When asked to explain what her company does, Paola Moretto responds with a simple question: Would you test a bridge before having thousands of cars drive over it?
For Moretto, that same line of thinking can be applied to cloud-based applications.
“You would be crazy not to want to know ahead of time how your website is going to behave with millions of users,” she says.
That’s the pitch for Nouvola, a new Portland-based startup that helps developers deploy and monitor their apps.
Nouvola — which means “cloud” in Italian — has been winning local angel competitions left and right, most recently raking in a $215,000 award at the Southern Oregon Angel Conference last month. Prior to that, the 10-person startup won a $256,000 investment prize at the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network’s Angel Oregon 2014, and was also awarded a $250,000 prize at last year’s Bend Venture Conference.
Moretto, a former director for Intel’s Data Center Group, founded the company in 2012 with Paola Rossaro, whom she met at the University of California-Berkeley computer science department two decades ago. The founders not only share a love for the outdoors — they have climbed two ‘fourteeners‘ together — but also both hail from Italy.
“We arrived as expats in the U.S. and faced the challenges of reinventing a life,” Moretto said.
We caught up with Moretto for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “You would be crazy not to want to know ahead of time how your website is going to behave with millions of users. Think about a bridge in the physical world. Would you let 100,000 cars on the new bridge without first testing it? Probably not. Why do we do it with software?”
Inspiration hit us when: “My passion is working on technologies that change the world. I’ve done two startups with two successful exits. I love creating something entirely new and solving something for the industry. It is a creative, exhilarating process.
My most recent gig was at Intel, where I was the director of software and I was exposed to the early days of the cloud. One day, we shipped our software to Facebook and I got a call a couple of days later notifying us that they had loaded the software onto a test bed of 16,000 servers and it was not working as expected. We needed to address this right away, but clearly, we didn’t have that many servers to play with.
I started thinking that there must be a way to use the cloud to generate these scenarios. None of the solutions I found adequately addressed the need. It’s a problem I know well and I realized the huge opportunity.
Just like cell phones and Wi-Fi and other technologies I was involved with before, the cloud is a revolution. It is changing business in significant ways.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We are focusing on Angels for now. We believe Angels could be very supportive of an early-stage startup. Angels are usually motivated by ROI, but they have additional motivating factors as well, such as supporting innovation in the community, creating jobs, and overall enabling the ecosystem.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Businesses that launch applications in the cloud need to know that they will operate reliably and scale successfully. This is the central challenge of cloud computing today and it needs to be addressed before you launch your apps. If they don’t work reliably, even the most well-designed and useful applications will fail.
Nouvola offers performance testing and performance analytics for cloud applications, and tackles exactly the problem that I experienced at Intel, and that is experienced by millions of companies out there.
It’s a big problem that is only getting bigger as more and more applications move to cloud environments, resulting in a staggering volume of traffic moving across the cloud. There is no time for a business to slowly adjust to the cloud.
You need to be ready to scale from Day 1. Your ability to do so impacts your bottom line and it also impacts your reputation. If you encounter a problem related to scale in the cloud, it’s too late, because everyone sees it.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “The smartest move we have made so far is to join up as founders. We shared years of friendship and common values and that is truly priceless and irreplaceable. Having a solid founding team is one of the key foundations for startup success.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We make mistakes every day. What is critical is to learn from mistakes and move on rapidly. I love when I get asked the question, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ For a founder, the right answer to that is, ‘Everything!!’ The biggest mistake we made so far was probably to think that we could attract VC capital at a very early stage.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Definitely Jobs. Anybody that is truly passionate about product development, is maniacal about details of the product and wants to deliver the ultimate user experience understands that product development is a an endless sequence of micro-decisions. Jobs was stellar at that, and that is the approach we are taking as well.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Any company that transacts its business over the web is a potential customer. Any company that has a web presence and cares about user satisfaction, is a potential customer. Nouvola’s solution is scalable and addresses, in a cost-effective manner, the needs of large enterprises as well as small companies.
Enterprises using cloud services internally could also benefit. It is important to keep in mind that with the cloud, there is an element of losing visibility and control over your infrastructure, so it is crucial to be proactive. We are attacking a big problem — one of the largest problems in cloud computing today — with unique and proprietary technology and a clear strategy for growth.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We are highly differentiated in this space and we offer an entirely self-service, absolutely user-friendly yet comprehensive solution. We are pairing up performance testing with a new category of analytics called performance analytics, leading our customers toward full remediation of the problems we have found. We are paving new paths and creating a new category in the marketplace.
The analogy I like to use is the transportation industry. At the top, you have people with a private jet and a private driver. At the bottom, you have the crappy taxi. What about the rest of us? Here comes Uber, offering the experience comparable to the top, with price points comparable to the bottom, and an incredibly interactive and responsive app. We call ourselves the Uber of performance testing.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “The biggest hurdle to overcome was to get to launch our solution while bootstrapping. We didn’t want to ask investors to invest before we had a solution in the market and we had some traction points to prove that we had the right product for this need. We launched last year with very little money and that has been an incredible achievement. We became experts in what I call ‘the art of the scrap’ — being able to achieve a lot with very little money.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “For every door that gets slammed in your face, there is an opportunity of another dozen doors opening up for you. Don’t dwell too much on rejection. Internalize the feedback and move on quickly.”