Tag Archives: STARTUP

The most important meeting I had last week

When I first arrived at Infinio, I reflected on the types of meetings I Infinio_Systems__Inc__-_Calendarattended, praising most of them for being pretty valuable.

That’s been consistent here over the 9 months that I’ve worked here. While there are certainly moments that are unproductive, there are rarely entire meetings that I come out of thinking “geez, what a waste of time that was!”

In fact, two meetings I’ve been attending recently are particularly interesting.  One is the Sales and Marketing leadership planning meeting for 2015 programs, and one is the long-term roadmap & strategy meeting. Both meetings are attended by really smart, engaged people, and between the two of them, I get a sweeping view of the company going forward, which significantly helps me do my job better.

I went to a few other interesting meetings last week – the bi-weekly engineering iteration review, a review of survey results from a vendor, and a discussion about our website.

But none of those (nor the two mentioned above) were the most important meeting I had last week.

The most important meeting I had last week was with one of our BDRs. BDRs (business development reps) call the people we meet at tradeshows and online, and engage them in further conversations about Infinio.  This BDR had some questions about our industry, product, and competition, so we spent ~45 minutes together talking through his (well-thought-out) list of questions.

The reason this was so important was that I got to hear:

  • Which parts of our training were working, and where we were leaving things out
  • What questions he was getting the most on the phone, and what things he did and didn’t know how to respond to
  • What things we’re suggesting he say work, and which are a total misfire on our part

It was a view from someone who directly interacts with our prospects all day long.  And that is the most important thing for me to be in touch with.


This week, Facebook and Apple announced that they were going to reimburse female workers eggfor the costs of cryogenically freezing their eggs in case they want to delay pregnancy. Apparently (no pun intended) Google is also considering it.

The media has been abuzz with whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  My jury is out.

On one hand, in a post-Hobby Lobby world, bravo to major tech firms for recognizing that women’s health issues are just that: women’s health issues. If insurance plans cover things like gastric bypass, Viagra, and contact lenses, then things like fertility should fall into this camp too.  And if traditional insurance companies aren’t covering it, then good for large employers for doing it.

Also – part of me is hopeful that is a sign of some movement towards far better recognition that while men and women may have equal things to contribute at work, their contributions to child creation just aren’t the same (chicken vs. pig?), and that has be addressed.  I yearn for a world with far better universal support for maternity leave, breastfeeding, and childcare, all in the name of women being able to reach their potential more easily at work.  If that means helping women get pregnant when they want to, then employers should be supporting both IVF and egg freezing.

And for some women it may take what is often a awful distraction of the treadmill of meeting-The-One-falling-in-love-and-getting-pregnant-before-35.  Some people are looking for a partner for companionship and to build a life together, but for many that is inextricably tied to fertility. The flexibility that someone might feel from no longer having that pressure may be a lifted burden.

But the other side is scary.  Mobile phones used to be the exception and now they are the norm.  Will egg-freezing become a de facto standard for working women?  Will we ever get to the point where women are asked (or tacitly expected) to delay pregnancy until it’s good for their employer?  It is hard to feel like there is a “right time” even without freezing eggs.

And what is the actual impact on maternal and fetal health – there aren’t conclusive studies on the efficacy of long-term egg cryogenics on fertility.  And there are lots of studies on maternal age impacting all sorts of health concerns (like diabetes and high blood pressure), not just fertility.  Certainly every decision has tradeoffs and any number of factors may mean that having a baby at 40 is a far better decision for someone than having that baby at 30.  But is this encouraging women towards a medical decision whose impact on both mother and child we don’t actually understand yet?  

The calculus of when to have children vis a vis also having a career is wicked complicated. Prime fertility and the resultant childrearing occurs during prime career-building years.  As an industry (a society?) we have to work out how to make this better.

I just can’t tell whether this move by large companies is helping or hurting families decide how to balance it all.


Last week was an exercise in brainstorming.

Our biggest tradeshow of the year is coming up, and we didn’t have the right story yet.  So Alan, Carrie, and I met to come up with something.  Then we met again.  Then again.

vlcsnap-931788_jpg__853×480_And it was like that episode of the West Wing when the President is deciding whether to kill a known terrorist, and it’s in the situation room, and the joint chiefs of staff are presenting him with all the info, and they’re ready to take this guy out, and the president looks at them and says,

“You haven’t got it.”

And we didn’t have it.  So back to the brainstorming we went.  And eventually, we got it.  But it had me thinking about brainstorming all weekend.

A few months ago, I read an article that indicated that brainstorming in a group is not more effective than just thinking alone. I can’t find the exact article, but a cursory google led to hundreds of pages on “ground rules for brainstorming” “the myth of the brainstorming session” “sometimes it’s better to brainstorm alone” – in short, there are myriad articles on how brainstorming is not all it’s cracked up to be and how to make it more effective.

I’m an old-school brainstormer.  I believe in taking every idea that comes up and putting it up somewhere that everyone can see it.  I think seeing ideas helps generate more ideas.  And the whole point is to generate as many ideas as possible, then weed through them after.

I’ve always found that if you have enough ideas eventually you’ll hit a good one.  Sure, there’s a process of debate and valuation and examination, but getting the raw ideas is the most important part.

You know why this is hard?  And you know why I love doing it?  It’s for the same reason that asking dumb questions is hard.  And the same reason I love asking dumb questions.  You have to put aside your pride, put aside your well-honed ability to self-censor the random thoughts that pop into your head, put aside your carefully cultivated professionalism.

You have to say things out loud that may already sound terrible in your head.  You say things out loud that sound good in your head but terrible out loud.

But, eventually, you get it.

Book Review: Lean Startup

(cross posted at sherylsbooklist.blogspot.com)  

This is probably the top business book that has been recommended to me since I joined a startup. Now that I have read it, I can understand why – it ought to be required reading for anyone coming from a big company into a fast-paced startup. I had many a “a-ha” moment reading this, like “Oh, that’s why we are shipping a product that seems incomplete…it’s on purpose!”

The concept of Lean Manufacturing grew out of the Toyota Production Systems innovations of the mid-20th century. This comprised the idea of constantly improving systems, measuring more important things, and driving organizational learning. In grad school, I remember learning about this, and about its influence on the software industry. Agile/scrum development seems to have its roots in Lean.

So all this forms the backdrop for the ideas in this book – that companies and projects in general can use a lot of the same concepts that have fundamentally improved Manufacturing and Software Development. There’s a real focus on learning and structuring the product development process to increase the speed with which everyone learns. (And it is worth pointing out that like Innovator’s Dilemma, this is relevant for innovative parts of big companies, not just startups.) Two items stuck with me the most:

1. Vanity Metrics – Ries argues strongly against using vanity metrics when evaluating a change to a product. He says that too often metrics are chosen that look like improvements when really they aren’t, like number of downloads (without number of repeat customers) or number of repeat customers (without number of paying customers.) He says you really need to know what you are measuring and why.

2. Experiments – Ries gives several examples of how you want to run experiments about your product in real life with real customers. If your audience is big enough, A/B test actual features. Release great products without all their features to see if you have Andreesen’s elusive product/market fit. Ask focus group customers the right questions, not question your existing assumptions. 

It’s his examples that I liked the most – they were perfectly relevant and constructive. He’s delightfully honest about how hard it is to learn this way by sharing his experiences at his company IMVU. In any case, this is a MUST-READ for people interested in the model for success in technical innovation in the next decade. It’s in my mental bookshelf next to “Innovator’s Dilemma” “Good to Great” and “Crossing the Chasm.”

Forming, storming, norming, storming, norming….

Courtesy John Fowler CCLately, I’ve been thinking about Bruce Tuckman’s model of how groups develop:


The idea is that first groups form.   Forming is when everyone gets to know each other and starts to understand the capabilities, goals, and gaps.

Then they storm.  Storming is the natural friction that arises as a team is coming together and people bring all their previous preferences, skills, and styles into the group and drop them in a big, messy pile.

After that, teams norm.  That is, the members figure out how they will work together to get things done, and learn how to communicate.

Only after those stages can a team perform.

It’s a cool model, and one that I think holds up pretty well even 50+ years later.  I definitely saw it in practice at Dell.  Once when I built a team from scratch, hiring quickly, and again when I returned from maternity leave to a team that had doubled in size.

What’s funny about it at a startup, though, is that it can feel like we’re in the “Storming” and “Norming” stages repeatedly.  It’s not that we’re not performing – we are! – but the team composition changes so quickly that we need to keep evolving how we work together.

When I joined Infinio, it was about the same time as a Director of Demand Generation joined.  We’ve all been focused together in Marketing to get a working model of how we do things.

  • Fast forward two months, and Scott Davis joins as our CTO.  Not an official member of Marketing, but a huge influence on the company and the messaging.  OK, so we figure that out.
  • Fast forward a few more weeks, and Matt joins my team.  Here we go again

At a startup it’s just all happening too fast to ever really “norm” – “norming” just has to include adjusting for new members and configurations on a constant basis, rather than having that trigger the entire process all over again.

Girl on a Bus

Last week I was on the #43 bus headed home and a friendly woman sat down next to me.

“Oh, that’s a great book. Are you liking it?”

None of that is remarkable, except that I was reading The Lean Startup and she worked in sales for a software startup. So we had a lot in common.

“I do like it,” I said. “Coming from a big company, I’m finding it really helpful to understand why we sometimes make certain decisions.”

She started to rattle off several other books she really liked, all of which I need to add to my business reading list.

Decisive (which she described as a book that helped you learn how to make good long-term decisions)


Great by Choice

She shared a concept from the last book that I really liked – that Jim Collins explains that before shooting a cannonball, gunners would shoot a bullet. It’s less expensive than a cannonball but tells you you are looking in the right direction. You can do that in business too, release a limited version of your product, or release to a limited audience, so you can calibrate if you are in the right place.

I’m almost done with Lean Startup (which I’ll review here soon) and that cannonball concept seemed like a cool extension of the ideas from that book.

This woman’s stop came up before mine, and we didn’t exchange cards, but maybe we’ll have a chance to talk again on the #43 bus.

Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

When I was in grad school (nearly 10 years ago now), one of my courses was called “Learning to Lead.”  It was a practical course on leadership and management that spanned throughout the entire 18-month program alongside more traditional courses on product development, finance, and engineering methodologies.

In Learning to Lead I and II, students learn the basic concepts about leadership, management and teamwork. The uniqueness of this course is within the teaching methodology, which has been developed to accelerate the advancement of self-awareness and interpersonal competencies. Specific topics covered in Learning to Lead 1 include: personality types (Myers-Briggs type indicator assessment), best practices in forming and maintaining team performance, giving and receiving feedback, individual and team creativity, communicating to inspire and influencing without authority. Topics in Learning to Lead II include systems thinking, team decision making, communication across cultures, shared visions and organizational change.

We often took assessments to determine our styles and preferences, because that self-awareness is central to leading well.  One of the assessments we took was about learning styles, through the Center for Creative Leadership.  This assessment evaluated what tactics I used when I was learning something new.

  • Accessing other people
  • Taking Action
  • Thinking
Center for Creative Leadership model of Learning Tactics.  Taken from Amazon book preview.

Center for Creative Leadership model of Learning Tactics. Taken from Amazon book preview.

I thought of these as: Asking for help, Figuring it out hands-on, Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

And as it turned out, I never, ever, asked for help.  I occasionally tried to figure it out out hands-on, and I nearly always tried to figure it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.  In retrospect, it wasn’t super-surprising: being trained as a mathematician, it’s often about just sitting in a room and figuring it out.

But when I learned this, the moment I had was “OMG, everyone else is working together and asking each other for help, and here I am trying to whack through everything alone.  I’m missing out!”  In fact, I remember thinking that everyone else had this advantage toward their succeeding that I was ignoring: relying on each other.  Mathematician or not, how did I miss this in school?

And thus began a change in how I tried to approach problems and learning.  I started asking people at work for help, for their opinion, to explain things to me.  And it was great!  My colleagues didn’t even seem to notice that I was any different, and I was getting more help.  But it was always deliberate.  I had to think hard about reaching out to collaborate with people.

Fast forward to my start at Infinio.  New environment, new tasks, lots to learn.  In some areas, it’s felt very natural to ask for help.  In other areas, specifically content creation, it’s been harder to access others.  There’ve been a few projects where I’ve shown Alan some of my work, and just 20 minutes with him has made it twice as good as when I started. I don’t know why that’s so hard to do every time.

It’s not that I don’t want the feedback.  Part of it may be that I have the idea that having the level of experience I have means that my work should be pretty complete when I do it on my own.  Which of course is ridiculous – even the greatest authors have great editors.

I think it boils down to the fact that I’m neither inclined nor trained to access others and I will always need to work to ensure that I’m doing it.

It’s Complicated

“So is this for BDRs who can’t reach registrants who didn’t attend?  Or for SRs who can’t reach attendees who did attend?”

It’s complicated.

I’ve never worked at a startup before, but I think this is the beginning of a phase where we are scaling some things and noticing how that breaks other things.  It’s like when you are 12 and your legs grow but the rest of you hasn’t caught up yet.

I saw three examples of that in the past few days.

1. Our followup email templates

When I was hired, a Director of Demand Generation was also hired.  She’s taken our programs by storm!  One of her first achievements was to execute a successful webinar series starting this month.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from an email I wrote to our marketing team – I was providing text for a “standard” email, and I didn’t know if the text was for people who registered and didn’t attend, or who actually did attend.

This is going to be second nature in a few months.  In a few months, we’ll have a template, a system, an agreed-upon way of following up with customers after webcasts.  But for now we’re in “let’s have some great webcasts and experiment with what works best for people and process around followup.”

2. Our website

We’re in the middle of some updates for our website. We’re doing some short term triage with a plan for a more thorough overhaul later this summer.  I’ve only been on the periphery of the mechanics of the update (with the exception of the actual content) but from what I can tell, there’s a current platform, a staging area, and integration with Hubspot, our marketing automation platform.  When a new page needs to be set up, there’s a lot of different places it can go and people who may need to be involved to get it done.


This, too, will simplify itself.  We’ll have a single platform with automation and a clear idea of where landing pages go.  But for now, we’re still figuring that out.


3. Demo lab equipment

I gave my first demo this week on a webinar.  I also gave my second demo this week, that one for an analyst.  But when I went to get the IP and login to the system, Matt and I determined that the system wasn’t working.  And in fact, it took Matt a good day to get our double-nested ESX environment with workload generation back up and running.

It turns out that someone else thought they were using that equipment for a set of storage lab tests that we need to do.  And then someone else needed the same equipment for some application performance testing.  We’re big enough that there’s not one person who knows all the testing we’re doing any more.

So I was directed to our “longevity” installation – where we run our product for a long, long time as a casual part of our QA process.  Except that version of the software isn’t running the current version, it’s running a future version.

So for next week, I’ll be demoing on our support cluster.  Unless someone else needs that for something.  🙂

It’s complicated.

It wasn’t, now it is, then it won’t be again.  Then, I’m going to guess, eventually, it will be again.


IT and the cosmos

Folks, this industry is BIG.

IT is a $3.8T (that’s T – for Trillion) industry.
Datacenter technologies and software are a $450B industry.
Storage is a $35B industry.

That’s big.  Ginormous.

It’s hard to remember sometimes.  I’ve been at Infinio for 2 ½ months and have tried to be really really focused on our part of the industry.  For starters, server-side cache, SSDs, software-defined storage, flash arrays, hybrid arrays, and vSAN.  Then also virtualization, including VDI.  Not to mention performance testing tools and benchmarks.

Sounds like a lot, right?

But it’s kind of like the first episode of Cosmos.  (Have you been watching?  It’s awesome.)  Neil deGrasse Tyson does this thing where he explains the scale of the universe, and it blew my mind.  We’re on a single planet in a single solar system in a single galaxy, and there are bajillions of all of those things.

VISTA stares deep into the cosmos, courtesy of esoastronomy.Head explodes.

And our industry feels like that sometimes.  Earlier this week, Tim, a former colleague of mine, was in town and we had a chance to catch up.  A few years ago, we were selling Dell’s enterprise product line together, exposed to the same technologies: servers, storage, networking, and racks, power, and cooling.

A few years go by, and I’m in my corner of the industry, while Tim is selling Dell’s thin client technology to OEMs.  It was funny to orient each other to what we each did.  I felt a little tentative understanding exactly what he was doing.  Seemingly there was no overlap in our work.  And yet, I’d say we’re in the same industry – IT – and maybe even the same part of the industry – infrastructure.

The same thing happened at Citrix Synergy a few weeks back.  I figured I was going to a tradeshow in my own industry and that I’d generally understand the themes and announcements and be able to talk to the customers. I attended the keynote and I felt like it was a different language being spoken.  (Hello, Google!)

At the booth I was amazed at how much the customers cared about their users’ experiences with virtual desktops, and how little they knew about their infrastructure.  It’s not that the attendees were ignorant or lazy – on the contrary, I just learned there was a massive part of the industry with far more complexity and expertise than I knew existed.

The industry is big.  There’s a lot of opportunity, a lot of innovation, and a lot to learn.

The post-mortem on this week’s travel

I’m sitting in LAX waiting for my flight and reflecting on the past few days.  It was my first business trip for Infinio, and my first tradeshow in many years.  Here are 5 things I learned:

1. Your co-workers are key to your happiness at work.  If you aren’t sure this is true, then spend 9 consecutive hours staffing a tradeshow booth with them.  I’m lucky.  Mine are pretty awesome.

2. The buying process has really changed in the past 10 years.  We talk about how our marketing has to change because customers are more educated and do more of their research before contacting vendors, but I didn’t realize that would make tradeshows different.  But they are.  Customers were much less likely to walk up to our booth and say, “hi, what do you do?”  They were more likely to either (a) read our booth signage to see if we were relevant to them, or (b) already know about us and whether they were interested, or (c) avoid us like you do the cellphone kiosks in the mall.

3. Citrix has a very well-developed and well-honed partner program.  I was consistently impressed with the channel partners I met at the show.  They were very knowledgable about Citrix and all the ecosystem products, and they were notably enthusiastic about learning more about a technology that could help their customers.  They were a really impressive group of people who asked great questions.

4. I need to look into a standing desk.  My colleagues at the show were much more comfortable standing for long periods of time than I was.  We hypothesized that it was because of their use of standing desks.

5. The weather in Anaheim in May is lovely.  I forgot how nice it is to eat outside.