In the intricate tapestry of entrepreneurship, the journey often unfolds as a nuanced narrative of challenges, victories, and pivotal decisions. Assaf Resnick’s story, an Israeli-born entrepreneur who transitioned from Silicon Valley to venture capital and ultimately founded BigPanda, provides a deeper exploration into the intricacies of his remarkable odyssey.
BigPanda has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Sequoia Capital, Mayfield, Insight Partners, and Battery Ventures.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The journey from rebellious beginnings to a successful entrepreneur underscores the importance of resilience in navigating career transitions.
- The years at Sequoia provided invaluable insights into the world of venture capital, shaping an understanding of visionary entrepreneurship.
- Rejecting a lucrative acquisition offer and persevering through market challenges showcased the strategic decision-making and long-term vision for BigPanda.
- Building a resilient organizational culture requires a careful selection of executives aligned with core values and a commitment to the “first team” philosophy.
- BigPanda’s mission to empower teams with AIOps reflects a visionary approach to automation, envisioning a future where human efforts focus on innovation rather than operational firefighting.
- The emphasis on cultural fit and “first team” thinking serves as a lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs in curating effective leadership teams.
- Entrepreneurs should be meticulous in selecting executives, ensuring they not only bring expertise but also align with the company’s values and foster a collaborative leadership mindset.
For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
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About Assaf Resnick:
Assaf Resnick is the CEO and Co-founder of BigPanda. Prior to founding BigPanda, Assaf was an investor at Sequoia Capital, where he focused on early and growth stage investing in software, internet, and mobile sectors.
Assaf’s time at Sequoia gave him a front-row seat into the challenges of IT scale, complexity, and velocity that Operations teams faced within companies that were rapidly scaling and accelerating. This is the problem that Assaf founded BigPanda to solve.
Assaf Holds a B.S. degree in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He lives in Northern California with his wife and three children.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a really amazing founder. You know a founder that has seen both sides of the table. He’s been now running his company for a while and we’re gonna be talking about building scaling financing product market fit. Finding you know like the the culture in the company. You know that you want to go after getting the best executives to join you. You know in the journey and and and and everything that you can think of so without furtherdo. Let’s welcome our guests today Asab renik welcome to the deal maker show.
Assaf Resnick: All right? Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So born in Israel obviously I’m sure you don’t remember much because you were 4 when you came here to the Us but give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Assaf Resnick: Ah, life growing up was great. You know, ah, we moved from Israel to Silicon Valley ah when I was 4 and then you know my father worked in tech all our family friends were tech and my father really wanted me to gut into tech. You know he told me when I was about college age hey you better, go study computer science and electrical engineering or you’ll be homeless and I you know I wanted nothing to do with tech at the time I studied business and history. You know, almost out of spite. Ah, but you know overall is a great childhood.
Alejandro Cremades: And why why? why did you have that revel in you. Why didn’t you want to do the computer science.
Assaf Resnick: You know I grew up you you know you grow up in a certain environment and you either say hey I want to do exactly that or I want to do I want to get out of that you know it’s just a kid that’s either like you adapt or you rebel and I guess I rebelled ah, but you know I graduated college graduated to Berkeley. In the late 90 s right as the dot com arrow was really coming and into its own. You know it was in the bay area and all my friends were you know, kind of making money hand over fist ah and coming out of college and getting these great engineering jobs or getting these great marketing or business. You know business jobs in tech and I kind of said. Yeah, well. Can’t bade him join him and so I did.
Alejandro Cremades: And what was that like by the way to ah, go through the.com you know, ah bust and and be able to experience all that craziness and I guess you know like being able to experience cycles too. How was that for you.
Assaf Resnick: Ah, it was you know it was eye opening. Um, but you know you really got to consider who are you when you go through these experiences so I was young 20 something bachelor. Without a care in the world and so it was quite a thrill you know from the very highs and crazy. You know valuations and flying over the world at crazy parties and all that and then it all came crashing down and I was okay with it. Ah, but if I was. 30 something 40 something with you know, 3 kids and a mortgage. It would have been quite different.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case, you ended up doing tech and finance. You know you were in in a firm like movies and then you know you ended up transitioning to venture capital So that’s quite a really interesting transition. So how how did that transition come about.
Assaf Resnick: Yeah, you know in my twenty s I started off like I said working in in tech and optical networking. Um, and then when the tech bubble blew up. It was kind of a nuclear winter in the West Coast and so I said you know what I’m gonna go travel. For years I went to go travel in South America and India just bought a motorcycle for a year and traveled around India and and central America South America came back and you know tech was still pretty nuclear winners I moved to to New York ah worked in moody’s investor service as kind of an investment banker and an investment analyst for a while really wanted to get back into tech I think this was already 2005 things were starting to emerge again. Ah, and my choices. You know, living in New York where hey I can move back to California ah, but I still had that kind of wander lust I was still young I wanted to experience new culture as travel. So I said let me move to Israel for six months and see how it goes ah and very quickly with a moving to Israel. You know serendipity put me in touch with some folks who had just started off the the office ah for Sequoia. Ah and joined them. Ah, you know it was really just at the right place at the right time looking back I realize what? a.
Assaf Resnick: You know, incredibly lucky moment that was for me and and and what a fateful moment that was for me because my time at Sequoia the 6 years that was there were so incredibly formative for you know who I am both professionally and who I am you know both.
Alejandro Cremades: I mean no kidding sekoia. 1 of the best venture capital firms out there I mean really entering venture capital is very difficult. How were you able to really enter the venture capital world especially in in one of the best ones you know in 1 of the best firms you know that one could dream of.
Assaf Resnick: Personally.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, and they how was that like how how were you able to to do that.
Assaf Resnick: It was incredible. It was incredible. You know how do you do it? You know you just swim as hard as you can and you know you focus and you work hard and and you just you swim hard because you’re swimming with some very very talented people and you know I think for me the most. People I got the most from were actually the entrepreneurs because you’re dealing with these folks. You know, usually young folks with a crazy idea and all the cards stacked against them and. They’re changing the world and you see these folks just you know, defy the odds and just out of will ideas into existence and bring smart engineers and smart executives and literally will an idea into existence and some of those. You know, entrepreneurs and and startups went on to incredible success. Some of them did not ah but they all had the vision and the courage and the conviction that was you know, frankly, very infectious for me after 5 years of working with such people I said to myself you know I don’t think these people are necessarily smarter than I am they’re just a hell of a lot more courageous and convicted and you know that’s what really turned on my hunger and I’d say you know, um.
Alejandro Cremades: And we’ll talk about that that transition too but 1 of the things that comes to mind is I mean obviously now you know a founder because this kind of like open you the eyes to hey you know I I could do it too right? and and you went at it and you did it on your own but before getting there I guess.
Assaf Resnick: Down.
Alejandro Cremades: Why were some because 6 years at Sequoia. You know, gives you know for a lot of access. A lot of experiences a lot of entrepreneurs that you were able to meet what were you able to find as a pattern. On the founders that ended up doing something great and that were able to execute versus perhaps the ones that failed along the way.
Assaf Resnick: You know there’s a lot of things and there’s no one secret formula because there’s lots of different kinds of successful entrepreneurs that have very different personalities I think some of the things that you have in common is is one. You just have to have. Incredible endurance as cliche as that sounds like it’s really really hard. There’s a lot of ups and downs and you’re going to get you know 90? No’s for everyone yes from customers from investors from potential employees and you just. Got to keep going. You’ve got to believe and you’re going to have times where you’re crushing it and then you’re going to have times when you know you’re hitting a wall and those times may be on the path to product market fits on the path to your first ten million dollars in revenue. On the path of okay, how do I go from 10 to $50000000 in revenue and you’re going to have bad quarters. You may have bad years and you may have executives who lose faith you may have you know investors who don’t believe and you know’re going to have a really tough time raising your. Series b or series c or series d and you’ve got to keep pushing and you know there’s plenty of reasons to quit. Ah but the entrepreneurs who make it are the ones who just keep going.
Alejandro Cremades: Well. You got your reason in 2012 so walk us through what was your reason to quit or to give your notice at Sequoia and then and and and how was that transition all the way to bringing big panda to life.
Assaf Resnick: Um, yeah.
Assaf Resnick: Oh my goodness. Um, well the reason I did it I you know I alluded to it before was I just was you know had so much kind of awe and respect for these entrepreneurs that willed ideas into existence. Ah.
Assaf Resnick: And I had an idea that I was very passionate about and I said you know I I want to go on that journey I want to see if I have what it takes and I want to go you know, build something. Um and so that was the beginning and the journey wow the journey was ah amazing and really really hard. You know the first year me and my cofounder had started big panda in a very different direction than where we are today today we do ai ops so we use Ai to automate it operations help large enterprises keep their digital services running. When we first started the company and when we took the first feed funding. It was in a radically different direction. It was around how do we take social data and use that you know do use machine learning and data science to drive smart advertising. Recruited a bunch of data scientists ran for a year and really hit ah hit a wall realized this was not this was this direction wasn’t going to work and that was really hard and that was really scary and kind of a look in the mirror moment and they said okay well what do I do do I give money back to my investors. But shut down the company and go get a 9 to 5 job or do I do I keep going. We decided to keep going and you know one of the pains that we had when we were doing advertising is when you have to build web scale infrastructure. It’s very large scale.
Assaf Resnick: Low latency we had you know the cloud was young at the time and so we’d used a bunch of different cloud and saas and open source services to stitch together a tech stack and when we had problems it took us forever to figure out which of these silos is their problem so you ended up hacking together some software to help us kind of find and fix problems faster. And when it came time when we hit a wall with the original business. We said hey here’s a really interesting problem that we solve for ourselves and maybe other people have that problem as they kind of moved to the cloud into saas and and it turns out they did ah and so that was really the genesis of where we are. Um, spent the next two years building the product. Ah when it came time to move to to launch the product I moved my family to the United States I had two young kids and one on the way.
Assaf Resnick: Move my family. Ah and you know two months before we were about to launch the product. We got an acquisition offer from a large ah enterprise in our space and you know it would have been life changing money.
Assaf Resnick: And we had two young kids and one on the way and my wife said like fell this company please help me raise the kids. Um and we said no you know.
Alejandro Cremades: And how did that happen. How did that acquisition come knocking I mean was that just like super random you know out of nowhere was it like someone that you guys were engaging with and I mean how did that transition.
Assaf Resnick: It kind of came out of nowhere I mean right? as we were starting to get ready to to launch our offering. We started doing marketing. We came out of stealth we started doing thought leadership to try to you know, ah create the environment where our launch would would be successful and. You know the enterprise this is strategic in an area heard about it invited us to talk and said yeah well this is really interesting. Innovation. Ah, we’d like you to do it here. Um, and we said no.
Alejandro Cremades: So what was that what what was that thought process to getting to know.
Assaf Resnick: Um, you know I want to say I’d like to say that it was analytical but it was more emotional. You know the analytical part of it is well.
Assaf Resnick: You know if we do it ourselves and we take this to be a $100000000 company $200000000 company. You know, can we do it better ourselves will the economics be better for for me and our investors and our employees versus can we go to a. Large company use all their corporate resources and and do it there but that’s not really how I thought about it. How I really thought about it was I want to build something amazing I want I have a vision I want to prove to myself that I can get to. Ah, $100000000 that can build a meaningful company and it just wasn’t ready to sell and so we said no and we were very macho we were banging our chest and said you know we’re going to change the world and we’re not going to sell out and then two months later we launched the product.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow! All right.
Assaf Resnick: And crickets in the market. You know crickets in the market for a year and a half afterwards nobody was interested in what we were selling and that was a very difficult time you know there were times I’d come home and I’d say to my wife. What was I thinking. Why didn’t I sell this company. Ah and you know it took us 2 years to realize that we were in the right place at the wrong time you know 2015 when this happened cloud was still young.
Assaf Resnick: And enterprises hadn’t fully adopted cloud they were still experimenting and we were coming to enterprises and saying hey we have an Ai platform that’s going to help you operate your business in the cloud better and we heard well we’re still experimenting with cloud and so it was really a year and a half or two years wandering in the desert. And only in around 19017 did the market. You know, hit an inflection point where enterprises started saying. Okay, we’re going to stop experimenting with the cloud and we’re going to go all in and that’s when our business started taking off but you know those 2 years of wandering in the desert. You don’t know. Personally, you know is it I am in the wrong, right? place at the wrong time or am I just a loser. But.
Alejandro Cremades: What what do you think? what do you think kept you guys going because 2 years is a long time in the startup world.
Assaf Resnick: Yeah, you know it’s what I was you know talking to you before about what does it take to be successful entrepreneur and part of it is just thick skin and persistence and I just had a belief that you know the Cloud is so Complex. So much machine data that human beings just won’t be able to process all this without Ai without machine learning and it just didn’t make sense to me how there could be any other alternative and so just sheer stubbornness. Ah and you know. I wasn’t willing to fail I just wasn’t willing to call it quits.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, what point in 2017 do you guys realize after 2 years of being the desert of I think we’re going to make it I think I think I think we’re into something here.
Assaf Resnick: Yeah, yeah, ah, it didn’t happen overnight you know I remember in q 1 of 2017 ah our first big enterprise customer came and said okay, we’re going to standardize on you. This is one of the biggest. Semiconductor chip manufacturers in the world and um, that was a challenge because this is a you know fortune 50 company coming and saying okay, we’re going to use you to drive all our of our operations and then in q two another big enterprise came in q 3 another big enterprise came. And at that point we said okay looks like the dominoes are starting to fall. You know that was also the year where we we got to product market fit and product market fit was not just the market pain needs to be ready. It’s also you need to know who you’re selling to. You know up until then we didn’t really know are we selling to large enterprises are we selling to Silicon Valley startups are we selling to mid-size and only after I’d say 2017 when we started to have you know 3 or 4 large enterprise come. We say? Okay, you know we’ve got about 20 customers. At this point we’ve got a bunch of customers that are paying us five thousand ten thousand dollars and the the Silicon Valley startups and we’ve got customers over here that are paying us hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars well I like this cohort a lot better. They got to love our money.
Assaf Resnick: And what does this cohort have in common. Well they have in common that they’re large enterprises and the things they need are very different than what a small and you know s and b needs. You know they they both need a core AiEngine in our case. But if you’re going to sell a large enterprise you have to have enterprise scalability. And security you have to have an enterprise salesforce you have to have Enterprise Customer Success it’s you know it’s not just the engine. It’s the car you’re building around the engine and the car dealership to go sell those cars and that looks very very specific for enterprise. Ah, so I’d say you know towards the end of 2017 is when we said hey I think we’re going to make it I think there’s something here. Plus you know a sharpening of that product market fit but that was a good 4 year journey to that that was.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously the rest is history. You know so for the company now for big Panda How much capital have you guys raised to date.
Assaf Resnick: Incredibly hard. Yeah. I think we’ve raised around 330000000 to date.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously you had the um you had the investor you know had you had been. You know at sekoia before you knew the environment of of being on the other side and and also you know like the the finding that alignment really understanding and getting people. You know that we’re going to be in it.
Assaf Resnick: Um, and.
Alejandro Cremades: For the right reasons. No so how did you guys go about to getting the right investors for the right? you know with the right agenda now to to come forward with you guys.
Assaf Resnick: Yeah that’s a great question look investors for me is you really got to think about it like a marriage. You know you can’t just pick anyone who’s willing to give you money. You know, especially if these people are going to be sitting on your board of directors. You’ve got to understand that this is a marriage and getting divorced is is not an option and so you really got to be thoughtful about who you work with and you know that’s a combination of what is the right firm and. You know what do they bring to the table in terms of their ability. You know do they have a network can you tap into that network. Do they have brand recognition is that going to help is that brand recognition going to help you recruit great executives. Is it going to help you raise money in the future because people want to be associated with that investor things like that. But just as important I think even more important is who is the partner you know is this someone that I have chemistry with is this someone that is. Going to let me be the Ceo and understand what does it mean to be an investor versus a Ceo and so someone that’s going to come and say hey I have a lot of pattern and recognition and I can give you a lot of great advice. But I also recognize that I’m not in the trenches.
Assaf Resnick: Of your business I don’t have all the context and I trust you to drive? No you want someone that is going to be cool headed you know when when things are going great and everything is up into the right? Well, That’s easy to be on board. But when you hit. Bumps in the road and every company does you know are these investors that are going to keep their head on you know and be cool and understand the long term and not say hey you got to do a radical pivot every time you hit a road Bump. Um.
Assaf Resnick: And so you really want to be thoughtful about you know who you pick and you want to be you know, hopefully people that you can form a relationship of trust with and and be able to come to them with not just hey we’re crushing it all day Long. You know everything’s going great but like no I have challenges with challenges with. You know sales product executives culture recruiting everything and you want people that you can be be able to have constructive thought you know ah brainstorming type conversations versus people that are you know going to react in unconstructive ways and. There’s a lot of investors out there that are not constructive and do get emotional and do get hotheaded and you know thankfully I’ve been I think blessed with a great board that you know is a great partner for us. Ah, but you know a lot of my time has been spent. Kind of curating that board and and spending time with people ahead of time.
Alejandro Cremades: Now Obviously when it comes to investors and when it comes to employees as well as well as customers. It’s a little about vision to know. So imagine you were to go to sleep tonight as if and you wake up in a world where the vision of big panda.
Assaf Resnick: Um, no.
Alejandro Cremades: Is fully realized what does that world look like.
Assaf Resnick: Um, well our mission is to empower the teams that keep digital services running so what does that mean you know our customers are some of the largest banks and. Retailers and airlines and stock exchanges in the world. They keep the digital world running and you know behind all of those digital services is digital infrastructure clouds servers storage networks. You know all this digital infrastructure. That’s got to keep running in order to keep digital services running so this video conference that we’re having right now underpinning that is a lot of people who work really really hard to make sure all that infrastructure runs like it should ah and they just can’t keep up with the scale of data that’s happening. You know as enterprises are moving to the cloud just a lot more moving parts moving a lot faster creating a lot more machine data. It’s our vision is how do we create a future where we empower those teams to fully automate. Work and keeping those digital services running you know how do we use Ai to take all that data turn it into insight about what’s happening in your environment and then turn it into automation. So human beings have way more time. Developers can have way more time.
Assaf Resnick: To build innovation versus putting out Fires. So You know if I wake up and our vision fully is fully realized you know we’ve really empowered all these teams to focus on Innovation. And while we fully automate the work of keeping all that digital infrastructure running.
Alejandro Cremades: Sounds beautiful and so really amazing now Now we’re talking about the future here I Want to talk about the past but being able to talk about the past with a lens of reflection. So let’s say you know I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time.
Assaf Resnick: Um, yes.
Assaf Resnick: Um, sure. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: I bring you back in time you know, perhaps back to 2012 you know that moment where you were thinking about hey why not me why not giving the notice here and and going at it now. Let’s say you were able to grab that younger Assaf that moment that you were leaving you know the office of seoia for the last time as an employee there and.
Assaf Resnick: S.
Assaf Resnick: Um, yes, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: You’re old to stop that younger servant to have a sit down and you’re able to give that younger as ah, one piece of advice before launching a business or before launching big Panda What would that be and why given what you know now.
Assaf Resnick: R.
Assaf Resnick: Um, piece of advice would be really really thoughtful about the leaders that you hire.
Assaf Resnick: You know for me some of my early mistakes were you know we were very blessed with some really good founding engineers that did amazing work and um. But I was a first -time entrepreneur and as I moved the united states and had it to recruit you know people that I had less ah experience with in other domains around sales and marketing and customer success. You know I recruited. Sometimes the right people but sometimes the wrong people and and I didn’t have an appreciation for how that can really set you back. How can that affect your customer your culture if you’re recruiting executives that don’t really share your values and your culture and you know what that does to your culture. Um, you know today when I recruit executives I do it all myself I spend a ton of time getting to know these people making sure that they are good cultural fit that they’re great. Leaders. Ah, because the cost of a bad executive hire is so incredibly expensive and so to my early self I’d say don’t be so cavalier about the executives you hire especially at the beginning. It’s an incredibly fateful set of decisions.
Alejandro Cremades: Very profound I guess as you were saying to make sure that is a cultural fit. You know just to double click on that. What is the number 1 must have that you typically see in that journey of really understanding whether 1 person is going to be or not. Ah, go cultural fit with big panda.
Assaf Resnick: Um, you know I think it it it? Um, it’s not an easy answer and I don’t think that there’s 1 thing.
Assaf Resnick: You know and it also depends on whether you’re recruiting an executive or whether you’re recruiting an individual contributor. You know for me, it starts with number 1 thing is they’ve got to be a fit for our values in our values around hunger. Ah, transparency ah a sense of one team a sense of collective responsibility. You know, not someone is going to say hey I don’t care if the rest of the company is succeeding so long as my department really succeeds. Ah, and you know it’s got to be a values fit.
Assaf Resnick: Ah, for executives the 1 big thing I say and and this is still true. Today is can this person think in terms of first team you know first team the concept of first team is hey executives have to have you know, loyalty and collective responsibility to each other and the success of the company and so if you’re a chief revenue officer your primary. Loyalty needs to be to your other executives your Cmo your vp product your head of r and d before it is to your group of sellers and the cmo and the r and d needs to be the exact same way because otherwise you risk getting silos and that’s when you start getting tribalism. Where sales is saying hey marketing is not doing their job or not succeeding because r and d sucks and their velocity sucks and all those sorts of things versus when you have ah a set of first team executives who are really dedicated to each other’s success trust each other is enough to go direct to each other. Around issues and challenges. Um, that’s how you build a successful company and there’s not every exec can think like that there’s a lot of execs who saying I know I’m a sales guy or I’m a marketing guy and I’m going to be really entrenched into my silo and you know get out of my way and.
Alejandro Cremades: Very profound.
Assaf Resnick: You know that is not a fit for our cultures that you know that’s the 1 biggest thing I look for in executives.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it. So I saw for the people that are listening that are super inspired and I would love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do So as of.
Assaf Resnick: Ah, um, find me on Linkedin and reach out ah find me on our website and just reach out.
Alejandro Cremades: You say enough? Well hey us have thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been on honor to have you with us.
Assaf Resnick: Hey it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you.
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