Living Life at the Edge - An Interview with Dmitriy Akulov

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Living Life at the Edge - An Interview with Dmitriy Akulov

Jun 19, 2020
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Today we hear from Dmitriy Akulov - serial entrepreneur, technologist and founder of several IT startups & companies including jsDelivr, PerfOps, and more recently, appfleet.

Over the years, Dmitriy has been responsible for developing many popular free and open source projects, and is an acknowledged expert in CDN, DNS and Cloud. The companies he founded have built infrastructure that serves 100+ billion HTTP and DNS queries per month. More recently he raised $1.25 million from 2 VCs in Europe.

He is also fluent in English, Greek, Russian and Polish.

How has the recent pandemic and quarantine affected you personally?

I deal with the stress of business by traveling and working remotely. The pandemic cancelled all of my plans and impacted my mental health.

Can you give some background on your career before PerfOps and jsDelivr and what led you to start those companies?

jsDelivr is actually one of my first projects. I've been running it for 10 years now, in parallel to everything else. But before PerfOps, I worked for MaxCDN remotely and after that I mostly did consulting work and built many side-projects. One of those projects was DNSPerf.

Once it became popular I decided that this niche has potential and I could build a company out of it. I established Prospect One and decided to build a full analytics platform for Cloud systems. Eventually we added load-balancing as well. It happened to be quite expensive to build such a big service, I funded the company for 3 years myself before I had to raise capital from VCs. That's when I spun PerfOps out into its own company and raised $1.25mil to continue development.

What did the cloud industry look like at that time, and how has it evolved since?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) dominated pretty much everything. Everyone else was just starting up. Now Azure and Google Cloud are much more competitive. Even DigitalOcean and OVH are becoming very interesting options. That wasn't the case back then. DO was considered just another VPS hosting provider and OVH a discount dedicated servers provider.

For somebody starting out now, do the same opportunities still exist, or have they evolved too?

With tech everything changes every day. So the old opportunities are not really there any more but that also means new ones keep appearing. The problem is identifying them. Big clouds keep releasing new services and products that kill many small startups, but new tech keeps appearing, they can't keep up with the change.

Which of the projects you've founded was the most difficult to bring to market? What were the biggest challenges?

Definitely PerfOps. It was a huge technical challenge to build a big data platform and on top of that a custom DNS server that integrates with it and makes load-balancing decisions in real-time. I am proud that we built it, we did it on a very small budget. A USA startup would need at least 10x the budget to even come close to what we released. But the biggest problem turned out to be enterprise sales. They are huge organizations where it's impossible to find the right decision maker, and after you do, the sales cycle is way too long for a startup. And even if you survive long enough to close the deal they could change their mind at the last second. Trust is also always an issue. When you have heavily funded competitors with hundreds of employees these enterprises will prefer to pay more to get to feel safer with a richer company. But this is mostly because the main product was critical infrastructure, a SaaS would be much easier to sell.

Where do you think the cloud industry (and the tech sector in general) is heading? What looks big for you in 2021?

Kubernetes and microservices just keep growing. I didn't expect that, especially after Docker Inc. basically failed as a company. But the tech survived and keeps growing day by day with new products and services coming out every week.

How do you manage to stay relevant in a time of great change in the cloud industry?

You must keep yourself up-to-date. Keep reading and learning everything about new tech, projects, services... You will see patterns and it will help you keep yourself, your products and company relevant.

What new projects do you have coming up, anything you can tell us about yet?

I am working on appfleet. In simple words its a docker hosting platform. But instead of hosting your service in a single region it allows you to deploy any container to multiple locations at the same time.

This is basically a CDN for containers. Your full code-base lives at the edge, close to your users, lowering the latency and improving performance. It's similar to what FaaS serverless products do but it removes all limits. You can use any language you want and you get full network access allowing you to run DNS servers, distributed databases, your own custom CDN or anything else really. It's a problem I've had for many years and I finally decided to solve it when I was trying to think of what to do next after leaving PerfOps.

Any advice for the budding entrepreneurs out there? Perhaps share a little about what drives you personally each day...

I do this because I enjoy it. I like building things and providing value to users. I also like the freedom this offers me versus a regular job. So if you enjoy doing things like this go for it. Just make sure you stay financially safe. Don't risk everything on a new project. Also decide what you want to do from the project. Fast growth and VC money or a life-style profitable business? Your priorities will change a lot based on the answer.

You've been a supporter of OpsMatters for a while now. In your own words, why do you think Ops matters today more than ever before?

More cloud equals more Ops to handle the extra complexity :) So the importance of DevOps/*Ops will continue to grow.

 

Thanks to Dmitriy for taking the time to share his thoughts with the OpsMatters community this week. Best of luck with the new venture - we're all very excited to see how it turns out. You can learn more about appfleet by visiting their website at appfleet.com.