Ilya Sukhar

CEO of Parse, part-time partner at Y Combinator

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON January 19, 2016

Discussion

Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
Hi. I'm Ilya. Excited to be doing this. I started a platform company called Parse because I thought mobile development was way too painful. I sold it to Facebook in 2013 and ran it there along with a bunch of other platform-related projects for a couple of years. At this point Parse enables hundreds of thousands of developers to build apps that reach hundreds of millions of devices per month. I left Parse/Facebook recently to spend some time exploring and figuring out what to do next. I'm also a casual angel investor and part-time partner at Y Combinator. In general, I really like helping other people build things and have been directing my energy that way for some time.
Kasperi Apell@kasperiapell
Hi Ilya! Thanks for doing this. What book has had most profound impact on you and why?
Jennifer Barthe@jenniferbarthe
@kasperiapell Thanks for asking this question. I was wondering the same thing.
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@kasperiapell Let me think about it and get back to you!
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
@ilyasu Hey Ilya! How's the chess going? ;) Hope things are going awesome and thanks for doing this AMA! What are your top 3 hacks that you have learned from running Parse? These can be productivity hacks, meeting hacks, email hacks, growth hacks, product hacks, etc. Thanks a bunch! Sydney
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@sydney_liu_sl Hey man, good to see you here. My chess is improving pretty quickly but I still have a long way to go. I just lost two games this morning :( I’m not sure what qualifies as a hack these days but I’ll give this a shot. 1. Productivity — I found it hard to focus on important and non-urgent things amidst all the non-important and/or urgent things that inevitably happen in a startup. So I got in the habit of making an index card every night before bed with the 3 things I wanted to get done the next day. I don’t like to have much in my pockets so carrying it around was a good constant reminder if I needed to refocus. 2. Email — I created a filter that took all emails that were not specifically addressed to me (i.e. I wasn’t on the To: line) out of my inbox. I then naturally checked those emails with much less frequency and often the threads would resolve without my input when I’d otherwise feel compelled to jump in. 3. Product — In the earlier days of Parse we had a system whereby we’d record every time a person asked for a particular feature or bug request, no matter how they made the request. So we had a tally and a list of emails for just about anything it was reasonable to build. It helped a ton in prioritizing our roadmap but, more importantly,it let us email people personally whenever we built something they’d asked for. The delight and loyalty inspired by a personal email from a founder about a feature request someone made in an offhanded manner at some conference 8 months ago is priceless. It’s hard to scale and we eventually dropped this practice but I’m going to do it again if possible.
Zach Cmiel@zach_cmiel · CEO, PoKoBros
Hi! When you were bought by Facebook, how was the transition to working under them? Were you able to control your product as much?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@zach_cmiel It was pretty good and product control was especially straightforward (and remains so, I think). Some other things were harder -- for example, transitioning our recruiting and hiring practices to theirs. And figuring out how to work across organizations inside the company was trickier. Overall, though, they kept their promises and didn't tell us what to do that much.
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@ilyasu What was the reasoning behind selling your start up to Facebook versus selling it to another company?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@iamcuan We weren't really evaluating a bunch of acquirers all at the same time. We had spoken to other companies at various times but they were all pretty different propositions. We were actually about to sign a Series B term sheet when the Facebook conversations really kicked into high gear. So the alternative was continuing at it on our own rather than another acquirer.
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@ilyasu In what industries do you see the most growth on Parse?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@iamcuan Mobile gaming and agency-built big brand apps were the most consistent growth areas for us.
Junius@juniusfree
hi @ilyasu My question is related to product development. How will you spend your time if you've got one hour to solve a user problem/need? Thanks!
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@juniusfree Most impactful things take longer than an hour. But, if I had just one hour, I’d talk to a user in depth about their problems.
Rich Allen@rich_allen · Co-Founder of Streamly
Hi Ilya How would you best recommend networking with people in the valley so that when you try to get investment and mentors you have a network? Especially if your based in the UK at current?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@rich_allen Build something cool. Then show it to people over email, Twitter, HN, whatever.
Rich Allen@rich_allen · Co-Founder of Streamly
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ilyasu What are your favourite questions to ask founders?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@bentossell "Why is this better than what exists today? Would you use this yourself?" "How are you going to get people to use it? How many? How long will that take? And how much will each of them pay you?" "Why are you starting a company?"
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ilyasu I often ask the first one to ppl on Product Hunt :)
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@ilyasu what is the main piece of advice you would offer to an entrepreneur or founder looking for an angel investor? Is there a phrase or piece of wisdom you find yourself often repeating?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@ems_hodge Beyond what I mentioned in other answers already, I think it's a major 🔑to be deliberate about the timing and purpose of fundraising when at the angel stage. Why are you raising now? Do you really need the money or are you just doing it because everyone else is too? If you can't pay rent, is my check really going to save you or are you going to be in the same position three months from now? I find myself asking founders these questions a lot.
Lejla Bajgoric@lejlahunts · Intern, Product Hunt
Hi Ilya! How does someone as accomplished as yourself "figure out what to do next?" What does that process look like? And have you reached any conclusions, or initiated any new pursuits just yet?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@lejlahunts If I had a great answer, I’d have written a self-important Medium post about this already :-) I went traveling for a few months to clear my head and reset. I’d spent my 20’s prioritizing work above nearly all else so it was much needed. I came up with a rough, fairly abstract framework for evaluating opportunities but deliberately avoided thinking about specifics so that I could actually relax. Now I’m spending a lot of time talking to smart friends and colleagues and hacking a bit on my own. No conclusions just yet but I’m excited to get back into the grind!
Ravi Vadrevu@raviformative · Autonomous Hiring Intelligence
@ilyasu - I love Parse and I was an early Facebook Developer back in 2010. So what's coming next for Facebook in terms of developer ecosystem. I see apps like "Notify" coming from FB to sign up for engagement when they are supposed to come through an dev ecosystem!
Jonathan Toby@jonathantoby · CEO SPEAQUS
@ilyasu I am Toby from SPEAQUS, quality training recommendation website. We are looking to inspire people through knowledge. By the way, we all know that as a CEO, we have to be motivated and productive all the time. What is the secret of yours to keep going till end? What are daily strategies that you have to have a clear mind? Thanks
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@jonathantoby There’s no silver bullets. It’s going to be stressful and tiring but here are a couple things that worked for me: 1. Talking to users. Whenever I felt down, it *always* helped to talk to someone that liked our product. So, when I was stressed, I’d fire off a bunch of emails to relatively happy users at night, wake up to get some cool responses in the morning, and then feel more energized to tackle the challenges of the day. 2. Exercise. I figured this out way too late but exercise is dope. If I had to tell 18 yr old Ilya something that wasn’t the typical “buy AAPL”, it would be “exercise, trust me.”
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@ilyasu What's Y Combinator's views on marijuana start ups?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@iamcuan I think we’re open to them and sometimes very excited, assuming everything is legal. For example, we funded Meadow (“Uber for weed”) recently.
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@ilyasu How do you schedule and organize your day to ensure maximum productivity?
Taha Ozket@tahaozket · Co-founder, Pushmote
Hi, Ilya (@ilyasu)! How do you mentally prepare yourself to start a new startup?
Anna Savina@hashevatski · RUKI Editor-in-Chief
Hi Ilya, thank you for joining PH! As an investor, do you see good startups and founders coming from Russia? Which tech entrepreneurs from the country are particularly interesting? Do you see any potential in the Russian tech industry?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@hashevatski I love meeting founders from Russia. There’s clearly a ton of technical talent there. That said, I don’t spend much time thinking about the Russian tech industry itself because I’m not sure that the country has the right economic framework set up to produce globally impactful startups. I prefer Russian folks working in the US.
neerajshukla@reborn_daily
What do you think are the next frontiers of B2C apps on mobile? Things seem a bit stagnant after Facebook, Twitter and a few chat apps. What would be the enablers for growth/possibility of such apps? Or do you think mobile apps would be like TV channels and only few would matter.
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@reborn_daily I think the platform providers need to evolve the rules of the road in terms of distribution in order for things to shake up in a big way. It remains to be seen whether that'll ever happen but both Apple and Google are doing interesting small experiments to that effect. Another possibility is that more owners of big consumer surfaces try to jam in new platforms on mobile, in the spirit of WeChat.
neerajshukla@reborn_daily
@ilyasu Thanks for your answer Ilya!
Larry@larry_lawal
@ilyasu What sorts of things do you like to help other people build? Also what are your top 3 favorite subreddits?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@larry_lawal Anything I can be helpful with! Hmm, good question. The subreddits that come to mind right now are: r/AskHistorians, r/pcgaming, r/programming.
Kirill Zubovsky@kirillzubovsky · Troublemaker. Founder. Dad
@ilyasu "Fake it till you make it" is words a lot of entrepreneurs live by. Can you give us examples of some interesting way you propelled Parse in the early days?
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
@kirillzubovsky I think we dedicated an unusual amount of time to "marketing and sales" relative to the power and maturity of our product in the early days to earn credit and notability among developers. Some examples: 1. We'd try to get well known apps to use us in a minor, ancillary capacity. Then we'd use those as reference customers for the next conversation. And so on. 2. We'd answer lots of newbie questions on various forums in a "here's how you do it step-by-step tediously the normal way or ... just use Parse" manner. Because we were being generally helpful, the communities didn't mind too much that we were also promoting Parse. 3. We built a lot of sample applications and wrote a lot of mobile-related blog posts to get people's attention. Many users first came to Parse via one of these content marketing efforts.