I have to dive in here, but I’m going to dive in and try to get out as fast as I can.” Of course, no one has predicted COVID would last as long as it has.
That was one man's perspective. We came out of it. A lot of people that went into that mode didn't come out of it as well. Whether that's because of me or that's because we had an amazing product or that's because I had an amazing team, probably all of those things. You said earlier that you can increase your odds of being lucky. We were definitely lucky. We found our niche. I went from a customer acquisition cost at the beginning of COVID of $1,200. Our customer acquisition cost now is less than $75. The customers are five times bigger. We got lucky. Our outcomes were that our growth rate went from doubling to tripling, quadrupling. We hit a chord that I’m so blessed that we got to hit.
Part of that I will take a little bit of credit for was that I made sure we had a great team. I made sure that we knew what delegation was. I made sure that I wasn't burning my team out. We were all working 60, 70 or 80-hour weeks going into COVID and we didn't crush everyone in COVID. I made sure that we over-communicated. As we went into COVID, my favorite thing about building a startup was building a team. It's building a culture. It's building a belief that we're making a dent in the world.
One of the neat things about Deep Sentinel is we are actually making a dent in the world and that dent fricking matters. We're not making a calculator for tax for international eCommerce. All respect to the companies that did that and do that and have billion-dollar valuations. In ten years, no one's going to give a crap about that.
This comes back to the how we got onto this topic. You need a mission that empowers a soul and that's what will give you the energy to stick by it and your employees. When you work for a company that has such a powerful social mission, people care about it. It's not just let's improve revenues. It's we have customers, we have homes are guarding. We need to make sure we can continue to offer this must-have product to others.
I read TechCrunch off and on. I’ve read every TechCrunch funding announcement because we're going into a fundraising mode. I want to get it to re-engage myself in the funding environment. The number of companies that look like what I described, like the company raising $100 million to help people compute derivative taxes for an eCommerce site for pets only, raising $100 million on a billion-dollar valuation, that's hard to compete with because it took no effort to build. It's got a very low cost and there's a ton of demand for it. At the end of the day, what we have that's unique is that we have incredibly low employee churn through all these ups and downs.
Invest from your soul and energy.
We have dedicated employees who work their tails off because we all know when we wake up in the morning when we go to our all-hands every Monday, we watch these videos together of us stopping somebody's car from being stolen. We watch videos of us saving someone's life, calling the police when someone falls or someone calling the ambulance when somebody falls down and hurts themselves in the front of their house. The dent that we're making is a mission that every one of us will be proud of and remember for the rest of our lives. The other neat thing that I mentioned to you is that in the midst of that, we also did some business stuff that was cool. We went from a business that had a CAC, customer acquisition cost, of over $1,000.
Our gross margins were not so good. Our growth rate was okay but difficult. We went to a business whose growth rate has exploded. Our CAC is now less than one month's payback. Our average customer is massive and our gross margins are phenomenal over the course of a year because we were able to, as a team, attack each of the problems that we had aggressively because we had that sense of togetherness.
Let me give you an example. On the customer acquisition side, we knew that we had to rewrite our customer acquisition because we have such an, a revolutionary product. We're the only company that does this. We shouldn't have to pay so much to our customers. We should be able to do that pretty darn organically. People shouldn't be running at us, which they are now.
I knew that $1,000 cap, while that was okay, it was great and we're paying it back, there was a better version. Over eighteen months, we ran experiments for three months. We ran them to the ground. We cut every single one of them, used them to inform the next three months and then restarted it. In any job, to take work and dedicate your brain to it, work your tail off for three months and then have somebody say, “We're going to take this. This is going to be the input into the next chunk of work, but we're stopping everything you did.”
It didn't fail. It succeeded in getting us data, but it's not the answer. We were able to do that every three months for eighteen months rigorously so that we could be ruthless in finding a customer acquisition strategy that got us to 3X, 4X-plus growth and very low customer acquisition cost because we knew that was possible. We believed in each other and we knew that it was worth doing. There's no way we could have done that without this incredibly deep sense of mission, a commitment and the belief that what we were doing was an amazing product.
Trying to reinforce your story about mission, as I look at that experience as awesome as maybe the launch of Redfin was an instant success, this is not necessarily comparative, but it's rewarding in a fundamentally different way. It is a deep investment that came from our souls and our energy and had a wildly rewarding output.
I think that's a wonderful note to end on. I’m sure our readers can feel that passion coming out and that's genuine. That's because that's the outcome. When you do something you're passionate about, when you’re in a state of flow, that's when you can build great products and put in that energy when needed. David has been wonderful having you on the show. How can any of our readers reach you? Are there any types of companies or audiences you would love to engage with to advance what you're doing a Deep Sentinel?
Obviously, we are starting to crush the multi-tenant residential. You've got a bunch of prop tech folks that are reading this. We can protect everything from a multi-tenant residential to warehouses and retail malls, cannabis dispensaries and cannabis warehouses. We do all of that phenomenally. To all of those folks, Deep Sentinel has an answer for you. Without exception and without qualification, I promise you that it'll be better than anything else you can get.
To get in touch with us and prove that to yourself, how about this? I'll challenge you to take three minutes and go to the Deep Sentinel YouTube channel. That will prove it to you. We produce a video every single week called our Stopped series on the Deep Sentinel YouTube channel and it shows our 5, 10 best crime stops of the week. Whether it's a bear from vandalizing property or homeless people or an aggressive assault or a planned burglary with guys in masks and crowbars and weapons, we stop all of those things.
I encourage you to go take a look there. The other thing you can do is if you're interested in hearing more of me pontificating about the universe, you can follow me on LinkedIn. I’m publishing more content there on a regular basis. You can go to our website, DeepSentinel.com and learn about us there. My favorite place to point you is the Deep Sentinel YouTube station because that's where we get a chance to shine. That's where we show up us doing our stuff and stopping criminals in their tracks.
Thank you so much for coming on the show.
It's been awesome. Thank you.
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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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