Musings on the last year, successful exits, and the future in general

Let me preface this one with there has been a lot of stuff locked away in my noggin that I’ve simply not taken the time to sit down and spit out.

Fun fact, I’ve been busy.

Since joining SolidFire in April, my day job has taken up a fairly significant amount of my time, not to shark-cartoon-112mention, I’ve done a good amount of writing for SolidFire which has not all found its way over here, just in case you are curious, take a look. At SolidFire My goal has to been to make as much of a personal contribution to the success of the organization as possible. Initially my role was to take over the responsibilities of the Agile Infrastructure deliverable collateral as part of SolidFire’s Tech Solutions team. I’m personally indebted to Jeremiah Dooley for setting the bar high enough that I felt compelled to meet it (tall order indeed). The result of this effort was primarily to craft a mixed workload Reference Architecture design around Dell Compute/Networking, VMware Virtualization and SolidFire storage. You would be amazed how much effort goes into a Reference Architecture design, but as challenging as it was, I learned a lot about myself and abilities in during the process. 

A Promotion

US_Army_Enlisted_PromotionWith the Agile Infrastructure  solutions work taking a lesser priority within the organization and some of the personnel changes that altered the team’s structure, I found more time being focused on customer outreach and engagement to work on assisting the West team as needed in the role of the Principal Field Architect (yay a promotion). It was refreshing to get back into the field and in front of customers working on a daily basis to move deals across the finish line. Part of me missed the day to day trench warfare, but in this role there is a larger emphasis on being an overlay to a larger territory and team, as I’m fond of saying “being a Prime Mover”.

Enter Netapp

Now the time finds me on the cusp of a new change with the impending acquisition by Netapp. Obviously, for anyone who has listened to me on the In Tech We Trust Podcast, I’ve not been a major Trikot_NetApp_2011fan (that’s putting it lightly). My common thought has been that Netapp is the Blackberry of the storage world. Failing to keep abreast of changes in the space, rigid in its thinking, inflexible, full of hubris, all the things that leave an organization ripe to be surpassed and eclipsed by the very startup companies I’ve come to enjoy working for. I would forever hate myself if all of the sudden I put on the Homer Trousers and suddenly was pushing the OnTap message, in fact I’m half tempted to make a T-Shirt that says the only thing I serve OnTap is beer (as a certain CEO once told me “You are a walking HR Violation). Obviously, I probably won’t do that, and just in case Mr. Kurian reads this, I promise to only wear that shirt at home. But to a larger point, I feel its important to stick to ones principles and not fully sell out, and frankly in my opinion the reason Mr. Kurian took a strong interest in SolidFire was exactly because we were not OnTap and traditional Netapp in our way of thinking, design, implementation, marketing, sales, and corporate esprit de corps. In that respect, I do feel compelled to move forward if an offer is made to retain my services. There is something about being able to challenge the status quo from within the belly of the beast that has always appealed to me.

Big Names Open Big Doors

name-dropPrior to leaving Cisco, I managed to have a 30 minute 1X1 with Chuck Robbins. I got to sit in his office and chat about anything that came to mind. It was actually a great experience to sit down and trade stories of how we both entered the industry, and what drives us. Of the several things that stood out from that meeting, the one that stuck most was something Chuck said: ” In the last week I’ve met with both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, the Prime Minister of South Korea, and several major business leaders, and the reason they meet with me isn’t because of who I am, it’s because of the logo on this card”. There is a lot of truth in that. When you are 55 people at a startup with a killer idea, amazing technology, and a product that solves many problems, opening the door to a major companies bathroom is tough, let alone getting a meeting with anyone who can actually make a decision. Having the heft of a major corporation behind you does indeed get you more at-bats (that challenge in and of itself is another thing I love about startup land), thus it may seem like the cards are always stacked against you, but they’re not, it just takes persistence. All this said, I see a very bright future for the SolidFire team within Netapp primarily because outside of my snarky viewpoint, the company has built an astonishing channel organization and customer base over the last few decades, and frankly deserve respect for that. It’s very easy to get caught up in the mortal combat of the us vs them world of technology sales, but remember, at any time you can end up working for one of your biggest competitors. Hubris goes both ways.

Successful Exits Are Tough

Not one to make major predictions with each passing year, I do believe that the infrastructure vendors imagesare in for some challenging times ahead, especially a number of the private storage players. Tegile, Tintri, Kaminario all face uphill struggles as that space collapses. The Dell/EMC situation confuses things and creates opportunities, but is there enough time and runway for those other players to garner enough sales to make successful exists themselves? Frankly I don’t see IPO as a route to exit for very many organizations.  The public players Nimble, Violin, and Pure all face challenges themselves and their reflective stock prices foretell a bleak future in many respects unless they adapt their product lines since single product platforms with limited true disruptive power are not long for this world, at least that’s how I see it. Adapt quickly to the new model which tends to be software oriented in nature (alas thats a subject for another blog post altogether) or starve. Not to say all software options are going to hit it big. There are large number of software storage plays out there today who have hitched themselves to current trends (aka hyper converged) but will not generate enough momentum to break out and will fail completely or get picked up for pennies on the dollar for their IP. The VC pools are tightening in light of recent events, even relatively powerful entrants like Nutanix face significant challenges as their burn rates, and sales expenditures outpace their ability to generate revenue. At some point you are not a viable concern, too expensive to acquire, too sales poor to IPO, that down round is the kiss of an impending death.

What The Future Holds

thefutureRamble much? Yeah, I guess I had a lot sitting in the noggin indeed. As for the future, at this moment, It’s hard to tell. There are many unanswered questions in front of me. For all intents and purposes, nothing has actually changed at all (not till the inks dry), so for me its business as usual. I’m still visiting customers, I’ve got travel booked for corporate events, I’ll be in Berlin for Cisco Live Europe. I have obligations that I feel I need to meet, and frankly, I think there are various upside options that I’ve not fully taken into consideration when it comes to a future with Netapp. I wouldn’t consider it fully prudent to simply move on without hearing them out, and there are some great people there I’d like to chat with about longer term strategic goals.

Still, if I’m 100% honest with myself there is something that really draws me to startup culture, especially the early days in that Pre-A round/A-Round time frame where the beta customers are being engaged, the story is being baked and formulated, the go to market message is being crafted, tested, rehearsed and finalized. Its that period where a handful of individuals can make an amazing impact on the future direction of a product and company. Not to say those things can’t be accomplished within a larger organization, its just the impact isn’t quite the same, and there is also a safety net that in my view may not properly motivate the individual. Still there are some major shifts afoot that I’m interested in being part of, so I’m open to discussion.

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