According to Forbes, 90% of startups fail. According to the Harvard Business Review, the number is closer to 70%, but whichever number you choose to believe, the odds are still staggeringly stacked against young new ventures.
At Forward Networks, we just had a terrific time two weeks ago celebrating the company’s 10th anniversary.
Ten years is impressive by any measure, but especially so in the cutthroat universe of Silicon Valley tech startups. So, you might ask, to what do we attribute our success? What makes Forward special?
Having spent the last five years on this journey, I can offer my perspective: the people and the product. Every other reason can fit into either of those categories.
It starts with the founders, who are an exceptional bunch. Peyman Kazemian, Nikhil Handigol, David Erickson, and Brandon Heller all earned their PhDs together at Stanford and started the company shortly after coming out of the grad program. That decision alone takes some stones. (Apologies for the salty language, but it’s true.) They could have easily taken jobs at some of the most recognized companies in the valley, with generous salaries, stock options, and comfortable air-conditioned offices. Instead, they worked on David’s couch, solving ridiculously hard math problems and writing software that would eventually do what no other software has: deliver a behaviorally accurate mathematical model for complex networks.
They managed to convince other brilliant people to join them, like Sivasankar Radhakrishnan, Braeden Partridge, and Yasser Ganjisaffar. They brought on Steve Pace to recruit even more top talent, which netted Andreas Voellmy, Yuefeng Liu, Jared Jacobs, Matthias C. Schroeder, Chiara Regale, and Natale Ruello.
Ten years in, ALL OF THEM ARE STILL HERE. That kind of longevity is almost unheard of in today’s Silicon Valley.
My theory is that it stems from a culture of camaraderie and personal accountability, but maybe that’s just my marketing point of view.
I posed the question “What keeps you here?” to Elyor Khakimov, who joined Forward in 2017. His response: “They keep finding new and interesting stuff for me to do, which keeps me motivated.” From what I’ve seen here, this is a common theme. Elyor further explained that he appreciates not only the technical challenges, but also the chance to educate more people about the technology, so that they, in turn, can become teachers themselves.
It’s not hard to imagine that all of these computer scientists and network experts could build a great product. But I think most people can’t wrap their heads around how advanced this software is. At any given moment, Forward Enterprise is computing every possible traffic path across the world’s largest, most complex networks. In a typical enterprise network, there are more possible traffic paths than grains of sand on the earth. For real.
A few years ago, Yasser wrote a fantastic blog explaining how he and his team approach scaling.
To quote Yasser, regarding one sample network:
This network includes more than 10^30 flows. Each flow shows how a group of similar packets traverses the network. For example, one flow might show how email traffic originating from a specific host and destined to another host starts from a data center, goes through several backbone devices, and finally arrives at the destination data center.
Each of these flows can be complex. If we were to spend 1 microsecond to compute each of these flows, it would still take us more than 10^17 years to compute this. But with a lot of hard engineering work, algorithmic optimizations, and performance optimizations, we are able to process this network in under an hour, and we are capable of processing this on a single box. You don’t need a massive cluster for such computation. The best part is that the majority of the computation scales linearly. So, if customers want faster processing speed or higher search and verification throughput, they can use our cluster version and scale based on their requirements.
The product was born from the founders’ notion that the best principles of modern software development, such as testing and verification, should also apply to networks.
The question was never “Does the world need this software?” The question was “Can it be built?”
Fortunately, this talented team has pulled it off, and I’ve been thrilled to tell the world about it for the past five years.
Take the people and the product and add the company’s steady year-over-year growth, top-tier investors, and outstanding customer roster, and the future looks pretty bright indeed.
Congratulations to the entire team on an extraordinary first decade. Here’s to many more exciting milestones!