Startup Series Posts

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 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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December 2, 2014

The Dallas Startup Scene – It’s Hot and Getting HOTTER!

Dallas came into existence prior to the country of Texas being admitted into the United States. From its early origins, Dallas prided itself on being on the cutting edge of business.

When the railroads began crisscrossing the country to take people north and south and east and west, Dallas quickly positioned itself as the center of activity—no railroad company could pass that up.

Over the next one hundred years, Dallas developed markets that influenced the end destinations of goods around the country and around the world. Then, as technology began to develop, Dallas followed suit. Texas Instruments became a leader in semi-conductors, and Telecom Corridor moved communications to new levels.

As other parts of the world grew their own specialties and opportunities, Dallas, outside the spotlight of other advancements in business and technology around the world, quietly plodded along and avoided the large swings other economies endured.

As recently as 2010, the entrepreneurial scene in Dallas was quiet, and there was little direction in advancing it. That was then . . .

In the last 18 months, the Dallas startup ecosystem has seen a magnificent transformation. The cobwebs have cleared, groups have organized, and the drumbeat of expansion is resonating across the four corners of the DFW Metroplex.

From Fort Worth to McKinney and Denton to Dallas, new companies are coming to life like never before. At the heart of this is a community—a community of people and companies collaborating to develop relationships, create and hold events, provide mentoring support, and drive a forward-thinking approach to sustain and grow the ecosystem.

Dallas-based SoftLayer plays a vital role in this resurgence of the Dallas startup community. Beyond monetary support of events, the Catalyst program is a revolutionary force across all startup communities around the world with a unique blend of services, programs, and one-on-one mentoring. SoftLayer has committed to the growth of the Dallas startup community by investing in community leaders, plugging into local programs, providing free services, and developing relationships that will not only grow revenue for SoftLayer over time but will tightly bond startups with the corporate world in a way that provides benefit to the overall economy.

It is important for SLayers and IBMers to get involved in what is going on in the startup ecosystem in Dallas; every week, events and sessions provide opportunities to network or learn how to build a company. Go build those relationships; either personally or professionally. These relationships build benefits extending beyond work. Learn about events via online sources like LaunchDFW or Startup Digest. If outside Dallas, other communities will have similar listings. Look for ways to get tied into incubators (The Dallas Entrepreneur Center) and accelerators (Techwildcatters, VentureSpur). The local universities and other corporate entities also hold events and courses.

The evolution of business in Dallas is unique and will continue to grow. A business friendly state that supports low taxes, low cost of living, easy access to strong technical resources, leads on capital, and the ability to get from DFW to anywhere in the U.S. (or the world for that matter) in just hours keeps the “freight train” picking up speed. It’s a destination for companies to start and grow businesses, and it is so much fun to see.

-Kevin
Director, Strategic Initiatives

August 6, 2014

Healthy Startups: HealthXL Global Gathering in Dublin

We’ve all heard nightmare stories about the health care industry. The combination of insurance companies, health care providers, government regulation, and literal “life and death” situations can make for a contentious environment. And with the outdated policies and procedures that permeate the industry, it’s a perfect opportunity for innovation.

When I met Martin Kelly of HealthXL a few months ago, I was intrigued by what he was building. He saw the need for innovation in health care, and he started looking around for the startups that were focusing on these kinds of issues. And while he encountered several groups with a health care focus, no one really took the lead to connect them all together to collaborate or strategize about how startups can really change health care. I mean REALLY change it.

Martin, a former IBMer, is super-passionate about innovation in technology for the health care industry, so he leveraged the IBM network and the relationships he built during his time at IBM to address a few simple questions:

  • What needs to happen in health care, through technology, to make the experience and the system better for us all?
  • What is the moonshot that needs to happen for true innovation to happen?

The group he brought together consisted of experts from enterprise companies like the Cleveland Clinic, ResMed, and Johnson & Johnson as well as startup influencers in the health care community like Aussie Jason Berek-Lewis of HealthyStartups and Silicon Valley Bank.

And when those different viewpoints came together, he realized the questions weren’t quite as “simple” as he expected.

Martin invited me to join the conversation for three days at the HealthXL Global Gathering in Dublin to hear what global leaders in the industry are saying about health care. And boy … was I surprised.

To their credit, these leaders (and their respective companies) are very willing and capable to innovate. They feel the pain of heavy administrative responsibilities, often involving duplication and triplication of work. They know how hard it is to track patients from different systems as they change jobs, insurance companies, and providers. They struggle with not being able to communicate effectively with insurance providers. And they fully understand how over-commoditized health care has become as well as its decentralization of focus from patients.

The bottom line: They feel the pain of not having the right technology to run more efficient, cost-effective, and patient-centered health care businesses. They’ve seen the finance industry integrate technology over the past few years, but they're somewhat unsure of what that could look like for them. This can only mean that there are huge opportunities for startups and innovative technologies.

I couldn’t help but consider of how nicely these conversations fit in with the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by our friends at TechStars that @andy_mui and I visited in March. The conversations inside that accelerator are the missing pieces to the conversations that companies like the Cleveland Clinic and Johnson & Johnson were having. Those enterprises have the opportunity to invest in early stage entrepreneurs and born-on-the-Web startups to incubate technologies and solutions that would prove in time to make their businesses more profitable and efficient.

But the biggest opportunity is what that means for patients.

The most telling story to play out over the next 10 years will be whether the largest health care providers and other businesses will approach these market opportunities in pursuit of cultivating a health care system that prioritizes patients. After hearing the conversation at the HealthXL accelerator global summit, that’s the ultimate challenge.

The startup ecosystem is full of entrepreneurs and teams that can deliver on the goal of improving health care while secondarily (and in some cases indirectly) improving the way heath care businesses run. These efficiencies will result in MORE clients, customers, partners, and profitability in the end, but they may require some hefty changes at the outset. Will the industry allow itself to admit what it doesn’t know?

I am excited to see where this goes. In a few years, I think we’re going to consider Martin Kelly as a key builder of this movement, and more and more businesses will be turning to him for answers to the most important of all questions: “How do we do this?”

We’re excited to be able to support Martin and all of the health care startups in the marketplace today. What will the future of health care look like when these innovators and entrepreneurs are done with it?

The possibilities are endless.

-@JoshuaKrammes

May 29, 2014

Startups and BBQ – The New Memphis

BB King. Elvis. Graceland. Jerry Lee Lewis. Beale Street. Cotton. Shipping. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights on the national stage. All of these things come to mind when you think of Memphis, Tennessee. You can now add one more to that list: Startups.

Yep. That’s right. Startups.

Memphis has a long history of economic success. From the early days of its settlement, it was a shipping and trading hub for the early United States thanks to the Mississippi River. It progressed into one of the world’s largest cotton producers, even having a cotton exchange similar to the stock exchange on Wall Street. As our country grew, so did Memphis’ value because of geographic location. Today, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population is within a one-day drive of Memphis. It has grown into a logistics hub and houses several North American railway companies, as well as FedEx.

What’s awesome to see on my second stop of our 2014 small-market tour, is that there is an undercurrent happening in Memphis that is shifting the landscape of the economic success of the region to technology. And it’s happening through the leadership of folks like Eric Mathews and Patrick Woods. Mathews heads up StartCo, a regional accelerator with 20 startups, all of which have come to Memphis to develop their companies. Woods is in charge of a very unique program, started by A>M Ventures that helps early stage companies get the right message out about their products, who they are, and where they are going.

Our team met Woods at SXSW in 2013. Over the past year, we have worked together to help Woods’ outreach efforts by building a bridge from Memphis to Silicon Valley and through other early stage startup communities. We connected with Mathews at SXSW this year through one of our strongest partners, the Global Accelerator Network. Mathews was very convincing. He not only showed me a startup community that was thriving, but he also fed me world-class BBQ at the same time.

Did somebody say BBQ? You don’t really have to ask @KelleyHilborn or me twice. Our Pavlovian response kicked in and we had our flights booked before you could flip a coin.

Last week marked the annual celebration of Memphis’ BBQ Fest – one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world. It also marked the first week for the StartCo teams, and we were there to welcome them with some SoftLayer Catalyst goodness (as a side to that BBQ).

We met with all of the teams and were greeted by folks from all over the world. Teams from NYC, Europe, Silicon Valley, and even local Memphis were made up of entrepreneurs who were eager to hear about Catalyst and how we could connect them to our community. From big data companies, to analytics companies and even a company that manufactures a chip for your dog, these teams definitely have the smarts and character to disrupt and succeed.

Our office and mentor hours provided us a strong foundation to connect with the startups one-on-one. BBQ Fest and events with A>M Ventures, StartCo, and our friends from Keen.io gave us an opportunity to spend two full days with the entrepreneurs, getting a higher sense of where they hoped to take their businesses.

The teams in Memphis are just as hungry, innovative, capable, and smart as any we work with in our startup ecosystems around the world. What we loved most about our time in Memphis was how welcoming the local leaders were, and further how open-minded they are to making a positive impact on this world. The leadership that is building this tech ecosystem from the ground up is doing so in an open, communal, and giving way, which all tech ecosystems need to be built upon.

Because of this philosophy, they are ensuring their success. They’re creating a community based on collaboration and mutual success. It reminds me of cities like Boulder and Portland. These cities were built on the same principles, and they enjoy greater success than many other larger markets.

And SoftLayer was there at the beginning. We’re excited to watch this ecosystem grow, and to continue collaborating to help support people like Mathews, Woods and many others in Memphis who see the forest through the trees.

Next stop on the small market express…Kelowna, British Columbia. Our very own @gkdog will be delivering a keynote and sitting on a panel, instilling our community and strategic philosophies on his home Canadian turf.

-@JoshuaKrammes

April 17, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Te(ch)xas: SXSW 2014

SXSW 2014 was bigger and crazier than ever. For anyone who has been sleeping under a rock, SXSW is one of the largest, most intense start-up technology, music, and film festivals on the planet. Held in March, SXSW turns Austin, Texas, into the global epicenter of everything (startup) technology.

As in years past, SoftLayer hosted the Speakeasy lounge, a daytime co-working space and community/networking lounge in the evening. For the second straight year, the lounge blew our expectations out of the water. Over the course of 48 hours, we saw over a thousand partners, start-up clients, fellow colleagues, and members of the global start-up community come through the doors. To give you an idea of how “global” the community was, I walked through the lounge at one point and heard six different languages being spoken.

Our start-up partners used the lounge to escape the chaos of the festival so they could get work done. In the space, they could relax, send emails, connect with clients and friends, or just find some peace and quiet away from the cacophonous show floor (and even-noisier 6th Street).

Catalyst Lounge SXSW 2014

One of the biggest highlights at SXSW for the Catalyst team was a panel that I moderated about building meaningful, organic communities around brands. The panelists for this discussion were George Karidis, COO of SoftLayer; Ben Rigby, CEO of Sparked; Samar Birwadker, CEO of Good.co; and Justin Johnson, director of developer evangelism for Keen.io. The group explained how their brands’ approaches to community engagement helped them build momentum and succeed faster, and I was humbled to hear how the SoftLayer Catalyst program impacted their decisions shaping their own communities. To cap off the session, the panelists also brought up the benefits of using Catalyst for testing and scaling during their early stages, so they could understand how to use the infrastructure as they grew. You need look no further for validation of our model than to have three of our most successful clients attributing their success to it.

In addition to the Speakeasy and the panel discussion, SoftLayer was also well represented on the SXSW show floor. Over the course of the show, clients, partners, and prospects stopped by to try their hands at the Server Challenge, and we had some phenomenal conversations about the future of the cloud and how SoftLayer is forging a new path in the infrastructure as a service game.

What a lot of people don’t realize about SXSW is that the majority of business gets done outside of the show floor. Each night presents opportunities to connect with and learn about individuals in the global start-up community. For example, Catalyst partner Planwise held a party and barbecue where they discussed best practices for start-ups in financial technology. We got in on the fun as well when we partnered with Techstars to host one of the hottest parties at SXSW Interactive. DJed by Thievery Corporation and attended by over a thousand guests, if you managed to get a hard-to-come-by ticket, you had a great time and met a lot of amazing people.

SoftLayer & Techstars Party SXSW 2014

Over the years, SXSW has proven to be a melting pot for creativity and innovation on a global scale. As businesses look for new ways to gather and present information, providers like SoftLayer become an integral part of their approaches. Our goal with Catalyst is to stay front-and-center in the startup movement … So it’s a safe bet that you’ll see us again at SXSW 2015.

-@joshuakrammes

April 3, 2014

Sprint Accelerator Spices Up Silicon Prairie

As part of the community development team here at SoftLayer, I get to travel the world and reach into cities to help local, born-on-the-Web communities grow and prosper. Last week, my travels took me (and my rock star team) to Kansas City, where we were invited to mentor startups in the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by TechStars (PBTS).

I know when you think of KC, you might not think of a technology startup community. As part of Silicon Prairie, where startups and tech are thriving, KC is taking its place amongst US tech communities, as companies like Sprint, Garmin, H&R Block, and Hallmark are investing in the local startup community.

Through the course of the days I spent in KC, we talked to 10 startups and held technical office hours. What we learned is that the startups in this accelerator had all of the qualities we hope to find: grit and determination coupled with brains and insane talent. (And some of the teams we met with are growing so quickly that they even have open positions.)

What struck me most from my trip was the sheer fact that even though I live in the epicenter of all things tech startup, I can see with my own eyes that the rest of the world is catching up––and they are doing so quickly. Most of the teams at Sprint PBTS are not from the startup mega cities like New York and San Francisco. They are from places off the beaten path. I’m happy to see it, and I’m even more excited for my trips later this year to other parts of the country like Memphis, Detroit, and Okanagan, where I’m sure to be as impressed as I was with KC.

True, for the time being the venture capital and investment communities will likely still steer startups toward the Bay Area, but I’m not convinced that is a trend that will continue forever. I’m more and more certain that as we advance technologies—and as SoftLayer maintains its edge in building the best platform on which to create them––geography will become a secondary factor in the success of startups.

Our Catalyst Startup Program provides that platform for early stage startups around the globe. Members have innovative concepts that need reliable infrastructure to support their growth from idea to enterprise. Recently, I sat down in front of a camera to share an overview of the program and it's benefits from the perspective of Catalyst member HAUL. Here is a crash course on Catalyst:

I believe in a year, a few of the teams from the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator will combine forces to create one company that will eventually become a household name. Their evolution will be fun to watch from the beginning to end. And we are going to watch them closely. They’re going to do it, and we are going to be with them every step of the way.

-@joshuakrammes

March 5, 2014

Making an Impact: Catalyst and BEHUM

Running a startup is hard. We all know that. The right help at the right time makes all the difference, and for many, finding that help is a challenge. Not knowing who to ask for help or where to meet the right people to help move the needle in the right direction, many entrepreneurs and startup teams don't even know where to start.

That's one of the biggest reasons we created Catalyst. When entrepreneurs are passionate enough about an idea to ditch "safe" careers to build their own companies, we want to help them succeed by getting them access to the right resources.

That vision may seem simple on paper, but when I reconnected with a Catalyst program graduate last night, I was humbled to hear how Catalyst helped his company succeed. That entrepreneur was Neal Bram, founder of BEHUM – Be Heard You Matter. BEHUM is a political engagement platform that empowers voters to take simple but meaningful actions to support the candidates and political issues they believe in. Or to put it more simply, BEHUM helps individuals make their political views a reality.

When I spoke with Neal about his Catalyst experience, he explained, "For this to work we need reliability and SoftLayer has always been up to the task. When a leading political official sends a BEHUM link to 2 million individuals at the same time as a statewide advocacy group’s petition is going viral, we have to stay up.” Those numbers might not seem huge for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but for early stage startups that can’t afford to pay for more capacity than they need, it's a mountainous task. The Catalyst program provides free cloud hosting resources for early stage startups like BEHUM, allowing them to be confident and aggressive about seizing opportunities to accelerate growth without fear of breaking the bank.

Hearing that the scalability of our platform could accommodate BEHUM's demands felt good, but what Neal said next was what really stuck with me: “Catalyst is far more than the technology and economics. It’s a network of entrepreneurs helping each other led by Catalyst mentors who provide invaluable insights and connections.”

It's easy for the tangible benefits of the program to get the lion's share of a startup's attention, so when I hear about qualitative and relational impact the Catalyst team is making, I know we're doing something right. When I asked Neal if he had any specific examples of that type of involvement, he answered, “Whether it’s commenting on pitches, input on business models, or making an important introduction, the Catalyst program provided BEHUM the right help at the right time.”

That's the best feedback any Catalyst customer could ever give about the program.

If you want your views on candidates and political issues to be heard, head over to BEHUM. And if you're interested in connecting with Neal and his team, let me know, and I'll make that happen.

-@JoshuaKrammes

November 1, 2013

Paving the Way for the DevOps Revolution

The traditional approach to software development has been very linear: Your development team codes a release and sends it over to a team of quality engineers to be tested. When everything looks good, the code gets passed over to IT operations to be released into production. Each of these teams operates within its own silo and makes changes independent of the other groups, and at any point in the process, it's possible a release can get kicked back to the starting line. With the meteoric rise of agile development — a development philosophy geared toward iterative and incremental code releases — that old waterfall-type development approach is being abandoned in favor of a DevOps approach.

DevOps — a fully integrated development and operations approach — streamlines the software development process in an agile development environment by consolidating development, testing and release responsibilities into one cohesive team. This way, ideas, features and other developments can be released very quickly and iteratively to respond to changing and growing market needs, avoiding the delays of long, drawn-out and timed dev releases.

To help you visualize the difference between the traditional approach and the DevOps approach, take a look at these two pictures:

Traditional Waterfall Development
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

DevOps
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle to adopt the DevOps approach because they simply update their org chart by merging their traditional teams, but their development philosophy doesn't change at the same time. As a result, I've encountered a lot of companies who have been jaded by previous attempts to move to a DevOps model, and I'm not alone. There is a significant need in the marketplace for some good old fashioned DevOps expertise.

A couple months ago, my friend Raj Bhargava pinged me with a phenomenal idea to put on a DevOps "un-conference" in Boulder, Colorado, to address the obvious need he's observed for DevOps education and best practices. Raj is a serial, multiple-exit entrepreneur from Boulder, and he is the co-founder and CEO of a DevOps-focused startup there called JumpCloud. When he asked if I would like to co-chair the event and have SoftLayer as a headline sponsor alongside JumpCloud, the answer was a quick and easy "Yes!"

Sure, there have been other DevOps-related conferences around the world, but ours was designed to be different from the outset. As strange as it may sound, half of the conference intentionally occurred outside of the conference: One of our highest priorities was to strike up conversations between the participants before, during and after the event. If we're putting on a conference to encourage a collaborative development approach, it would be counterproductive for us to use a top-down, linear approach to engaging the attendees, right?

I'm happy to report that this inaugural attempt of our untested concept was an amazing success. We kept the event private for our first run at the concept, but the event was bursting at the seams with brilliant developers and tech influencers. Brad Feld and our friends from the Foundry Group invited all of their portfolio CEO's and CTO's. David Cohen, co-founder of Techstars and head honcho at Bullet Time Ventures did the same. JumpCloud and SoftLayer helped round out the attendee list with a few of our most innovative partners as well as a few of technologists from within our own organizations. It was an incredible mix of super-smart tech pros, business leaders and VC's from all over the world.

With such a diverse group of attendees, the conversations at the event were engaging, energizing and profound. We discussed everything from how startups should incorporate automation into their business plans at the outset to how the practice of DevOps evolves as companies scale quickly. At the end of the day, we brought all of those theoretical discussions back down to the ground by sharing case studies of real companies that have had unbelievable success in incorporating DevOps into their businesses. I had the honor of wrapping up the event as moderator of a panel with Jon Prall from Sendgrid, Scott Engstrom from Gnip and Richard Miller of Mocavo, and I couldn't have been happier with the response.

I'd like to send a big thanks to everyone who participated, especially our cosponsors — JumpCloud, VictorOps, Authentic8, DH Capital, SendGrid, Cooley, Pivot Desk, SVP and Pantheon.

I'm looking forward to opening this up to the world next year!

-@PaulFord

July 19, 2013

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Transcending Borders

At Cloud World Forum in London, I did an interview with Rachel Downie of CloudMovesTV, and she asked some fantastic questions (full interview embedded a the bottom of this post). One that particularly jumped out to me was, "Does North America have a technology and talent advantage over Europe?" I've posted some thoughts on this topic on the SoftLayer Blog in the past, but I thought I'd reflect on the topic again after six months of traveling across Europe and the Middle East talking with customers, partners and prospects.

I was born just north of Silicon Valley in a little bohemian village called San Francisco. I earned a couple of trophies (and even more battle scars) during the original dot-com boom, so much of my early career was spent in an environment bursting at the seams with entrepreneurs and big ideas. The Valley tends to get most of the press (and all of the movie contracts), so it's easy to assume that the majority of the world's innovation is happening around there. I have first-hand experience that proves that assumption wrong. The talent level, motivation, innovation, technology and desire to make a difference is just as strong, if not stronger, in Europe and the Middle East as it is in the high-profile startup scenes in New York City or San Francisco. And given the level of complexity due to the cultural and language differences, I would argue the innovation that happens in the Middle East and Europe tends to incorporate more flexibility and global scalability earlier than its North American counterparts.

A perfect example of this type of innovation is the ad personalization platform that London-based Struq created. Earlier this year, I presented with Struq CTO Aaron McKee during the TFM&A (Technology For Marketing and Advertising) show in London about how cloud computing helps their product improve online customer dialogue, and I was stunned by how uniquely and efficiently they were able to leverage the cloud to deliver meaningful, accurate results to their customers. Their technology profiles customers, matches them to desired brands, checks media relevance and submits an ad unit target price to auction. If there is a match, Struq then serves a hyper-relevant message to that customer. And all of that in about 25 milliseconds and is happening at scale (over two billion transactions per day). Add in the fact that they serve several different cultures and languages, and you start to understand the work that went into creating this kind of platform. Watch out Valley Boyz and Girlz, they're expanding into the US.

One data point of innovation and success doesn't mean a whole lot, but Struq's success isn't unique. I just got back from Istanbul where I spent some time with Peak Games to learn more about how they became the 3rd largest social gaming company in the world and what SoftLayer could to to help support their growth moving forward. Peak Games, headquartered in Turkey, is on an enviable growth trajectory, and much of their success has come from their lean, focused operations model and clear goals. With more than 30 million customers, it's clear that the team at Peak Games built a phenomenal platform (and some really fun games). Ten years ago, a development team from Turkey may have had to move into a cramped, expensive house in Palo Alto to get the resources and exposure they needed to reach a broader audience, but with the global nature of cloud computing, the need to relocate to succeed is antiquated.

I met a wild-eyed entrepreneur at another meeting in Istanbul who sees exactly what I saw. The region is full of brilliant developers and creative entrepreneurs, so he's on a mission to build out a more robust startup ecosystem to help foster the innovation potential of the region. I've met several people in different countries doing the same thing, but one thing that struck me as unusual about this vision was that he did not say anything about being like Silicon Valley. He almost laughed at me when I asked him about that, and he explained that he wanted his region to be better than Silicon Valley and that his market has unique needs and challenges that being "like Silicon Valley" wouldn't answer. North America is a big market, but it's one of many!

The startups and gaming companies I mentioned get a lot of the attention because they're fun and visible, but the unsung heroes of innovation, the intraprenuers (people who behave like entrepreneurs within large organizations), are the clear and powerful heartbeat of the talent in markets outside of North America. These people are not driven by fame and fortune ... They just want to build innovative products because they can. A mad scientist from one of the largest consumer products firms in the world, based in the EU, just deployed a couple of servers to build an imaging ecosystem that is pushing the limits of technology to improve human health. Another entrepreneur at a large global media company is taking a Mobile First methodology to develop a new way to distribute and consume media in the emerging cross-platform marketplace. These intrapreneurs might not live in Palo Alto or Santa Clara, but they're just as capable to change the world.

Silicon Valley still produces inspiring products and groundbreaking technology, but the skills and expertise that went into those developments aren't confined by borders. To all you innovators across the globe building the future, respect. Working with you is my favorite part of the job.

-@jpwisler

The full interview that inspired this blog post:

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