Interview with Recorded Future cofounder Chris Ahlberg – Google Ventures company

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Recently we got to catch up with Chris Ahlberg, cofounder of Recorded Future. During our interview he introduces us to Recorded Future and shares with us some lessons from the early stages of starting their company. Recorded Future is funded by Google Ventures, a venture capital investment arm of Google.

Chris Ahlberg

About Recorded Future

It struck us that the internet is just a remarkable place to find predictive signals and data that can tell us things about the world. So we’re trying to index the web for analysis – allowing users to use beautiful user interfaces to answer simple questions like “What is Apple up to over the next 30 days” and more complex like “What genomics technologies will come to light over the next decade”.

How did you come up with the idea for your company?

We’ve done analytics for a long time – and the idea of taking on the internet as a data source for prediction is just so compelling. Then when we started talking to some potential customers and users and quickly identified some very good potential use cases.

How’d you start?

We first had the idea that we could look at text (“Let’s meet in Tahiri Sq on Friday and be real angry”) and turn that into predictive signals. We explored lots of areas – finance, marketing, intelligence, sales, etc. – and eventually picked Intelligence as our first segment. In classic Crossing the Chasm style we took that to

Washington D.C. and started working very closely with analysts and big data technologists on how to put Recorded Future to work in their world. We created a dedicated blog – www.analysisintelligence.com - for that segment, spoke at conferences, teamed up with the key partners, etc. Deep dive!

Why Google Ventures?

Early on we thought about whether Google would be a competitor or not to what we do. In reality that probably was a bit silly… but :) So when a friend suggested that I get together with Rich Miner from Google Ventures I first thought hey that’s a terrible idea, but then quickly (like 20 seconds :) warmed up to the idea and when I met Rich and Bill Marris I realized that they were great guys and that I totally wanted to work with them.

Advice to an entrepreneur looking to be part of Google Ventures?

We started talking to them when they hardly existed (I actually don’t think the legal entity existed when our deal was done) and by now they’ve grown dramatically. But that said I think they are very much a leading VC firm – they’ll look for big ideas and great people. Perhaps the key difference is the technical/engineering staff which is incredibly good – and they also have a deep network into Google of course. Engage those parts!

Apple Next 30 Days

Progress Recorded Future hopes to make?

We’ve started aggressively taking our products to commercial customers and have gotten great early adoption into some tremendous places. Time to take this to next level.

Advice on writing a business plan?

Don’t write too much :) I would do a whole series of mockups – whatever the product might be (software, hardware, consumer products, food etc.) and gain user data in many many iterations. Try to do this while measuring everything you can. Get in front of actual customers (individuals or corporations) and try to sell them. Get them to part with money. Learn from that and iterate super fast. You’ve heard it before, like 1 million times. It’s still correct.

But hey at some point writing down an actual plan is of course key – minimally for internal alignment, even if it’s a team of 1(!) or 2 people. Formulate the idea/vision, formulate what the product should be at start and what it could be 6-12-18 months out. Do your first take on the business model, both selling and cost structure. Outline what people you’ll need to start. That’s about it.

Startup Mistakes?

Hey it feels like I’ve done every mistake in the book, and keep making them haha. But that said – we’ve all waited too long to harshly cut – get out of a business segment, waiting too long to ask a person not fitting into the team to move, etc. Don’t wait.

Do’s and Don’ts of funding?

I think the key is to really just focus on building your business. Don’t focus on being funded – focus on building your business and you’ll get funded – by customers, partners, or if that’s what you want – VCs. If you lack the money, then make do with what you have. And even if you’re desperate to raise money, make it very clear that you’re not.

A massive thank you to Chris for taking the time out of his busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. We look forward to catching back up with Recorded Future next year to see how things are going. You can also follow them on twitter!