Unknown unknowns are a reality - does this stop you? Blackstone and Beyond.
Donald Rumsfeld may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however he did come up with one of the most famous statements in politics during a press briefing in 2002. This statement focused on ‘unknown unknowns’. Some people called him crazy at the time but it is in fact a very clever way of recognising that you don’t know what you don’t know… In the same vein, when you start and grow a new business there are a number of unexpected junctions you arrive at without knowing where to turn. The secret to success is to minimise these moments, knowing your unknowns in advance. The ability to anticipate and visualise where you want to be is therefore crucial.
Becoming part of Blackstone’s portfolio of companies and knowing what this investment partnership means for the future, it felt right to take some time to reflect on the past 7-8 years which brought us here. We always tried to stay one step ahead by positioning ourselves ready for the next phase before even entering it. This is not always easy of course but if, one day, you wake up and find it hard or even impossible to visualise where you want to be next, likelihood is that you will eventually be lost at sea with no sense of direction.
Up until this point in Cloudreach’s history there were a few things we did, and did really well over the years, which led us to become the largest software-enabled, cloud-native services company in the world.
Visualise growth and prepare for it
I remember when we were a 5-6 people company, I had a dream of presenting at an annual kick off meeting in front of 100 Cloudreachers. This was end of 2010. 2 years later, in Lisbon, we had our first annual kick off with 45-50 people in attendance. This set the tone for years to come and shaped the future of the business. Today we are just shy of 300 people driving growth across 7 markets based in 8 countries. You have to set yourself realistic yet aggressive targets and go for it. We always had a ‘grow or die’ philosophy which, whilst perhaps extreme, ensured we kept pushing ourselves and the business.
Facilitating this growth is the other side of the same coin. This can only be achieved with the right leadership. It is always hard to bring people into a job and let them find their feet. This is slow and risky. It can work in more mature business where the pace is slower, roles are better defined and indeed more static. It is really hard to bring people into a small, agile and insanely fast growing organisation like Cloudreach and give them time to "land". Our successes to date have been based on proficiency at bringing in smart, hard working and very passionate people at an early stage and letting them grow with the organisation.
Define your target market early and "act as if"
From the very beginning we saw the enterprise market as our eventual target customers. Even though the early Google Apps and AWS customers we signed were SMEs, we never took our eyes off the enterprise ball. The question is, what does it mean in practice to focus on the enterprise market even before you are targeting it?
There are a few things we did, linked to the visualisation above, early on. From day one we ensured that everything from sales processes, legal contracts, delivery documentation, product selection, website appearance and content, as well as the people we hired, were adapted for the enterprise in terms of selling to, delivering to and "managing" enterprise relationships. If you have ever been "a supplier" to a large enterprise, you know they want to be served up in a certain way and approached in a certain way. The proof of the above is that, despite being a smaller company of 10-15 people at the time, we started working with Channel 4, Screwfix, Financial Times and others already in late 2010.
The other point was, from day one we always thought globally despite only operating locally. We had, ever since we started in 2009, the idea of creating a base team in the UK, proving our methods, success in selling and delivery and building critical mass which could support a larger business. The moment to expand came in 2013, when we opened a sales and delivery office in Amsterdam, followed by Vancouver in early 2014 as a second hub for our Cloud Operations / Hyperscale Cloud Managed Services team for 24/7 operations. From there we expanded quickly starting in the summer of 2014 to Germany, France, Switzerland and North America (NYC, CHI, ATL).
Set out your long term product strategy and stick to it
When we started the business in 2009, hyperscale cloud such as AWS and Azure was still in its infancy. Enterprises thought of it as dangerous witchcraft which will "never take off outside SMEs and startups". We never ever stopped believing that this would one day reach the enterprise too.
The needs of an enterprise are always further reaching and, as such, the plan from day one was to create a set of products and services which can deal with a cloud journey from end-to-end. This included starting our Cloud Operations / Hyperscale Cloud Managed Services business before all of our cloud-native competitors had even started their business (first client Petroceltic / February 2010). We created methodologies in late 2011 on how to evaluate a data centre for the purpose of moving to the cloud (Kempinski Hotel Group – signed August 2011 – moved in 2012. This was the first proper enterprise data centre move to AWS globally. Yes, we picked a German / Swiss company to do the first one with. Always up for a challenge!
The overarching point here is that, we always had the view that we needed to be able to deliver everything from cloud strategy work to implementation / migration, to software and finally on to managed services. Granted, we do a lot of this today already. However, with the Blackstone investment partnership, we will be looking to extend these capabilities to become the largest software enabled cloud services company in the world, serving all the needs of the enterprise for the use of hyperscale cloud platforms.
What about Donald Rumsfeld then? Well, he was accused of "abysmal military planning and lack of strategic competence" which doesn’t sound like someone who tried to conquer the unknown unknowns unfortunately. Don’t follow his example and do what you can to anticipate and visualise your future. Our future, in partnership with Blackstone, looks very bright and we look forward to implementing our strategic plan which is based on our anticipated & visualised future!