Speed can be your best friend and your worst enemy. On one hand it can quickly get you where you want to go. But if you don't know exactly where you are going it can drop you miles from your destination. I learned this when, along with two coworkers at a former job, I left to start a new company. We had been working together for the last year at a software company and often felt as if we were reinventing the wheel with every new customer. It became clear that providing a complete solution to customers' problems, rather than just tools that address individual aspects, would make for not only a more compelling offering but also a more rewarding and interesting job. This couldn't have been more true. So in October 1999 we founded our company, Speedera Networks Inc., to provide a set of services for delivering data and applications over the Internet.
It was a tall order for three recently unemployed guys--me as CTO, Ajit Gupta as CEO and Eric Swilden as vice president of engineering--and that's where the necessity for speed entered the picture. We knew that the market opportunity wasn't going to be around forever, and we had to build the initial architecture of the service, staff the company, raise funding and perform all the minor tasks that go along with starting a business--quickly. As the CEO has often said, speed wasn't only our name, it was our competitive advantage as well.
From our network of friends we were able to bring onboard strong leads to spearhead the engineering efforts. On the fund-raising side we all worked on the initial pitches to the venture capitalists. We started with angel investors who set us up with an initial amount of money. Because raising money is very distracting and time-consuming, we were caught between wanting to get more funding and wanting to get straight to work. We thought of starting small--working out of somebody's garage until we could get up-and-running enough to look for more funding. But as we looked at the time-to-market issues, we chose to use the big-bang approach and make a bigger effort early on.
During the next eight weeks we achieved a great deal. Our funding round closed, which means we got the money to move into our current office and deploy a prototype of our service. Many of the people we have worked with along the way, like the VCs, real-estate agents (acquiring real estate in Silicon Valley is no easy task) and customers themselves have been impressed at the rate at which we were able to get off the ground. Growing from three to 90 employees in under nine months while trying to start a company is difficult enough, let alone getting the group to work together to build and deploy a global network of servers. We were able to accomplish what we did because we kept our focus on speed.
I would be lying if I said that we predicted on the first day everything we would encounter along the way. While we did have a strong understanding of where we wanted to go, there are a few things that contributed a great deal to our success: experience, tools and people who can adapt quickly.
Now that we're more established, you might think we'd be able to take a breath. But this is not at all a point of rest. The rate we're moving now is faster than we moved before. And as we've grown, there are more cogs in the wheel that could slow things down. But if the cogs are in the right place, you can cover more ground faster. And there's no rest for the wicked.
Richard Day is the CTO of Speedera in Santa Clara, Calif. Looking for a platform for your ideas? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.