The bet on Lyft has always been that ridesharing wins and it is ultimately a much bigger market than just a car for hire.

From their learnings at Zimride, the ridesharing predecessor to Lyft, the founders have held a hard-earned secret about all the subtle things necessary for people to come together in a car with strangers and enjoy it. For instance, John and Logan realized that women feel much more comfortable getting into a car if there’s a woman. Today 30% of the Lyft drivers are women, which has also had the effect of attracting women passengers who now make up more than half of all riders.

For my generation, it’s hard to fully understand the sea change of the millennial psyche. Getting into the back seat of an eight-passenger black suburban by yourself isn’t just uncool, it’s offensive — like littering, but on mass scale. If millennials can’t ride their bikes or take the bus or train, they want to rideshare. And increasingly, it’s a social experience, a la Airbnb — another differentiated, millennial brand.

Similar to the early days of building out wireless networks, we are laying the groundwork for critical American infrastructure as we transform the $2.25 trillion U.S. personal transportation market. Think of cars as cellphones in this scenario.

Ridesharing will have a dramatic impact on world around us. With this new round of funding, Lyft will be rolling out ridesharing in every major U.S. city. For those of you who haven’t tried Lyft Line, I’d invite you to save some money, be kind to the environment, and meet a few new friends along the way…

When I started at Hotmail in 1996, we were thirteen people, and frankly, we didn’t know what we were doing… The company had recently launched the first Software as a Service (SaaS) application to the world, and we were struggling to keep it up and running.

Everything about it was just so different than the traditional software we were used to:

  • We had one version of the software that was being used 24/7, as opposed to 5-10 versions.
  • We rolled out new versions every few weeks, versus months or years.
  • The end users were part of the quality assurance process and we were in a constant state of rolling new bug fixes, as opposed to a huge QA staff and a long process.
  • The software engineers had to learn to collaborate across functions with the data center techs, who rolled out the code, and the customer service group that was getting the customer QA data — compared to before, when those organizations were siloed.
  • We could see exactly how the end users used the software — real time — which dramatically increased the innovation cycle. This was very different from past approaches, where you had to do focus groups to figure out how an end user was using the software.

These were major shifts, and we weren’t sure how to organize for success … but somehow, we muddled through it.

As it turns out, though, we weren’t the only ones — just about everyone involved in the early internet era who had come from traditional, waterfall-centric programming environments started inventing new ways of doing things that were more in keeping with the always-on, fast-release iterative cycle that especially suited the world of the nascent SaaS and web-based software environments.

In 2001, a group of developers met to debate and discuss a new set of “lightweight” methods for software development, and the Agile Manifesto was born. While the manifesto wasn’t necessarily a direct outcome of the new web/SaaS/cloud organizational meanderings, it struck a nerve by stressing the need for cross-functional collaboration, communications, and short release cycles. Essentially, it helped to codify the hodgepodge of learnings we independently discovered about what worked at Hotmail, Yahoo, and other first-generation internet companies. These learnings ultimately became the underpinnings for what we now call “DevOps” [adapted from Wikipedia]:

DevOps (a portmanteau of “development” and “operations”) is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration, and integration between software developers and information technology (IT) professionals. A response to the interdependence of software development and IT operations, DevOps aims to help organizations rapidly produce software products and services — and to improve operations performance.

But DevOps is more than just a methodology. It’s a must-have skill set for the modern programmer — and is increasingly becoming its own department as well (the subject of much debate). The rise of the hyperscale cloud datacenter has made this job much harder as developers have had to hack together tools and complex scripts for pushing code to thousands of pancake servers.

The growth of the DevOps movement coupled with this complex cloud infrastructure has opened up an opportunity for a company to own the entire process and help developers and managers manage it.

It is with this backdrop that I am pleased to announce Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $2.8M Series A in Distelli, an infrastructure automation company that I like to think of as the “DevOps dashboard.” Here’s why we’re so excited about the company:

  • It was founded by Rahul Singh, one of the early engineers on the Amazon Web Services team. Rahul is the epitome of one of our most important criteria — founder/market fit. He has essentially solved a set of problems he encountered during his nine years working on Amazon’s cloud.
  • Rahul has a grand vision for Distelli to become the DevOps platform. Application, database, and middleware deployment are just the first tasks that Distelli automates, and they’ve got a rich roadmap to automate the other things DevOps does.
  • Shortly after the first beta, the product was of such high quality that every proof of concept resulted in a paying customer. The customer references raved about how it was simple, scalable, and consistent across multiple cloud and on-premise installations.
  • When it seems like every smart entrepreneur we meet seems to adopt the same new technology at once — indirectly demonstrating it as part of their pitch — we pay attention. A few of the companies in our portfolio that hold this important distinction include Good Data, Mixpanel, Okta, Optimizely, and Zenefits; and now, Distelli.

Rahul is one of those “10x founders” (as we like to call it) that just get shit done at an astounding rate. (These are the founders to whom you’re about to share feedback you’ve heard or suggest a new feature and they’re like, yeah, we already did it.) Every month I check in with Rahul, it feels like he’s progressed ten times more…

I’m so pumped to be joining the board to help Rahul grow into a powerhouse, and am pleased that Distelli is joining the a16z family. Onward!

One of the rookie mistakes first-time entrepreneurs often make is to be too guarded about their idea – in fact, many will actually spend their first $25,000 on patent lawyers without ever fully vetting their product. In order to gain credibility and attract investor attention, it’s critical to aggressively seek out the most relevant people in the world and get their feedback. I believe most young entrepreneurs massively overestimate the chances of someone stealing their idea versus the benefits associated with sharing it.

One of the rookie mistakes first-time entrepreneurs often make is to be too guarded about their idea – in fact, many will actually spend their first $25,000 on patent lawyers without ever fully vetting their product. In order to gain credibility and attract investor attention, it’s critical to aggressively seek out the most relevant people in the world and get their feedback. I believe most young entrepreneurs massively overestimate the chances of someone stealing their idea versus the benefits associated with sharing it.

When my co-founder and I first had the idea for IronPort, an email security company, we triangulated a list of the 20 most relevant people in email – former CEOs, open source technologists, investors and thought leaders. After we had the target list, we got resourceful in getting to them – friends of friends, cold emails and FedExed letters. One of the tactics we used was trying to get a diagram of our technology into their hands — subject matter experts just couldn’t resist correcting our analysis. Here are the huge benefits with taking the “sharing” risk:

Fix your compass. The experts can immediately get into the weeds and help steer you around the potholes they went through and make sure you’re not headed for a cul-de-sac. The input we received proved essential to refining our idea and setting our order of battle. We gave a number of these experts equity grants to become formal advisors to the company.

First employees. Two of the people on our list became employees after we went through the idea with them. One had built PayPal’s email infrastructure and the other had built Newman, the massively scalable eGroups email engine. The experts typically know where the other best-in-the-world talents are currently working and can help you recruit them in with a credible intro.

Investors. Our friends and family seed round became a who’s who of people who had done interesting things in email. The PayPal founders, the eGroups founders and the Hotmail founders all ended up investing. You can imagine the warm VC intros we received from a massively credible angel investor right in their subject area strike zone. In fact, on more than one occasion, a VC would say, “I’d like for you to meet with so-and-so to better understand the technology.” I would reply, “Oh, so-and-so? They are already an advisor/investor…”

It’s really hard to break through the clutter and get the attention of the top investors as they typically only look at deals that come in from a warm, credible referral. There’s absolutely nothing more credible than getting an endorsement from a well-known subject matter expert who has already put their own money into your company.

This post originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Photo: Federico Novaro

One of the oft-repeated stories my father used to tell me was the time he met Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller was the Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz of his generation, garnering five Olympic gold medals, 52 U.S. championships and breaking 67 world records in swimming. He never lost a race, and retired with an unbeaten amateur record. In 1950, he was selected by the Associated Press as the greatest swimmer in the first half of the 20th century.

Remarkably, swimming is not why Johnny is so well remembered and recognized in my father’s generation. You see, Johnny was Tarzan, at least in the movies. He wasn’t the first actor to don the leopard loincloth, but Johnny was the best—the iconic Tarzan, jungle yodel and all.

From 1932 to 1948, he starred in a series of semi-memorable movies including Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and His Mate, Tarzan Finds a Son! and Tarzan and the Mermaids. In addition to swinging through the trees and being able to summon the animals, Tarzan was portrayed as remarkably tough and strong. He would wrestle alligators and emerge victorious fighting other men, often outnumbered 10 to one. He was certainly one of the first Hollywood action heroes.

As my father would tell it, he was introduced to Johnny at a party in Miami and after some small talk, my dad challenged him to arm-wrestle. By way of background, my dad wasn’t all that big or strong, but he had developed an unusual winning arm wrestling technique while in the Marine Corps. He would regularly win tournaments (and money) against men twice his size. It was kind of his “thing”, so to speak, so it didn’t seem that odd that he’d want to have a shot for the bragging rights of besting “Tarzan” in some feat of strength—one that he was naturally advantaged in, of course. Now the interesting part was Johnny’s answer. He’d supposedly replied: “I’ll tell you what, I’ll do anything you want to do as long as we are in 10 feet of water.”

Ironically, I believe Johnny’s quick answer had a bigger impact on my dad than if he’d actually taken him down. My father would constantly remind me: What thing are you (or your company) best in world at? What makes you special? If you are competing against someone else, how do you lure them into competing against your strengths where you are sure to win?

When I was at Hotmail, we constantly debated about going after Exchange and the corporate market. Luckily, our growth on the consumer side was so overwhelming that we couldn’t pursue it because we would have gotten killed! The corporate requirements of security and IT control knobs didn’t match our expertise in scale, speed, and a consumer user interface.

At IronPort, we knew our competitive advantage was scalability vs our primary competitor, Ciphertrust, so we went after all of their largest customers who were experiencing mail delays. We were ruthless in overnighting evaluation units to relieve their pain and prove our speed.

This is an important lesson for startups who often over-prioritize competitive checklist features or listen too intently with customer feature requests. The winning products almost always have something unique about them that’s hard to replicate. The more a company doubles down on the things that make them special, the easier it is to pull away from the pack. Whether that’s in a crowded tech sector, or 10 feet of water.

At the tip of the innovation spear, behemoths like Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! have to invent technologies that deal with the hard problems they encounter internally as they grow. Out of these efforts, a number of projects like MapReduce Cassandra, BigTable, and Borg have been commercialized into products, companies, or open-source projects like Hadoop.

The founding of Optimizely follows a similar vein. The founders—Dan Siroker and Pete Koomen—met as product managers at Google, where testing and optimization (such as A/B testing) are deeply ingrained in the product development process. So much so that it was widely reported that Marissa Mayer once tested 41 different shades of blue for the Google homepage!

But it was during this time at Google that it became obvious to Dan and Pete that every company —big or small—should be able to use testing the same way. They set out to build Optimizely, and in a short four years, the company is now the hands-down leader in the new software category of website optimization.

As we move from on-premise to cloud computing, our firm is betting that a completely new set of enterprise software franchises will emerge. Optimizely is clearly one of them, which is why I am pleased to announce that Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $57M Series B round in Optimizely.

We invested in the company for many reasons, including:

Strong founder/market fit. The founders have taken a core Google competency and are making it their life’s work to extend it to the rest of the world, big or small.

Classic disruption. The company converted a complex process that requires engineering resources into a simple tool that almost anyone can use, which dramatically broadens adoption.

Solved a hairy technical problem. Before Optimizely, it was really hard to create drag-and-drop tests via a web-based editor while avoiding slowing down the page.

This investment also represents a few larger trends we care about, including:

Mobile. Optimizely just launched its iOS product and is already seeing tremendous demand from new and existing customers. We see huge upside potential here.

SaaS and especially the “departmentalization of IT”. Marketers, product managers, and other operators throughout a company can buy and use the product on their own—instead of having to go through only a central IT organization.

Democratization of tech. Optimizely also belongs to a larger category of tools that takes what was previously only possible for people with technical training, and makes them accessible to people who don’t (or don’t want to) code but want to apply their expertise on the web.

Optimizely is the clear leader in a huge and new must-have SaaS category. I’m thrilled to be joining the board and look forward to working with Dan and Pete to grow the company into the next category-killing franchise!

In 1997, about a year after launch, Hotmail was growing exponentially, adding thousands of new users every day. We were on fire. And then one night, it all seemed to unravel. We had a program called the “janitor” that ran as an overnight batch process and it erased all of the email that users put in the “trash” folder. Except this night, a bug spawned an army of other janitors that cleaned out everyone’s inboxes, too. That’s right, deep-sixed their email. Here is what went through all our spinning heads: “We’re fucked, it’s over.”

It’s pronounced whiff-eee-o, that horrible, terrifying moment that nearly every entrepreneur goes through when they are certain that their company is dead. I’ve seen it happen in so many different ways: A legal ruling goes against you; Apple refuses to approve your app unless you change the feature that makes it special;  Google launches a competitive product, and aims right at you; A critical technology partner decides not to renew their contract. It’s that moment before you gather yourself to do battle, when all seems lost. I have struggled through that moment, first at Hotmail and again at IronPort. Coming out the other side, scars and all, there are a few critical things you take with you:

The Hotmail WFIO

Once we had pulled the plug on the extra “janitors”, it turned out that about 25% of our total users were affected. Not everyone, but holy shit, a quarter of our customers had lost everything. Understandably, they were pissed. CNET and ZDnet were both on the horn wanting to know what happened. Customer care was inundated with angry calls and (ironically) emails. We figured out how to restore a few thousand customers, but millions were completely unrecoverable. While the calls rolled in, we were trying to figure out how to fix things.

I remember Hotmail’s CEO Sabeer calling us all in a room. “Hey, Rex (the COO), how long will it take to restore the email from the tape backups?” And I’ll never forget his answer: “Um, those got really expensive, so we stopped doing them about a month ago.” Gulp. Long … painful … silence.

The higher-level problem was that people were just getting comfortable trusting us with hosting their email and now we had completely let them down. Their email was just gone. We did a lot of communicating to the users and promised them we would “grandfather” them in for some planned paid services for free. We apologized profusely and explained how the sun, the moon and the stars lined up against us for it to happen. We also clearly explained what steps we were going to take so that it would never happen again. Over time, they started receiving more email, their inboxes filled up, and we just rode it out.

The IronPort WFIO

At IronPort, we developed a super fast and scalable email gateway that ran roughly 10 times faster than any other alternatives. We were definitely in the right place and time when the spam flood came. Our gateway was the only one that could handle the load. Just as at Hotmail, we were adding customers as fast as we could get the company names jotted down, but we needed to add an anti-spam component to our offering.

We struck up a partnership with Brightmail, the leading anti-spam software company, and the joint product – an IronPort gateway with Brightmail – was unbeatable in the marketplace. The only problem was we were heavily dependent on each other with both companies scrambling to build what each other had. Over time we both knew there was going to be a day of reckoning.  We attempted to merge the two companies to solve the problem, but the VCs couldn’t agree on terms.  And then Symantec bought Brightmail.

We knew the clock was ticking and had most of the engineering team working on IronPort anti-spam. But it was way late and wasn’t working. Shortly after the Symantec acquisition, we started hearing reports from channel partners that they were planning to cancel our contract. Although we knew that day would eventually come, we were totally unprepared! WFIO!

As detailed in a prior post, my VP of engineering, Nawaf, “cracked the egg with a sledgehammer” and got our anti-spam product working just in time.  Instead of Symantec canceling the contract, we went on the offensive and faxed a letter to all of our customers cancelling the contract with THEM– a position of strength. We managed through the madness and got to the other side.

After the IronPort WFIO had receded in my rear-view, I realized that you can almost always get to the other side. You just need to keep in mind a few things, and have some emergency tools ready to pull out.

It’s never really as bad as it seems.

Companies are damn resilient. Although it certainly feels like death at the time, it rarely is and companies just keep on moving forward. Ingenuity and guts usually help you find your way out of the jam. In fact, much of a company’s value is usually created by figuring out a solution to the big obstacle. Certainly, that was the case at IronPort where our entire business was built on the back of our anti-spam product.

Get all the brains around the table.

Whenever we went through a WFIO, we’d get all of the smartest people in the room and work through every angle. This is a little counterintuitive because most leaders have the tendency to share very little with the extended team as they are worried about freaking them out. This is a mistake on a number of fronts – trusting your team in crisis brings the company together in amazing ways and their contributions may very well save your company. All of our serious issues resulted in an “Apollo 13” atmosphere where we’d bring together top engineers, architects, VPs – anybody that could materially contribute – and hash it out.  Fighter pilots, who are constantly in pursuit of perfection, have what they call a “rank-less” debrief after every mission where everyone involved, regardless of rank, speaks up to criticize what went wrong.

Lead from the front.

This is the time for leadership – you cannot punk out. I think about a ship captain sailing the Atlantic in the 1700’s and rolling into a huge storm: regardless of how fearful, doubtful, or just scared shitless you may be, there’s only one way to play it with your team – you are in total control. Think of how much it could affect the outcome?! The team needs you to lead them through the problem. Back to the ship captain, what if he grabbed a bottle of whiskey and holed-up under his bed? The ship would certainly be lost. However, if he calmly makes a pot of coffee, ties himself to the bridge, and starts shouting orders, then I believe the chances of the ship making it through go up dramatically. The leader needs to be the first one there, the last one to leave, and be willing to do anything it takes – like answer customer care calls or personally drive a replacement part to an irate customer. Nothing is beneath a leader in times of crisis.

In between Hotmail and Ironport, I started an ecommerce company that got up to about six people. I funded it myself. When I couldn’t get funding for it and I had burned through all of my Hotmail money, I shut it down.  Sometimes it really is over, and I believe that one of the clearest signs is when you are completely out of cash.  But right up until that point, when the music is still playing, when your team is still driving hard, you  have a shot – and usually a decent one.

In many of the old war movies, every elite unit has at least one member that has the critical talent to make something out of nothing: the scrounge. You know this guy: when everyone is out of rations or ammunition and the truck is broken down, he quietly heads out. The next day, when all hope of completing the mission seems lost, the scrounge comes rolling up in a freshly repainted jeep, full rations, ammo, and, stereotypically, a case of cold beer. How did he do that? Where did it all come from? “Don’t ask,” he growls, “Let’s get movin’.”

Harvey Keitel’s Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe in Pulp Fiction is another iconic fix-it guy. He comes directly from a party in his tux to “clean up” the situation. I love his “Can I get some coffee?” calm demeanor as he carefully assesses the situation, starts prioritizing, and then takes swift action to get Jules and Vincent out of their blood-soaked jam.

During a crux scene in Apollo 13, the engineers in Houston realize they have to somehow fit the Command Module’s square carbon dioxide filter in the Lunar Module’s round receptacles if they want everyone to keep breathing. They got together in a room, dumped the box of materials available to the astronauts on the table and said, “Here’s what we have to work with…” After working for a tense few hours, they cobbled together a solution with step-by-step instructions for the oxygen-starved astronauts. That scene always gives me goose bumps.

All of the successful entrepreneurs I know are part-scrounge, part-Wolf, with a good dose of calm-under-pressure space jockey thrown in. In other words, they are ridiculously resourceful. It’s this magical combination of wicked-smart, tenacious as hell, works harder and longer than most people think is humanly possible, thinks way outside the box and is also unbelievably passionate and compelling. In short, they have special tools to just get shit done.

Special, but not unobtainable.

Over the years, I’ve noticed some patterns and methods that explain how great people manage to pull off the impossible. And with Mr. Wolfe’s permission, here they are:

“Crack the egg with a sledgehammer.” This was a quote from my VP of Engineering, Nawaf Bitar, at IronPort. When IronPort anti-spam wasn’t working and it looked like our partner Brightmail was going to terminate our contract, we had a complete “Oh shit!” moment. Nawaf moved the entire engineering team over to work on it. He called them all in to work nights and weekends until it was fixed, and urgently sought out every anti-spam expert on the planet to help or to hire. Other people would have done one or two of those things – he did them all simultaneously and immediately. Nawaf saved our bacon.

Set a measurable goal and brainstorm like hell. When we were developing our first product at IronPort, we desperately needed to get feedback from email administrators at large companies. Our dream was to quickly talk to 50 of them to get to a critical mass, but how the hell do you do that when you don’t know any? We brainstormed, tested, stalked, and leaned on our networks. We made a list of the Fortune 500 and tried to line up anyone we knew on the inside. We all went through our school alumni networks.

“Can you introduce me to someone who runs your email? Who do you call when email goes sideways?” Everyone we did get through to was pumped for information to get to more: “What conferences do you go to? What do you read? Who else can you introduce us to?” We reached 43 of the exact right people — not quite 50, but it did the trick.

Cheat time. During a board meeting last year, Quirky’s CEO Ben Kaufman recounted a story about preparing for a critical Home Depot meeting. Quirky was just starting to build things for the “connected home” and Home Depot was a dream opportunity. When he got the call in New York one afternoon that the home improvement giant could squeeze him into a new product-review meeting the very next day in Atlanta, he brought nearly the whole company in for an all-night prep session. They split up into five different teams and came up with seven working products — overnight. They packed up prototypes of a Wi-Fi-enabled mousetrap, garage opener, smoke detector and water sensor, among others, and then slept on the flight down. A month later, Home Depot ordered $7 million worth of products.

“Insanely violent passion.” This is a phrase that I’ve heard used to describe Andrew Rubin, the CEO of Illumio. Andrew came out to Silicon Valley from the Midwest with virtually no connections. Within 18 months he raised two rounds of capital and hired one of the best leadership teams I’ve ever seen. How did he do it? Andrew “glows in the dark.” He is so charismatic, compelling, logical, and excited about what he is pursing that you can just feel the energy — even see it glow. Getting to the right person often requires a series of small baton passes or jumping from lily pads of different people to get to your destination.

Andrew was unrelenting  when it came to asking for suggestions and pursuing connections and introductions from just about everyone. And since he came across so passionate and compelling, people actually felt like they were building social capital by helping him.

Foot squarely on the line. I wouldn’t suggest that being resourceful has anything to do with doing something illegal or unethical, but I’ve definitely noticed a pattern of being “creative.” When my then head of sales, Shrey Bhatia, was trying to close a $900,000 purchase order from DoubleClick in New York, he called up the CIO and said, “Hey, I’ll be in New York tomorrow, could I drop by for 15 minutes to discuss this?” Of course, he had no intention of going to New York unless the CIO confirmed the meeting. When the CIO finally did, at around 7 p.m., Shrey turned his car around, jumped on the red-eye, slept on the plane and brought home the order the next day. We had the check framed.

Pulp Fiction’s Winston Wolfe is obviously a fictional character, but the stereotype he represents is worth exploring. A guy that’s seen it all, he’s completely unflappable, methodical and decisive. How did he get that way? Like an old sea captain, he is the sum of so many hard-earned life experiences of living on the edge.

While there’s no substitute for real experience, I believe it helps to hear and share stories of resourcefulness in action — almost like case studies in school. With every new account, we open our mind to a new path to take and learn the tactics that others have used to overcome much larger obstacles than the ones that are currently in front of us. I’d love to hear about more “great moments in resourcefulness” in the comments section.

This post originally appeared in TechCrunch