Author Archive: Clayton Spivey

March 22, 2012

Building. Business. SoftLayer.

"If you build it, he will come."

I hope I'm not alone as I find myself whispering those words in my head as I read them. If you've seen Field of Dreams*, you know that Kevin Costner mysteriously hears and sees things no one else can see, and he seems like a lunatic when he follows the instructions of his invisible guide. He builds a baseball diamond on his farm land, and famous baseball players like Shoeless Joe Jackson come to play from the afterlife. He took a risk to build something with faith that it would yield results.

It's a lot like the way most visionaries and entrepreneurs take risks to make their marks on the world.

Taking an idea from inception to market is much like building a baseball field in the middle of your farmland. You can factor in all the "knowns" (size, shape, materials, etc.), but in the end, you have to trust that consumers will come. Faith in a product or service drives the concept forward, and second-guessing it or working at it halfheartedly can destroy its slim chance of success. As a company so keenly focused on innovation ourselves, we find that other innovators are drawn to us, and because I've had the unique opportunity to work with many of our extremely successful companies, I thought I'd put together a few simple questions you might ask yourself as you transition from inspiration to action:

  1. Is your idea possible to execute? Will it be easy for the market to understand and adopt?
  2. Are there technologies available to deliver the idea or will you need to build your own?
  3. Are the resources you're using to build the product the best you can leverage?

If you answered, "No," to the first question, you might want to hit the drawing board to come up with a new strategy or approach as you aim to meet the unmet needs of the market. Don't get discouraged at this point ... By spending more time simplifying and clarifying your idea, you're saving an exponentially greater amount of time that you'd waste having to redefine or reposition your product down the road. If you answered, "Yes," move on to Question 2.

Question 2 will start setting a baseline of the amount of effort required to get your idea to a functional state. You might hang on Question 2 for a while as you learn more about available technologies or lay the groundwork for your project, but by doing so, you'll have a more concrete estimate of the timeline you can expect. Once you feel confident and comfortable with the answers to Question 1 and Question 2, the last step you need to take is to Question 3.

Question 3 can be pretty far-reaching — people, technologies and even hardware/software. These are some of the "knowns" that I referenced earlier. Note that "the best you can leverage" is not necessarily going to be "the best available." Startup ideas generally are equipped with startup resources. Cost, expertise and comfort are going to play a huge role in the adoption of resources.

One of the big roadblocks many budding entrepreneurs run into is that they have trouble preparing for success. Build your product with the expectation that it will be successful. Know what you can do to accommodate the spike in demand you'll see when Oprah and Bono give you a shout-out.

SoftLayer has been successful because we did our best to answer with those three questions, and as we continue to grow and succeed, we live and breathe innovation. We'd like to think that we're some of "the crazy ones" Apple referenced in its epic "Think Different" campaign, and we want to empower our customers to be a little crazy themselves.

-Clayton

*If you haven't seen Field of Dreams yet, you should find a way to watch it immediately, if not sooner.

December 27, 2011

186,282.4 Miles Per Second

Let's say there are 2495 miles separating me and the world's foremost authority on orthopedics who lives in Vancouver, Canada. If I needed some medical advice for how to remove a screwdriver from the palm of my hand that was the result of a a Christmas toy with "some assembly required," I'd be pretty happy I live in the year 2011. Here are a few of the communication methods that I may have settled with in years past:

On Foot: The average human walks 3.5 mph sustainable. Using this method it would take a messenger 29.7 days to get a description of the problem and a drawing of the damage to that doctor if the messenger walked non-stop. Because the doctor in this theoretical scenario is the only person on the planet who knows how to perform the screwdriver removal surgery, the doctor would have to accompany the messenger back to Texas, and I am fairly sure by the time they arrived, they'd have to visit a grave with a terrible epitaph like "He got screwed," or they'd find me answering to a crass nickname like "Stumpy."

On Horseback: The average speed of a galloping horse is around 30 mph sustainable, so with the help of a couple equestrian friends, the message could reach the doctor in 3.5 days if the horse were to run the whole journey without stopping, the doctor could saddle up and hit the trail back to Houston, getting here in about 7 days. In that span of time, I'd only be able to wave to him with one hand, given the inevitable amputation.

Via High-Speed Rail: With an average speed of 101 mph, it would take a mere 24.7 hour to get from Houston to Vancouver, so if this means of communication were the only one used, I could have the doctor at my bedside in a little over 48 hours. That turnaround time might mean my hand would be saved, but the delay would still yield a terrible headache and a lot of embarrassment ... Seeing as how a screwdriver in your hand is relatively noticeable at Christmas parties.

Via Commercial Flight: If the message was taken by plane and the doctor returned by plane, the round trip would be around 12.4 hours at an average rate of 400 mph ... I'd only have to endure half a day of mockery.

Via E-mail: With the multimedia capabilities of email, the doctor could be sent a picture of the damage instantly and a surgeon in Houston could be instructed on how to best save my hand. There would be little delay, but there are no guarantees that the stand-in surgeon would be able to correctly execute on the instructions given by this theoretical world's only orthopedic surgeon.

Via Video Chat: In milliseconds, a video connection could be made between the stand-in surgeon and the orthopedic specialist. The specialist could watch and instruct the stand-in surgeon on how to complete the surgery, and I'd be using both hands again by Christmas morning. Technology is also getting to a point where the specialist could perform parts of the surgery remotely ... Let's just hope they use a good network connection on both end since any latency would be pretty significant.

I started thinking about the amazing speed with which we access information when I met with CTO Duke Skarda. He gave a few examples of our customers that piqued his interested, given to the innovative nature of their business, and one in particular made me realize how far we've come when I considered the availability and speed of our access to information:

The company facilitated advertisements on the Internet by customizing the advertising experience to each visitor by auctioning off ad space to companies that fit that particular visitor's profile. In the simplest sense, a website has a blank area for an advertisment, the site sends non-sensitive information about the visitor to an advertising network. The advertising network then distributes that information to multiple advertisers who process it, generate targeted ads and place a bid to "purchase" the space for that visitor. The winner of the auction is determined, and the winner's ad would be populated on the website.

All of this is done in under a second, before the visitor even knows the process took place.

We live in a time of instant access. We are only limited by the speed of light, a blazing 186,282.4 miles/second. That means you could, theoretically, send a message around the world in .03 milliseconds. Businesses use this speed to create and market products and services to the global market, I can't wait to see what tomorrow holds ... Maybe some kind of technology that prevents screwdrivers from piercing hands?

-Clayton

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