customer-service

January 6, 2015

Three Ways to Enhance Your SoftLayer Portal Account Security

We’ve recently discussed how to craft strong passwords and offered advice on choosing a password manager, but we haven’t yet touched on multi-factor authentication (MFA), which has been available to our customers for many years now.

What is MFA?
MFA is another line of defense for securing your user accounts within the customer portal. The concept behind MFA is simple: Users present two (or more) ways to authenticate themselves by providing something known such as a user name and password and providing something possessed such as a one-time password generated by a device or software application.
Why is MFA important?
Keeping passwords secure has always been a moving target. While you can train staff and enforce complex password policies, it’s difficult to prevent users from writing passwords down, saving them to files, or sharing them with others. By adding MFA, simply having a user password doesn't grant access to the resource. A user will need the user password in addition to a MFA token device, smartphone, or application.
What MFA options are available at SoftLayer?
SoftLayer offers three MFA methods to enhance portal account security:
Symantec Validation and ID Protection (VIP) – After downloading this app to a smartphone, when accessed, it will generate a one-time password. This product can be used to securely access the SoftLayer portal. The app is $3 a month per user.

PhoneFactor – A unique system where a one-time password is texted to a mobile phone. Users also have the option of receiving a phone call to input a PIN before receiving a one-time password. This can be used to access the portal as well as the SoftLayer SSL VPN. PhoneFactor costs $10 a month per user.

Google Authenticator – Another smartphone application with generated one-time passwords, can also be used to securely access the SoftLayer portal. This can be added for any user on an account free of charge.

Quickly Add MFA to SoftLayer Portal Users Today
It’s easy to add any of these MFA services to portal user accounts.

To add Symantec VIP or PhoneFactor:
  1. Log in to SoftLayer portal as the master user.
  2. Under the Account Tab click on Users.
  3. In the right hand column for each user, click the Actions icon and select Add External Authentication. You’ll then be able to subscribe to Symantec or PhoneFactor for that user.
To add Google Authenticator:
  1. Log in to SoftLayer portal as the master user.
  2. From the Accounts dropdown menu, select Users and then select your user account name.
  3. Scroll down and click the link to Add Google Authenticator to your account.
  4. From there, just snap the QR code with your GA application and you’re all set. The next time you log in you’ll be prompted to enter your authentication code after entering your username and password.

Any of these three MFA solutions will help ensure that your portal user accounts are secure, are easy to set up, and quick to install. Feel free to reach out if you have any suggestions or questions about MFA with SoftLayer.

- Seth

Categories: 
December 31, 2014

SoftLayer Asia Roadshow 2014 ends with a sprint across Greater China

As 2014 draws to an end, so does the nine-city SoftLayer Asia Roadshow. We concluded our GCG chapter in Taipei on December 18, and I was thrilled to see guests coming to our customer meetups and workshops to learn and share experiences. This tour has helped us get closer to our clients and get a better understanding of the local market challenges and expectations.

Mic Kwok and William Lim, our in-house experts and local leads for the Roadshow in GCG, presented and shared unique SoftLayer solutions and advantages and industry success stories with start-ups, developers, and entrepreneurs. They also led interactive sessions where we had in-depth conversations, like the Bare-feet, Bare Metal workshop held at PicCollage.

We’d like to send a great big shout out to the speakers and our attendees for making the event such a success.

I had a chance to talk to iTaiwan Consultancy and Herxun Inc. during the workshop and customer meetups. It was great to hear positive feedback on the SoftLayer Roadshow initiative and SoftLayer services.

“[SoftLayer's] monthly bandwidth package provides us with more buffer to deal with potential DDoS attacks. Unlike other cloud solution providers, SoftLayer charges a standard monthly fee without additional bandwidth usage billing. This eliminates unexpected bandwidth charges when a hacking situation arises. I chose SoftLayer for a client of mine who’s a famous local opinion leader to prevent unexpected billing if any hacking.”
Tommy Lee, Founder of iTaiwan Consultancy Co., Ltd

“SoftLayer data center service, charged by hour, pay by usage, is a great option for start-ups! With [SoftLayer’s] flexible solutions, it allows us to test in all sorts of creative formats, which accelerates time to market of our new product/services.”
Brian Chen, CEO and Co-Founder of Herxun Inc.

While in Taipei, we also met with local start-ups and SMBs at the Asia BEAT 2014. SoftLayer’s Allen Poon, Angus Ip and William Lim held a dedicated workshop for the event attendees. What stood out for us was the deep-dive discussions and cross-questioning from the attendees that made the session so much livelier.

Although it was a fun and stressful couple of months of planning and executing, time flew by. While I am looking forward to recharging over the holidays, I am also super pumped for 2015. As you have probably heard, we launched three new data centers (Tokyo, Mexico City, and Frankfurt) in December with more to come in 2015. And there are a lot of new activities planned in the new year, especially in Greater China, so stay tuned!

‘Til then, wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a new year full of peace and happiness!

- Winifred (stay connected via LinkedIn)

December 30, 2014

Three data centers. One week.

Launching back-to-back data centers across the world in less than 24 hours is easier said than done. Launching three sites over the Christmas holiday, well, that’s just a Christmas miracle (and a lot of hard work).

That’s right. If you haven’t been keeping count, we’ve opened three data centers in the last seven days! Tokyo and Mexico City went live last week on December 22, and Frankfurt started accepting orders on December 29.



As you can imagine, the development and operations teams have been working around the clock to get these three new data centers up and running. “The Go Live Team has been working until two, three, four in the morning, and they are all working through their vacations to make sure we meet our deadlines,” says Scott Kennedy, project manager.

As soon as the lease is signed on the data center space, and SoftLayer moves into the operational state, Kennedy takes over. From Dallas, he coordinates all the moving pieces, from equipment to personnel. The Go Live Team arrives one month before launch to start setting up shop. Then a week later, the network team (mostly Houston-based SLayers) arrives to set up the cabling for the network devices.

Everything is tested, tested again, and tested a third time to make sure we're ready for the first day of service. (About two weeks prior to the Tokyo and Mexico City launches, emails about this test being enabled or that test being completed began filling my inbox.)

All Systems Go

Kennedy says the key to the successful launches has been communication and the SLayers’ hard work. And it shows—orders started rolling in the moment the TOK02 option became available on the order form. This just proves how necessary expansion is to meeting our customers’ needs. Each new data center helps provide better performance, flexibility, and control closer to where our customers need it. And because these data centers are the first in their respective countries, those needing to compute and store sensitive data required to remain in Mexico, Japan, or Germany can now do so.

Please join us in welcoming Tokyo, Mexico City, and Frankfurt to the SoftLayer family.

-JRL

Categories: 
December 24, 2014

Holiday Traditions

Whether you believe in Santa Claus or not, there’s just something about this time of year that makes us giddy for tradition. For me the holiday season isn’t complete until I’ve watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Watching their “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” turn into a “full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency” has turned into a yearly tradition that helps make my in-laws (and my family for that matter) seem just a little bit more jolly to be around this time of year—who doesn’t have an Aunt Bethany or Cousin Eddie hiding in their family tree somewhere?

We didn’t create a new holiday song this year (we’ve been busy opening data centers!), so we’re presenting our 12 Days of Christmas rendition again. Between decking the halls and dashing through the snow, we’d like to invite you to add a new tradition to your cloud holiday season.

Enjoy.

-JRL

December 19, 2014

Improving Communications for Customer-Affecting Planned Events

Since posting Improving Communications for Customer-Affecting Events, our developers have been hard at work making the SoftLayer customer portal even better. Initially, as discussed in the previous post, we released functionality that allows us to more rapidly communicate with customers about unplanned events such as infrastructure troubles or outages. The tool also allows customers to read and follow updates. Communications are targeted to specific customers who may experience degradation of disruption to their services as a result of these events.

I’m pleased to report a new major milestone: The system is now ready to distribute planned events communications such as scheduled maintenance.

Until now, SoftLayer used read-only tickets as the method to post targeted communications to customers about upcoming planned events. Here are some of the customer benefits from moving to the Event Management System (planned events; unplanned events) within the customer portal:

  • With the mass ticket creation, only the master user account received email alerts. Now, any portal user account with a valid email address and permission to manage bare metal servers or virtual servers are now subscribed to receive the new planned event notifications.
  • Events are clearly organized in their own area in the portal—separate from tickets. The overview list shows relevant columns such as planned start and end times.
  • Customers only receive notifications relevant to their infrastructure.
  • The portal and email notifications will include a table listing which items on your account may be affected.
  • An alert bar will appear at the top of the customer portal if there is an active event in progress, which helps customers quickly find relevant information about any service impact.
  • A notification will be shown in the customer portal if customers open a ticket about a bare metal server or virtual server that is associated with an event in progress.
  • SoftLayer operational staff can rapidly post important updates to events as they arise.

No additional customer action is required in order to benefit from these improvements. However, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the Events view, which can be found under Support > Events.

When we publish information about a planned event that may affect your service, it will appear highlighted on the calendar. Customers can click directly on the date in the calendar to see an event planned for that day.

As mentioned previously, all users are subscribed by default to receive planned event email notifications. You may opt out of these notifications in the Account > Subscriptions dropdown menu.

We’ve already begun to use the new Event Management System for planned events as of December 2014. By the end of January 2015, we will cease using the system which opens up read-only tickets and exclusively use the Event Management System for future planned events.

Please take some time to familiarize yourself with this area of the customer portal, ensure that you have a valid email address associated with your login, and check your subscription settings for planned and unplanned events. Additionally please note that the Master User, as well as accounts that administer customer logins, can control subscription settings for their respective sub-users.

During the next phase of improvements to customer communications, our developers will be focusing on implementing these events in the SoftLayer mobile (smartphone/tablet) client.

Stay tuned for further updates as this work continues.

-Dani

December 17, 2014

Does physical location matter “in the cloud”?

By now everyone understands that the cloud is indeed a place on Earth, but there still seems to be confusion around why global expansion by way of adding data centers is such a big deal. After all, if data is stored “in the cloud,” why wouldn’t adding more servers in our existing data centers suffice? Well, there’s a much more significant reason for adding more data centers than just being able to host more data.

As we’ve explained in previous blog posts, Globalization and Hosting: The World Wide Web is Flat and Global Network: The Proof is in the Traceroute, our strategic objective is to get a network point of presence (PoP) within 40ms of all our users (and our users' users) in order to provide the best network stability and performance possible anywhere on the planet.

Data can travel across the Internet quickly, but just like anything, the farther something has to go, the longer it will take to get there. Seems pretty logical right? But we also need to take into account that not all routes are created equally. So to deliver the best network performance, we designed our global network to get data to the closest route possible to our network. Think of each SoftLayer PoP as an on-ramp to our global network backbone. The sooner a user is able to get onto our network, the quicker we can efficiently route them through our PoPs to a server in one of our data centers. Furthermore, once plugged into the network, we are able to control the flow of traffic.

Let’s take a look at this traceroute example from the abovementioned blog post. As you are probably aware, a traceroute shows the "hops" or routers along the network path from an origin IP to a destination IP. When we were building out the Singapore data center (before the network points of presence were turned up in Asia), the author ran a traceroute from Singapore to SoftLayer.com, and immediately after the launch of the data center, ran another one.

Pre-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  10.151.60.1 (10.151.60.1)  1.884 ms  1.089 ms  1.569 ms
 2  10.151.50.11 (10.151.50.11)  2.006 ms  1.669 ms  1.753 ms
 3  119.75.13.65 (119.75.13.65)  3.380 ms  3.388 ms  4.344 ms
 4  58.185.229.69 (58.185.229.69)  3.684 ms  3.348 ms  3.919 ms
 5  165.21.255.37 (165.21.255.37)  9.002 ms  3.516 ms  4.228 ms
 6  165.21.12.4 (165.21.12.4)  3.716 ms  3.965 ms  5.663 ms
 7  203.208.190.21 (203.208.190.21)  4.442 ms  4.117 ms  4.967 ms
 8  203.208.153.241 (203.208.153.241)  6.807 ms  55.288 ms  56.211 ms
 9  so-2-0-3-0.laxow-cr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.238)  187.953 ms  188.447 ms  187.809 ms
10  ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  184.143 ms
    ge-4-1-1-0.sngc3-dr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.138)  189.510 ms
    ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  289.039 ms
11  203.208.171.98 (203.208.171.98)  187.645 ms  188.700 ms  187.912 ms
12  te1-6.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (66.109.11.42)  186.482 ms  188.265 ms  187.021 ms
13  ae7.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.166)  188.569 ms  191.100 ms  188.736 ms
14  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  381.645 ms  410.052 ms  420.311 ms
15  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  415.379 ms  415.902 ms  418.339 ms
16  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  417.426 ms  417.301 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  416.692 ms
17  * * *

Post-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  192.168.206.1 (192.168.206.1)  2.850 ms  1.409 ms  1.206 ms
 2  174.133.118.65-static.reverse.networklayer.com (174.133.118.65)  1.550 ms  1.680 ms  1.394 ms
 3  ae4.dar01.sr03.sng01.networklayer.com (174.133.118.136)  1.812 ms  1.341 ms  1.734 ms
 4  ae9.bbr01.eq01.sng02.networklayer.com (50.97.18.198)  35.550 ms  1.999 ms  2.124 ms
 5  50.97.18.169-static.reverse.softlayer.com (50.97.18.169)  174.726 ms  175.484 ms  175.491 ms
 6  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  203.821 ms  203.749 ms  205.803 ms
 7  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.253)  306.755 ms
    ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  208.669 ms  203.127 ms
 8  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  203.518 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  305.534 ms
    po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  204.150 ms
 9  * * *

After the Singapore data center launch, the number of hops was reduced by 50 percent, and the response time (in milliseconds) was reduced by 40 percent. Those are pretty impressive numbers from just lighting up a couple PoPs and a data center, and that was just the beginning of our global expansion in 2012.

That’s why we are so excited to announce the three new data centers launching this month: Mexico City, Tokyo, and Frankfurt.



Of course, this is great news for customers who require data residency in Mexico, Japan, and Germany. And yes, these new locations provide additional in-region redundancy within APAC, EMEA, and the Americas. But even customers without servers in these new facilities have reason to celebrate: Our global network backbone is expanding, so users in these markets will see even better network stability and speed to servers in every other SoftLayer data center around the world!

-JRL

December 15, 2014

SoftLayer in 2014

As 2014 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on another exciting year: our proudest moments, smartest innovations, and continued growth. It’s been an incredible year being part of IBM, and we continue to broaden our reach while adding new capabilities to our portfolio of cloud services.

SoftLayer’s IaaS platform has become the centerpiece of IBM’s cloud portfolio, providing a scalable, secure base for the global delivery of IBM’s cloud services, spanning extensive middleware and SaaS solutions. IBM has either built or bought 100 cloud properties over the last five years, and SoftLayer is the foundation or the piece that brings it all together.

Expanding our Global Footprint
In January, IBM announced its $1.2 billion commitment to expand its global cloud footprint, including plans to open 15 new SoftLayer data centers. Our first data center to open in 2014 was in Hong Kong, followed by London, Toronto, Melbourne, and Paris, with more to follow. We also launched two data centers for U.S. government workloads in Ashburn, Virginia and one in Dallas, Texas. These data centers are reserved for government customers and will be certified for U.S. Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) and Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliance.

With our new international facilities, we’ve tripled our footprint in Europe and Asia. Expanding our physical presence in these geographies gives our customers SoftLayer solutions for workloads and data that need to remain local, while providing additional data redundancy options within key regions around the world. With our data centers and points of presence (PoPs) combined, SoftLayer is on track for world domination.

Read more:
+IBM Commits $1.2 Billion to Expand Global Cloud Footprint

Hourly Bare Metal
Our bare metal cloud differentiates us by providing an ideal solution for the toughest workloads in the cloud, including big data and analytics that require high performance. For more than 10 years, we’ve been refining, pioneering, and innovating our bare metal cloud. This year we unveiled a new offering: new bare metal servers that are deployed in less than 30 minutes and billed by the hour. These hourly bare metal servers provide the raw performance of physical servers with shorter commitments, making it easier than ever to deploy computing-intensive workloads on SoftLayer at will.

Read more:
+Hourly Bare Metal

Growth
In 2014, we’ve continued to experience incredible growth. Since being acquired by IBM, SoftLayer has added thousands of new customers at an average rate of 1,000 new accounts per month. To match our aggressive business growth, our employee base is expanding as well.

“We expected to almost double this year, and to almost double again next year," said SoftLayer COO Francisco Romero. “In Dallas, SoftLayer expects to hire workers to fill 250 new jobs by the end of 2015.”

In order to accommodate our growing employee population, we’ll be relocating our Dallas headquarters to a new space early next year.

We look forward to serving you from our new address, 14001 North Dallas Parkway.

Read more:
+SoftLayer to Double Its Dallas Headquarters

-@quigleymar

December 12, 2014

Asia Startup Series: Event Planning Goes the Way of the Cloud

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines

A key driver behind any startup looking to score funding from these big boys is the ability to handle unpredictable growth and achieve scale rapidly. Over the next few months, we’ll take a look at how we are helping our startup customers grow, scale, and succeed in Asia.

Drawing Board Events
It is hard and stressful planning a party for someone else’s big day. Birthday parties, wedding showers, and retirement parties take a lot of planning and attention to detail. The corporate world has its own set of events and challenges. That's why when I met Terence Woo at one of the startup meet-ups recently, his new venture, Drawing Board Events, made me sit up and say, “Now, that's what I need.”

After sifting online through vendor after vendor for his own wedding and calling each individually, Terence had a brilliant idea. Two years later, alongside co-founder, Samuel Stacey, he created a one-stop shop where users can browse user-reviewed vendors by categories: venues, décor, flowers, photography, cakes, and so on. After completing a quick five-minute event detail eform, users can simply click on “request quote” from as many vendors as they like. Vendors receive the request, and then quotes are emailed back—saving users the hours spent calling different vendors and providing the details over and over again.

According to Terence, right from the onset, Drawing Board Events decided to go the way of the cloud. There was no question that to achieve scale they needed a strong, reliable and flexible infrastructure. I asked him to give me three reasons why cloud is working for them, and here is what he shared:

  1. A highly competitive industry needs a quick turnaround time.
    Provisioning of events services is a highly competitive, though traditionally slow to innovate, market. Focusing on a collection of sub-industries (photography, décor, flowers, and so forth) as opposed to a single vertical market, requires housing the latest information in one location. By giving the service provider ownership over its own profile, the company is incentivized to keep its data up-to-date. Additionally, ensuring that the users are able to access updated information in real time requires a highly reliable platform.
  2. A growing database depends on a growing IT infrastructure.
    Data storage is infrastructure-hungry; there are no two ways about that. And as a business grows, so does its data. In order for Drawing Board Events to collect information on all event sub-industries, vast databases need to be housed and maintained. These databases can be stored, computed, and managed easily via the cloud. Sometimes the computing and storage needs fluctuate, and because the cloud is scalable, Drawing Board Events can add or subtract storage when and where it is required. The company needs powerful servers to handle its database workloads, as well as a cloud environment flexible enough to scale with its business.
  3. The Catalyst Startup Program got them what they needed.
    Drawing Board Events joined Catalyst after their business idea formalized and was structured. With SoftLayer, they were able to quickly host the website and access storage solutions best suited for their growing business. As a member of the program, they now have access to SoftLayer’s complete portfolio of services and can hop on SoftLayer's global network backbone.

    Although currently in the pilot stage, the startup has a huge list of subscribers who are finding the website an exciting and helpful way to plan events. Moving forward, Terence is hoping to add a real-time booking system for users ready to make buying decisions, as well as develop a more robust, proprietary communications dashboard for users and vendors. He also hinted at some exciting upcoming innovations that will need a heavy tech foundation and greater dependency on the cloud.

Even though I couldn't pry all the details from him, I am already sold and can see myself as the official party planner for my family—that is, of course, with the help of Drawing Board Events. The best thing is that I’ll have over 14 categories to choose from and more than 250 service providers at my fingertips. Planning a party just got easier. Just imagine if I had to contact all those vendors—now that ain't no party my friend!

Cheers
-Namrata
(Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

December 10, 2014

Password Managers: One Password To Rule Them All

From banking to social media to gaming, the amount of accounts we have today is growing out of control. Let’s be honest—it’s easy to use the same password or a variation of the same password for all online accounts, but if a hacker can break one of those passwords, they are one step closer to hacking every account.

Who really has the memory to store all those passwords anyway?

That’s where a password manager can help. It controls access by storing (online or locally) every password in an encrypted file that is only accessible by one strong master password.

When a user wants access to their SoftLayer account for example, the password manager will ask for the master password instead of the SoftLayer account password. It automatically populates the username and password fields and logs in.

Password managers are very convenient, but more importantly they enhance security because of the ability to use longer and harder passwords without worrying about forgetting or writing them down on sticky notes posted to a desktop screen.

Do I need a cross-platform password manager?
Today, most people access the same accounts on desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. If that’s you, then yes, you need a cross-platform solution. These Web-based options require yearly subscriptions upwards of $50 for a single user. The convenience of logging in anywhere might be steep, but the additional features might make it worth it. Password managers like Dashlane, LastPass, 1Password, and mSecure offer:

  • Secure storage of bank cards and any identity cards like driver licenses
  • Password generators
  • Keystroke logger protection
  • Automatic backup
  • Multifactor authentication like biometrics or a token
  • Access to pre-determined contacts in case of emergency or death
  • Team password sharing (the team lead controls the master password for a single account like a FedEx account and grants access via the users individual password manager)

Do I need a locally-based password manager?
If you’re not comfortable storing passwords online or you just use your desktop to access accounts, choose a password manager that encrypts and stores passwords on your PC. This option is the least convenient but most secure. All password managers listed above come in the locally-based option for free or at a fraction of the cross-platform price.

User Error
Although much more secure than not using one, password managers do have some downfalls (that stem from user error). Just like any password, you still need to change your master password regularly, never share passwords with anyone, and once installed, a user should update existing passwords with really hard forgettable passwords or use a password generator for each online account.

And always remember to lock your computer or mobile device when not in use. Although password managers make it harder for hackers to virtually access your accounts, they do not protect against someone physically opening the file.

It’s also a good idea to check settings to ensure that when booting or waking up your device, the password manager requires you to re-enter the password.

Pa$$word1 ain’t cutting it.
If you’re not ready to commit to a password manager, think about the consequences the next time you are prompted to update your password. Adding a “1” to the end of your current password isn’t safe or smart.

We’ve all been there, and committing to a password manager in some cases is expensive and setting one up can be time consuming depending on the amount of accounts, so I understand the hesitation. But it’s worth it for that added layer of protection and security.

-JRL

December 4, 2014

Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas

SoftLayer’s Catalyst team hears startup pitches constantly.

We support more than 50 accelerator programs in the Global Accelerator Network, the TechStars programs, five hundred startups, and more. We hold office hours, offer pitch practice, and attend demo days—in short, we hear a lot of pitches.

Condensing the essence of how you’re changing the world into a five minute sales pitch, while still including other key elements like the business model, traction, early wins, team, and “the ask” is incredibly difficult. There’s a lot of ground to cover and very little time to do it, especially when you consider that likely half of your audience is focused on their phones.

A pitch must be concise, informative, and attention grabbing. The worst thing you can do is pitch like George Lucas’ dialogue in the Star Wars  prequel trilogy movies—clumsy and over-explaining.

  • Yoda: Always two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice.
  • Mace Windu: But which was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?

This particular quote is the epitome of terrible dialogue because it communicates the same thing multiple times; the second line is superfluous. I don’t need Mace Windu to re-explain to me exactly what Yoda just said. I have ears. I’m paying attention. Imagine how much more powerful that scene would be with just the first statement.

Most of us have a natural tendency to over-explain a point, but by doing this, we insult the intelligence of our audience. Plus, over-explaining eats up precious time and causes the crowd to disengage. I can’t think of a worse combination.

If you find yourself saying any of these phrases, cut them immediately:

Let me show you . . .
I’d like to tell you . . .
I’m going to . . .
I think . . .
For example . . .
As I said before . . .

Simply put, don’t tell me you’re going to tell me something. Just tell me.

George Lucas did write some great lines of dialogue. Watch the Dagobah scenes in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda’s lines are pure brilliance. The message is simple and powerful, which makes it one of the most memorable lines in cinema.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

During a pitch, you’re not writing a screenplay, so you don’t want to leave your audience guessing, but you still need to explain the problem, the solution, and why you’re the best at solving it. Don’t leave your audience confused from a lack of information, but don’t insult their intelligence by telling them you’re going to tell them something. Just tell it. Or better yet, show it.

You want your pitch to be like a Lightsaber: an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

-Rich

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