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Outlier’s Path

Boldness, Speed, & Humility

Two weeks ago, I attended Sequoia’s First Believers Retreat, our gathering of Europe’s top angel and seed investors. Many of the attendees were, at one point, unknown underdogs before someone came along and believed. Often, angel and seed investors serve that purpose for founders.

My partner Luciana held a fireside chat with Daniel Dines, founder of UiPath, the global robotic process automation (RPA) software leader. Today, UiPath has ~$1.3b in ARR and trades on the NYSE with a market cap of $13.3b. As with all entrepreneurial journeys, it was quite a circuitous path. Throughout the interview, it was clear that Daniel’s personal values translated into UiPath’s corporate values of boldness, speed, and humility.

Daniel grew up in Romania, a country that did not promote a culture of being bold. Daniel and Luciana discussed how Romania was more a country focused on obedience and staying in one’s lane. Through various experiences, Daniel’s boldness emerged while maintaining his humility and authenticity.

At university, he found out a friend was making $300 a month programming, so he learned how to program by reading Introduction to C++, as a novel. A year later, he was able to get a job as a programmer, but the company could not give him access to a computer during the day. He changed his night into day and worked from 8pm to 6am, working alone in the office, listening to music, and writing code. Many would whine about such hours, but Daniel told us it was the best time in his life. Aspiring for more, he left Romania to work for Microsoft in Seattle from 2000 to 2005, which was a culture shock. He admitted that English is not his strength, “but you win with your strengths, and you lose with your weaknesses,” so he worked extremely hard to improve his English.

He would then return to Romania in 2005 to start DeskOver, later renamed UiPath. From 2005 to 2015, the company did different things at small scale and struggled to find product-market fit. When asked if he considered quitting, he replied, “Sure, but quit to do what? I have no choice and no golden parachute.”

One day, Daniel stopped being a programmer and started thinking like a business owner. Along the way, UiPath built a library of simple robotic automation software. He found it hard to sell to developers. He noticed it was easier to sell his libraries to other software companies and businesses that wanted to use his libraries to automate repetitive processes. Due to market signals, he flipped to B2B and enterprise sales.

Seeing the initial traction from 2015 to 2017, Luciana became Daniel’s first believer and led UiPath’s Series A, while she was at Accel. Sequoia would invest a little later. Revenues ramped from $0.5m to $5m to $43m to $170m, and UiPath went public within four years of the Series A investment!

In October 2017, Daniel recalled that UiPath was the #3 player in the RPA market. As they prepared for the next year, the team recognized an opportunity to accelerate go-to-market, be bold, and push ahead. Daniel met with each of his regional leaders, who shared their ‘neck-on-the-line’ numbers for the upcoming year, which summed up to $150m. Daniel realized the opportunity in the market and decided to push the company to stretch for $200m. In 2018, UiPath generated $170m in revenue and became the market leader.

Although Daniel owned the stage during the fireside chat, he shared a story where he urged a partner of UiPath to speak on behalf of UiPath on stage because Daniel was too shy and his English was poor. However, Daniel was not pleased because the partner could not accurately represent UiPath. Daniel realized he had to be the messenger and, as the founder, no one could do it better. He continued to improve his spoken English. Despite his stage fright, he realized fear was in his mind. Through this experience, he became more comfortable and embraced being bold in representing UiPath.

Daniel’s story is similar to many outlier founders. Outlier founders navigate the crucible moments of their lives and companies with boldness. What will you accomplish this coming week, month, and year by moving with boldness, speed, and humility?