A little over two years ago, I wrote about why I left Google. Now I’m sharing why I chose Glean, as I reflect on the first chapter of our journey here.Get the full report
A little over two years ago, I wrote Why I Left Google (2019) and cited slow speed of execution, low technical growth, limited monetary upside and mis-incentivized professional growth as some of the reasons for leaving. Since then, the stealth startup I had joined, formerly known as Scio Technologies, publicly announced as Glean, a company that builds search for the workplace right. This experience so far has been precisely what I’d been looking for in my career. I can finally share my thoughts on ‘why Glean’ as I reflect on the first chapter of our journey.
There are three parts to my evaluation of ‘why Glean’:
In this first of a series of posts, I’ll share more about our initial journey at Glean, as well as why I continue to be so excited about our team. I’ll share more about the problem and the business in subsequent posts.
When I first joined Glean, we were fewer people than you have fingers. The hacker spirit was alive and well. We had just raised a $15m Series A from Kleiner Perkins and Lightspeed and were tucked into an unused Kleiner Perkins office on Sand Hill Road to save on rent. We were occasionally interrogated about who we were and why we were here. We even struggled to get our packages delivered to the right place. Hell, even our company name, Scio, was just not working. Is it “See-oh”, “Sky-oh”, “Shee-oh”, “Sy-oh”, “S-C-I-O”? We were scrappy.
Since then, the pandemic happened, we moved offices twice, and now we’re nearly 100 employees strong all over the Bay Area, other parts of the US, Canada, and India, with over 10% of our workforce working remotely across the globe. We changed our name from something unpronounceable to Glean, announced ourselves publicly, and raised a $40m Series B led by General Catalyst. We went from being able to push to master directly to having code reviews and CI/CD in place. From being too small to need an enterprise-grade full search product like ours to being reliant on it. From taking the hit on the 40 minute Zoom limit to finally giving in and purchasing it.
We’ve come a long way. I even remember when our first pilot customers were onboarded, we’d have to execute a long, inscrutable series of commands listed on a Google Doc which would easily take a day, if done right. And now, we see customers being onboarded within half an hour - for a top-down search product, that’s amazing!
As our startup grew, what was previously one unified engineering team naturally split into specialized teams. We had to introduce more processes to continue to be able to execute on engineering with stability now that we had paying customers. We had to grow out our different roles - from just engineering and design to product, marketing, sales, customer success and the works.
From the inside of all companies I’ve worked in, it’s usually complete turmoil regardless of how polished the final product is. At Glean, every year started out with a seemingly impossible target which somehow we always met. Last year, 2021, was the first year we started to convert our pilot programs into real paying customers and ended the year with revenue far exceeding our targets, signing big name customers like Okta, Confluent, Grammarly, and more. In nearly three years, dozens of referrals and hundreds of interviews each, we’re almost a team of three figures strong spread across the world. We’ve diligently worked to build a strong vehicle, but the entire race lies ahead of us.
When you work in Silicon Valley, there’s no dearth of talented people. But merely looking at talent is telling half the story. There’s plenty of talent locked in big technology companies that do, to quote Chamath, an early engineer at Facebook, “next to nothing”. The underbelly of antitrust in the technology industry is that BigTech can afford to pay ridiculous salaries to lock up talent that might otherwise create products that compete with them.
At Glean, we’re blessed with a team that’s not just talented but focussed on doing their life’s best work, now. Arvind Jain, our CEO, was one of Google’s first distinguished engineers and also a founder of Rubrik, a multi-billion dollar enterprise technology company. Vish comes to us with over 20 years of experience as a Principal Engineer at both Microsoft and Facebook. Our other engineering leaders Tony and Piyush come from decades of experience on the Chrome Speed team and Google's Search Ranking team. Our team ranges from experienced high-performers at Google (particularly the Search and Machine Intelligence orgs), Facebook, Uber, and a variety of big names in technology. Our engineering team is a mix of top students from the best universities in the US and the world like Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, IIT and Princeton, PhD graduates, and everything from olympiad winners, competitive programmers, and even a Rhodes Scholar. Our product team is led by Alan Yiu who led Platform Product at the decacorn Airtable. About a quarter of the team is women. A common misconception I hear is that startups are hard to work for as an immigrant on a visa, but Glean is very H-1B friendly!
Our hiring philosophy has been to hire smart, high achieving problem solvers with a strict no-assholes policy. At Glean, we're friendly, but professional. We joke with each other, but hold utmost respect for one another. We're scrappy, but we build it right. we pride ourselves on approaching problems with complete intellectual honesty, and not ego. From day one, engineers have been laser-focused on building a lasting product together.
Not only do we collaborate well at work, but even during the pandemic we’ve tried our best to safely come in to work 3 days a week unlike many other companies where your colleagues are complete strangers. That said, we understand that everyone has their own lives and preferences. Want to work from home or completely remotely? Awesome! We've catered the way we work to be flexible to what matters most to our teammates. Many of us are truly friends outside of work, and be it Friday happy hour (with a live dosa counter) in the office, in Arvind’s backyard, or an offsite in Napa, it’s safe to say we’re a group who truly respects and enjoys each others’ company.
One piece of advice that is common in the startup world is when choosing an early-stage startup, it’s all about team, team, team. All startups come with a risk of failure, and you want to share that journey with competent people that you admire and can learn from. I am proud of, if not perpetually humbled, by, the amazing team we’ve built. On top of that, solving a difficult, critical problem that fundamentally changes how people do their jobs (more to come on the problem and business in upcoming posts), I’m confident we’re going to do big things.
If you’re excited about working with and learning from some of the best in the industry, check out our open roles and reach out. This is just the beginning.
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