Unexpected Google admins: Sunil Dhaliwal, Founder & General Partner at Amplify Partners
Welcome to our series on unexpected Google Workspace admins. Like many of you who have built startups, I expected to do the things I’ve done before and many things that were new. I expected to be a product manager, technical contributor, writer, and in charge of finance and HR. I also expected to be a janitor, but I did not expect to be a Google Workspace admin!
As I’ve discovered, my story is not entirely unusual. Lots of other founders have become unexpected admins. In this series, I’ll interview them and let each tell us what happened, what they learned, and what they’d recommend to new founders.
Our first unexpected admin is Sunil Dhaliwal, YeshID’s lead investor through his company Amplify Partners. Sunil and I were chatting on the phone about a month ago and he started telling me about how HE was a Google admin back when starting a company. His stories were funny, familiar, and helpful. So we wanted to make it the first in our series.
Tell me about your role and your company.
I am the founder and general partner of Amplify Partners. We are a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups working in the technology sector, with a focus on companies that are leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other advanced technologies to build innovative solutions in developer tools, computing infrastructure, and cybersecurity. We have 22 employees.
How and when did you become the Google Workspace administrator?
Ok, it is story time, isn’t it? When I started Amplify, I was using my personal Gmail address. One of my good friends said to me, “That's low rent. You're going to go out and raise money for a fund. You’d better get a domain.” So, I upgraded and bought a domain. I went with Google because I was familiar with it and it was easy enough to set up on my own. It was G Suite at the time. And from that moment, I was the Google super admin. I didn’t even know what that meant. But it doesn’t really matter when you are employee #1. I was happy I had an email that worked.
Then I hired my first employee. From the moment that happened, I was like “wait - what the hell is this thing that I’ve got to set up?” So, in addition to starting a business, investing money, managing a portfolio of companies, and trying to raise my own capital, I had to play Google admin.
How long did you hold this role?
Embarrassingly, it was probably five years. In that time, we went from 1 person to 10 people. But once you're at 10 people, you have over 20 email aliases.
Early on, the only thing I needed to do was provisioning. People came and went so infrequently that it wasn't a big deal. But over time we reached a point where I looked in Google Workspace and I was like, “Who are all these email addresses and what are all these applications?” At that point I realized, we need a centralized IT/security function. I should not have still been running IT in any way, shape, or form.
What is the strangest thing you encountered using Google Workspace? Or funny mishaps you want to share?
A major part of our job is to meet tech companies that are developing interesting tools. And of course, we want to try them out. Often these apps and services ask for permission to access Google.
I did not want to be in the business of governing the IT habits of a small handful of employees. I trusted our team to be smart, use discretion, and stay on top of what applications were connecting into our G Suite. I didn’t require any admin approvals. I just let them go off and do what they needed to do.
I remember the day I logged in to Google Workspace and saw 35 apps that I had never heard of that all had access to our systems. Many of these companies weren't even in existence anymore. Immediately I was on the phone with my team saying, “I am disconnecting this thing,” and “do we need this anymore?” I got us down to 5 applications.
Did you ever find active accounts for users that did not exist or had left the company?
Definitely. I have had those moments where I’ve wondered, “Who is that person?”
And we are a small company!
Inevitably, someone would remind me – remember they were contracting for a while, or they helped us with an event, or they were an intern who worked for us for a summer. Our Google Workspace became this little time capsule of people who had come and gone at Amplify.
I still log into Google Workspace maybe once every 6 months and am still like, “Why does this email exist?” So I have to ask the IT folks to go through and clean up. In the past 2 years, we put a process in place where we have a person responsible for offboarding accounts when needed.
How do you think about security at your company?
We are a very asset-light company. We don’t store data locally. We use a handful of business apps that are all cloud-based. We don’t build or run a large number of IT applications. We’re a collection of identities and cloud accounts that contain data.
We are 100% focused on identity. It is our number #1 entry point. Like many other cloud-first companies, I care more about identity & credentials than device compromise or intrusion. That is the core of what we think about.
What is one thing you wish you had set up / known earlier in your career as an Unexpected Google Workspace admin?
Don’t be in the business of administering IT if you are running a company. It isn’t a good use of your time. If you are getting dragged into these details as a founder, it will eventually be a problem.
Turn on 2-factor auth for everything. It's just good hygiene. Make it required. Don’t ask for your employee’s opinions about it, and ignore how much they howl about it. If you train them, they will use it.