A Slice on Charity Majors, Co-Founder and CTO of Honeycomb.io
Charity Majors never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, she “loathed” what she felt were “founder/investor” complexes, the disparity between the founders, and the distribution of wealth. She doesn’t see herself as an “ideas person” but rather an implementer. “You never see opp’s startup founders right? That’s because we’re a very rare breed because mostly we’re like, ‘I’ll make this sh*t work, not ‘I’ve got a cool idea’”.
Majors grew up in Idaho, where she went to college for classical piano…but dropped out not one, not twice, but three times along the way. Post-graduation (and following a boy she had a crush on) she picked up and moved to San Francisco where she linked up with some other Idaho grad’s also living in the area. They lived in a big old mansion where Majors was oftentimes one of 8-15 other tenants. Working at Parse, (mobile backend as a service) Majors was an infrastructure engineer where she grew ideas into tech and into a team. “Parse was ahead of its time in a lot of ways, technologically, we were doing microservices, we were doing a lot of really complex platform stuff, we were heads down all the time. It was really frustrating, I tried every monitoring tool out there and every logging tool and they were all really good at answering questions you knew how to ask and finding things you knew to search for, but when it’s a different problem every time, they’re useless.”
Parse was eventually acquired by Facebook, an event that caused Majors to feel a glimmer of light. She was now able to work with a tool called Scuba, though it was cumbersome and “ugly” Majors was impressed by how effectively it allowed her to work. The tool was allowing her to cut down work that previously took her hours or days, into sheer minutes. It wasn’t until Majors was leaving Facebook that she realized she had become reliant on the stuff they had built, and the tools in place, and felt she “didn’t know how to engineer anymore”. Her plan was to transition to an engineering manager role somewhere, but in doing so, she realized for the first time in her career that she had “pedigree” now from working at Facebook.
Majors’ plan was to take the money, build the tool, and fail until she made it. Perhaps unlike other early-stage founders, Majors had a clear vision in mind of what needed to be built. The tool is called Honeycomb.io it allows its users to quickly drill down and troubleshoot an individual’s user experience, eliminating guesswork.“We had to start from scratch, which took like a year and a half, during which time, no users were using it. The first year, writing the storage engine, that’s what everybody thought would be the hard part, but really the hardest part was trying to figure out how to talk about what we were doing. We were doing something very discontinuous and different.
From her operational and engineering background, fundraising posed to be a challenge for Majors and Honeycomb.io. After some early investors that didn’t pan out, Majors, now a few years removed from that initial fundraising stage, looks back with some clarity on why those years were so tough for her. “I was diagnosed just last year with ADHD, which in retrospect, explains a lot about why those years were so painful for me. It took me six or seven years to work out (unknowingly) how to survive and thrive as an engineer with ADHD, but I figured it out. I started being a CEO and suddenly, none of my systems work, and I couldn’t focus on anything and everything was so stressful.”
Happier now, in a much better place, and enjoying her role as CTO, she has a piece of advice for fledgling entrepreneurs: “Don’t do it. People glamorize it and there’s a lot of survivor bias going on and there’s a lot of very confident advice that people give you, which just basically boils down, ‘it worked for me.’ I think there’s so much glamorization, and people focus on the success stories and the wealth and everything, but most startups I know are really miserable. You really have to believe in what you’re doing.”