Posts Tagged 'Entrepreneurship'

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:

May 1, 2012

SoftLayer, Entrepreneurship and the White House

The past two weeks have been HUGE for the SoftLayer community development team and our Catalyst Program. In addition to the typical insanity of crisscrossing the country to attend startup events and scheduled "office hours" in Boulder, San Francisco, Boston and New York City, I was invited to visit a pretty noteworthy address in Washington, D.C.: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Yes ... SoftLayer was invited to the White House!

I was honored and humbled to be recognized as one of 5 Entrepreneurs in Residence for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As a part of the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative, I joined the other private sector participants in the Secretary of War Suite on April 26 for an EIR roundtable meeting. I'd describe the meeting as "historic," but given the "history" at the White House, I might have to choose a different word:

SoftLayer at the White House

The USCIS is looking to make it easier for entrepreneurs and innovators to get to the United States to have the opportunity and resources they need to build the next Google or Facebook ... or SoftLayer. It's no coincidence that the Entrepreneurs in Residence roundtable discussion harkened to a few hundred similar conversations I've had with startups, startup accelerators and incubator programs so far this year. On the topic of startups, I wasn't just an empty suit ... though I was wearing a suit (for a change).

SoftLayer at the White House

When it comes to credibility in the startup space, SoftLayer has become quite an authority. Beyond our own growth and success as a startup a few short years ago, we've spent the last year investing in relationships with startup communities and the organizations fueling innovation in the US and around the world. For a perfect example of that investment, just look at today's news: SoftLayer Gives Next Generation of Entrepreneurs Foundation for Success with TechStars National Sponsorship.

You've heard us say it a million times, and you'll probably hear us say it a million more: SoftLayer loves startups, and we want to do everything we can to inspire, mentor and cultivate the next wave of world-changing businesses. From providing mentorship and hosting credits to participating in the conversations that will shape the startup landscape in the US for years to come, SoftLayer's representing.

If you have an idea, a business plan or just a brilliantly talented team looking for some direction, take a look at the TechStars 2012 Program Schedule and Apply for TechStars to get in on their fun in San Antonio, Boston, NYC, Boulder or Seattle. If you already have a killer startup that just needs a little help in scaling your success, hit us up at startups@softlayer.com, and we can tell you a little more about the Catalyst Program.

-@PaulFord

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.

Subscribe to entrepreneurship