Two years ago, Cal State Fullerton business administration alumnus Kevin Chiu and his older brother made a leap of faith and started their own company, Catalyst.
Two years later, the brothers are so successful that they now have 13 employees, more than $5 million raised in venture capital and the 2014 graduate has made it into the pages of Forbes “30 Under 30” list for enterprise technology.
Catalyst, as Chiu explains, provides software that allows companies to easily understand “how ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ their client base is based on usage data.
“An example would be if Spotify were a customer of ours,” he explains. “They could use our product to easily tell which of their users are at-risk of cancelling based on a variety of data points, such as users not logging in enough in the last 30 days, users submitting a ticket for a bug but never hearing back; or users that listen to a specific artist all the time but don’t know that their latest album has been released.”
What prompted you and your brother to strike out on your own and in this area?
We’ve always wanted to start a company together. Prior to this we worked at DigitalOcean together to make sure we wouldn’t kill each other since working with significant others or siblings can be hard! Edward ran the customer success team and while at DigitalOcean, I worked with his team to build an internal product similar to the one we are building now.
At the last second, when we were both leaving, he came to me with the crazy idea of launching this startup. When Edward (who is 5 years older than Kevin), pitched this idea, it was very obvious it was the right opportunity and would end up being disruptive.
What do you mean, disruptive? Perhaps game changer?
Disruptive is a tech term used a lot as something that changes the industry. Game changer works but I don’t love that phrase anymore, i.e., Uber is disruptive in transportation space, Apple was disruptive in the hardware space, Spotify was disruptive in the music space.
What has been your biggest challenge/surprise?
Recruiting engineers is tough. The one piece of advice I’ll give to future founders is learn how to recruit. I suppose sales skills attributed to this but recruiting the best people is how you build the best companies. Nothing else matters in the grand scheme of things.
We made way too many recruiting mistakes in the early stages of the company and backchannel references are everything. Never accept the three references people list on their resume. When was the last time you called one of those people and they had bad things to say?
Were there any particular experiences while at Cal State Fullerton that you remember as particularly insightful or helpful to your career?
The Mihaylo College Titan Sales Competition (operated by the college’s Sales Leadership Center) — I remember how nervous I was pitching in front of a few people.
Now, I can do that same pitch over and over again with a blindfold and it would be easy, but as a college kid who had never did anything like that, it was extremely nerve-racking. It was the first stepping stone into learning how to sell, which later became my career for the first four years prior to launching Catalyst!
What future goals do you have?
To make Catalyst a publicly traded company. That’s when I will feel we have succeeded in everything we wanted to do as a startup.