One of the more fulfilling aspects of my job is connecting new founders with experienced mentors who can help them grow. CoreOS founders Alex Polvi and Brandon Philips are among the most requested open source mentors in the GV network, for good reason. Alex and Brandon were early in understanding the potential of Kubernetes, and forged the idea for CoreOS after seeing how hard it was to keep systems current. They built CoreOS into a trailblazer for running cloud infrastructure, tapping into the technical excellence of the open source community. RedHat purchased the company in 2018.
I recently sat down with Alex and Brandon to talk about the early days of CoreOS, how they shaped the company, and what they learned about tackling enormous opportunities.
Friends since college, the two started CoreOS in 2013 through Y Combinator. "Our core thesis was around automated operations," recalled Alex. "What could we do to automate updates and other tasks that burn out operations teams? We started CoreOS to do that. And we couldn't have built it all ourselves. We got big help from the market that was evolving all around us."
Alex and Brandon have an unparalleled partnership, and their complementary approach to leadership makes them stronger as a team. At CoreOS they built one of the most diverse and thoughtful cultures I've seen in enterprise tech. "We were very deliberate about inclusivity," Brandon explained. "The team regularly had opportunities to participate in workshops on allyship and implicit bias. Those trainings require a bit of vulnerability. The discomfort brought folks closer as we learned as a team."
At GV, we're big fans of Annie Duke's book Thinking in Bets, which outlines a framework for evaluating decisions retrospectively by decoupling them from outcomes. I asked the two what, in retrospect, they might change. "I'd go slower," Alex reflected. "Spending less money, not getting as big. We were in a place creating a new category, and Kubernetes was mature but nascent. In R&D mode, go slower." Brandon agreed. "We built a lot of stuff and had to rebuild it. It took a long time for things to settle out."
As for what's next, Alex and Brandon said they now spend much of their time coaching new infrastructure software companies. Alex observed that "Now is a great time to be an early stage tech founder. The world has shifted online, and it's a great time to raise capital. There are more resources available every day for remote companies, and that gives you more access to talent."