My old chairman of LogLogic once remarked that he benefited greatly from a portfolio of companies, both to spread his bets and enabling him a clearer picture of the macro trends in the market.
Most startups have a myopic laser focus, which is critical but also potentially debilitating when scaling based on a narrow field of view.
I was afforded this very same benefit when my then boss at EMC, David Goulden, expanded my role to encompass both data protection and primary storage. It’s hard to place your finger on the tangible benefit, but it really helps expose a broader picture of customers’ goals, and then translate that down into specific vertical product lines.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest I’ve received from my close network on taking up board positions at Druva and Datera. With the advent of the third one, namely FairWarning now announced, it seems apropos to explain my rationale and answer the top questions I received.
The bulk of the enquiries boil down to the following three topics:
- Are you done with the CEO gig now and doing the board thing full time?
- How can I get on a board and can you help me?
- Why did you choose these 3 companies?
But before I answer these, I beg your indulgence to meander… My mother was a teacher by career some 30+ years, and although I felt this vocation wasn’t for me, it has seemed that the more miles I put under my belt, the more I focused – nay obsessed – about other people’s success and careers, even over and above my own trappings. The last few years at EMC afforded me a great opportunity to help individuals and communities alike, which has driven me and delivered maximum job satisfaction.
So I decided to pivot my attention toward helping companies realize their true promise, and set out to find individuals who have excelled in their own right. That is where my experience can assist them in their journey – thus helping them and satisfying my newly minted cause.
I took a first stab at this through a CEO position with the brilliant Phu Hoang and Amol Kekre at DataTorrent. Unfortunately timing was slightly off and a combination of some market dynamics and our strategic horse “stumbling at the last jump before the home straight” meant it wasn’t to be. However, the impetuous was there, the scratch needed itching, and it seemed smarter, to take lessons learnt and cast the same process albeit in a portfolio setting.
So Q2 of this year, I took stock of my kitbag and this is what I knew:
- I’m an enterprise infrastructure kinda guy, I like plumbing and I totally love data.
- I love love love complexity. I like fixing things, but it’s actually the complexity of a situation that stimulates me.
- I have a grounding in technology and smarts in GTM, but the operationalization of this – specifically around driving focus to scale – is where I seem to hover.
- I’m inadvertently blunt, transparent, and candid being a techie and a Brit, which polarizes my support base (some people only want their beliefs ratified whilst others fortunately are ‘uncomfortably happy’ with hard facts and a proposed path forward).
- The markets are in a tricky spot, with large companies focused on profit margins and smaller companies struggling to get their voice heard over the noise.
- With less time to talk to vendors, companies are relying on a small pile of trusted advisors, which is not necessarily where the ‘next bright idea’ is incubated.
- Startup land has favored founders voices a little more than usual, creating a lot of back slapping and spurious technologies looking for problems – a lot of chaff to find the wheat as it were. This compounds the problems enterprise have in discovering the right path.
- All companies are in the transition to their preferred flavor of the “digital economy.” This basically means distributed compute and everything run like a cloud (on- or off-promises), with a hodge-podge mess of old and new, local and remote, owned and leased for the next handful of years.
I recall when meeting a CIO some years back in New York who gestured toward their office window where row upon row of admin and technologist sat and said:
“These are all my storage and data management admins, and I won’t be rehiring them when they are gone. So if your products can’t be managed by generalists, then we’ll find alternative products.”
So back to the questions:
Are you done with being CEO and doing full time board work now?
Never say never, the board work and a CEO gig are not mutually exclusive, but the board movement is absolutely deliberate and I am reveling in it. Obviously if an opportunity presents itself that steals my heart, then I will certainly give it deep consideration based on checking the above philosophical dilemmas.
How do I get on a board and can you help me?
Interesting question, as it’s not something I considered and had frankly resisted to solicitations for the last dozen or so years, as to stay bullet focused on the task at hand. The best way I can answer this is to suggest you put yourself in the CEO or board’s shoes, and ask the question as to what they might want. There are also three types of board positions: 1. A board seat; 2. A strategically placed board advisory role; 3. Yeah why not….board advisory role.
In reality, the thoughtful placements fall into one of these 4 reasons:
- It’s mighty frustrating as a CEO to have a board makeup of only financiers or academics, and they look for someone on the board who has “walked in their shoes.” Interestingly this observation comes from both the existing board and the CEO.
- The CEO might excel in one area but know they are a little green in others (tech vs. GTM mainly), giving them a chance to take counsel and learn, rather than being replaced or inadvertently hampering their business.
- They look for someone with a brand or draw for either recruitment of people, perhaps further investment, or signal an impending event like an IPO.
- Lastly, but still a pertinent reason, is to have an operational backstop on the board ‘Force Majeure’
There are recruitment agencies who fill board positions, but you only hit their radar if your reputation affords you this, so it’s worth bearing in mind the fit and reasoning before you decide to go hunt down a board role.
Why did you choose these companies?
Knowing what I knew and the market dynamics, I wanted to find a spread/portfolio of data obsessed companies who’ve realized success through hard graft and perseverance, have a stellar product offering, and have a current operating dynamic that I might be able to help with.
@druva – Jaspreet Singh and I go back a ways, I have watched him build a most impressive business that’s delivering revenue and customer attainment results akin to a Silicon Valley unicorn company, yet without the shouting and trumpeting. Druva is the primo cloud-based data management company. They have a tremendous asset pool and client base, and now want to get ahead of the inevitable $100M company to a multi-billion company dynamic. I have no doubt Jaspreet could accomplish this without me, so I was flattered to be asked.
@datera – A new generation software software-defined storage architecture that Marc Fleischmann, the CEO, and team toiled away and productized. What I saw was a gem of an industry- leading offering, yet somewhat relatively unknown as the market is very noisy with a few monster brands dominating the media they. This is a product and company that the market should take note of, that’s been designed from the ground up to embrace change, agility, scale and deliver the true promise of enterprise storage in a software defined/cloud deployment model. So from a current challenge and future deployment paradigm, these guys check all the boxes !. Marc and team now have the tiger by the tail, and in the last few months it’s been fantastic to see how much traction they’ve been getting from clients and strategies so I couldn’t be happier to be part of the journey.
@fairwarning – This one’s the wildcard and still very new to me. I was totally impressed by how they focused on the healthcare industry (a particularly tricky vertical) and rose to the leading provider of data governance in trust along with catalyzing their clients transformation to the cloud.
Social media is inundated by companies talking intelligent edge, distributed compute, cloud and the digital economy, and clicking down on trends like artificial intelligence and machine learning, which underscore the necessity for critical products delivering agile solutions for the broader category of data protection in the digital economy.
What I set out to find was a few fantastically focused, innovative companies that embrace this very paradigm from the complexity of scale and dispersion, to the criticality of ease of use, governance, management and reliability.
Datera accomplishes this for software-defined storage without compromise, Druva cracked the code in transitioning clients seamlessly from the edge to the cloud, and FairWarning has mobilized the healthcare march to this very same promised land. All three have majored in the new economy, cloud-first, and simplicity of deployments without compromise.
This is my starting point and homage to a comprehensive modern data protection portfolio, and a tip of my hat toward my mother’s invaluable vocation.
Tweet Tweet – @guychurchward