March 3, 2023

Javier Soltero joins Felicis as a Senior Venture Partner

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Javier Soltero has joined the Felicis team as a Senior Venture Partner. Javier is an accomplished 2x founder and executive with exits to VMware and Microsoft. Most recently, he ran Google’s collaboration businesses (3B+ users) as VP & GM of Google Workspace and earlier oversaw Microsoft Office, Outlook, and Microsoft’s AI assistant. We couldn’t be more excited to add him to the team and have him work with Felicis founders. We asked Javier about his career and this next step.

Felicis: You’ve been an entrepreneur and operator; why join a venture firm now?

Javier: When I look back throughout my career—from my first job at Netscape to founding two start-ups, to my most recent position at Google—I feel lucky to have worked on products spanning the entire technology spectrum from consumer to enterprise, infrastructure to applications. I have also had the opportunity to work at companies in all stages, from startups to trillion-dollar companies. I’m excited to apply this breadth of experience to help founders as they navigate the challenges of building and growing a company. 

But I’m also excited for the personal challenge of working on multiple projects at once. In my past jobs, I’ve been “all in” on one idea at a time, committing myself only to a single endeavor. But now, I find applying what I’ve learned across multiple types of businesses incredibly satisfying. I’m learning and growing. 

Felicis: Why did you pick Felicis? 

Javier: Felicis was an investor in my second company, Acompli. I enjoyed working with Aydin and saw Felicis’ founder-centric approach in action. All venture firms are different, but once you work with multiple ones, you will learn exactly how these differences stack up.

I liked that Felicis was a more intimate partnership, and you get to work directly with the people investing in your company. They’re invested not just financially but philosophically and emotionally too. The firm isn’t rigid about sectors or deal terms—it’s flexible and more open, and the partners here bring a diverse perspective to the companies they work with.

Then there was the overall founder-centricity of the firm: the Founder Development Pledge is incredibly innovative; it takes money out of management fees to further a founder’s mental health. Felicis walks the walk, too; voting the firm’s shares with the founders formalizes the commitment I felt when they backed my company. That kind of statement means you have to make an upfront commitment to the people you back, which is something I respect as a former founder.

Whether you’re running a 1,000-person team or a 50-person company—the goal is to remain curious, authentic, and humble regardless of your setting. No one has a magic playbook.

Felicis: What kind of work will you do with founders?

Javier: Overall, I’m trying to bring my knowledge of building enterprise, infrastructure, and developer products and businesses to our founders. At Microsoft and Google, I focused on collaborative SaaS and productivity tools, and there are several existing portfolio companies whom I hope to be a resource for in those areas. 

For prospective investments, I think it’s helpful for founders to meet someone who’s worked with the firm—as well as many other firms—and can authentically answer what it’s like to work with this team. I’ve started and sold a company, which is a journey that tests the relationship between a founder and their investors at different times. I think that’s a perspective I wish I’d had as a founder when considering VCs. Being able to share that story of what my experience was like and how the partnership with Felicis helped is one that I hope will resonate with founders today. 

Lastly, I’m also excited to work with the investment team and bring my subject matter expertise and operational experience to the table when evaluating technical companies.

Felicis: You’ve worked at some of the biggest companies today—Microsoft and Google. How did that experience compare to being a founder?

Javier: One of the things that served me very well as a senior executive at Google and Microsoft was that I had been a CEO and a founder. When you’re in charge of some of the world's most successful, prominent, and broadly used products, it's pretty easy to get complacent. You can start to make decisions in an overly defensive way that are not ambitious or innovative enough. But having been in a position where no one gives a shit about your app is one that stays with you forever. Whether you’re running a 1,000-person team or a 50-person company—the goal is to remain curious, authentic, and humble regardless of your setting. No one has a magic playbook.

Felicis: Are there some sectors you’re particularly excited about exploring?

Javier: Obviously, artificial intelligence is a revolution. Though I must admit, I’m a bit wary of the heightened attention it’s gotten over the last few months. ChatGPT made it so much more tangible and real, whereas before, Machine Learning-based products felt somewhat ethereal or abstract. But this is changing; new capabilities are being created, bringing many new problems and opportunities. 

My success as a founder came from the options brought on by the rapid adoption of new technologies. Specifically, the advent of open source and web infrastructure allowed me to start Hyperic (my first company). Not because we were an infrastructure company, we were a monitoring and management company specializing in the type of infrastructure people were using to build applications to address the massive wave of web adoption throughout enterprises and new SaaS businesses. We created a company out of disarray, which was only possible due to the violent embrace of new technology.

The excitement about AI reminds me of my time as the founder of Acompli. “Everything needs to be a chatbot” sounds a lot like the “consumerization of IT” race during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Everyone was sure that IT departments would disappear and workers would use whatever applications and devices they wanted. But the truth is, these waves are pendulums, and people love to swing on them. I remember drawing on a whiteboard a picture showing the collision course between individual technology decisions and the choices of organizations—this intersection and the changes it created presented the real opportunity.

AI will play out similarly. It can do a lot of great things, and it can also make spectacularly wrong decisions and provide inaccurate information. There’s incredible momentum for the enabling technologies here—the infrastructure and developer tools—that will come about as part of this process.

I suspect many founders are seeing a different side of their investors. But quality investors are the ones whose approach to helping founders doesn’t change with the economic climate.

Felicis: Are there any founders that you find particularly impressive?

Javier: The first ones that come to mind are Melanie and Cliff from Canva, a company I'm currently advising and am incredibly impressed by. I’ve learned not just about the product itself but the complex path it took to build the product. They were very deliberate about not trying to clone what other people had been doing or conforming to what other productivity and collaboration applications typically do to be successful. They've had to carve out their own space in a crowded field and are amazingly positioned now.

Felicis: You have experience building companies out of recessions; what’s your advice to founders facing this current macroeconomic environment?

Javier: I have two pieces of advice. The first comes from the darkness I endured at the beginning of the Hyperic journey. We had just decided to buy out the investors of a previous company, and as we were getting started trying to build out this business, often, it felt like we were just sitting and waiting for the phone to ring. During this time, I remember calling my dad, who knows nothing about tech. I told him I was worried, and he asked me, “This product you built: is it good?” He was trying to prod my sense of conviction and belief about the product. I had to stop and think about its potential, whether it fit in the market, and if I believed people would buy it. Luckily, the answer for me was yes. But as a founder, asking yourself this question honestly and rigorously is an essential exercise because there will be moments when you feel it won’t work out. But, if you know what signals suggest momentum, you’ll know it’s worth more time and effort.

My second piece of advice relates to the financial crisis of 2008, which was the most trying time for me professionally across every possible dimension. I was a first-time CEO, had multiple million dollars in ARR, and was responsible for 60 employees. But this global calamity came, and investors I had previously turned to said, “I don’t know, man, this could get weird; this may not work.” That’s when I realized that you don’t need cheerleaders in business. You need people who will help you solve the problem and do the proper scenario planning based on your trajectory. You need people who will help you do what you must to continue driving the business forward. It’s easy to get into a state of “woe is me,” but you must surround yourself with people who obsess about the solution, not the problem. 

I suspect many founders are seeing a different side of their investors. But quality investors are the ones whose approach to helping founders doesn’t change with the economic climate. Great investors offer wisdom ahead of time and are diligent about how they can help companies grow responsibly. While we’ll probably continue to see a rocky economic environment, strong relationships between founders and their investors will help many great companies persevere.