When they say “time flies,” it has a whole different meaning for those of us in start ups!
While we were excitedly announcing last week that we were now shipping the latest version of StorageX in volume, it suddenly dawned on us that we had been so busy getting our product out that time had flown right on by us. We had entirely forgotten to pause for a moment and celebrate our first year as a company!
Although the reminiscing over our first year as a company may be a little past due, in the spirit of “better late than never” I wanted to take a moment and share with you some of my thoughts as I reflect back over these last 12-14 months here at Data Dynamics, as we took the company from inception right on through to our first release of the “new” StorageX.
Burning the Midnight Oil and Counting Pedabytes in Our Sleep
Here at Data Dynamics, our days can be long. We start our days at 6 or 7 a.m. and end them close to midnight or later. Sometimes, StorgeX design decisions or replication agent issues even manage to invade our dreams! However, although the past year has been a lot of work, it is amazing to see the strength and resilience of the team. We continue to put in relentless hours week in and week out because of the passion we feel and the belief we have in our product.
When I reflect back on the 14 months since we started Data Dynamics (like I said, we were so busy we missed our own birthday!), it feels like just yesterday when we were scrambling to find office space, recruit the right core team, and negotiate the acquisition of the StorageX IP from Brocade. I still remember flying into Houston for the first time last July and wondering “why are we setting this up in Houston”?! Both John (our VP of Product Management) and I did marathon interview sessions in the lobby of the hotel we were staying at. We found most of the people we met were extremely impressive, and today I am proud to say that many of them came on board and are now part of our core team here at Data Dynamics. Most of them were associated with the technology we acquired through their previous work at either NuView or Brocade. I still recall that each of them asked specifically if the product was still being used and if customers were happy with it. You could see the passion and dedication they had to the product through and through.
The Great Debate – Cubes vs. Chairs
Like all start ups, we faced many challenges in the early days. We finalized office space, only to have it fall through at the last minute, leaving us scrambling for an office on the very day our new employees were first joining. We bargained as a team over whether to buy good cubicles, or spend the money on good ergonomic chairs and protect bodies from breaking down during marathon coding sessions. In the end, bodily comfort won out over privacy. Everyone on the team has good ergonomic chairs (and their health!), but we are still “cubeless”, which means that for better or worse, we all now know each other really, really well… 🙂
Of course, when John and I went out to get those good ergonomic chairs, we were shocked at the sticker price. John and I still wonder if the price of the chair included some additional, extra-special coding magic. Of course, our developers assure us that they do.
Expeditions, Power Tools, and Duct Tape
There are many details around how the new office came together that I won’t get into. (But feel free to ask the team – they love sharing their war stories!) However, everybody on the team that came on board rolled up their sleeves, put on their “handyman gloves,” and helped John put the entire place together. Mike’s Expedition became our unofficial Data Dynamics transportation vehicle, used for everything from picking up materials and equipment to taking the entire team out for lunch. John’s tool box became community property, as everyone dug in and adjusted their work space, the rest of the office, and the data center as needed to get themselves up and going. It was surprising the number of hardware and facility problems the team resolved simply via strategic application of duct tape!
In the early days, we had only one woman as part of the team, Orooj, the mother of two small children. I’m sure Orooj also felt like she also had several additional children she had to babysit at work during those early “giddy” days of duct tape, furniture assembly, and the constant whine of John’s power tools. She probably went home every evening wondering if this is truly how grown men behave at work. However, we now hope that Orooj has gotten so used to all of us that we’ve become the new “normal”.
These initial few weeks, and the trials and tribulations we went through together, built a bond between all of us. We got to know each other very quickly, became good friends, and realized that all of us were willing to work hard and do anything and everything to help make this venture a success. It was amazing to see how fast we went from some initial interviews in a hotel lobby to a high-performance software development team.
Assembling the Engine, Building Out a Roadmap, Scrumming, and Cranking Out Code!
Once the office was established and we got our equipment and network infrastructure set up, we started focusing on analyzing the code that existed and building out a roadmap of where we wanted to take the product and our go-to-market strategy. I personally had never experienced a true Agile scrum methodology in action, and was amazed to see the efficiency of the process, the input it takes from all members, and the agility with which you can manage your development process.
Brett did a great job in putting the team Agile process together and educating me on how it works. We spent the first few months focusing on the core product and fixing and rewriting many areas of the code that needed attention. In the midst of the development process, we discovered a new market opportunity, so we quickly changed gears and shifted our development strategy to support this. What I found particularly impressive was that each member of the development team fully understood the value of revenue and its importance in a start up. The unrelenting focus the development team has in terms of supporting and driving revenue and customer success is something I have never experienced before. Most of the time we think of development teams as focusing on the technology and not really connecting to the commercial aspects of the business. However, that is completely not true in our case. We have a development team that is focused on meeting commercial needs, helping customers gain traction with the product, and ensuring they are delivering a viable product.
Partnering for Success
As we built out the product, we were also busy establishing partnerships with two of the largest hardware vendors in the marketplace. Each is a “Goliath” in its own right, but together they comprise over 78% market share in the NAS storage space. Due to their giant footprints, it was critical for us to form strong relationships with each vendor. Both of these vendors were and continue to be extremely supportive of our efforts. They have helped us ensure our product smoothly integrates with their technology platforms, provided support as needed when our development team had questions around API integration, and helped us fully integrate StorageX with their latest product offerings in a very short period of time. The Data Dynamics development team has also spent endless hours doing R&D, developing a deep understanding each vendor’s technology, and following up to ensure that we have addressed as many viable product integration use cases as possible. Our team’s efforts, combined with their talents and enterprise storage experience, was a powerful combination and allowed us to deliver high-quality enterprise software in a relatively short period of time.
The Devil’s in the Details – Training, Documentation, and Marketing Communications
In addition to core development, there were many other activities, such as product documentation, setting up training programs, putting marketing collateral together, and building strong go-to-market partnerships with key stakeholders that also all needed to happen in parallel. This meant details and more details, tracking spreadsheets and more tracking spreadsheets!
John took the helm on setting up the StorageX Administrator product training program, which we officially rolled out a couple of months ago. As with anything John does, he has created a training program that rivals the best of the best out there, and his “perfectionist” nature is reflected in the end result. In retrospect, I am pretty sure he will never volunteer to do this work again, as building out our unique Virtual Training Lab (VTL) environment had its own challenges. However, like the rest of the team, he was committed to getting it done and having it be best-in-class. On a side note, during his spare time (although I simply cannot figure out when he has any!) John is building out an HVAC system in his house, putting together an submergible robotic vehicle, and building his wife a new crockery set. This should give you just a small idea of how multi-talented and multi-faceted he is.
Maureen took on all the technical writing and marketing responsibilities. She has been fantastic, helping us build out a great website, put together a quality online help guide and product documentation, and put together a lot of the marketing collateral. The number of things she has helped with are too numerous to mention, but I would like to share an example of her dedication. We recently announced the release and traction of our StorageX product and it was picked up by several media outlets. When Maureen saw the momentum it had gained, her email to me was “Super duper woo-hoo!!!!!!!!….I was so excited I couldn’t sleep!”. It is this type of passion and true love for what you do that is essential to making a new venture successful and I am so proud and humbled to have a team that has this level of internal drive in them.
Looking to the Future
The latest addition to our team has been Shehan Akmeemana, our new CTO and a friend of mine from both high school and college. It’s great to have him on board! Shehan has always been on the customer side of the house, and has been an integral part of storage teams at Lehman, Barclays, and JP Morgan Chase. Now Shehan has come over to the “dark side” and is putting his sales hat on and pounding the pavement with me every day, looking for our next opportunity. It is great to see his dedication, and he also has invaluable insights on where we should take our technology both short term and in the longer term based on his experiences working at some of the largest financial institutions in the world.
I could go on and on sharing more about all the activities and excitement that we have gone through during our first full year in business, and someday, I will. 🙂
However, for now, I know need to stop celebrating and get back to focusing on the next twelve months, and ensuring that our strategy and execution builds on the strong foundation that we have put in place over the past 14 months.