The Theory of One – Is He Deaf or Is He Stupid?

Is he deaf, or is he stupid?!?!

I don’t know, Brad. I don’t know.

The guy practically screaming the question and ready to pop a blood vessel was the Executive Vice President of Global Operations at State Street Bank. The guy responding was his comptroller. I was in the room, and I was the one who prompted the EVP’s frustration and provoked his anger.

In my early years in business, when asked a question, I wanted to give a full answer; a nuanced response with plenty of details and corroborating evidence. But after the life-altering exchange with Brad Tripp, the EVP, I learned to just answer the question.

Brad had just asked me a Yes/No question: “Should we do this?” I thought the question deserved an “it-depends” response, due to the subtleties of the decision. I was wrong. He assumed that I had done my research, figured out the nuances, the risks, the potential rewards, and had formed an opinion. He was right. He wasn’t looking for me to pass the decision up to him. He wanted me to make the call. I hadn’t.

I attended the New England VTUG at Gillette Stadium this past week. For those who don’t know, the VTUG is the premier, vendor-neutral virtualization technology conference in New England. It attracts over 1000 attendees, mostly server, storage network, and security administrators – the hands-on folks – from throughout the area. It’s a great place for emerging vendors, as well as the well-established IT solution providers, to showcase and explain their key differentiators.

Going around to the various vendor exhibits, I asked two questions:

Who is your target customer?

What is the one thing you can do better than anyone else for that target customer?

Some tried to turn the question back on me by asking, “What problem are you trying to solve?” Maybe they had been tutored in the style of “The Secrets of Question Based Selling.” Others gave long explanations pointing out a wide range of features and benefits. The worst answers were some variation of “Regardless of who you are, if you’ve got a problem, we can solve it.” I won’t dwell on these or call them out. You can run your own test, next time you are being pitched.

There were a few emerging companies that were very crisp. I particularly liked the response from Gridstore. I asked two people and got the same answer:

Q: Who are your target customers? A: Mid-sized and large Microsoft Hyper-V users.

Q: What do you do better than anyone else? A: 50% less infrastructure, while maintaining quality of service.

There are always plenty of value-added resellers and systems integrators at the VTUG. While price is always a potential differentiator, it’s certainly not one that most lead with. Delivery time and quality of support are others. I was particularly impressed by Integration Partners. When I asked them the same questions, they said their target customers were network architects and administrators and the one thing they did better than anyone else was helping architects and administrators understand the upstream and downstream impact of changes in the network.

I’m a director on the board of StorMagic, a supplier of virtual storage appliance software. The CEO, Hans O’Sullivan, and the Director of Technical Services, Luke Pruen, presented at Virtualization Field Day this week. The attendees were hands-on virtualization users with lots of credentials and certifications; in the trenches practitioners. One of the greatest compliments they received from the attendees was acknowledgement that StorMagic knows their niche: Organizations using virtual servers in 10s, 100s or 1000s of remote sites and branch offices. And StorMagic knows where they are better than anyone else: Enabling cost-effective, high-availability storage with two servers and no SAN.

In all three cases, these are nice, crisp answers. Back to my Theory of One: When the team knows the target customer and the problems they solve better than anyone else, everyone knows what to do when they get up in the morning.

For everyone else, just answer the questions.

For more on The Theory of One, check out:

The Theory of One – You Guessed Wrong

If you put all eggs in one basket and it’s the wrong one.., oops!! You are dead.

That’s a direct quote from a recent conversation. And that concern drives many investors and some company executives to hedge their bets. But, I would argue, that almost always, a hedging strategy in startups is the wrong strategy. It defocuses and confuses the team.

With a hedged strategy, team members don’t know where to spend their time. With multiple strategies, they know they can’t do it all. So they flip-flop, or they simply ignore one part of the strategy. And whether they flip-flop between strategies or ignore one in preference for the other, it’s not that something suffers. Everythingsuffers.

One of my favorite startup executives is Phil Soran, co-founder of Xiotech, and later, Compellent. When I met the Compellent team at their first customer council, I found them completely focused on serving the computer storage needs for customers in the upper midwest region of the United States. They sold only through resellers, many, if not most of the resellers were selling the Compellent solution to law firms and SMB customers, and they treated their resellers, as if they were their own sales team. How’s that for focus? It was a tight, well-defined market segment, solution, and route to market. Was it too small a market? No, not for the company at that stage of their growth. And everyone knew what to do when they got up in the morning.

Was that the ultimate end-game? Capturing mid-market customers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and maybe Ames, Iowa? No. But it was, in my view, their Theory of One, at that time.

Why? Because, how could they possibly compete against the likes of HP, IBM, EMC, and Dell? How could they deploy more resources, be more customer-intimate, be a better partner, deliver a better solution than these multi-billion dollar giants? Not by spreading their resources across multiple geographies, multiple markets, multiple channel routes. But by being more focused with their limited resources. When they put all of their resources on Minneapolis, even EMC wasn’t going to deploy more resources on their partners. And, Compellent did win more than their fair share against the biggest of the Goliaths in their target market at that time.

Once they captured mindshare, marketshare, proved the model, had delighted customers and great references, and knew they were on their way to being #1 in their tiny segment in the upper mid-west, they redefined their market. They added other regions, other partners, and other verticals. But with each new region, each new set of partners, each new vertical, the goal was to be #1. And they never hedged.

So what if you are like Compellent, except you pick the wrong market or the wrong product? Wouldn’t hind sight say you should have hedged your bet? The answer is “No.” Unless you give it everything, you won’t know, if your failure to win was due to a failure to execute or a failure to pick the right market.

Instead of hedging bets, in my experience, the better, more effective strategy is a regular look in the mirror and a willingness to do a hard pivot. If the current all-in product or market isn’t working, then select another.

For more on the Theory of One, read this blog post:

The Theory of One

The movie of Stephen Hawking’s life, “The Theory of Everything,” is getting rave reviews. But for entrepreneurs and startups, it’s the “The Theory of One,” and not the “Theory of Everything,” that will have the greatest impact.

You’ve probably already heard a version of the Theory of One. You may even have heard the exact phrase. I didn’t invent it. I first heard the phrase yesterday, talking to Ian Barrett, the Creative Director at MediaBossTV. It’s what Glenn Allsop called “An Inch Wide and a Mile Deep.” But for me, it’s “The Theory of One.” Here’s the newly-created John McArthur version:

The probability of company success is directly and positively correlated to its ability to focus on doing one thing better than anyone else.

It’s been almost eight years, since founding Walden Technology Partners. Sadly, not every client is a success story. But, when I ask current and former clients, where I’ve had my greatest impact, they say, when I:

  1. Helped them choose the one thing they should do.
  2. Convinced them to stop doing the other three things they were doing.
  3. Protected them from the distraction of someone else’s shiny object.
  4. Demonstrated to them that behemoths are not to be feared.

Don’t get me wrong, my long-practiced, but only recently-defined Theory of One does not guarantee success. But it definitely increases the probability of success, when you focus on being the best at one thing. Better beats bigger. It is how Davids beat Goliaths.

The transition from “We do lots of things pretty well” to “We will be the best at one thing” can be emotionally difficult for employees. It can be even more difficult for the executive team, especially when they are under the gun to deliver revenue now or when investors have different agendas.

It’s hard. Focusing on one thing may mean walking away from existing partnerships. It may mean sacrificing current revenue. It may mean telling engineering that one of their babies is ugly.

Some will want you to tread carefully. They will say, “Be sure, before making any big moves or placing all your money on one bet.” But being sure, especially with startups, almost guarantees being late; too late to be interesting or successful.

And once your are through the transition, once you’ve established the unifying “one thing we will do better than anyone else,” the calculus of determining what to do in sales, in marketing, in engineering, and in support, becomes extraordinary simple.

Finally, if you choose wrong, and sometimes you will, the best thing you can do is to pick something else where you can be best – preferably in a niche, but rapidly-growing market that is too small to move the needle for the behemoths…yet.

TechSandBox Activities In August

Many in the WaldenTech extended family are aware of Walden’s involvement with TechSandBox.  I have served on the IT Special Interest Group (SIG) and recruited members for other SIGs, and can frequently be seen at the space working with WaldenTech client, StorMagic, or volunteering at events.

TechSandBox exists to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and startups in the Metrowest to Worcester area. It’s similar in some ways to the incubators in Boston and Cambridge. For those that live west of Boston, it provides many of the same benefits, without the major hassle factor of driving to Boston or Cambridge in rush hour traffic.

This week there will be two opportunities to get involved. The first is a Call for Volunteers on Wednesday, August 13, at 6:00pm. A new Software SIG is forming, covering Edtech, IT, analytics, applications, and mobile apps. You can register to attend here. It’s an opportunity to provide input to the founders and to see if being on the steering committee appeals to you.

The second is the  Roving Innovation Breakfast, which will be on Friday, August 15, at 8:30AM. Its founders, which include Bobbie Carlton, describe Innovation Breakfasts as the early-morning cousin to Innovation Nights. Innovation Breakfasts are held throughout the eastern half of Massachusetts, and there are five more events scheduled before the official end of Summer.

Both events will be held at TechSandBox located at 105B South Street in Hopkinton.

Open Roads and Clear Visibility: StorMagic Steps on the Gas

When you’re driving a high-performance car, there’s nothing like getting to the point, where you have an open road and clear visibility. That’s when you know you can step on the gas to “see what this baby can do.” WaldenTech client, StorMagic, has recently hit just that point.

StorMagic’s open road is the global opportunity for organizations with 10 to 10,000 locations; organizations that need high availability, that need everything to be centrally managed, that know that some applications can’t or shouldn’t be run as a cloud service, and know that previous approaches to high-availability were too costly, too unreliable, and too difficult to deploy and manage.

The StorMagic engine, SvSAN, has been battle tested, literally, in the case of the German Army, but also in a 2200+ location roll out in every store of a North America retailer. In this case, the 9s of availability are infinite, given that the customer has had no unplanned downtime in over 12 months of operation across the 2200 sites, despite numerous hardware failures.

The clear visibility comes from understanding the challenges CIOs face every day in meeting the service levels, the cost controls, the user experience, and the green initiatives, that their clients, both internal and external, demand.

StorMagic is now stepping on the gas, growing the team with seasoned talent, investing in partnershipssales, support, and marketing to win the race. Come see what StorMagic can do for you. StorMagic will be at VMworld 2014 in San Francisco, California, Booth #2519.


StorMagic at VTUG Winter Warmer

Walden Tech client, StorMagic, will be exhibiting at this year’s VTUG Winter Warmer, to be held at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on January 17, 2013. The Winter Warmer is one of the largest VMware User Group meetings in the world, attracting more than 1000 IT professionals and more than 45 suppliers.

Continue reading StorMagic at VTUG Winter Warmer

StorMagic at VMworld in Las Vegas

StorMagic, a WaldenTech client and leading developer of storage software to enable shared storage, high-availability and centralized management for multi-site VMware deployments, will be demonstrating the latest release of SvSAN in conjunction with VMworld in Las Vegas, August 28th – September 1st.  Prospective partners, resellers, and customers can request a private briefing with company executives and a product demonstration by completing the form available at this link. Learn why the German Army, a wind energy producer, and a European financial services company are selecting StorMagic’s SvSAN to enable high-availability and centralized management.

WaldenTech Client, StorMagic, Achieves VMware Ready Status for SvSAN

StorMagic Inc, a WaldenTech client, and developer of Storage Virtual Appliance technology, announced that its SvSAN product achieved VMware Ready™ status.  StorMagic has passed a detailed evaluation and testing process managed by VMware and is now listed on the VMware Partner Product Catalog.

Passing the extensive VMware-specified testing helps ensure that the SvSAN makes best use of VMware technology and is ready for deployment in customer environments.

WaldenTech Client, StorMagic, Signs Distribution Agreement with NetWorld

WaldenTech client, StorMagic, a UK-based developer of iSCSI storage virtual appliances, has signed a distribution agreement with NetWorld, a major Japanese distributor of IT solutions with 2009 turnover of ¥37.6 billion.  NetWorld is also VMware’s largest distributor in Japan.  The agreement with NetWorld was facilitated by WaldenTech, through its partnership with F&I Cube Inc., who specializes in bringing technology companies to the Japanese market.  The agreement was announced today by StorMagic CEO, Hans O’Sullivan and NetWorld CEO, Morita Shiyouiti, together with Mikinori Furuya, President and CEO at F&I Cube Inc. at a press event in Japan which received broad, local coverage.

Continue reading WaldenTech Client, StorMagic, Signs Distribution Agreement with NetWorld

WaldenTech Announces Corporate Changes

Walden Technology Partners, Inc., announced the departure of CEO and Co-Founder, David Burmon, effective September 30, 2010.  As of October 1, Mr. McArthur, President and Co-Founder, will assume all ownership interest in and operational responsibility for the company.  In addition, the corporate headquarters will move from its current location to 41 Morse Farm Lane, Holliston, Massachusetts.

Continue reading WaldenTech Announces Corporate Changes

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