Jeff Ready tells CPI about when he first introduced hyperconverged storage to channel partners, and why it didn't quite work out
"We blew it," said Jeff Ready, CEO and founder of storage vendor Scale Computing.
Ready is referring to Scale's first big roadshow after launching HC3, its hyperconverged offering, in 2012. The plan was to take a dozen executives on a two-week trip visiting as many as 18 cities in the US to showcase the new technology.
The roadshow was a total flop, he claims. No one really knew what hyperconverged infrastructure even was six years ago, he said, and channel partners were left scratching their heads as to what new problem Scale's new HC3 was trying to solve.
"I will tell you straight up - it was a failure," he said.
"It was a lot of money and it seemed to make such good sense. We had a new product to go out there with, but hyperconvergence - it wasn't even called that then; there was no real word for it - it was too new."
Ready highlighted the roadshow as a painful learning curve in getting Scale's HC3 offering to market, but claims that the disastrous roadshow helped recalibrate its messaging around the new and unfamiliar technology.
"The channel didn't know what we were talking about. Maybe we did a lousy job of prepping them for what we were coming to show them. These were existing channel partners, who were very good at what they do, and it was just a waste."
"When we did the post-mortem, we decided that was the wrong venue. Our partners know what Scale does and who Scale is, because they're our partners, and they thought we'd be showing them the latest and greatest version of what they currently know. It was like we were a car dealer and we just showed them an aeroplane," he said.
The roadshow was just one of many mistakes Ready and his team have made in his almost 12 years leading the company. The founder said he actively encourages his staff - even if they're in entry-level positions - to be autonomous, experiment, and be open to failure. If something doesn't work, try to learn from it and move on.
It's obvious that Ready isn't ashamed of the errors in judgement he and his team have made along the way. He said that, as a smaller company in a market up against huge multinationals such as Dell EMC and HPE, thinking outside the box becomes crucial.
"I take the approach of being more like a coach in a sports team. I tell the team where they're going and what the system is, but when the players take to the field, they've got to be making their own decisions. They can't be looking at the coach." he said.
"It's OK to make mistakes. I don't mean ‘be reckless' but ultimately experiments are fine and experiments sometimes fail, but that's OK. If the culture turns out that when there's failure there's punishment, no one would want to make that decision."
Carving out your own distinct work culture and sticking to it is another important aspect for Ready, even if that means losing some employees along the way.
"If you have a strong work culture, then employees tend to self-select. Obviously we do pretty well on not having high staff turnover, but people do come into the company and either we don't see them to be a fit, or very often they don't see themselves as a fit for their own personality. If the culture is pretty strong, they tend to self-select out," he said.
When it came to shaping Scale's work culture, Ready singled out Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, a retailer that was acquired by Amazon in 2009, as someone from whom he draws inspiration.
One of Hsieh's more unorthodox methods was to put all new Zappos employees - even vice presidents - on the customer service desk for their first weeks with the firm. The goal was to get all employees to keep the customer at the heart of everything they do.
Taking inspiration from Hsieh, Ready has come up with his own way of putting the customer first at Scale Computing. He said he pins pictures of the IT directors of customers on the wall of Scale Computing's offices to remind the tech support teams who they're really serving.
"The point was to connect you with a customer. It's ultimately the fact that there's someone on the other end who will be putting what you're doing to use. You can lose sight of that with what you're doing, whether you're an engineer writing code or a sales and marketing person.
"Just so they knew there was a real person on the other end. That has served us very well and that was inspired a bit from what I saw from Zappos. By doing that, the tech support people work a little harder. It makes it matter more when you start thinking about what it's like to be on the other end of the line."