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Startup Lessons on Weight Class

I'm catching up on some blog post reading, and just ran into Mark Suster's absolutely wonderful post, "Who Should You Hire at a Startup? (attitude over aptitude)." If you haven't read it yet, go check it out (I'll wait...). I want to address two parts of the post: Finding people to punch above their weight class, and Not worrying about exact roles.

The post reminds me of my early days at Ping Identity. I've recounted my "ping story" multiple times in multiple places, so I won't do the long version here. In short, I was employee #1 (after the founders - CEO, Andre Durand, and the CTO, Bryan Field-Elliot). I became employee #1 by, essentially, "hanging around" (and by hanging around, I mean working 18 hour days for little or no money for months).

Ping built to a seed round with Nokia, and then a Series A round with General Catalyst (sidenote: somewhere in this time is where I first met Brad Feld face to face. We pitched him, he said no.) Suddenly, Ping went from three guys working out of their houses (and a small 12x12 office), to space, a director of finance, a VP of engineering, developers, etc. And I suddenly found myself asking, "um, what is my role?"

Up until that point, I had done anything necessary -- from "biz dev" to early sales to writing whitepapers to marketing to product planning, etc. But when the A round happened, I needed a title. Jamie Lewis (CEO of what was then Burton Group) told me he thought I was a "VP of Marketing," so I did what any good entrepreneurial type would do: I walked into Andre's office and told him I wanted him to tell the new board I should be the "CMO." Now, keep in mind, at this point in my "career," I actually had ZERO marketing experience. I hadn't ever worked for a big tech company doing event marketing, or running programs for lead gen, or even running customer focus groups. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. What I knew I had was a passion for Ping that was unrivaled outside of the founders, and a confidence that I could *do* whatever it took to be "the marketing guy."

I had the good fortune of having spent some good "off time" (socializing) with the board, so several board members (notably, Jeremy Allaire, David Orfao and Dean Leffingwell) took the stance of "alright, let's give Norlin a roll" -- with one caveat: I'm a VP, not a CMO. Dean, specifically, then took me under his wing and began to walk me through some of the more traditional functions of a marketing VP.

By the time Series B hit, the game changed. When we did the B round, we brought in some new investors. And with that, new board members, with new experience sets and new expectations. I suddenly found myself under the microscope as "VP Marketing." To be clear, I don't *blame* those new board members (names withheld) at all for this stance. It was perfectly reasonable. They wanted (as Mark outlines in his post) someone with experience, some who had already been there and done this, not some guy off the street who was learning on the fly. It didn't matter that I was punching WAY above my weight class until this point, they wanted experience.

Again, Andre (and some board members) said, "let's give Norlin a shot (to screw this up)." But now the message came down in a very different way (delivered *by* a member of the board). I'll never forget the conversation. It went something like this, "we're all adults here. So, here's how it's going to go. Your budget is X. The board expects marketing to result in sales leads that generate Y in sales. If that doesn't happen by timeframe Z, you will be asked to either leave the company, or step down to a Director level while we hire someone who can." By the way, the numbers (generate X in sales leads with Y in budget in Z timeframe) were daunting, to say the least.

So, I did what any good entrepreneur would do: started working longer hours and basically killing myself because there was NO WAY IN HELL that this board was going to take away my baby. I was so fully invested in Ping by that point that I didn't think about not being a founder; I felt like a founder. This was my baby! And I'll be damned if you're going to hire someone to sit above me and tell me how to run my baby. Not. Going. To. Happen.

With some good coaching, a smart board (they knew *exactly* what they were doing in the context of my personality), and a little luck, I made it through that period. The leads were delivered. I secured my "title." I learned to punch above my weight class. And I think Ping was better for it (for one thing, they didn't have to pay me as much as they would an experienced VP).

And then, one day I woke up in a meeting about a setting up action plans for another meeting so that we could plan strategy that would lead to a series of meetings. In short, Ping had grown up.

I don't do bureaucracy well. It also turns out, I don't do "exact" roles all that well. I knew there were times when I could close a sale at Ping. But I had to turn it over to sales, who sometimes took the "long way" to the close. Exact roles and the necessary infrastructure of scaling a company just weren't my forte.

So, I once again did what any pushy, headstrong, "I earned my VP title" guy would do: I announced that unless there was a customer on the phone or in the meeting, I would not be attending (this was a bit uncomfortable in that we had a weekly VP and CEO meeting to sync up, and I had just told my CEO that since he wasn't a customer, I didn't have time for him). Yea, that didn't work either. It was clear to me. My baby had outgrown me.

Luckily, I was in a position to walk away (we had just sold Digital ID World -- our "hobby" -- to IDG). So I did. And since I have, Ping has scaled and grown to amazing heights. I barely know anyone that works there anymore (outside of Andre - who has grown into an amazing amazing amazing CEO).

I learned two very important things in that time period:

  • how to punch above my weight class (and the value of hiring people that do).
  • that exact roles weren't my style

    And Mark's post reminded me of that. Thanks Mark! ;-)

    P.S. Mark will be keynoting Gluecon.

Super Early Bird Ends Today

"Super Early Bird" pricing is ending today. You should know, I wanted to name this pricing level "The Worm" (as in "the early bird gets the..."), but I was vetoed by my wife, Kim. So, "super early bird" it is. In any case, it gets no cheaper than today. And if you use the super top secret, "alcatel-lucent rocks" discount code ("alu12"), you can take an additional 10% off of the list price.

Your registration includes workshops on the 24th (space is limited), 2 full days of great content, continental breakfasts, lunches, open bars, hackathons, seriously good wifi, power-strips at tables, and a staff that aims to please.

The latest agenda version is out. The conference is starting to come together, and if you're developing in the cloud or with APIs (building, or just hooking up to them); if you're concerned about NoSQL or scaling your business in the cloud; if you're looking for a show that has the level of technical content you crave and the intimacy and depth of interaction that makes for a special few days, then you really should join us. Register Today!

Calling Out Some Gluecon Sessions

As I mentioned yesterday, the agenda that I look at every day is always ahead of what's posted on-line. On bad mornings, I look at it and think, "what am I doing here? I need to scrap this format, rearrange everything and start over." On good mornings, I look at it and think, "holy crap! This is starting to come together."

This morning was a good morning.

With that in mind, let me call out some sessions that are on the board that may or may not be posted publicly yet:

  • Building Low-Latency, Real-time Apps with Node.js
  • Native vs. Wrapped Apps for Mobile: What to Build?
  • Hooking your mobile apps to the cloud; the good, the bad and the ugly
  • Securing REST APIs with OAuth
  • Exporting Data from Hadoop with ElephantDB
  • Scaling Big Data Search with Solr and HBase
  • The Locker Project and Telehash
  • Map Reducing Blobs: Managing Large File Transfer To or Inside a Cloud

And that's just the beginning. What do you think?

We're working our butts off to make sure that Gluecon is the single most impact-filled conference for cloud/API developers this year. I hope you'll choose to join us.

Tell Him What He's Won!

One of the things we're doing for this year's Gluecon is trying to reach out more extensively to the regional developer communities. One of the ways that we're doing that is by being involved with a bunch of hackathons/startup events -- and then giving the winner a trip to Gluecon. The winner receives airfare, hotel (at the conference hotel) and a free registration, so it's a pretty comprehensive package -- and we're delighted to be doing it (all with the generous help of our partner sponsor and community underwriter, Alcatel-Lucent; everyone say "thank you Alcatel-Lucent").

In that context, I'm pleased to announce our first winner: Evan Jacobs. Evan participated in the eBay speed hackathon that took place at Alcatel-Lucent's ElevenAPI lounge at SXSW, and came out on top. I haven't actually spoken with Evan yet, but as I do, I'll relay details of what he's up to, and what he's building.

In the meantime, look for more details about how to win a trip to Gluecon. The next winner will be the top dog of the TechStars Startup Madness Bracket. And we're working on hackathons in cities around the country, so stay tuned!

Congrats Evan!

P.S. Don't forget that Gluecon's Super Early Bird Pricing expires on Friday.

Gluecon Ramps

One of the great things about running a conference is curating the agenda. Actually, it's probably the thing I enjoy most. I get to have tons of interesting conversations with people that are smarter than I am, act like an industry analyst for a bit, and then try to nail something down that will excite, inform and surprise. Of course, all of that means that the agenda version that's in my head is ALWAYS better than the one that's on-line until about one month out from the show. But, trust me, this year's Gluecon is ramping, and it's going to be special.

If you've been to past Gluecon's, you'll notice right away that the agenda has more solo slots on it. At the end of last year, I checked myself on my mission of "being more technical in the content presented," and, as I expected, I didn't hit the mark (hint: you NEVER hit the mark). One of the format changes to facilitate that a bit more this year is mixing in more solo sessions that are longer. The risk is that we get a dud (60 minutes of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz). The upside is that the sessions are out of this world good. I'll take the upside.

The other thing you'll notice is that "cloud computing" isn't as explicit as a topic this year on the agenda. Don't get me wrong, there's still a ton of stuff that makes Gluecon a "cloud computing" show, but the feedback from the developers in attendance (the *cloud* guys) last year was clear: API, API, API, and - oh yea - API. Basically, if you don't understand that cloud computing is big, go to some other "cloud show." On the other hand, if you know it's big and you want technical content, duh- Gluecon - Winning!

The last thing I'm taking a swing at is a bit more content on mobile stuff. That's really because I have a deep-seeded belief that development for the mobile device in the cloud is the form factor that we're heading toward (even if "mobile device" means tablet). The irony, as many of you know, is that I don't carry a cell phone.

When you mix all of that up, you begin to see this. Like I said, it's still pretty incomplete. But give it two weeks...

In the meantime, Gluecon's "super early bird" (that's earlier than the earliest of early birds) pricing expires this Friday. Use the code, "alu12" (ALU for Alcatel-Lucent, our glorious partner sponsor and community underwriter) to receive an additional 10% off of the price (i.e., to drop it to under $475 to attend Gluecon). The price includes breakfast food, lunch food, open bars at receptions, hackathons, workshops, schwag bags, rock-solid wifi, power strips at tables, and a truckload of 80s hair metal on the conference soundtrack. It gets no cheaper, my friends. Join us.

Apply for your Gluecon Demo Pod Today!

Back in November, we joyfully announced the Alcatel-Lucent Demo Pavilion for Glue. To recap: The demo pavilion will house fifteen demo pods. Those pod companies will be chosen on merit (not their ability to pay), and given free pod space (that includes electricity, signage, hard wired internet drop -- basically, everything - just show up with your computer). They'll be chosen by our distinguished panel of judges (see the previous link).

It's an amazing opportunity for fifteen young startups to show their wares, and interact with hundreds of smart developers, VCs, journalists, etc. In addition, the attendees at Gluecon are going to choose their favorite demo pod company, and that company will be given keynote stage time to present on day 2 of the agenda.

The deadline for applications is March 24th (at 5pm Eastern Standard Time).

Winners will be notified on April 1st (no joke!) and have 48 hours to confirm their participation.

The demo pod participants will then be publicly announced on April 11th. And from there, we'll be pushing them out to attendees, angels, journalists, etc (and I'll have some surprises for you along the way).

There are no "size" restrictions per se, though I have a feeling that our judges will be pre-disposed to companies that haven't already raised 20 million from RockYourWorld Capital.

Think you have what it takes to show up, show your wares, and tell the world? Apply today.

Lastly, it should be noted that none of this would be possible were it not for the amazing support of Alcatel-Lucent. They're the "community underwriter" and Partner sponsor for Gluecon --and those titles *truly* reflect what they're all about. Namely, supporting and partnering with the developer community. Big thanks to Alcatel-Lucent! ;-)

Fast and Furious: March Madness

Did I mention the updates were going to come fast and furious? Yea, so just like we're paying for the winner of the SXSW hackathon to come to Gluecon, we're also going to bring the winner of the TechStars Startup Madness tourney to Gluecon. Check the page out, and then nominate and tweet for your favorite small startup. If they can survive the head-to-head competition with 63 other startups, they're coming to Gluecon (hotel, airfare, and full conference pass -- plus getting 25k in other prizes).

All of these startup competition/hackathon/giveaways play into the Alcatel-Lucent demo pod pavilion that we have at Gluecon. What are those you ask? Go read this. And then apply.

The idea behind Gluecon is really pretty simple: if you're a developer (at a startup, independent, enterprise, whatever) working with APIs and in the Cloud, then Glue is the event for you. So, get involved -- start hacking, nominate yourself to win, apply for a demo pod -- just GET TO GLUE. Trust me, everyone else will be there. ;-)

Gluecon: Face-melting tiger blood with Adonis DNA

This week it all officially begins: the countdown to what I will now unabashedly say is going to be the developer Cloud Computing/API event of the year - Gluecon.

I'm beginning work on the early agenda. We have workshops, parties, keynotes, hackathons and much more. And speaking of hackathons, have we got a deal for you...

We're going to be participating in several regional hackathons (stay tuned here for the announcement), and for each hackathon Gluecon will pay for the winner's airfare, hotel room and gluecon registration to come and participate in the on-site Glue hackathon (ALL night at the end of Gluecon day 1). That's right, win and you're in (need I say it? Duh! Winning!).

The first of these hackathons is taking place at SXSW (courtesy of Alcatel-Lucent) at the eBay Hangover Party and Speed Hack. If you're going, just win baby! And we'll see you at Gluecon.

(Expect the Gluecon updates to come fast and furious as we take on all competitors in the octagon of warlock awesomesauce that is Gluecon. Winning!)

Gluecon 2011: Changing the Game

Gluecon is unlike any conference I've ever run before.

Because it's aimed at developers, the topics are far more technical than my feeble marketer's brain can easily comprehend. And because Glue isn't defined as "a cloud computing" conference, it's not caught in the echo chamber of "defining" this, that and the other thing. Glue seeks to explore the connective "tissue" of the web and IT infrastructure. That connective tissue can be called a lot of things: service oriented architecture, web services, APIs, cloud computing, etc. But call it what you will, developers know that it's not the name that counts, it's the building of the application, and the underlying infrastructure that supports it.

In that context, my goal with Gluecon is really simple: Make it THE gathering place for developers in the API/Cloud space.

With that goal in mind, we're setting out this year to change the game for developer conferences. And the only way that I know to change the game is to open things up in such a way as to get maximum involvement from the community.

As such, I'm extremely happy to announce that Alcatel-Lucent is signing on to be the Community Underwriter and Partner Sponsor of Gluecon 2011.

Yea, but what the hell does that mean?

It all started with Mike Maney coming to me and asking, "hey, what if we wanted to underwrite the ability for 15 companies to have demo pods at Glue in 2011? What if we wanted their participation to be based solely on merit, not the ability to pay for an exhibit?"

That question has led us to today.

As part of Alcatel-Lucent becoming the Community Underwriter for Gluecon, we're announcing that 15 companies will be selected to have completely free demo space at Gluecon (i.e., the demo pod includes passes to the show, signage, internet -- everything you need; just show up with a laptop).

How are you selecting the companies?

To select the companies, we've put together a selection committee that consists of:

Myself

Chris Shipley (Guidewire Group)

Mathew Ingram (of MESH and GigaOm)

John Musser (Programmable Web)

Laura Merling (Alcatel-Lucent)

Alex Williams (ReadWriteWeb)

Jeff Lawson (Twilio)

Jeff Hammond (Forrester)

Ian Glazer (Gartner)

Ben Kepes (Diversity.net)

Krish Subramanian (CloudAve)

Vinod Kurpad (Best Buy)

Seth Levine (Foundry Group)

(and we'll probably add a couple of more folks)

The process will be simple: we accept applications for the 15 spots, every person on the selection committee gets to vote for their favorite 15 companies, and the top 15 vote getters have a demo pod.

Does Alcatel-Lucent get a say in who gets a demo pod?

Yes, but no. They have a vote (technically, 2 - since Programmable Web is owned by Alcatel-Lucent), but not nearly enough to swing a decision. To their credit, the primary concern of Laura, Mike and the gang over at Alcatel-Lucent from Day 1 of our discussions has been about maintaining the credibility and neutrality of Glue. To that end, I've gone out and chosen analysts (Guidewire, Gartner and Forrester), journalists (GigaOm and ReadWriteWeb), managers inside of large corporations (Best Buy) and even other company CEOs (Jeff Lawson of Twilio) to help us run through this process. Neutrality and integrity of this process is the name of the game.

Does Alcatel-Lucent have any editorial control over Gluecon?

Absolutely not. Alcatel-Lucent's involvement here is altruistic: enlarge the size and interaction around this developer community, and everyone benefits.

Are you still selling other exhibit space?

Of course. We're actually getting ready to announce our first raft of exhibitors for Gluecon 2011.

What else does this Alcatel-Lucent sponsorship mean?

Well, for one thing, we're going to be doing some awesome things leading up to Glue -- things like, holding hackathons around the country and then flying the winners into Gluecon to participate in a major league hackathon at the conference. And that'll just be the beginning - stay tuned.

Why is Eric so damn excited about this?

I'm excited because I feel like we have the ability to really change the game with this one. If you take away the company specific conferences (Google i/o, Twitter, F8), there really just aren't that many national-level gathering spots for developers in the cloud/API space. There are a lot of "business level" and "workshop" conferences that happen around cloud computing, but we're talking DEVELOPERS.

And even where there are developer gatherings in the cloud/API space, the ability to pay has always been a limiting factor for startups and companies wanting to show their wares and exhibit.

That ends with Gluecon 2011. With Gluecon 2011, developers in the cloud/API space have the ability to participate in a pure meritocracy. Wow the selection committee, and you're in.

At the end of the day, what I want to see is 500+ developers coming to Gluecon to build apps, figure out cloud infrastructure, scaling, security, and solve the tough problems around API construction, usage and maintenance.

So, how do I apply?

It's easy. Start here.

And if we'd rather have a bigger exhibit space than the pod (ie, a tabletop or booth)?

That's easy too - just ping me (enorlinATmac.com).

Will this be a one-off deal? Or is Gluecon here to stay with this?

My first statement to Alcatel-Lucent when we started these discussions was "doing this for one year gets us nowhere." They agreed. We're here for the long haul, people.

Gluecon 2011 is going to cover an amazingly broad spectrum of cloud/API topics that matter to developers. From Hadoop to Clojure to Active API event processing to Cloud Scaling to Big Data databases (of both the NoSQL and SQL variety) to web protocols (activity streams, PUSH, etc) -- we're going deeper, getting more technical than ever, bringing in a 3rd day of workshops, just generally stepping up and kicking ass.

Think you can hang with the big boys and gals at Gluecon? Apply for a demo pod, and prove it.

Gluecon speaker slides

I'm collecting the gluecon speaker sessions/slides as I see them (or receive them). Here's what I have so far: Dwight Merriman on NoSQL Ross Turk - Smarting the Dumb Pipe Doug Crockford - Gluing Together Wet Cats in a Crowd John Willis - Configuration Management in the Cloud Chris Messina on XAuth Aaron Fulkerson - Web Oriented Architecture Jon Meredith - Riak in Ten Minutes Nishant Kaushik - Federated Provisioning and the Cloud Jeff Lindsay on Webhooks Jeff Lawson - Hacking Cloud Communications Monica Keller - Building real-time updates for the Graph API Mitch Garnaat - AWS by the Numbers John Musser - Open APIs: State of the Market Rick Nucci on Looking Between the Apps Darren Wood on Scaling the Social Graph in the Cloud (video here) I'll continue to collect links here as they show up -- and if there's a particular speaker/presentation you're looking for, please reach out to me and I'll work on getting it for you. In the meantime, a HUGE thank you to all of the gluecon speakers. You guys and gals kicked ass.