Business in the Cloud

Cloud computing creates organizational change, and David Politis 04C leads the way.

By Michelle Valigursky

Story Photo

The BetterCloud team in its Atlanta office in April 2013. The company, headquartered in New York City, now has 40 employees.

In the last five years, cloud computing has truly changed the way organizations run their businesses and more companies realize the benefits associated with the cloud - cost savings, increased storage, the ability to work from anywhere - each day.

Politis

David Politis 04C, Founder and CEO of BetterCloud

For David Politis 04C, who has made his career working in and starting up cloud technology companies, his latest endeavor, BetterCloud, hopes to propel cloud messaging, and particularly Google Apps, to the forefront of the enterprise world.

Google Apps is a cloud messaging and collaboration platform that reportedly serves more than five million organizations around the world. The platform brings organizations and its users added benefits like enhanced productivity and collaboration, the ability to work from anywhere, cost savings, real time software updates and much more. Google Apps is truly giving legacy messaging systems like Microsoft Exchange a run for its money and 20-year reign over the enterprise world. Apps stands to change enterprise computing as we know it and Politis and his team are helping to bring about this change.

But, as with most new technology, there is a caveat. “This very real convenience of working in the cloud raises questions about security, distribution, user permissions, and access,” says Corporate Communications Manager Gail Axelrod 11B. “That’s where BetterCloud comes in. Through our product, FlashPanel, we’ve built an enterprise application that helps IT administrators manage, secure, and report on their Google Apps domains. FlashPanel gives IT admins the ability to see how items are being shared within and outside of their domains, which makes the entire experience of operating in the cloud and on Google Apps more secure.”

BetterCloud officially launched in November 2011 under Politis' leadership and has since raised $7.25 million in venture capital. Investors include Flybridge Capital Partners, Greycroft Partners, TriBeCa Venture Partners and BLH Venture Partners, where Ashish Mistry 98C is a managing partner.

BetterCloud’s flagship product, FlashPanel, uses Google application programming interfaces (APIs) to monitor activity around Google Drive and the rest of the Google Apps suite, while also giving IT administrators the ability to standardize corporate email signatures, set up automatic password resets, and establish a host of other customized settings. BetterCloud has also invested heavily in customer education. Its blog is a leading voice in the Google Apps ecosystem. The company’s Google Apps help site, GoogleGooru.com, receives upwards of 60,000 unique visitors every month.

So how has the market received BetterCloud’s cloud management and security tool? Since FlashPanel's launch in July 2012, the application has been installed by more than 20,000 organizations with more than 11 million end users around the world - 133 countries to be exact - and the customer base grows by 60 companies each day and a million end users every month. “This market is so nascent,” Politis says, “We're reimagining what’s been done in the enterprise world for decades and building that functionality in the cloud. Add-on applications for Windows, Office, Exchange, SharePoint and others enabled the adoption of these products, and now we’re doing that for Google Apps.”

In fact, FlashPanel is the number one ranked tool in its category. Success derives from FlashPanel’s breadth of features and BetterCloud’s commitment to its customers. “We take customer feedback to heart,” says Politis. “We go to great lengths to make sure input from our customers is taken very seriously and we've actually built our roadmap based on feedback from customers. Many enterprise technology companies develop their products in a bubble, but I believe the buyer knows what they want. You just have to listen.”

This feedback has allowed BetterCloud to continually build out FlashPanel. “Our product is getting more robust and we’re continuing to add new features all the time,” Politis says. “We’ve released about ten percent of the features on our long-term roadmap so there’s much more still to come.”

Up until this point, BetterCloud has offered FlashPanel for free, but the company will move to a freemium pricing model beginning this September. The enterprise edition will cost $10 per user per year. “That’s less than $1 per user per month,” notes Politis. Proceeds will be used to fund continued product development and expand teams in BetterCloud’s offices in New York City and Atlanta.

While Politis currently works out of BetterCloud’s headquarters in New York, he makes a monthly trip to work from the company’s office in Buckhead. In fact, Politis’ career started in Atlanta and was propelled early on by his university connections. Many of his most important business and personal relationships (Politis married Jessica Shenfeld 05C this past February) have stemmed from Emory. “I owe everything to opportunities I’ve built because of my Emory roots,” Politis says.

All in the Emory Family

A born and raised New Yorker, Politis came to Emory in 2000, where he was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Politis went on to become president of the fraternity and the IFC judicial chair. While interviewing for positions with investment banks during his senior year, Politis’ Sig Chi brother, Michael Oki 03B, introduced him to Boris Jerkunica 85C 87G, a successful technology entrepreneur who owns the Atlanta Silverbacks and founded ZivVa, an Atlanta startup. A few weeks later, Politis began working as an online marketing assistant at the company.

After working at ZivVa for six months, the company went through a transitional period, pivoting from a consumer-focused startup to an enterprise company. The company first offered consumers virtual international phone numbers that relied on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. With a target market of expats from various countries living in the US, “we realized our addressable market was just too small. The product was a great idea, but we needed wider reach to sustain corporate growth.”

After the pivot, Politis was one of the last people remaining at the company. And six months after graduating from Emory, he was given the opportunity to become the CEO. "I was CEO of a two-person company, but the opportunity and experience I gained through Boris’ mentorship was invaluable.” Once the company started showing some traction, David made his first hire as CEO, a fellow club lacrosse player and friend, Brian Koles 05C.

During the pivot, ZivVa bought Vocalocity, a business-to-business cloud PBX VoIP provider, and in 2006 was rebranded using the Vocalocity name. Between 2006 and 2010, Politis helped what was now Vocalocity raise $20 million in venture capital. “We grew, we built a great team, and today the company is the second largest cloud-PBX vendor in the world. “

In 2010, Politis left Vocalocity to join Cloud Sherpas, an Atlanta-based cloud service brokerage and consultancy focused on Google Apps founded by Michael Cohn 05MBA and Eran Gil 05MBA. While there, Politis helped grow Cloud Sherpas into the industry leader, bringing on a team of interns from Emory University, to bolster the new company. Kate Borger 10C, who had interned for Politis at Vocalocity, and Angela Sun 11B, Politis’ first intern at Cloud Sherpas, later became full time Sherpas employees and remain with the company today.

Though Cloud Sherpas’ brokerage business was thriving, Politis saw potential outside of the company’s core focus and sought to elevate the organization’s software offering, SherpaTools (which had been developed alongside their consulting practice), into a standalone product. To do so, he left Cloud Sherpas to found BetterCloud in late 2011 with the vision of building SherpaTools into a full-fledged management and security tool for Google Apps.

Three months after BetterCloud’s founding, Politis received an email from Cohn and Gil, with whom he remains close. The email was forwarded from Axelrod, who had connected with the Cloud Sherpas’ founders on LinkedIn looking for a career opportunity. Cloud Sherpas, however, was based in Atlanta and Axelrod was looking for a position in New York, where Politis had just founded BetterCloud.

“Michael and Eran passed my information onto David, who reached out to me a day later,” notes Axelrod, “Within a week I was offered and accepted my position at BetterCloud. I was very discouraged by a tough job market when I graduated, but If I hadn’t gone to Emory and made these important connections, I wouldn’t be working with such a great company today,” she says. “Work your Emory network. You never know where one phone call or email might take you.”

Last summer, BetterCloud also hired Stephanie Chan 14C as a marketing intern. Following her time at BetterCloud, Chan went onto found PosterFuse with two fellow Emory students.

Politis, Axelrod and BetterCloud’s ever-expanding team, which now includes 40 members, is dedicated to promoting the Google Apps platform and encouraging more and more organizations to make the move to the cloud. “Our products are helping to propel this cloud revolution and we’re all excited for what’s to come,” remarks Politis.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about BetterCloud, follow the company on Twitter @bettercloud and Google+ at bettercloud.com/plus or visit www.bettercloud.com.

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Michelle Valigursky