Five Things Founders Can Learn from Samsara’s IPO

Aidan Madigan-Curtis

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Dec 16, 2021

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5 MIN

Editor’s note: Eclipse is not an investor in Samsara


Throughout my career, I have been intrigued by digital/physical convergence. In 2014, I joined the Global Operations team at Apple to build the first Apple Watch. In this role, I was specifically interested in learning how the wearables market miniaturized something as complex as a phone into a smaller form factor. After the launch of the Apple Watch, I thought deeply about what was next for me. I didn’t want to just rinse and repeat. I wanted to be on a small team fighting for the life of something and for whatever I was working on to really matter. It was also clear that there was a massive opportunity to take what I learned at Apple in terms of taking compact devices in sensing and computing to help further infuse digital technologies into the physical world.

In 2016, I found both a difficult problem to solve and an incredible team to solve it with at Samsara, the company that is digitally transforming the world of physical operations. Samsara’s platform was desperately needed in the world, and I felt that I could make a unique difference leading the company’s operations based on my background. When I first joined, the company was in its first year and had just closed its Series A. The next (almost) six years proved to be a whirlwind, but what really stood out was the team’s ability to do so many impossible things together and all while overcoming big hurdles.

Yesterday’s IPO says a lot about both the team and product Samsara’s Co-Founders Sanjit Biswas and John Bicket’s vision created. My time at Samsara sharpened me as an operator and shaped the way I work with founders in my current role as a Partner at Eclipse Ventures. I believe entrepreneurs in the real economy can learn five things (plus many more!) from Samsara’s journey:

  1. Have a High Bar for HiringThe founding team’s bar for talent was incredibly high. They were maniacal (in the best way possible) in terms of hiring and were big believers in the notion of, “A players hire A players.” This belief sometimes made hiring slower than we wanted it to be, which caused us short-term pain as we searched for the right person. However, by taking the time to hire the level of talent we needed, we ended up with a powerhouse of a team all rowing in the same direction on the fastest boat. I see a lot of startups make the mistake of plugging gaps with quick-fix hires because they are racing to get their product out the door, solve customer pain, and just trying to fix all the problems that are a part of building a startup. It’s tempting — and easy — to fill a spot. But, building your team deliberately, with the absolute highest talent — and ultimately future proofing your company — is one of the biggest lessons I learned from my time at Samsara. There were times when it felt like everyone across the organization somehow kept pulling rabbits out of a hat — a testament of the quality and commitment of the team. This isn’t something you just read about in books for entrepreneurial leaders — it matters and can make or break your company. Ultimately, the team you build is the company you build.
  2. Be Customer-CentricFrom day one, Samsara’s founders, Sanjit and John, spent a ton of time in the field with customers quality checking and understanding gaps where there were opportunities for new innovations. Customer-centricity became a core value at Samsara and we focused on being clear minded about what customers were really asking for and the technology they need to solve these pains. This focus on customer needs turned out to be a big part of Samsara’s end-to-end solutions they created in telematics. The product wasn’t just a dongle. It was a vehicle telematic device that captured the data customers needed off the vehicle, brought it to the cloud in a way that was fast, efficient, and plug and play. Further, they created the automatic reporting and visuals that were real time that customers were looking for — and needed — to solve their operational pain points like hours of service, driver logging, and DVIRs. Samsara made these very specific things that their customers needed to do fast, easy and effective. That pathway of listening to the customers, understanding not only the problems they are trying to solve, but also how to solve them in a 10x kind of way by leveraging technology are key lessons I share with founders I work with today.
  3. Taking a Full-Stack ApproachLike Eclipse, Samsara’s founders saw the opportunity to transform old-line industries with a full-stack approach. For founders, it’s important to think of what you’re building as a solution, not a piece of technology or a product. Step one is to figure out quickly what problem you’re trying to solve and for what type of customer. The next step is to make sure you design something that effectively solves that problem. When it comes to these analog sectors, there are data ingestion issues, legacy systems, and many pieces of the chain are offline. To solve these problems, founders must take a modern full-stack approach by leveraging the latest that the cloud, AI and data science have to offer in order to provide a seamless and fast solution. Samsara’s founders came from cloud enabled Wi-Fi backgrounds and through that experience, worked with a lot of companies trying to figure out real-world problems. They did a very good job over the last six years homing in on the transportation industry — which is only one piece of a massive industrial and infrastructure puzzle — and developing an end-to-end set of solutions for those users. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — the transportation industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and now Samsara is unlocking new potential by reaching into facilities to solve workplace safety, asset management, and asset tracking. They are building what they describe as the “Connected Operations Cloud” — a big vision with big potential.
  4. Think Ahead and for ScaleSamsara scaled so rapidly that any solution we built was obsolete three months later. This proved to be difficult from an operations perspective because we were constantly rebuilding the scaffolding while on it and were completing six-month scaling exercises repeatedly. The cost of these exercises were high, but the cost of any mistakes would be fatal. If we didn’t have supply or get ahead of negotiating key contracts like cellular and cloud partnerships, things would get very serious, very fast. By thinking ahead — and for scale — the Samsara’s Operations Team had the ability to support the overall business in ways that would have made growing so quickly impossible otherwise. The importance of thinking ahead and for scale is also critical for custom hardware design.
  5. Opportunities Abound to Transform the Real EconomyMy time at Samsara really opened my eyes to how big these problems in the real economy are and how many opportunities there are to build transformative technologies. With $8T TAM available to rebuild whole areas of the economy, it’s clear one company can’t make the change alone. The problems companies like Samsara are solving are mission critical and need more founders to help bring robust/reliable solutions to the table. Samsara was able to develop a highly effective set of solutions and were thoughtful in terms of how they were delivered to customers. Their success demonstrates that there is a big gap, one waiting to be taken advantage of by founders interested in building digitally native companies to make old-line industries more efficient, resilient and profitable.

I can’t say enough about Team Samsara and my gratitude to have been a part of something so special. Samsara team, you built an amazing foothold in a hungry area of the economy. Keep innovating — I have no doubt your team will continue to pave the way and inspire the next generation of founders in the new economy.

Congratulations to Sanjit, John, and the entire Samsara team on this incredible milestone!


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Tags

  • Digital Transformation
  • Hiring
  • Industrial
  • IPO
  • Startup

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