Author Archive: George Karidis

April 3, 2008

Lemonade Stands in an Internet Age

To borrow a phrase from my favorite movie from the time period in question… a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... budding entrepreneurs had a few options for starting a business. Our options back then were pretty simple:

  • Newspaper Route
  • Collecting Pop bottles – if you don’t remember bottles made out of glass, don’t worry about trying to understand this one.
  • Lemonade Stand

Lucky for me, I grew up in a family business and did not have to worry about starting a business since I had one already – I was head dishwasher! Aside from that, my biggest concern was what bait to use to catch the bass that hid under the dock near our restaurant and when the parking lot would empty out so we could play baseball under the street lights. Of course, I did wash my share of dishes and bus an equal share of tables over a 13 year period. Still, life was pretty simple back then. Comics were $0.25, a pack of gum was $0.10, and you could go to a movie and have a drink and popcorn for about $3.00. A former colleague of mine would fondly refer to these as the salad days. But, times have changed… a movie is easily $20 and I am not sure any comics exist under $3.00. There are also very different “start-up” options available to the current generation of 10 year old entrepreneurs. Mom and Dad may still be out there shuttling kids around in the rain to deliver newspapers, or carving up and decorating an old box to sell lemonade (I did that too, but that was to raise money for Jerry’s Kids) to people wandering past a sidewalk-based store front, but I doubt it. I can’t in fact remember the last time that I saw anyone undertaking such a venture. Instead, it seems that this generation has fully grasped the value of the Internet. Whether it is our youngest blog contributor, or our youngest customer – a 13 year old web host who’s Mom did her part by setting up a PayPal account for him to run his new business. Not to be outdone, we have a slightly older generation of entrepreneurs that have taken inspiration from a number of areas, including turning hobbies into viable businesses. Take a look at www.mmoguildsites.com as an example.

The mantra at SoftLayer has always been to enable business through innovation and by empowering the customer with our delivery of Serverless IT to businesses everywhere. But, I am not sure that any of us ever envisioned the impact that this approach and vision would have. Who knows, we might be helping to stimulate the ideas that could lead to the next Microsoft, Google, or Apple.

So, here’s to entrepreneurial spirit at any age! And if you are one of those young entrepreneurs out there, best of luck and please continue to create new ideas. We are all relying on you. SoftLayer will continue to do its part to help you make your ideas real.

-@gkdog

March 13, 2008

Marketing 101: Defining the Customer

As I have started to settle into my new role with SoftLayer, we have spent a lot of time meeting with various vendors and partners to discuss our overall vision and plan for 2008. In almost every one of those meetings we get to the same question: "What does a typical SoftLayer customer look like?" Or, the other version of that: "What is SoftLayer’s target customer?"

You would think this should be an easy question to answer. After all, we have over 4,500 loyal customers that rely on us each and every day to deliver on-demand, world class IT infrastructure. Surely, there must be some common thread among these customers. Being responsible for "Strategy & Marketing" I decided to look into this to come up with a standard reply to that question. The standard ways to do this from a marketing text book (i.e. "in theory") perspective include:

  • Industry – financial, manufacturing, retail, distribution, etc.
  • Geography – typically regions within a country, or countries themselves
  • Customer Size – normally based on revenue or employees
  • "Retail" or "Wholesale" – are we selling to the final consumer of our products or to a reseller

The next step -- look at our customer database and start to build up a profile based on those criteria. A relatively simple process, but the problem we found was that the four metrics above did not adequately define any of our customers. Some examples:

  • Industry -- we serve all possible combinations of traditional and new industry classifications; from large manufacturing, to Web 2.0 start ups and no single segment is more than 5% of our business
  • Geography – we have customers in over 100 countries. Even in the US our customers come from every corner and every state in the country
  • Customer Size – 1 employee to 50,000+ employees and everything in between; $0 in revenue to $10 billion and more
  • Retail and Wholesale – almost an even split between the two groups

Being inquisitive by nature, I could not let this end with an answer like: "we have a very diverse set of customers that represent all industries, all geographies, and all customer size categories." It did lead me down a path to start asking customers some questions like:

  • Is IT infrastructure a critical component of your business?
  • Do you need highly scalable IT to adjust for seasonality or growth in your business?
  • Do you want a simple and flexible management tool to allow complete control of your data center infrastructure?
  • Are enterprise grade solutions of value to your business, but something you cannot afford?
  • Are you looking for innovative solutions to help drive your business forward?
  • Do you value standards based processes and controls?

To steal a quote from a very, very distant relative... Eureka! While this might not be as significant a discovery as the wheel, fire, or the Archimedes' screw, it did finally bring some clarity to our little customer debate. The vast majority of our customers answered "yes" to many or all of those questions. It also led me to understand what our customers do not want from us:

  • Specialized application support
  • Highly custom solutions that scale poorly
  • Up-front fees and long term contract commitments

The net result is that our customers are segmented very differently than traditional methods would suggest. They are clustered around a common need that spans across all demographics. The customers that come to us are looking for a very special thing – the SoftLayer approach to IT management. If you belong to a company that can resonate with the questions above, you have come to the right place.

-@gkdog

February 5, 2008

A Look Back Before Moving Forward and the Phenomenon of "_aaS"

Hi! I'm George, one of the newest additions to the SoftLayer team. I joined the company for a few reasons:

  1. The People - one of the best teams that I have ever met, and now, have the pleasure of working with
  2. Vision - as someone recently said, how often do you get a chance for a "do over" without being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?
  3. Industry - how cool is it to be able to play with new technology and help shape the way people will do business
  4. Acronyms and Buzzwords - as anyone that has worked in the telecom or technology industries can attest, this is the best place to be if you want to assemble new words based simply on the first letter of each.

Even before the Internet, (did that time really exist?), telecom hardware vendors, service providers and others in this little universe loved to create acronyms to make technology sound complicated. And of course, it created employment for thousands of people, which according to many of those techies, offered no real value, to help translate all of this into something that the consumer and investment community would buy... Welcome to the world of marketing in the Internet Age!

One thing that all of these people that came to be known as "Gurus" or an even buzzier buzzword - Evangelists - learned was to standardize on at least part of the acronym. Out of this concept was born:

  • _AN (G, L, M, S, W)
  • _EO (G, L, VL, S)
  • _DSL (H, A, S, V)
  • _SP (A, M, S)
  • _2_ (B2B, B2C, P2P, M2M)

And each of these led to spin-off acronyms, like DSLAM, FRAD, ATM (the network not the cash machine), and my favorite - BE - which said a lot about what we were all doing back then. Acronyms became the patents of the original dot.com era (which we did not actually call Web 1.0, but more on that later). Of course, we also learned different naming systems and adjusted the English language to suit this purpose. Capitalization rules were thrown out along with the baby and bathwater. Capitals now appeared in the middle of all company names (yes, we even did it here...) and products thanks to another phenomenon of the era - the mandatory use of compound words.

Best of all, the digital age gave birth to an industry designed to make all of us look like techies - the acronym dictionary. Many of the generation that graduated into the telecom and Internet revolution of the early 1990s (including yours truly) built careers on the ability to string acronyms together to define the future of networking and ultimately, life. The common toolkit for all of us: Newton's Telecom Dictionary and a fluffy cloud graphic from the MS Office clip art files - that was generally used by "advanced" gurus and not something to be thrown around by anyone with less than 12 months of experience in the dot.com trenches.

The web generation also taught the masses about versions and a fundamental rule in software: avoid buying version 1.0 and never launch a product called version 0. Even the web generation of telecom -mobile carriers - figured this one out. 3G has long been touted as the utopia of communications, but we had to get through 2.5G first. Never mind that v1 and v2 seemed to actually work. Thus, versioning took its rightful place at the left-hand of acronyms.
Jumping ahead a decade or so, we are now firmly in the grips of Web 2.0 and a new set of buzzwords and acronyms. If you don't have an avatar living on a virtual street in a virtual world that spends virtual time stuck in virtual traffic driving to a virtual job, you probably are like me - part of the 1.0 generation. I too used an Apple IIe in school, but for me it was grade 10, not grade 1! And then there was the Newton which did not exactly fit into a palm, but that story will have to wait...

Like all things, buzzwords and acronyms have evolved as well. We are now using words like "grid", "utility" and "always on" to reflect the way we are connected and work. And of course we all need to be Irish for more than 1 day per year. Don't get me wrong. SoftLayer agrees that green is good. We have turned our facilities green in search of the "green". Basically, we believe the best way to help our customers with access to technology on a real-time basis is by being as operationally efficient as possible. So, we have forced ourselves to be "green" in everything that we do. But, I digress...

My favorite current acronym root is "_aaS". We can thank the failure of ASP (part of Web 1.5) and its lesser known cousin - AIP - to catch on for this latest iteration. The good news is that almost everything that we can think of can be called an "X as a Service". Our internal top 10 list includes:

  • Architecture as a Service
  • Communication as a Service
  • Data Center as a Service
  • Hardware as a Service
  • Network as a Service
  • Platform as a Service
  • Software as a Service
  • Storage as a Service
  • Virtualization as a Service
  • Widgets as a Service (the favorite of our Starbucks fan)

But, don't take my word for it. Whatever as a Service will be hard to avoid. Now that I think of it, MaaS (Monster as a Service) might be a big money maker around here.

I know we would all like to see Service as a Service, but that may need to wait until Web 4.0 when we have all been virtualized. Personally, I can't wait to see what comes next. Given our place in the universe, I think that SoftLayer will have some influence and that's why I'm here...

-@gkdog

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