Posts Tagged 'Catalyst'

November 20, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Catalyst manager Brendan Yell makes startup dreams come true Down Under

We know, we know. We were only back in Texas for a week, but Under the Infrastructure gets restless being at home too long. This week, we went way down south to catch up with someone that does almost as much globetrotting as we do!

Meet Brendan Yell, our Catalyst Startup Program manager for Australia and New Zealand. He’s been a SLayer for a little over a year, and after you get to know him, you’re probably going to want to steal his job.

But he’ll tell you about it himself.

SOFTLAYER: Describe your role at SoftLayer as if the President of the United States asked what you do for work.

BRENDAN YELL: My role is to work with startups and help them succeed. A big part of this is giving them great cloud servers, but it is a lot more than that. I mentor over 50 startups, and a great deal of the time I am not refining their business model or changing their product. Mostly, I connect them to people who can help them out. This can be in the form of investors, customers, and strategic partners.

SL: The Catalyst crew always looks like it’s having the best time. What makes the Catalyst team different?

YELL: I won’t lie; we do have a pretty good time traveling around the world attending cool parties and events. However, this can be pretty exhausting as well. What makes the Catalyst team different is that even though we are scattered around the globe, we are all great friends that are happy to help each other. Recently I had a startup travel to New York, and our person there, Jen Litorja, met with them and made some invaluable introductions for them. This helps the startup and makes us look great to the startup. Jen had no real benefit from spending her time with this startup other than helping them, and helping me.

SL: What’s the most gratifying thing about your job?

YELL: What I love is when a quick two-minute email to someone in my network can literally change the fortunes of a struggling young startup. Having done startups myself (like most in the Catalyst team), I understand how hard it is to give up a lucrative job to go start a company. I also understand that money is not the only motivator for this; people want to create something, be their own boss, and make a difference.

SL: What’s the funniest, silliest, or strangest thing that’s happened to you on the job?

YELL: I recently had an idea pitched to me in the queue of the supermarket. But the pitch did not come from someone in the queue; it was from the cashier. How cool is that?

SL: What’s your favorite place in the whole world and why?

YELL: While I love San Francisco and New York, when you travel up to 40 weeks of the year, it has to be home. We are lucky to live on a lake about 90 mins north of Sydney. It’s so quiet and peaceful there, unlike the hustle of the startup world. Without it, I would be burned out.

Got a spare room for us down there, Brendan?


October 21, 2015

The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Said

Last week, I attended the LAUNCH Scale conference and had the pleasure of attending the VIP dinner the night before the event began. We hosted the top 10 startups from the IBM SmartCamp worldwide competition for the dinner and throughout the events. Famed Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis joined us for the dinner and gave a quick pep talk to the teams. He mentioned that people come up to him and lament that they wished they’d gotten into the "Internet thing" earlier—and that he's been hearing this since 1999. His story reminded me of a similar personal experience.

In the fall semester of 1995, I was a junior at St. Bonaventure University, working in the computer lab. One day after helping a cute girl I had a crush on, she said to me, “You’re so good with computers, why aren’t you a computer science major?” Swelling with pride, I tried to sound impressive and intelligent as I definitively stated, “Windows 95 just came out, and pretty much everything that can be built with computers has been built.”

Yep. Windows 95. The pinnacle of software achievement.

It is easily the dumbest thing I've ever said—and perhaps up there as one of the dumbest things anyone has said. Ever.

But I hear corollaries to this fairly often, both in and outside the startup world. "There's no room for innovation there," or "You can't make money there," or "That sector is awful, don't bother." I'm guilty of a few of those statements myself—yet businesses find a way. We live in an age of unprecedented innovation. Just because one person didn't have the key to unlock it doesn't mean the door is closed.

Catch yourself before you fall into this loop of thinking. It might mean being the "Uber of X" or starting a business that's far ahead of its time. Think it's crazy to say everything that can be built has been built? I think it's just as crazy to say, "It's too late to get into ___ market."

For example, when markets grow in size, they also grow in complexity. The first mover in the space defines the market, catches the innovators and early adopters, and builds the bridge over the chasm to the early and late majority. (For more on this, read Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.) When a market begins to service the majority, the needs of many are not being met, which leaves room for new entrants to build a business that addresses the segments dissatisfied with the current offerings or needing specialized versions.

The LAUNCH Scale event showcased dozens of startups and the innovation out there in the world always amazes me. I'd recommend it to any startup that has built something great, and now needs to scale. Still haven't built something yourself? Think you missed the opportunity to build and create? In 1995, I didn't think about how things would change in five, 10, even 20 years. Now it's 2015 and the startup world has been growing faster than any sector in history.

Think everything that could be built has been built? Think again. Want to build something? Do it. Build something. What are you waiting for? Go make a difference in the world.


July 7, 2015

All Aboard The SoftLayer Startup Train!

This year, SoftLayer partnered with ThreeFortyNine, a co-working space in Guelph, Ontario, to offer founders, funders, and anyone else heading to Montreal’s International Startup Festival an amazing first class ride on the SoftLayer Startup Train.

I sat down with Brydon Gilliss, the founder of ThreeFortyNine, to learn more about the experience.

Now in its fourth year, the Startup Train is quickly becoming an institution for entrepreneurs, funders, and professionals traveling from Toronto to the International Startup Festival. What was the impetus behind creating this experience?
The travel time to conferences is often wasted time. We wanted to try and make better use of it. Also, it can be lonely when you return from an exciting conference but don't have anyone to connect with after who had that shared experience with you. Having a group of people from your city who you travel and share the experience with creates a longer-term alumni effect in your community.

The International Startup Festival in Montreal draws one of the largest audiences of tech entrepreneurs out of any event in Canada. What do you think makes it so popular?
The city, for one. Montreal is one of the best cities to visit in the summer. There is always an attraction; a reason to make the time. The festival venue is completely different ... right on the water in Old Montreal. The festival-atmosphere makes it a unique and an enjoyable experience.

How has the Startup Train experience changed over the past 4 years?
Startup Train alumni know what to expect. There are always new people to meet and learn from, and we don’t complicate the experience with too much programming. There is enough to keep your business-busy if that’s your goal, but it’s also easy to relax, enjoy the service and views while meeting and chatting with people with a cocktail in hand. This year, VIA Rail, is doing us a favor and giving us one of their cool dome cars typically used for the longer-haul cross-Canada trips.

We’re really excited to do some speed mentorship on the observation deck of the train this year. What else can attendees expect to experience on the SoftLayer Startup Train this year?
There are plenty of people to discuss your ideas with. You can take advantage of the networking with like-minded startups, running your ideas past some of the old hats on the train, or getting some quality advice from the mentors on-board.

The train experience attracts people from around Ontario, not just Torontonians. What do you think gels the Ontario tech community, and how does this play out each year at the Festival in Montreal?
I'm not sure I know the answer. Certainly the train, as with other events in our community, is a gel point in itself. In Canada, in general, we're working to find our way quickly in this fast moving startup world. Events like the train and Startup Festival, are important ways for our lonely entrepreneurs to come together and build our energy; share battle stories; etc.

With around 2,000 people attending the International Startup Festival in Montreal it can get pretty hectic at the venue and in the Old Port in general. What are some tips you can give founders traveling, on or off the train, to Montreal for the Festival?
Getting to Montreal is half the battle. Those choosing Startup Train travel can expect to exert minimum effort with the payoff of maximum enjoyment. Train travel is so easy especially when compared to flying. To fly these days (we won’t even get into the 401 or driving in Montreal), travelers need to be hours early in order to be processed and searched. You have to deal with luggage hassles. You end up losing valuable time in an irritating environment. The actual flying experience itself isn’t an event compared to the romance and fun of train travel. From the moment you get to VIA Rail’s first class lounge prior to leisurely boarding, the actual experience itself is so relaxing. In a plane you’re not likely to get a view, but on a train, that’s all you have. It’s easy to meet and make authentic connections with people on the train right away, so that by the time you arrive in Montreal, you’ve already got some necessary work done. Near the Festival site, you’ve got plenty of social options in the city (walking distance and otherwise). It’s easy to sneak off and grab a beer on a cobblestone street in Old Montreal with startup train passengers if you need a break from the Festival.

For anyone interested in riding the SoftLayer Startup Train, please visit If you are a member of our Catalyst Startup Program and would like to travel to the Festival on us, please email me ASAP.


April 17, 2015

A Grandmother’s Advice for Startups: You Never Know ‘til You Ask

Today my grandmother turns 95. She's in amazing shape for someone who's nearly a century old. She drives herself around, does her own grocery shopping, and still goes to the beauty parlor every other week to get her hair set.

Growing up less than a mile from her and my granddad, we spent a lot of time with them over the years. Of all of the support, comfort, and wisdom they imparted to me over that time, one piece of advice from my grandmother has stood the test of time. No matter where I was in the world, or what I was doing, it has been relevant and helpful. That advice is:

You never know ‘til you ask.

Simple and powerful, it has guided me throughout my life. Here are some ways you can put this to work for you.

Ask for the Introduction
Whether you're fundraising, hiring, selling, or just looking for feedback, you need to expand your network to reach the right people. The best way to do this is through strategic introductions. In the Catalyst program, making connections is part of our offering to companies. Introductions are such a regular part of my work in the startup community. In my experience, people want to help other people, so as long as you're not taking advantage of it, ask for introductions. You're likely to get a nice warm introduction, which can lead to a meeting.

Ask for the Meeting
Now that you have that introduction, ask for a meeting with a purpose in mind. Even if you don't have an introduction, many people in the startup world are approachable with a cold email.

Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist for Apple, and author of 13 books including The Art of the Start 2.0, wrote a fantastic post, "The Effective Emailer," on how to craft that all-important message with your ask.

Another great take on the email ask is from venture capitalist Brad Feld, "If You Want a Response, Ask Specific Questions." This post offers advice on how not to approach someone. The title of the post says it all, if you want a response, ask a specific question.

Ask for the Sale
Many startup founders don't have sales experience and so often miss this incredibly simple, yet incredibly important part of sales: asking for the sale. Even in mass-market B2C businesses, you'll be surprised how easy and effective it is to ask people to sign up. Your first sales will be high-touch and likely require a big time investment from your team. But all of that work will go to waste if you don't say, "Will you sign up to be our customer?" And if the answer is a no, then ask, "What are the next steps for working with you?"

Empower Yourself
It's empowering to ask for something that you want. This is the heart of my grandmother's advice. She is and has always been an empowered woman. I believe a big part of that came from not being afraid to ask for what she wanted. As long as you're polite and respectful in your approach, step up and ask.

The opposite of this is to meekly watch the world go by. If you do not ask, it will sweep you away on other people's directions. This is the path to failure as an entrepreneur.

The way to empower yourself in this world starts with asking for what you want. Whether it's something as simple as asking for a special order at a restaurant or as big as asking for an investment, make that ask. After all, you'll never know unless you ask.


February 17, 2015

Asia Startup Series: Putting a Twist in the Job Industry—Power to the Job Seeker

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.

*This is Part 3 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Before we dive into the Asia startup of the month, let’s discuss how the 2014 Asia Series A saw some of the largest investments to date—startups in China alone racked in US$130 million, and if we go by the frequently released trends, 2015 is set to break all records. The sheer number of investable startups coming out of the region will only open doors for more entrepreneurs. Here’s a look at some of the big winners:

  • Renrendai, a Beijing-based financial services startup received a whopping US$130 million last year
  • aCommerce walked away with US$10.7 million
  • Appier, an artificial intelligence, big-data ad-tech company won a US$6 million series A investment

Check out some interesting infographics on my Startup Trends in Asia Pinterest page, including this infographics shared by TechinAsia and the 2014 high-value investments. Ping me if you have some more we should pin (LinkedIn or Twitter).


With so many job search websites, portals, apps, and agencies dedicated to getting the employer the right employee, I found Temploy to be quite uniquely positioned and hence, the focus of this month's startup story.

Temploy, founded by Mark Koh, is a marketplace that automates the anonymous matching of temporary workers to employers while aligning expectations. This translates to a platform that essentially targets not only semi-skilled, low-skilled, blue-collar, and transferrable job positions, but a portal where students searching for summer jobs, individuals searching for part-time placements, or those looking for double income avenues can design the work they want based on parameters of locality, remunerations, schedule, and skills.

Mark Koh, Temploy founder

Basically, the portal connects the job seeker with the right employer.

Having worked two jobs while studying in Australia, Mark went through the grind of finding jobs to fit his schedule. He also saw firsthand the often unfair treatment of temp-workers as well as the flickering loyalty of the temps towards their interim-employers.

"I realized there was a huge mismatch in what the candidate was expecting and the actual job requirements. There was a core demand in most cases of having the flexibility to maintain work-life balance so that the candidate could meet their other commitments. So, we decided to put the power in the hands of job seekers, and the idea of Temploy was born," Mark shared when we caught-up last week.

Understanding the Market

Temploy looked at targeting the ASEAN market due to the sheer demand of skilled workforce in the region. Mark found that Thailand and Philippines had a high number of day semi-skilled and blue-collared jobs. Because these paid daily, there was a great demand from candidates to find multiple jobs to fit in their unpredictable schedule.

On the other hand, in Indonesia, especially in the Bunder, Surabhaya, and Jakarta districts, the average users were teenagers and college students looking for comparatively higher salaries for temp jobs.

"It is surprising to note that employers actively encourage such candidates to pick up a second job to meet these expectations," Mark noted.

Singapore faced a big labor crunch, and the main reason behind this was an image perception that certain jobs were considered un-cool by part-time prospective candidates looking to fill their summer holidays. These candidates also demanded higher pay than what employers could afford. Here flexibility and work-life balance are more important than the actual compensation. Mark also noted there is a stigma associated with working two jobs.

In Vietnam, where the workforce population is the youngest, localization still remains a major challenge but there is still a huge potential. Cambodia, on the other hand, does not have the necessary penetration of smartphone and Internet connectivity needed for the platform to succeed currently.

The Platform and All That It Entails

After developing their customized optimized man workforce system (OMWS), Mark launched the company in mid-2014. Since then, there have been tweaks and updates based on their ongoing understanding of the region and to improve the employee-employer match algorithms.

The platform empowers job-seekers by allowing them to design their own jobs, including how many and what hours they would like to work, salary expectations, and the type of jobs they are looking for. This then undergoes a sophisticated linear optimization algorithm that matches jobs anonymously, mapping the job-seeker's criteria with current openings posted by employers. Contact details are only exchanged once both parties accept that the match is to their satisfaction.

When I asked Mark what was different about Temploy, he said, "The unique proposition lies in the database being non-extractable, hence discrimination based on last name, race etc. is avoided. Plus our competitors cannot poach our client or our candidate listing."

Mark and his team selected SoftLayer as a foundation for building their platform. "It helps that the data center is located in Singapore, which reduces the latency for our audiences. Getting data replicated is easy as well. I have no worries whether my data is safe since we can auto-replicate it across other DCs, including geographically disparate locations. In addition, features like auto-scaling are helping us tremendously in dealing with traffic spikes emerging due to our recent marketing tactics. Moreover, the benefits of the Catalyst program and the support from SoftLayer's support team are second to none," he shared.

The video gives a quick explanation of how the portal works.

What's Next

Within seven months of its launch, Temploy has seen over 1,600 registered users. The team has been progressively looking for ways to improve the platform, which will soon include a SMS-based signup for low-Internet penetration regions. Temploy recently participated in numerous startup competitions. The latest includes a spot in Channel News Asia Start-up Season 2. Mark has decided to launch a non-profit event, Skillup 2015, for youth and the young-at-heart to explore what he calls, Epic Career Options outside the ordinary—part time work, freelance work, entrepreneurship.

Temploy is in the spotlight, and for all the right reasons.

–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

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!

(Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

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.


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 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.


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; and Justin Johnson, director of developer evangelism for 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.


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.


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