IT experience leads to entrepreneurship for Aussie duo

The startup culture largely rejects the traditional career path, particularly in the tech world. Many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley launched their startups while still in college, or worked for a startup immediately after college, adopting an entrepreneurial mentality early on that allowed them to bypass the hierarchy and bureaucracy that comes with working for a large company.

Michael Baukes, a co-founder of ScriptRock, doesn't discredit this approach. However, he rejects the notion that working for large companies discourages innovation or entrepreneurship.

"If we hadn't have been in IT for as long as we were and seen as much as we had, there was no way we would have even been able to conceptualize that this is a big enough problem to even attack it," Baukes says.

ScriptRock provides an automated configuration management tool for DevOps, called GuardRail, based on the technology that Baukes and his co-founder Alan Sharp-Paul used while working as an independent IT consultancy. When trying to automate clients' systems, Baukes says they ran into difficulty pulling together accurate information on configurations. At many companies, hundreds or thousands of users from different areas of the business could have affected the system, leaving a complex trail of data in their wake.

"There's very little in the way of information about how this was constructed, and most of the time it's not really usable information," Baukes says.

To resolve these issues, Baukes says he and his co-founders developed a tool to show the state of all the IT systems regardless of their environments. After using the technology to complete a project in September 2011, their client said the visualization capabilities were particularly valuable to them.

"That's kind of where the spark went off, and then we said 'that's great, would you buy it?'" Baukes says. "And they said they'd like to roll it out across everything instead of one small project. So that's kind of the moment the realization hit us that this is a project that people want."

From there, Baukes says the team realized that this tool they developed for their own personal use is something that a lot of companies would pay to bring in-house.

"In hindsight it was pretty obvious that everyone had this problem, but at the time it wasn't," Baukes says.

Fortunately for them, investors agreed. They sold the consultancy, and some of them sold their homes, and were accepted into Australia's Startmate startup incubator, which began in January 2012. In June 2012, ScripRock would secure $1.3 million in funding from investors, including Peter Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook. They would go on to open an office in San Francisco, and introduced ScriptRock to the U.S. market at last month's DEMO Fall conference.

Baukes acknowledges that their work as a consultancy was indicative of an "entrepreneurial leaning," especially considering that they quit their IT jobs to launch it. The experience in IT, however, was what made ScriptRock's approach unique.

"[The consultancy] proved to be pretty successful and we scaled that business very well in the first year, but then at the same time we were an odd mix as a group, frankly -- half of us were sys admins, half of us were developers, a couple of us had been IT strategy guys -- so all of a sudden we kind of had this weird mix of capability," Baukes says. "In hindsight, all of that together with an idea is kind of the perfect confluence to usher a product in. We kind of fell into it by accident."

The IT background was also useful when it came to securing early customers, who were dealing with the same issues that the ScriptRock guys faced during their time in IT.

"The way we've begun to see it is that if you've gone through the enterprise and you've got that experience, you're kind of way more well-placed to be able to understand the types of challenges that those organizations face, and create a solution," Baukes says. "Being able to articulate it well and being able to construct it and having the audacity to be able to ask them if this is something valuable to them. And then being able to understand what's going to be the next question."

ScriptRock is a good example for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to break out of their day jobs. The flashier "disruptors" have gotten a lot of the attention in the startup world of late, but they don't always have the unique perspective of those with the experience in the enterprise. Entrepreneurs, particularly those serving enterprise IT, look for opportunities to provide solutions to wide-reaching problems. What better way to find these opportunities than to experience those problems first-hand?

"A lot of people today, they kind of think about Facebook, and they want to start their own company. That's great, but if you haven't got any experience, you have a blinding vision. Sometimes that's amazing, right? It can work. You're kind of naïve to it, you can smash through brick walls and get things done with a different approach," Baukes says. "But the opposite of that, too, is if you work in the enterprise for a long time, you kind of begin to see patterns of things that are just fundamentally broken in the way that companies adopt technology or try to implement technology. We saw one of the biggest ones."

Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter @ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Ciscoand Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is cneagle@nww.com.

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