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How Hedvig is (kind of) like the Golden State Warriors

by Rob Whiteley on May 31, 2016

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Right around 24 hours ago the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in an epic seven-game series. They clinched their second consecutive NBA Finals berth. Since Hedvig is a Bay Area company, we took the opportunity to have a little fun. Today’s all-hands meeting was Warrior-themed.

It got us all thinking. Hedvig is actually a little bit like the Warriors. I say “a little” because the Warriors are, after all, one of the best-ever teams in basketball with their record-setting 73-9 regular season. Hedvig is not yet one of the best-ever storage companies. But bear with me while I explain our rationale.

The Warriors and Hedvig: Modernize the game

While enterprise storage and basketball obviously aren’t the same thing, there are some parallels between how the Warriors and Hedvig function and execute as a team. And just as the Warriors have revolutionized the game of basketball, Hedvig is aiming to do the same with storage. Our guiding philosophy is to modernize storage, an industry that has only seen incremental improvements in the last 10 years.

We’re asking customers to think completely differently about storage and to embrace a modern, disruptive approach based on distributed computing. By the same token, the Warriors are taking their own modern, disruptive approach to the game: making the three-point shot a viable and deadly weapon, relying on their smaller lineup (that still plays tremendous defense), and pushing an up-tempo, high-octane offense.

In my position leading sales at Hedvig, it’s critical that my sales teams have both a superior product and a superior approach in the highly contested storage marketplace – similar to what the Warriors have in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and their great coaching and inspiring teamwork. With this in mind, let’s touch on some of these aspects.

“Drafting” talent, superior execution and the importance of teamwork

Our cofounder and CEO Avinash Lakshman spends a great deal of his time with customers. He’s not only a visionary architect and designer of both Amazon Dynamo and Cassandra, he’s also an important evangelist and teacher of distributed systems. He brings this passion to the hiring (or drafting, to continue the Warriors analogy) process.

Below are some excerpts from the questions I asked Avinash during the all-hands meeting.

Me: In terms of building the Hedvig team, how do you think it’s similar to how a team like the Warriors was built?

Avinash: The Warriors team was built through the draft as opposed to recruiting established superstars. It may be a little more difficult at the outset, but once you do it and do so effectively, I argue the results from building a great team this way are far better than simply recruiting superstars. This is the same approach we took with Hedvig.

Of course I’m looking for engineers and talent who are super smart, but they must also have what I like to call a “clean mind.” They’re teachable, they’re in step with how we think about distributed architectures at Hedvig, they’re team players and have a strong work ethic. If they don’t know much about distributed computing, I’m happy to get in front of the whiteboard and teach them. At the same time, I don’t want people who take this new approach – distributed computing – and blindly retrofit it to the old, monolithic storage approach. I want them to take their distributed systems knowledge and apply it to new approaches to storage. That’s what helps a customer in the long run.

Me: And it’s the same thing in sales. We can’t use the “old” way of selling storage with Hedvig. I’ve been working in enterprise storage for nearly 20 years and there’s very much a traditional way that storage has been sold. A sales guy comes in, listens to you and figures out how much performance and capacity you need. He reaches into his toolbox and pulls out the box that meets those storage requirements. Customers have been conditioned over so many years to ask, “What’s the performance? Can you do 10,000, 100,000 or 1 million IOPs? Great, give me 100 TBs of that.” Storage has been pretty much always sold by spec sheet. What we’re doing at Hedvig is completely different and means we have to teach customers a new, better way to think about their storage architecture now that storage can be software-defined and distributed.

Me: What are some things you notice when you meet with customers, Avinash?

Avinash: One of the things I’ll often do when meeting with customers is say, “Hold on, let’s take a step back. What problems are you guys trying to solve? More specifically, what are the needs of the application?” It’s a function of asking what’s most important: does a customer need to be able to do one or two more transactions per second or be absolutely guaranteed that a transaction is never, ever dropped? Because those are two totally different variables. I’ve also found that we sometimes have to work to get customers to understand why it’s better to buy three $10,000 servers than one $30,000 server to run our software. Why? Because that’s the point of a distributed system – we get more aggregate capacity and performance that way.

Me: What are some other parallels in how Hedvig approaches teamwork and collaboration that you see with the Warriors?

Avinash: As Hedvig grows, we need to make sure our focus remains as sharp as ever and that we continue to remain a tight-knit team, just like the Warriors. The status quo in storage in our increasingly distributed and digital world just doesn’t work anymore. It’s not sustainable. We haven’t seen a whole lot of innovation in this industry for going on more than a decade. And to innovate as a group I’ve learned you also need a lot of trust. Customers trust us to do their job in helping them with data storage because we always hire the best talent we can and focus a lot on accountability. All startups need to be tight-knit and trusting, but we’re very proud that we have the level of collaboration that eludes many companies.

Me: Definitely agree with teamwork and trust. I’d also add always learning. In sales we work closely with marketing and engineering and one of the really fun parts of our jobs is we’re constantly learning. What we’re offering to our customers aren’t the same old boxes that just get faster and have more storage capacity. Because of that, our sales process is far more consultative than the traditional storage sales process and it requires good teamwork from all of us. I say consultative because the Hedvig platform is so flexible ­­­– it completely changes ecosystem of solutions and apps that are supported, the policies you turn on or off, and the way you would POC the product. It’s all very different. Earlier you mentioned how important trust is – both inside Hedvig and with our customers. Our colleagues trust each other that they’re doing their jobs in the same way that the Warriors play their positions.

Avinash: Exactly. To carry the analogy a bit further, it’s acknowledging the talents of your teammates whether it’s basketball or Hedvig and letting those folks lead and take the ball when they need to. Make the extra pass and trust your teammate will hit his shot. That’s really empowering to employees and it’s invaluable to the organization.

Modernize your storage game with Hedvig

It’s a terrifically exciting time to be in technology right now and we’re excited by and confident in our progress at Hedvig and the direction we’re headed. It truly is modern storage for modern business.

Learn more about Hedvig’s approach to redefining and re-architecting your storage to fit your business’ evolving needs in a digitized and distributed world.

LEARN MORE

Rob Whiteley

Rob Whiteley

Rob Whiteley is the VP of Marketing at Hedvig. He joins Hedvig from Riverbed and Forrester Research where he held a series of marketing and product leadership roles. Rob graduated from Tufts University with a BS in Computer Engineering.
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