Make the IT People Smile: A Hypervisor Story
It could be said that Unidesk President and CEO Don Bulens is in a rut: starting up a new company, cashing out, starting up another company, cashing out... and so it goes. He's done it five times so far, if you count launching the Notes business out of Lotus.
Of course, as ruts go, this one has been pleasantly profitable, and the entrepreneurial Bulens looks just fine for a guy who's been putting in beau coup hours on and off for more years than he probably cares to remember.
For the record, he was a major player in the start-ups of Radnet, a collaborative Web applications company; Trellix, a Web-publishing tools firm founded by Dan Bricklin; EqualLogic, a high-end enterprise storage company; and, most recently, Unidesk, which is in the business of desktop virtualization management. (By the way, Dell acquired EqualLogic for a cool $1.4 billion in 2008, so you do the math.)
Bulens talks of three challenges he's faced each time he shifts into start-up mode. The first is engineering a product that's "good enough" to satisfy at least a subset of what might be a long-term audience. The second is establishing a go-to-market strategy that calibrates pricing-to-value, distribution, customer relationships and the proper balance between professional services and ease of use. Addressing the third challenge, Bulens says: "This is probably what becomes the most essential of all -- a lifelong journey around making sure the team is comprised of the kinds of people who can help the company be successful, and who are passionate, purposeful and aligned with the vision of what the company is all about."
When asked to recall mistakes he's made along the way, he takes a moment to contemplate before declaring: "In all the companies I've been involved with, there have been painful decisions that we delayed or didn't act upon where there were people who weren't the right fit -- even if they were experts in their craft."
The good news, he says, is after you "act on those misalignments," there's a tremendous boost of productivity and spirit among the ranks that has a measurable impact on how the company operates.
Bulens is turned on by the notion of simplifying a task that's typically complex. Notes made it simple to develop collaborative applications, Trellix simplified Web publishing, EqualLogic reduced the complex job of managing datacenter storage, and Unidesk is all about simplifying the "tedious and thorny" challenges of managing PCs in the new world of desktop virtualization -- or, as Bulens puts it: "We're capitalizing on the new platform capabilities of hypervisor-based desktops to try to make an industry."
He also subscribes to a second notion, which is ensuring that the product experience and entire culture of the company are based on creating the best possible customer experience: "customer delight," in Bulens's words. He also wants to "make the IT people smile" at customer companies, because that creates "tremendous customer advocacy and passion." That positive sentiment is evident in Unidesk's 14 customers and in the dozens of customers who are in the middle of pilots.
Given the scale of the success of EqualLogic, it's not surprising that Bulens cites it as his most-outstanding start-up experience -- but he reveres those memories for more than just the money. He remembers that people thought the new team was "crazy" when they initially described their plans. "It takes special people to envision these things," he says. "With EqualLogic, in a week we decided we wanted to work together because we liked each other."
Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.