Moving from Big East IT to a West coast startup

One could say that I broke up with IBM on Valentines Day, 2014. The following Monday I joined a West coast startup, Nebula Inc. I left Big Blue, a 102-year-old stalwart of the IT world, for a bright eyed 2-year-old company. Imagine going from a 400,000 plus person company to one that has yet to grow to 100? As of this post, I’ve been at the new company for just over two weeks and it has been an eye opening experience. At IBM, my jeans and blazer look often stood out, e.g. I was the only one in jeans. At my first startup meeting, I felt overdressed and took off the blazer.

In one of my first meetings representing Nebula, a successful East coast CTO asked a question I had not heard before. Can West coast vendors meet the needs of established East coast enterprises? I certainly believe that my West coast startup will be successful with established East coast enterprises. Wish me luck!

My transition from Big IT to startup comes at a time of rapid change in IT. Bill Gates said that he expects the next decade to bring even greater technological leaps than the last one, and the pace of change has been fast in the past 10 years. For perspective on how much faster technology is adopted today, consider that it took 50 years for consumers to adopt the telephone and only 5 to adopt the cell phone.

My former employer had started encouraging sales teams to reach out to “new buyers”. For years, big IT sold to CIOs and infrastructure teams. More recently, we were encouraged to reach out to others in the C-suite, including the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). Gartner had made a big spash in 2012 by predicting that the CMO will spend more on IT in 2017 than the CIO – see this Forbes link for a summary. Similarly IDC predicted that LoB (line of business) executives will control 40 percent of IT spending by 2016.

After the economic challenges of 2008, I saw a lot of business decisions made to lower TCO (total cost of ownership) and improve costs efficiencies. Lower TCO is the goal of CIOs. IT is a cost center and there is a focus on keeping costs down. The mindset of a CMO is different. The question is not how much cost can one avoid. The question is, by spending X dollars, how much more can I make? If a CMO or LoB executives can make more than they spend, they will.

Spending is shifting to the revenue generating parts of a business. What happens when IT buyers are more interested in their own business use cases and less with how cool the technology is? They will be looking for simpler IT. Simplicity is an opportunity for cloud. Cloud can make it easy for CMO and LoB executives to tap into computing. One can directly consume a cloud using intuitive self-service methods. While some will use public clouds, big enterprise – which deals with compliance, regulation and has built up years of trusted relationships with their customers – will likely build their own private clouds.

Will a startup be more nimble and have success finding the “new buyers”? Let’s consider the perspective of an application developer. There is a contrast in developer mindset in a startup and an enterprise. Startup developers value cool code and new features. In the enterprise, development can be restricted to proven technology, established architecture and long development cycles. Needless to say, there are a lot of differences.

The next few years will be an interesting journey for me. I will find out if a West Coast startup can understand the enterprise.

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