Dave Wright is the founder and CEO of Boulder-based SolidFire, which provides high-performance data storage systems designed for large-scale public and private cloud infrastructure.
Experience matters. If you don’t know where to start, you probably aren’t ready to start. Rather than trying to build something from scratch with no experience, go find an early-stage startup to work for, hopefully led by an experienced entrepreneur, and spend a few years to see what it really takes to start a company. Then when you are ready, go for it with confidence (and hopefully a network of connections to leverage).
It’s unlikely that anything that can contribute so much to a company’s success is truly unique or unknown, so instead I’ll talk about an aspect of our culture that I believe has been a key part of our success. When hiring, we place heavy emphasis on peer-level interviews, making sure that the people who will be working with a new hire have a voice in selecting them. That makes the hiring process very selecting, but ensures that new hires have the support of the peers from day one.
Before my first startup, GameSpy, I was a college student. I spent a lot of my time playing and creating mods for online games. The development process for creating mods involved building a team capable of the programming, design, art, music and testing, along with “marketing” the mod to gamers and supporting it after launch. Other than the fact that no one was getting paid, it was amazingly similar to shipping a commercial product.
We are venture backed by three great VC firms and a strategic investor. In terms of lessons learned, chemistry with the investing partner is key, and perhaps is the most important single element to actually closing a deal. Investors beyond all else are making a bet on you, not simply your idea. Feeling like you’re on the same wavelength is key throughout the process, but you can often tell as soon as the first meeting if that chemistry is there.
Prior to our official launch, we spent over a year in “Early Access” mode with customers, who were willing to help give us feedback on our early systems so that we were confident when we launched we had something that was production ready. Our first customers came from a variety of sources – networking, cold calling, and inbound requests based on the early announcements we made.
The most important marketing tactic for SolidFire has been to clearly set ourselves apart in a very crowded market by focusing on key areas of differentiation that are unique to us, and defining what our market is (and isn’t) from the start. This ensures that we don’t waste time with opportunities where our differentiation doesn’t matter, or with customers who aren’t really a fit for what we are trying to do.
SolidFire’s values include a strong, team-oriented mindset, openness and transparency throughout the organization, and a shared belief in our larger mission to Advance the Way the World Uses the Cloud. It is perhaps that last element that keeps the team focused on the big picture and moving in the same direction.
JungleDisk (my previous startup), was a one-man show for many months. At a certain point I badly needed help, but wasn’t having any luck recruiting from my normal network of startup friends. One night at a weekly neighborhood poker game one of the other players asked what I did… I told him, he was interested, and I hired him. Turned out to be one of the best hires I ever made.