22 Jan SHIFTING THE LENS: Lance Crosby’s Vision For Startups
it’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to chat with someone who’s built and sold a company for billions. Yes, billions with a “B”. But when you chat with Lance Crosby, you quickly discover that regardless of the big headlines and even bigger dollar signs that are often associated with his name, he’s just like one of us. He possesses the same intense drive, work ethic and excitement for making his vision a reality just like every other hardcore entrepreneur and tech founder.
Crosby’s latest venture, Stackpath, is on an ambitious mission to “make the internet safe again” with its frictionless and scalable security platform. In this two part series, we got a chance to learn a little bit more about the company’s passion for supporting startups and a few leadership lessons from the man himself.
SECURITY AT THE EDGE
What was the impetus behind rolling out a program like Propel that specifically caters to startups?
The entire cloud revolution is shifting and we expect to create something that doesn’t currently exist. Most of Stackpath’s customers will be brand new companies or emerging companies so creating a program that caters to those types of firms early on is critical because when they grow up we want them to be customers as well.
I think we have a unique offering. Cloud has been around for 12 years now. It’s pretty pervasive and most everybody knows how to use it. I’m not out there trying to explain what cloud is anymore. So our focus has shifted towards creating a security platform at the edge, at cloud scale, because I think cloud is going to go beyond the Big Four.
We’re really focusing on those younger companies that already cloud. I don’t think enterprise or Fortune 500 firms have embraced cloud fully enough yet to even understand what Stackpath is trying to do.
What is the profile of the entrepreneur you’re looking to work with?
The way I see the world is that every piece of hardware and every piece of software in existence today is being turned into a service or a SaaS. I have yet to find anything that is going to live beyond being a service. So all SaaS companies will need delivery at the edge and all of the services that Stackpath provides. As I look at companies like IBM, HP, Dell and those other big box, older companies, everything they sell is being turned into a service, being attacked by a startup delivering it as a SaaS. That’s exactly who we’re going after.
What’s the biggest misconception about having a tech “success”?
I think you have to absolutely love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, you’re never going to be good at it. Success is not dollars. To me, success is changing the world, loving what you do, having fun, getting up everyday and making a difference, not making money. I think a lot of entrepreneurs that go into it with dollar signs don’t understand that if you don’t love what you’re doing you’ll never be successful. There will be bad times. I’ve had three successful companies, now on the fourth one, and there are still tough times. If you don’t love it, you won’t be successful.
Always ask why. Always challenge the status quo.
How did you make the pivot? From law school to tech?
I was fortunate. I loved technology. My background though is not in tech. I found it by happenstance. I moved to Dallas in 95′ to go to law school. I met two individuals from EDS through mutual friends who said let’s start an ISP. I said sure. They were the money and I was sort of the brains at that point. When I was a student at Texas A&M, I helped network all 17 campuses together as a TA. We started Dallas.net, Oklahoma.net and Austin.net back in 95′ when no one knew what the internet was. It was commercially viable for maybe 24 months. Netscape was brand new back then too. Towards the end of law school, everyone, including my parents, was asking me what was I doing. They told me to focus on law school and I told them that I love this internet thing and this is what I’m going to go do. Got licensed but never practiced any law.
What keeps you excited about the work you’re doing right now?
The idea of changing the world, changing the game, and changing how things are done. Anytime I talk to entrepreneurs, I tell them you’re going to have financial difficulty, but you gotta be creative. From mortgaging my home, to borrowing money from friends and family to raising 500 million dollars on Wall Street, it never really changes. You’ve got to have the mentality that you’re going to find the money and do everything it takes to make it happen. And then you have to find the talent. The talent I start with is almost never the talent I end up with because most people do not gel with the organization. I wish they did but unfortunately they just don’t. You have to know when to add new people to the company and when to let go of some of the original people, even founders. I’ve probably replaced every C-level that reports to me at least once in my career which is a very difficult thing to do. I always try to look at it from this perspective – what is the right thing for the company? Not for me, not for the CEO or the founder but for the company. If the right decision is to go raise money, to change personnel or strategy, then you have to make the hard decision to do it.
For startups looking to scale and hire, what’s your advice to land the best team?
Early on, I would make sure that they put money in the organization, no matter how much they have. If it’s a college graduate, it could be as little as $1,000. But make sure they have some skin in the game so that they work like they are going to lose that money. You can also tell a lot about a person if they quit a significant job and come over to you. When I started Softlayer, I had a gentleman quit a business development position at Amazon to come work with us. That is a commitment that most people are not willing to do. It’s important to hire smart people, but I like to get people personally invested in the success or the failure of the organization; either financially or careerwise.
Do you have a mentor? Who do you go to for inspiration?
I have a couple of mentors. One of my mentors is David Strom. He was a board member with Softlayer and is one of the smartest people I’ve ever sat in a room with. He’s always taught me to look at business through a different lens.
Always ask why.
Always challenge the status quo.
When I had this idea about revolutionizing security, I called David and told him that I didn’t know anything about security and that I shouldn’t be doing this. He told me I was looking at it all wrong. “The person or group that is going to fix security is going to be someone outside of security” he said. The group that created cloud should have been IBM, HP or Dell, but they were outside looking in. For ten years or so, he’s always told me to look through the other lens. It’s something I’ve gotten used to doing and now my own team looks at business this way too.
Work hard. Play hard right? What do you do for fun?
My favorite thing to do in the world is to travel to places that I’ve never visited before. On my last tour of duty at IBM, if you can call it that, I was fortunate enough to see 17 countries in 20 days on a private jet. That’s a trip of a lifetime right? It was mostly work, not a ton of fun, but it was an amazing thing that will probably never occur in my lifetime again.
LONE STAR HUSTLE
Your thoughts on the DFW startup scene? How can we take the region to the next level?
People couldn’t believe that Softlayer was headquartered in Dallas and that’s frustrating for me because there are lots of great companies here. Modern Message had a big exit. Brad Hunstable, founder of Ustream, also had a big exit, also with IBM. There are lots of tech companies in Dallas. It’s a large area with lots of great universities. UT Dallas, for example, excels in Data Science and Engineering.
So I still don’t understand why we can’t get a significant presence. It bothers to me to go out to Silicon Valley and see how strong it is there and come back to see our city struggling trying to make Dallas/Fort Worth a tech hub.
More time and more successes will help. Brad is a great example of this. He went to San Franciso to start his company because he thought he had to. I’m trying to convince more and more people that yes, you can do it here. Low cost of living, lots of educated, technical people. Lots of potential.
How did you raise money with Stackpath, Softlayer? Do you believe in the capital crunch that exists here in North Texas?
Knowing what I know today and getting “chased” by basically everyone in the world now, I understand the mistake I made with the earlier companies. I didn’t understand that I needed to do a lot of research on all of the VCs and figure out the ones that were mostly likely to be interested. When we started Softlayer, I littered the landscape with my business plan to anybody that would take a look at it. If I had been smarter and more experienced, I would have looked at the top 50 firms in the U.S. and actually do research to see that they all have their specialties and industries that they like to invest in. If I had been more targeted and focused, I would have been a lot more successful earlier on.
With success things change of course. With Stackpath, I wrote the business plan, asked for $250 million dollars, called five private equity firms who said I’ll overnight you the check, let’s do the deal. But you don’t start out like that. You have to sell your company for two billion first (insert laughs).
It’s 2020. What’s next for you, for Stackpath?
I would hope that what we are doing becomes mainstream like cloud and everyone understands it. We’re out to help fix the internet. If we don’t do it or if a few companies don’t get together to fix the security issues we currently have on the internet, then it’s eventually going to become a nuisance. It’s getting worse and worse everyday. We’re just kind of living with it. My business plan made a projection that if we don’t do something, when companies connect to the internet it will be a filthy, nasty place you don’t want to connect to. And that’s not the direction we should be headed in. I believe we can make a difference and change this.
Click here to learn more about Stackpath’s crusade to make the internet safe again.
Connect with Lance on twitter at @lavosby.
Photo credits: Christoher Alvarado