Posts Tagged 'Create'

July 10, 2013

The Importance of Providing Startups a Sandbox

With the global economy in its current state, it's more important than ever to help inspired value-creators acquire the tools needed to realize their ideas, effect change in the world, and create impact — now. I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of young, innovative companies through Catalyst and our relationships with startup accelerators, incubators and competitions, and I've noticed that the best way for entrepreneurs to create change is to simply let them play! Stick them in a sandbox with a wide variety of free products and services that they can use however they want so that they may find the best method of transitioning from idea to action.

Any attention that entrepreneurs divert from their core business ideas is wasted attention, so the most successful startup accelerators build a bridge for entrepreneurs to the resources they need — from access to hosting service, investors, mentors, and corporate partners to recommendations about summer interns and patent attorneys. That all sounds good in theory, and while it's extremely difficult to bring to reality, startup-focused organizations like MassChallenge make it look easy.

During a recent trip to Boston, I was chatting with Kara Shurmantine and Jibran Malek about what goes on behind the scenes to truly empower startups and entrepreneurs, and they gave me some insight. Startups' needs are constantly shifting, changing and evolving, so MassChallenge prioritizes providing a sandbox chock-full of the best tools and toys to help make life easier for their participants ... and that's where SoftLayer helps. With Kara and Jibran, I got in touch with a few MassChallenge winners to get some insight into their experience from the startup side.

Tish Scolnik, the CEO of Global Research Innovation & Technology (GRIT), described the MassChallenge experience perfectly: "You walk in and you have all these amazing opportunities in front of you, and then in a pretty low pressure environment you can decide what you need at a specific moment." Tish calls it a "buffet table" — an array of delectable opportunities, some combination of which will be the building blocks of a startup's growth curve. Getting SoftLayer products and services for free (along with a plethora of other valuable resources) has helped GRIT create a cutting-edge wheelchair for disabled people in developing countries.

The team from Neumitra, a Silver Winner of MassChallenge 2012, chose to use SoftLayer as an infrastructure partner, and we asked co-founder Rob Goldberg about his experience. He explained that his team valued the ability to choose tools that fit their ever-changing and evolving needs. Neumitra set out to battle stress — the stress you feel every day — and they've garnered significant attention while doing so. With a wearable watch, Neumitra's app tells you when your stress levels are too high and you need to take a break.

Jordan Fliegal, the founder and CEO of CoachUp, another MassChallenge winner, also benefited from playing around in the sandbox. This environment, he says, is constantly "giving to you and giving to you and giving to you without asking for anything in return other than that you work hard and create a company that makes a difference." The result? CoachUp employs 20 people, has recruited thousands of judges, and has raised millions in funding — and is growing at breakneck speed.

If you give inspired individuals a chance and then give them not only the resources that they need, but also a diverse range of resources that they could need, you are guaranteed to help create global impact.

In short: Provide a sandbox. Change the world.

-@KelleyHilborn

March 23, 2012

AMS01 DC Tour: Built by SoftLayer, Powered by Innovators

About a month ago, Kevin Hazard visited SoftLayer Amsterdam after a conference in London, and while he was here, I invited him on a data center tour. You saw a few glimpses of the data center in his "This is Different" video, but he turned the camera around on me to give a simpler "Data Center Tour" video to show off some of the key characteristics of the server room environment in AMS01.

Given the fact that nearly everything in the data center is the same, if you've ever seen a SoftLayer data center, this tour will seem very familiar. The configuration and architecture of all 13 of our data centers are identical, and with the exceptions of a few Dutch words on the walls, this tour could be given (and is frequently given to customers) in all of our facilities around the world:

As we were recording this video, I started thinking about all the similarities and differences between all the entrepreneurs I have worked with during my career — which coincidentally lines up well with Clayton's "Building. Business. SoftLayer." blog. I cut my technology teeth in Silicon Valley during the dot-com tsunami of the late 90's, and since then, I have collaborated on-location with entrepreneurs from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Chile, Ukraine and Italy. While these cultures often vary widely with customs, manners, food and methods of business, I would have to say that entrepreneurs have far more similarities than they do differences.

At the peak of the dot-com boom, money was raining from the sky, and anyone with a decent PowerPoint presentation containing the word "Internet," could raise million dollars of dollars in a matter of days. After the bubble popped, funding all but dried up. Even real businesses with profitable business models couldn't raise a cent. My neighbor went from being worth over $10M on paper and keeping company with the Queen of the Netherlands to scrambling to pay the rent and fighting for a seat at the local coffee shop.

In my opinion, that's when the real magic happened: The creators just kept on creating. Despite all our friends making fun of us — telling us "the Internet thing" was dead — we kept building cool stuff and coming up with innovative products that pushed the limits of technology.

While entrepreneurs liked the idea of making tons of money and building a global company from a simple idea, money and fame are not the primary drivers of true entrepreneurs. They were really more interested in creating something that would impact peoples' everyday lives and disrupt tired industries ... Just look at SoftLayer. In 2005, "tired" would have been one of the nicest things you could have said about the hosting industry, and in response to that environment, our "Innovate or Die" mentality shot us to the front of the pack.

Entrepreneurs are a lot like our data centers ... They may look a little different from the outside, but they are exactly the same on the inside. Ask them how they'd change the world, and take note of the wild look in their eyes. Our growth is fueled by the passions of our customers, and as long as we have brilliant customers doing amazing things, you can expect to see more and more of these "new data center" tour videos in the coming months and years.

-@jpwisler

P.S. If you don't have time to watch the video right now, you can head to our Flickr page to see a few pictures we snapped while recording the tour: AMS01 - Amsterdam Data Center

P.P.S. Make sure you watch the video all the way to the end. :-)

March 22, 2012

Building. Business. SoftLayer.

"If you build it, he will come."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Clayton

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

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