By Peter High. Published on Forbes
Stephen Gillett has had a remarkable career for someone as young as he is. At 42, he has been the CIO and General Manager of Digital Ventures at Starbucks, the President of Digital, Marketing, and Operations at Best Buy, and the Chief Operating Officer of Symantec. In 2015, after Symentec was split into two companies, Gillett exited. Soon thereafter, he joined Google Ventures (now known as GV) as an Executive-in-Residence. He would eventually join Alphabet’s “Moonshot Factory” X (formerly Google X), and it was during his time there that the idea for Chronicle arose.
Chronicle is still largely in stealth mode, but Gillett took time to speak with me about his vision for the company, its progress in garnering customers, the process of graduating from X, and the advantages of growing a business within Alphabet as opposed to seeking funding from more traditional venture capital.
Peter High: When we last spoke, you were transitioning from your role as Chief Operating Officer of Symantec to Executive-in-Residence at GV [formerly Google Ventures]. You transitioned to X [formerly Google X], and in recent months, an idea that you have been pursuing, called Chronicle, was graduated from X. Can you talk about the genesis of Chronicle?
Stephen Gillett: First, let me provide some background. While at GV, as I met with entrepreneurs and talked to various categories that GV was making investments in, my goal was eventually to go to a startup having spent the last few years at bigger companies.
In 2015, while I was learning and understanding everything that Google was working on, Alphabet, the parent company, was taking shape. It gave me an opportunity to meet and talk to several of the now Alphabet leaders, at Google, Google X, and Google Ventures to understand what their future paths were.
In that tour of the new Alphabet, I learned about what X’s mission was, their concept of moonshot thinking, and how the “moonshot factory” worked. Rather than joining a startup that Google Ventures was funding, I pivoted and started to work within the X structure to figure out if there was a startup or a moonshot category that I felt compelled to work on. I realized that X was a great platform to achieve my goals, and I could get the support and the access to the resources I needed. That is how I landed at X.
High: Can you talk about the process as you were searching for that category? What was the process of elimination or inclusion? I would also be interested in the inner workings of X, such as how people work together across the organization.
Gillett: I knew one of the categories would be enterprise security, but I was not sure that this was the right place or the platform. X had been experimenting and looking at cybersecurity as a category before my arrival. When I got here, the question X was asking was, “Is this a problem worthy of the mission of X?” Which is to build moonshots, to create radical new solutions, and to touch a billion lives around the world. That is X’s broad framework.
X is not here to create widgets or a new point product. They are tasked with thinking about big problems facing humanity at large. I have spent over 20 years in IT, starting off on the help desk and working my way up to be CIO. Every year, security became a bigger and more important part of what I was doing in technology. Having spent a few years with Symantec – at the time, the world’s largest cybersecurity company – and dealing with the customer needs globally that they were facing, it quickly became apparent that cybersecurity was worthy of moonshot thinking.
X and Alphabet was a great place for us to focus on that because of the resources, thinking, and capabilities you need are not conducive to a quarterly earnings call or having to raise a round of funding. You can focus on long-term problems and assemble the best teams and the best technology to go after that by getting the permission to be curious and think about it at a huge scale. I do not believe there was a better place to start this than at X.
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