2013 had two highlights for me. First one was the realization about the game changing nature of cloud/SaaS both from business and technical perspective as well as how similar/different it is from the internet boom. Second one was experiencing entrepreneurship by bootstrapping a venture from scratch, utilizing the full potential of my Babson MBA to create a magical team and to create an experience of a lifetime for all.
Last year at the velocity conference while interacting with the leaders from the likes of Netflix, Google, Facebook, I realized how the cloud ecosystem really works and what makes it successful. The cloud apps ecosystem for a company comprises of loosely coupled open source services, services from vendors such as Amazon along with philosophies such as DevOps, complex adaptive systems, Agile that create a rich, real time, fully elastic/scalable experience across a diverse array of devices in a most economical fashion. It sounds too complex and almost impossible, till you get your hand dirty, which is what I was doing at CA Technologies. Being at the center of the Internet boom at Razorfish and now at the center of Cloud at CA, I was noticing the similarities between the two. Like the Internet boom, there is some mystique to it, till you get into it. You start with the low hanging fruit with simpler apps, like search/email during the internet boom time and Photo sharing (Dropbox) and Backup (Carbonite) in the Cloud. With time the focus is shifting to more mainstream applications. In summary, the key to success seems to be:
- Drastically simplify application and design with a large number of customers in mind.
- Make it fully automated (DevOps) so that any updates can be fast and low cost allowing you to learn and react.
- Make it economical by substantially reducing all costs, such as hardware, licensing, manual labor so you can compete.
- Culture and mindset of continuous delivery and continuous improvement.
Couple of years back, New England community signed up to host the BMM 2013 convention and chose me the Convener for this convention. For those not familiar with BMM, it is a cultural convention with some business networking for people from the state of Maharashtra, in India, held every two years at a different city in the US. We started with a core team of 4 of us and $40K in seed funding and over the 2 year period built a team of over 200 volunteers, raised $1.5M and delivered an experience of a lifetime for 4,000 attendees over 3 days. Almost no-one of from our team had done anything remotely similar in size and scope, so it was truly an entrepreneurial effort for all of us. We built 22 teams for marketing, fundraising programming, facilities, food, registration, business conference and other activities. We had to work with several hundred sponsors, speakers, performers and donors from all over US, India and other countries. We ran into several serious challenges, made several rookie mistakes but in the end we delivered one of the best conventions in the BMM history. The lessons learned from this experience run the entire gamut of a startup lifecycle, starting from working with people such as team building, working with global stakeholders with significant cultural differences, negotiating, influencing to project management, finance, marketing, sales. Being a non-profit, the best reward for all of us was being part of this magical team and the overwhelming positive feedback from all who experienced it. It was truly a spiritual experience and we all will cherish memories of this for the rest of our lives. The key lessons from this experience were:
- If you design organization with a purpose for each team, trust and respect them, and delegate effectively, they can do miracles. Teams are watching the actions of its leaders for cues on culture and motivation.
- It is good to have a plan but more important is continuous monitoring and reacting to changes both to exploit new opportunities and minimize risks.
- Setbacks, obstacles as well as seemingly impossible tasks can be achieved incrementally if you are persistent.
- Risk taking is fundamental to achieving a grand vision and hairy goals.