SoftLayer listens to customers. There’s no marketing spin or fluff on that statement … I’m a former client, so I can attest to that from a customer perspective and from an internal perspective. When I joined the company as part of the community development team to work with startups in Catalyst, I knew my role was going to be more relationship-based than project-oriented, and that was one of the most exciting aspects of the job for me.
In my last blog about mentorship and meaningfulness, you heard from George Karidis and Paul Ford about the vision to make Catalyst a part of the startup ecosystem, committing to helping participating teams with more than just their hosting needs. While we attended SXSW Interactive, I ran into a few of our phenomenal customers and had the opportunity to sit down with them and talk about their businesses, their connection to SoftLayer and what the future holds:
Over the next few weeks, we’ll add video interviews to that YouTube playlist to show off all of the startups that stopped by the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW 2013. When a new video is published, it’ll be added to the embedded playlist above, and we’ll send some social media shout-outs via Twitter and Facebook.
With SoftLayer’s 7th birthday coming up on May 5, we still feel like a startup, and a lot of that has to do with how closely we work with our customers … Their energy is contagious, and it only encourages us to keep innovating and building our platform for the future. That’s why entrepreneurs like the ones you meet in these videos choose SoftLayer. The fact that we have better technology and provide a more powerful cloud infrastructure winds up being a fringe benefit.
A big “Thanks!” goes out to the folks from Epic Playground, Flowmio, Medved, Urbane, YouNoodle, KeenIO, Cloudability and Preferred Return for taking time out of their busy SXSW schedules to chat with me. We love you guys!
In the Community Development group, our mission is simple: Create the industry’s most substantially helpful startup program that assists participants in a MEANINGFUL way. Meaningfulness is a subjective goal, but when it comes to fueling new businesses, numbers and statistics can’t tell the whole story. Sure, we could run Catalyst like some of the other startup programs in the infrastructure world and gauge our success off of the number of partners using the hosting credits we provide, but if we only focused on hosting credits, we’d be leaving a significant opportunity on the table.
SoftLayer is able to offer the entrepreneurial community so much more than cloud computing instances and powerful servers. As a startup ourselves not so long ago, our team knows all about the difficulties of being an entrepreneur, and now that we’re able to give back to the startup community, we want to share battle stories and lessons learned. Mentorship is one of the most valuable commodities for entrepreneurs and business founders, and SoftLayer’s mentors are in a unique position to provide feedback about everything from infrastructure planning to hiring your first employees to engaging with your board of advisors to negotiating better terms on a round of funding.
The Catalyst team engages in these kinds discussions with our clients every day, and we’ve had some pretty remarkable success. When we better understand a client’s business, we can provide better feedback and insight into the infrastructure that will help that business succeed. In other words, we build meaningful relationships with our Catalyst clients, and as a result, those clients are able to more efficiently leverage the hosting credits we provide them.
The distinction between Catalyst and other startup programs in the hosting industry has never been so apparent than after South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin this year. I had the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts who have been thirsting for a program like Catalyst for years, and when they hear about what we’re doing, they know they’ve found their oasis. I had a chance to sit down with Paul Ford in the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW to talk about the program and some of the insights and feedback we’d gotten at the show:
Paul was quick to point out that being a leader in the startup community has more impact when you provide the best technology and pair that with a team that can deliver for startups what they need: meaningful support.
Later, I had an impromptu coffee with one of the world’s largest, most prestigious Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms — probably THE most respected venture capital firm in the world, actually. As we chatted about the firm’s seed-funding practices, the investment partner told me, “There is no better insurance policy for an infrastructure company than what SoftLayer is doing to ensure success for its startup clients.” And I thought that was a pretty telling insight.
That simple sentence drove home the point that success in a program like Catalyst is not guaranteed by a particular technology, no matter how innovative or industry-leading that technology may be. Success comes from creating value BEYOND that technology, and when I sat down with George Karidis, he shared a few insights how the Catalyst vision came to be along with how the program has evolved to what it is today:
Catalyst is special. The relationships we build with entrepreneurs are meaningful. We’ve made commitments to have the talented brainpower within our own walls to be accessible to the community already. After SXSW, I knew I didn’t have to compare what we were doing from what other programs are doing because that would be like comparing apples and some other fruit that doesn’t do nearly as much for you as apples do.
I was told once on the campaign trail for President Clinton in ’96 that so long as you have a rock-solid strategy, you cannot be beaten if you continue to execute on that strategy. Execute, Execute, Execute. If you waiver and react to the competition, you’re dead in the water. With that in mind, we’re going to keep executing on our strategy of being available to our Catalyst clients and actively helping them solve their problems. The only question that remains is this:
When I was 14 I got my first tech job as a tech support guy for a local “mom and pop” internet service provider, from there on out I have been in many data centers in the North West working with multiple companies of all caliber. From National Dial-up Internet Service Providers to small webhosting companies that have had their stuff collocated in many of the area’s datacenters.
When I was about 20 I decided I was burnt out on the internet and wanted to try Central Office build outs for a national telecommunications company installing their fiber and DSL network in Washington and Oregon. The one thing that I learned in the Telco industry is to do nice and neat work. Work that you could trace a single cable in a bundle and follow it from point A to point B.
After a few years of doing the same thing over and over, I figured it was time for me to get back into the Internet as it was way more challenging for my ever-thinking mind.
So I took my nice and neat skills and worked on a contract for Microsoft building out a data center in a top secret location in the Puget Sound. This was by far one of the nicest and cleanest datacenters I had ever seen. After that I went to work for some other area datacenters doing systems administration work. I helped them do a migration of two datacenters into one. I helped build out a datacenter, and I helped by trying to make the datacenter as nice as Microsoft’s along with as neat as the Telephone companies COs.
During this time I really noticed SoftLayer Technologies was Ahead of the Rest when it came to the internet utility hosting Industry. I quickly wanted to learn everything about this company, and being the nerd that I am, figured I should buy a server from this company. I Bought one and went to lunch thinking I might have a call or e-mail saying that my server will be done here within the day. Wow! 45 minutes later? “These guys are on top of it”, I thought.
Then one day I was browsing Webhostingtalk.com (this is my equivalent to your teenager’s myspace.com addiction) and noticed that SoftLayer just released a P.R. about signing a deal with InterNAP for a 10,000 server datacenter in Tukwila so I figured this company’s features are so freaking amazing and cool. “I just need to try to get a job at this location with this really cool company”, I said to myself. I sent off a Resume and a little info about myself. I did not hear back from them for a while. I figured my quick-witted humor may have rubbed the HR department the wrong way, or maybe I wasn’t qualified, or too qualified.
SoftLayer finally called me back. I was as happy as a 10 year old getting a dirt bike for his birthday — they wanted an interview.
So I go in and tour the facility and do my interview with the interviewing committee, I have to say it was one of the most intense interviews I have ever had with the technical questions that was asked along with just a hard interview process, though I left that day knowing I would be getting a call from SoftLayer as I felt I sold myself to them on my skillset.
I have to say it is really relaxing and challenging working for a world-class company in a world-class datacenter. There is a great deal of stress that comes with our job in this industry, and when the datacenter and management have everything in order from the get go and it hasn’t been patched together it makes your job as a Systems Administrator a little less stressful. I do my daily walks of the datacenter in Seattle looking at thousands and thousands of racked servers that are set to standards which is weird when I’ve worked for places that use motorcycle tie-downs and zip ties to secure your rack to make them ‘Earthquake’ ready.
I now sleep at night knowing if there is an earthquake we will be prepared and your data and machines will be safe in SoftLayer’s Seattle N+1 datacenter. We have a wonderful team of build engineers and systems administrators that work around the clock to keep your virtual datacenter up and running. I wouldn’t want to be at any other place for 40+ hours a week!