Learning from the masters…

I had the fortunate opportunity when I was first getting into tech to work at Weblogic – a lot of people don’t formally talk or write about it but many of the people who worked at weblogic (and BEA after BEA acquired it) are some of the superstars sprinkled around the tech scene. Twitter, Google, Salesforce, Facebook and lots of smaller companies all have senior people that came from Weblogic. Don’t ask what happened to me – I snuck off to Asia while the valley boomed. 😉

Anyway. I keep tabs on a few of these folks and always find I keep learning from them.

Back in the day I was in Sacramento working at Examen, Inc. which was trying to disrupt the medical insurance industry. At the time I was looking to build a new platform for them in Java and stumbled across WebLogic JDBC drivers. As I was dealing with their support I got to know Paul. Yes – Paul being one of the founders of WebLogic. Long story short – Paul got me down to interview with the team in hopes I might join as a sales engineer. I was techy, could talk and loved to travel. I thought I was home free until I had my one on one with Bob Pasker – the other founder of WebLogic. Bob proceeded to dress me down technically and I figured it would be best if I walked out and saved what little bit of dignity I had left. Bob is a brilliant techy and like many of the WebLogic folks – could code. Me – I was just passionate, could whiteboard well and could NOT code. Paul told me not to worry and to meet Scott. Yes – that is Scott Dietzen of WebLogic, Zimbra and now Pure Storage fame. I thought I had a good chat with Scott, who was the marketing guy at the time, but it turned out he nixed me. Scott eventually came around after a few years and I thank him immensely for the tricks he taught me. Bob and I also spent many a year together selling WebLogic and I still remember all the stuff I learned from him.

I did manage to get hired and to this day I look back on my WebLogic/BEA days as one of the core pillars of my tech career. I always remind people that Karma is very important and to be sure to treat people well since you will also call upon those in your past while you carve your future. The reason I made it into Yahoo was because of guys like Scott and Sam (now a VC) – also ex-weblogic.

Some of the lessons I learned early on was how important customer support is – watching Paul the founder do customer support was so powerful. At Spuul I value customer support very highly and at the moment I handle most of it so I can be close to the customers. I remember going to some big sales meetings and would be joined by Scott and Bob working to close the deal and to show that even the execs/founders took customer support and sales quite seriously.

The big takeaway for me though is watching Scott in his new role and the way he uses the blog to battle the incumbents. Here is one of his latest posts:

Looking forward, I am often asked how Pure Storage is going to continue to win with storage leader EMC entering our market. The answer is straightforward:

  1. Build a better product – We have somewhere between an 18-month to 2-year lead. In tech, that’s about as much of a head start as you could hope for. With the deeply talented team we have at Pure, our aspiration is to grow our technology advantage over time.
  2. Delight our customers – Our endusers tell us we are providing the best service and support they have experienced in storage. Our job is to make it even better going forward.
  3. Leverage our partners – EMC has about 30% market share, and they do about 1/3 of their business through the channel. That means about 10% of today’s storage buyers get their EMC storage through a partner. That leaves 90% of the market available to Pure and our channel partners.
  4. Further distance ourselves from the rest of the competition – Our experiences thus far suggest that the barriers to entry for the all-flash array category Pure established in 2011 are well higher than for disk arrays (e.g., getting submillisecond inline dedupe and compression right).  Our prediction is that the all-flash array market will increasingly become on a two horse race between us and EMC, that is one that will likely serve Pure (and EMC) well indeed.

I always loved Scott’s ability to straddle tech, marketing and customer interactions. It is such a powerful combo and one that many startups seems to forget. After all – it is about the customer.

There is so much to learn about his 1 and 2 – it just speaks volumes. Build a better product and delight your customers.

Focus on that and you are mostly there already.

The other thing I learned from Scott was how he would change the playing field. Redefine the game to make it hard for the incumbent and favor the startup – almost like a slight of hand card trick. In the WebLogic days we invented the Java App Server Litmus test as a way of defining what was in an app server, what a good one excelled at and how WebLogic was the leader. Later on you might recall that the industry created J2EE and WebLogic lead the charge and was acquired by Bea Systems. I still fondly recall explaining J2EE to Bill Janeway and marveling at how his Timex watch was taped together.

I was lucky to work around all these folks and the many, many others at WebLogic and BEA. I still follow them from afar and take notes.

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