It’s a shame that the creators of Healthcare.gov didn’t know about Paola Moretto and her startup Nouvola. They might have saved themselves a few headaches.
While Healthcare.gov is one of the more widely documented cases of a website that wasn’t built to support the rush of traffic it received, it is certainly not the first. Paola and her team at Nouvola aim to help companies avoid such fiascos by preparing to scale from Day 1.
Paola recently sat down with OEN to chat about her new company and her adventures as a serial entrepreneur:
What was the spark that inspired you to start Nouvola?
I was Director of Software for the cloud group at Intel. I’d done several startups before and got acquired into Intel from a prior startup. Our customers were the likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook. One day we got a call from Facebook—they told us, “We’ve loaded 16,000 servers and your software isn’t working.”
I thought: “Sixteen-thousand servers?” There must be a way to use the cloud to address these scenarios before loading thousands of servers, and to generate analytics. I found out that solutions existed, but none met my needs. I started thinking, this is a problem that needs to be solved for the industry.
For us non-techies out there, can you elaborate little more on what this problem is and how you’re solving it?
OK, think of the Sellwood bridge – would you want 100,000 cars on the bridge before you’ve tested for that level of load and stress? Probably not. So why do we do that with software?
We talked to lots of companies – they want to know two things. One, they want to know how software will perform under different traffic scenarios. Two, they want to know how to fix it to achieve the performance they want.
Imagine your company becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?
For me it means having realized a vision. This is what a startup is, it’s a vision that turns into reality. If this is wildly successfully, it’s a great validation of the fact that we solved a real problem for the industry and we had the vision to identify something that could become big and relentlessly executed.
In my previous startup experience, we started from the solution. But it was a solution in search of a problem.” (Tweet this.)
People tend to focus on success stories — do you have a failure story to share? What did you learn from this failure?
In my previous startup experience, we started from the solution. We had amazing technology, really state-of-the-art. But it was a solution in search of a problem. We didn’t focus so much on the problem. We started with the solution, we had all these great ideas about what the solution was, we developed the solution, and then we had to ask, “What is it going to be the best use case for this?” In the end it went well and we got acquired, but still, that was not the right approach. This time I wanted to start differently. I started with the problem in mind. With my co-founder, we spent the first six months understanding the problem from the customer perspective, figuring out what the customer really wants and needs and what solution we can devise.
What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
You would expect as you start something a linear progression. You would expect to be able to develop a plan and execute on the plan. And if you’re able to execute on the plan then you will achieve what you need to achieve. But it’s nothing like that. It’s like a meandering walk – no business plan survives the initial encounter with customers. It requires you to wear multiple hats, to live in a state of chaos, and to constantly readjust.
No business plan survives the initial encounter with customers.” (Tweet this.)
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received?
The best advice was about what to expect during the lifetime of a startup. It’s really an emotional roller coaster, it’s not for the faint of heart. The highs have never been so high, the lows have never been so low. At the high, everything is going great, our investors love us, we get validation… then you go down to the valley, then you start questioning everything, thinking this isn’t a good idea at all, we are not the right people to make it happen, it’s all wrong. It’s the exclamation point to the question mark. You need to be prepared for that because it happens and when it happens, you think you’re the only person in the world it’s happening to. But that’s not true. Building a startup requires a lot of resilience and a lot of persistence.
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Creativity, problem solving, passion, and discovery. I love exploring the uncharted territory, paving the path toward something new, resolving a problem that has not been resolved before.
As you think about the growth of your company to date, what are you most thankful for?
I am thankful for the support of my family — a fantastic husband and two small children. I am balancing two roles here like everyone who has a family, but it’s fundamental to have that support. I am also thankful for the mentors and advisers that I found along the way. We would not be at the point where we are today without them.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always had a passion for math – I was into numbers and playing with numbers since very, very early. I decided to study physics, then computer science and then I became an engineer, architect, and manager.
What’s it like to be a female navigating a domain that is so dominated by men?
It’s always been a challenge—in startups and in large companies. It’s not easy to always be the less than 10 percent. Even if there are 20 percent women in a room, people feel it’s a lot. There are inherent biases to the situation that have been widely documented, and that presents an extra challenge.
I started a group in Portland called PDX Women Founder’s Forum. I believe jointly with others that challenges still exist for women entrepreneurs, in any sector, in comparison to male. There are challenges for everyone, don’t get me wrong, but this is a reality that needs to be addressed.
Why did you decide to build your startup here in Oregon?
I am a Bay Area expat – I was in the Bay Area up until 2002. I decided I wanted to start this company in Oregon. I believe today that Oregon constitutes a competitive advantage – there is a great talent pool in Portland from a software engineering perspective.
My cofounder is in San Francisco — you can’t ignore the Bay Area, that’s the engine that drives the tech industry. But there is a lively startup community here, and it’s very exciting to be here at this time. It really feels that Portland and the entire state can really become a center of excellence for startups.
There is a vibrant startup ecosystem in Portland, but we have to be more ambitious.” (Tweet this.)
In your view, where do we currently fall short?
We don’t think big enough. There is a vibrant startup ecosystem in Portland, but we have to be more ambitious. For example, since the cloud represents a platform shift and a new paradigm, I really think Portland can become the center of excellence for the cloud. There is no reason why it has to be the Bay Area. But we have to make it happen. We have to drive the vision forward.