In telling the story of Formation to some folks in the media last week, I was reminded by long-time storage veterans (thanks Joe Kovar – see article here ) that I have had two previous attempts to create a more ubiquitous data virtualization layer. The results were… well… not great. OK, miserable failure might be more appropriate. The first was a product called VersaStor which started at Compaq and then migrated to HP. My second attempt was a product called Invista while I was at EMC.

Third time a charm? I am heartened by the Henry Ford quote that “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

I did learn many things from these “failures” but four lessons stand out.

1. To innovate you must look forward not backward.

The design focus of both previous products was towards accommodating existing (legacy) storage arrays and not on building the best forward-looking solution. Bad.

2. It is nearly impossible to create transformational technology inside of a company that will be financially impacted (negatively) by the disruption.

I am sure that most of you get this but if you don’t give the Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen a shot.

3. Building a large team is not the way to go.

Small teams are key to innovation success, even on “large” projects.

4. Everyone involved needs to believe!

I can’t emphasize this enough. If you want to do something disruptive then everyone from the engineers to the CEO (and especially the CEO) must “believe.” If the project must succeed then it will. If it is a “pet project” or an “alternative” then it will most certainly fail.

While there certainly are many other learning’s, both organizational and technical, these four stand out as the most significant.

And they are embodied in our third beginning. And I believe this time is definitely a charm.



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