Neil Patel

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In the bustling world of technology and entrepreneurship, few stories resonate as profoundly as that of Kyle Forster. From his roots in the heart of innovation in Silicon Valley to his ventures into groundbreaking startups, Kyle’s journey is a testament to resilience, foresight, and the pursuit of excellence.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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Early Days and the Spark of Innovation

Growing up in the Bay Area, Kyle was raised amidst the burgeoning tech scene of the mid-90s. It was an era where Silicon Valley was not just a place but a beacon of opportunity, where young minds dared to dream beyond conventional boundaries.

Witnessing friends drop out of college to embark on startup journeys ignited a spark within Kyle—an unwavering determination to carve his path in entrepreneurship. He started out as an intern working on the trading floor with Montgomery Securities when Netscape did their IPO.

Kyle remembers being fascinated by the reaction on the trading floor that day, which he considers the defining moment for the tech industry.

This experience was a significant influence on what he wanted to do next. Kyle always knew he wanted to start a company, and to get there, he chose the path of engineering, management, and learning about the different markets.

Navigating Through Education and Experience

Kyle’s journey wasn’t a straight line but a mosaic of experiences that shaped his entrepreneurial spirit. Initially drawn to politics, a twist of fate led him to delve into engineering, a domain he once deemed daunting.

Kyle recalls how a professor who was his advisor in his first year saw his test scores from high school. He refused to sign Kyle’s course cards unless he took advanced math and physics as a freshman.

Having taken some of the most complex engineering classes, Kyle was one of only a few in his year who transferred into engineering management and, later, the only one to transfer into electrical engineering.

Fueled by curiosity and guided by mentors, Kyle immersed himself in the intricacies of technology, gradually transitioning from the technical realm to the business landscape.

From Startup Consultant to Startup Founder

Embarking on his professional journey, Kyle chose the path of experiential learning.

Rather than diving headfirst into entrepreneurship, he assumed roles in one of the first web consulting firms, gaining invaluable insights across diverse verticals and building some of the industry’s first large-scale eCommerce, banking, and sports websites.

This period of exploration not only honed Kyle’s expertise but also instilled a crucial lesson: the importance of market immersion before venturing into the realm of startups.

At his first company, Kyle served as a developer for his firm’s consulting clients during the day and spent his nights and weekends recruiting a group of friends to put together the firm’s wireless practice.

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Developing Wireless Prototypes Long Before the iPhone

In 2001, six years before the iPhone, the group was doing all kinds of experiments to learn wireless technology and develop futuristic prototypes to show clients how their business could change in a mobile-first world.

As mobile data technologies started to catch on, the small group just a year or two out of college became viewed as industry experts. Most other companies around the US knew practically nothing about wireless.

Kyle recalls how, in a class of around 100 entering recruits, he was the first to get promoted to director, not because he was great in management or had perfect performance reviews.

It was because he had been working on the wireless during his off-hours, which was suddenly in high demand, and every client needed it.

Due to his wireless experience, a VP of the company came up to Kyle and offered him the opportunity to manage a 50-strong engineering team when he was just 23.

This experience impressed upon him the fact that picking the right niche at the right time and letting the niche grow around you is the ideal way to navigate careers.

The Genesis of Big Switch Networks

Kyle has an interesting story to tell about building Big Switch Networks. He was invited to join a research team by a friend from grad school who had become a computer science professor at Stanford.

Looking around the table at the meeting, he was struck by the distinguished engineers present from some of the leading networking companies at the time.

Kyle spent six months with the team, learning everything he could about the team’s research and becoming an expert in the field, which later became known as software-defined networking.

Soon, his professor friend recruited Kyle to start Big Switch Networks. They brought in grad students, professors, engineers from Cisco, and the networking team at VMware to build a founding team.

The venture, born out of a convergence of opportunity and entrepreneurial fervor, aimed to disrupt the networking landscape, at that point, an $8B+ industry dominated by incumbents that had started showing complacency and a lack of innovation.

Big Switch Networks epitomized the fusion of innovation, capital, and strategic foresight.

Navigating the Capital Maze: Equity, Debt, and Strategic Growth

Building Big Switch Networks wasn’t just about ideation and innovation; it required navigating the intricate terrain of capital raising.

Kyle adeptly maneuvered through equity and debt financing cycles, strategically aligning funding with the company’s growth trajectory during the ten-year journey from incorporation in 2011 to acquisition in 2021

Kyle recalls how they raised funding from Michael Dell, Charlie Giancarlo, the former VP of engineering at Cisco, and Mike Volpi, the former head of M&A at Cisco. From early-stage investments to strategic debt acquisitions, each financial move was calibrated to mitigate risk and propel sustainable growth.

Storytelling is everything, which is something that Kyle Forster was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

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The team came up with the concept of separating the revenue streams in networking between hardware and software. At the time, data center switching was a 70% and 80% gross margin product.

The absolute margin in the switches in a data center rack was more than the absolute dollar margin of all the servers in that rack combined. In contrast, the hardware in those switches was increasingly commoditized.

Only a small number of networking experts realized these data center switches have millions of lines of code in them.

Big Switch partnered with companies that were interested in selling the hardware but who didn’t have software expertise, letting them run a very high-margin software company with an ecosystem of their hardware partners’ key channel partnerships.

Raising Funding for Big Switch

Kyle reveals how they raised $100M in equity and $40M in debt to support the capital-intensive process of a massive-scale software project, followed by the build-out of a global go-to-market team.

At the outset, they had six different, high-risk engineering projects, all requiring specific and varied expertise that all needed to come together at the time to create the v1.0 of the product.

If any of those engineering projects had gone wrong, the product wouldn’t work, which raised the execution risk level.

The Acquisition Journey: Serendipity, Resilience, and Lessons Learned

As Big Switch Networks charted its ten course from inception to acquisition, there were tectonic shifts in the landscape of competitors, partners, and acquirers in the data center infrastructure market. Kyle’s experience debunked the myth of a linear acquisition journey.

The company was approached multiple times as an acquisition target during its 10-year journey, but market forces from the shifting landscape around them made these come in and out of focus.

For Kyle, the takeaway was clear: drive to growth and profitability and let acquisition opportunities unfold organically. By the time Arista Networks acquired the company in 2021, it was running close to $70M in sales each year.

Kyle talks about how different aspects must align perfectly for an acquisition to succeed, particularly when the acquirer is a public company.

The timing at the corporate level with Wall Street has to be just right, the timing at the business unit level within the acquirer has to be just right, and the personal timing for the executives championing the acquisition has to be just right. All this while, the company has to be consistently growing.

Google Interlude: Reflection, Learning, and the Pursuit of Innovation

Following the acquisition of Big Switch Networks, Kyle decided to pivot his career from networking to cloud technologies, taking an opportunity to join Google Cloud.

Far from a hiatus, this period of introspection and exploration allowed him to broaden his horizons, glean insights from industry titans, and incubate ideas for his next entrepreneurial venture.

Kyle jokingly refers to this period, due to the concurrent timing with the Covid epidemic, as “professionally sheltering in place.”

Amidst the labyrinthine corridors of Google, Kyle found inspiration and clarity, laying the groundwork for his next foray into entrepreneurship.

He recalls how he started out with what seemed like an excellent internal Google product that could potentially solve problems for a lot of Google’s customers in an elegant way.

When Kyle discussed the idea with long-time Google executives in his management chain, he was told it didn’t fit the current portfolio, and the paid-open-source model would be risky given Google’s other interests. With their approval, Kyle left to pursue the idea as an independent company.

Enter RunWhen: Redefining Market Dynamics Through Innovation

Kyle spent the first six months as a “solopreneur,” learning how to write code again nearly twenty after his last software development role to build the first prototypes and get user feedback.

He had around 50 organizations offering to purchase the product once it was ready and found a series of angel investors who were experts and executives in this field ready to provide both financial support and advice. That’s how RunWhen was established.

With RunWhen, Kyle seeks to revolutionize enterprise cloud operations by bridging the gap between the complex stack of technologies that modern enterprise applications use under the hood and the realistic budget these teams have to ensure 24×7 reliability, 365 days per year.

Leveraging his expertise and a curated network of visionary investors, Kyle aims to disrupt conventional paradigms, one innovation at a time.

Initial investors in the company included executives from Google, Goldman Sachs, Linkedin, Walmart, and Uber – all senior executives and experts in the field of building highly reliable applications leveraging complex cloud infrastructure.

However, Kyle was careful to raise money slowly, being keenly aware of the market risk they were taking and the need to stay agile and let the market evolve in their direction.

Building Companies and Making Movies: The Similarities

Drawing parallels between business ventures and the film industry, Kyle highlights the diversity of entrepreneurial endeavors. Just as every movie has its unique budget and creative vision, each business venture requires a tailored approach to capital allocation and risk management.

Whether it’s investing in a high-budget blockbuster or an artistic independent film, Kyle’s insights underscore the importance of strategic alignment between the script, the team, the surrounding market dynamics, and capital investment.

A Unique Take On Open Source

In the sphere of open-source technology, Kyle is taking the opportunity with RunWhen to challenge the conventional model.

The company’s business involves paying royalties to engineers who contribute open-source code when used by their enterprise clients, a novel approach that blends elements of open-source and marketplace business models.

Departing from traditional open-source businesses, Kyle’s approach not only fosters community collaboration but also serves as a sustainable revenue stream for independent engineers who want to be associated with the company but, at heart, want to work for themselves.

By incentivizing contributions and nurturing a vibrant paid open-source community, Kyle’s innovative model exemplifies the convergence of altruism and entrepreneurship in the tech industry.

Building a Cohesive Company Culture

Beyond the world of business, Kyle’s impact extends to the cultural fabric of organizations. He emphasizes the importance of fostering a cohesive remote work culture; Kyle shares insights from managing distributed teams.

Kyle advocates for a holistic approach to remote work management that fosters connectivity and productivity by prioritizing face-to-face interactions, establishing predictable routines, and leveraging modern collaboration tools.

At RunWhen, they are constantly experimenting with new collaboration tools that are all real-time. These tools show presence and give teams the feeling of working next to one another even though they are a thousand miles apart.

Kyle notes that while these tools help overcome distances, there is one thing they simply can’t overcome – time zones. Despite a team that spans the North American West Coast to Eastern Europe, the company operates on a single timezone (US East Coast).

Conclusion: A Trailblazer’s Legacy and the Promise of Tomorrow

As Kyle’s entrepreneurial journey continues to unfold, one thing remains certain: his legacy is etched in the annals of technological innovation.

From Silicon Valley prodigy to startup luminary, Kyle exemplifies the indomitable spirit of entrepreneurship—an unwavering commitment to forging new paths, challenging the status quo, and shaping the future of technology.

As we chart the course ahead, guided by Kyle’s trailblazing spirit, the promise of tomorrow shines brighter than ever before.

Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including,

  • Witnessing the IPO boom in Silicon Valley ignited Kyle Forster’s determination to pursue entrepreneurship, showcasing the power of early inspiration in shaping career trajectories.
  • Kyle’s journey across multiple consulting clients in his first few years underscored the importance of diverse experiences in honing entrepreneurial skills and navigating various industries.
  • Choosing the right niche at the right time propelled Kyle’s career, demonstrating the importance of strategic decision-making in entrepreneurial endeavors.
  • Kyle’s ventures, like Big Switch Networks and RunWhen, illustrate how innovation coupled with market opportunity can drive disruptive change in industries.
  • Kyle’s adept handling of equity, debt, and strategic financing highlights the crucial role of capital management in sustaining and scaling startups.
  • The acquisition journey of Big Switch Networks underscores the importance of strategic alignment and resilience in navigating complex acquisition cycles.
  • Kyle’s emphasis on fostering cohesive remote work cultures emphasizes the significance of connectivity, routine, and modern collaboration tools in managing distributed teams effectively.



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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The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks

Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.


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Neil Patel

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