Can you sell what you innovate?

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” Or woman, or in the case of the industry, ‘the machine’. Tough times are when innovative ideas are most needed but will people buy them? I post my thoughts now on the twin aspects of innovation and marketing.

This blog post of Jon Taigo led me thinking in this direction . He has a blog called ‘Drunken Data’ and for those who haven’t read his blog posts, he is one of the most vocal persons when it comes to giving his opinions on subjects which he holds close to his heart. He is not known to mince words and needless to say, his posts make interesting reading.

This post held my interest because it spoke about XIOTech’s Intelligent Storage Element (ISE). This is an innovative product. They have an innovative heal-in-place capabilities for the disk drives in their ISE. Errors are detected and potential problems are fixed before they can occur. Automatically moving data to a spare drive and rectifying a failed (or about to fail) drive saves on lengthy RAID 5 rebuild times. You can get more details about their product from their website http://www.xiotech.com

If you read Taigo’s blog, you will see statements made by prospects and competitors like, “questionable future of a company like XIOTech.” While it is true that innovative products are the need of the hour , it is also true that enterprises want to take the minimum of risk in these times.  I am not saying that competition happens only during these times but the competition is bound to be very stiff given that the total spending pie has shrunk. Added to it, the companies turn very conservative.  The innovative smaller companies may face more heat during these challenging times when it comes to selling their products. While the value the innovative product delivers may be excellent, (theoretically maybe), it would still be an untested product and more importantly from an untested company. Hence the reluctance to buy an innovative product.  When it comes to the question of a better product or a trusted company, the client may jump in favor of the latter. I don’t have statistical data to back this up but going by the reaction of many people I meet, I am guessing this would be true. These are the best of times for big companies to come out with some innovative products. The industry would lap up such products. My feeling is that companies sell themselves off or merge with other companies, not just because they want to make tons of dollars, but because brand and reputation building is a long and tough road.

I am ofcourse more concerned about the fate of people like me than about small and large companies. Naturally :). The tough times throw up multiple challenges. While everyone advocates some basic things: ‘find what problem the prospect has’, ‘find the pain areas’, ‘give a great value proposition’ etc, it is easier said than done. That is why you find lot more people saying this than doing it!! How would you investigate a pain point of a prospect if he/she is not even willing to meet you? What I have observed is that it much tougher getting a prospect to talk to you in these times. The general response would be, “We are still finalizing our strategy”, “We are in the process of finalizing our budget” etc. It is then you realize the value of your contacts and also the value of a brand name.

The only way out is to keep up the struggle and keep coming up with innovative ideas. At the same time we should be building a brand name for ourselves. We need to take help from all people we know, get a foot in the door and deliver. The last part is what is going to help in the long run. Your friends can help you get the foot inside the door. Then it is upto you to deliver. Your work is the one which will stay with you and help you or haunt you for a long time. There is no magic potion other than good old fashioned hard work combined with good old fashioned smart work. And yes, do find out that pain point of your prospect, one way or the other. That will go a long way in easing your pain as well.

A Bull and Drivers

It is not about locking bulls on to a bullock cart and driving it. It is about how you castrate a bull!! Keep reading to find out what I am talking about.

The book everyone in the Storage world is talking about currently is the book by Dave Hitz,the founder of NetApp. It has a  very eye catching title  ” How to Castrate a Bull: Unexpected Lessons on Risk, Growth, and Success in Business.”  You can read the Chapter Zero at Dave’s blog A very interesting Chapter Zero. Around the time the book was released, NetApp also topped the “Best Company to work for”  list released by Fortune Magazine. So everyone is now keen on reading  Dave’s book in order to get an insight on how NetApp created such a culture. The book has been released in US. I am not sure if it is available in India yet. I intend to buy and read this book. Will post my thoughts on the book once I read it.

I had the good fortune of meeting Dave once when he visited India in the early 2000s. I was part of  Wipro, where we hosted him for a meeting. It was pleasure interacting with him, though it was a brief interaction. He was a very down to earth person, absolutely no airs, asked questions with a real intent to learn about work done in India and was very articulate about his vision. NetApp didn’t have a development center in Bangalore then. They later started their India operations and are doing quite well.

In my last post I spoke about some storage technologies that we need to concentrate in these time. What I left unsaid was the fact that you need to have your fundamentals clear and strong. Only then will reading up and learning these new technologies help. And nothing gets more fundamental than writing device drivers.

Here comes the second part of my title. I want to recommend the book written by my friend and ex-colleague, Sreekrishnan Venkateswaran, “Essential Linux Device Drivers”. This is a welcome addition to the literature on Linux Device Drivers. The books which are commonly available here are Pajari’s, “Writing Unix Device Drivers” and the O’Reily standard, “Linux Device Drivers” by Corbet and Rubini.  Sreekrishnan’s book covers writing device drivers for a lot of devices. You will find device drivers here for I2C, PCMCIA, Blue tooth, WiFi etc. In short, it is very up to date with respect to devices that it talks about.

You will find lot of good reviews of this book on the web so I will not write a detailed review here but will talk about Sreekrishnan instead. Sreekrishnan is an IBM veteran being with IBM India for a long time. I came to know him when I joined IBM for a brief stint starting Nov 2006. It soon became apparent to me that the whole team was looking up to Sreekrishnan when it came to technical matters. He was always the first one to be called whenever there was any technical issue that needed immediate attention and whenever there was a fire to be doused. He was the also the technical face which was projected to visiting prospects,. Without exception every prospect would be impressed by Krishnan’s indepth Linux knowledge.  Krishnan and his team have ported Linux onto lot of devices including a wrist watch!! Whenever there was a client demo on our Linux porting capabilities, Sreekrishnan would show the Linux port onto a wrist watch as an example. In order to point out how feature hungry people were, Krishnan would remark, “What is the use of a Linux wrist watch if you can’t get stock market quotes on it in real time!!. So we had a implement that as well”. This would bring a smile on the face of the person watching the demo. I see that Krishan has used the same example in his preface as well, where he documents the issues which he and his team faced while porting Linux onto a wrist watch in late 1990s.

Sreekrishnan is an extremely approachable person, and, as with all good technical folks, is passionate about what he does. He is generally very happy to discuss technical matters with you and clear any doubts that you may have. The book is written in a very engaging style and makes the subject interesting. When I read the book it is almost like hearing Sreekrishnan speak.

Krishnan has been contribution regularly to Linux Magazine for quite some time now and his hands on experience in Linux clearly comes out in the book. This book was published by Prentice Hall last year in US under its Open Source Development series. This book is now available in India as a low price edition. I would definitely recommend anyone working in the Linux area and is writing  (or intends to write) a device driver to get this book. It is definitely worth keeping this in your reference library.

Nothing enriches your life like a good book. Here is a lovely quote I read about books. There was a person (I forgot his name) who is supposed to have bought lots of books and built a massive personal library. When someone asked him why he spent so much money on books, he replied, “If I had not bought these books, I would have had lot of money. But I would not have been richer”. I vehemently agree with him. (In case someone knows who made this quote, let me know. I will attribute it accordingly.)

I will leave you to mull on that quote.