One of the holy grails in the storage market has been to deliver a piece of software that could eliminate the need for an external storage array.  The software would provide all the capabilities of an enterprise-class storage device, install on commodity servers alongside applications, eliminate the need for a storage network, and provide shared storage semantics, high availability, and scale-out. With Maxta, the search for such a holy grail ends here.

The external storage array and associated storage network have been a staple of enterprise computing for several decades.  Innovations in storage have been all about making the external storage array faster and more reliable.  Even with all the recent excitement of flash replacing spinning disk, the entire focus of the $30B storage market has been around incrementally improving the external array.   Incrementalism as opposed to (literally) thinking outside the box.

Maxta is announcing a revolutionary shift in storage.  Not only are storage arrays and networks eliminated, but, as a result, compute and storage are co-located.  This convergence keeps the application close to its data, improving performance, reliability, and simplicity.  A layer of software to replace a storage array sounds too good to be true, except Maxta has paying customers and production deployments, and has delivered several releases of their software prior to today’s announcement.

Maxta would not be possible without CEO Yoram Novick, who is a world-class expert in storage software and data center design.  Yoram holds 25 patents and was previously CEO of Topio, a successful storage company that was acquired by NTAP several years ago.  He’s a storage software genius, with a penchant for engineering design and feature completeness as opposed to fluffy marketing announcements and future promises.  He’s the real deal and a true storage geek at heart.

When I met Yoram several years ago, he came to us with the radical idea to build a software layer to change the storage landscape.  Leverage commodity components and put all the hard stuff in software.  Within minutes, we decided to invest and we haven’t looked back since.  We are thrilled to be working with Yoram and team as they use software to deliver one of the holy grails of the storage market.

With all the recent innovations in flash storage design, you’d think we’d have a smooth path toward supporting storage requirements for new hyper-scale datacenters and cloud computing. However, nothing could be further from the truth! Existing storage architectures, despite taking advantage of flash, are doomed in the hyper-scale world. Simply put, storage has not evolved in 30 years, resulting in a huge disconnect between the requirements of the new datacenter and the capability of existing storage systems.

There are two fundamental problems right now: 1) existing storage does not scale for the hyper-scale datacenter and 2) traditional storage stacks have not been architected to take advantage of the recent innovations in flash.

Current storage systems don’t scale because they were designed in the mainframe era. Mainframe-style arrays were designed in a world where a single mainframe provided the compute and a handful of storage arrays hung off the mainframe to support data storage. This one-to-one architecture continues to be used today, despite the fact that the compute side of the hyper-scale datacenter is expanding to hundreds or thousands of individual servers in enterprise datacenters, similar to Google or Amazon. As you can imagine, you achieve theoretically unlimited capacity for compute only to be severely bottlenecked on the storage end of things.

Furthermore, while flash storage has become the hot new thing—super fast, energy efficient, with a smaller form factor—the other internal parts of the storage subsystem have not changed at all. Adding flash to an outdated system is like adding a jet engine to the Wright Brothers’ airplane: pretty much doomed to fail, despite the hype.

This brings me to Coho Data (formerly known as Convergent.io) and a team I’ve worked closely with for years. The founding team includes Ramana Jonnala, Andy Warfield and Keir Fraser, superb product visionaries and architects, with deep domain expertise in virtualization and systems, having built the XenSource open source virtualization stack and scaled it to support some of the biggest public clouds around. This team has built infrastructure software that has been used by hundreds of millions of end users and installed on millions of machines. By applying their expertise and adding key talent with network virtualization experience to the team, they are challenging the fundamentals of storage.

A year after we funded their Series A, having spent that time heads-down building product and piloting with customers, I’m really excited to share that Coho Data today is announcing a revolutionary design in storage that has been built from the inside out to challenge how companies of all sizes think about how they store and deliver access to their data. The team has rebuilt the entire storage array with new software and integrated networking to offer the fastest, most scalable storage system in the market, effectively turning the Wright Brothers’ airframe into an F-16 fighter jet. The Coho DataStream architecture supports the most demanding hyper-scale environments, while at the same time optimizing for the use of commodity flash, all with standard and extensible interfaces and simple integration. As hyper-scale datacenters become the new standard, monolithic storage arrays will go the way of the mainframe.

Coho Data is changing the storage landscape from the inside out and I could not be more thrilled to be part of the most exciting storage company of the cloud generation.

In this final installment of the SaaS Manifesto, which has examined the rise of the departmental user as a major influencer of enterprise buying decisions, and how building a real sales team is integral to the process, the last critical consideration is the need to rethink the procurement process for SaaS.

The corporate one-size-fits-all process for procuring applications is broken. Many companies adopting SaaS are still using 85-page perpetual license agreements that were written years ago and designed for on-premise software purchases. It’s no wonder that SaaS companies want to avoid central IT and purchasing like the plague! Fortunately, the solution is simple: Every company needs to adopt a SaaS policy and treat SaaS software purchasing in an entirely different fashion from on-premise practices.

The perpetual license and SaaS don’t mix

Perpetual licenses made sense when companies invested millions of dollars for on-premise software, services and corresponding infrastructure. This resulted in procurement and legal teams requiring a slew of contractual terms including: indemnification and liability limits, future updates and releases, maintenance fees, perpetual use, termination and continued use, future software modules, infrastructure procurement, beta test criteria, deployment roll-out and many others.

The use of existing procurement practices makes no sense for SaaS and results in a sluggish and frustrating experience for everyone involved.  Frustrating for the departmental user who wants fast access to much needed business capability; frustrating to the procurement and legal groups who spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating useless terms; frustrating to the SaaS provider who is trying to go around the entire process; and frustrating to the CIO who fears rogue deployment of SaaS apps and their impact on security and compliance.

Like oil and water, the two practices don’t mix, and it’s time to change the game and create an effective three-way partnership between the user, the SaaS provider and the CIO.

Creating an “express lane” SaaS policy

CIOs can enable rapid adoption of SaaS by creating a repeatable, streamlined purchasing process that is significantly faster than a traditional approach. SaaS policies and procurement checklists should reflect this and CIOs can help key business stakeholders identify and map their requirements to the available SaaS offerings and ensure that appropriate due diligence is done.

A starting point should be the creation of different policies and procurement processes for mission-critical and departmental applications. Mission-critical applications still require 24×7 support, high availability Service Level Agreements, data security and disaster recovery considerations. Because these applications may directly impact revenue or customers, substantial up-front diligence is required. Nonetheless, many of the old, on-premise contract requirements are still irrelevant here since there is no infrastructure, no maintenance, no perpetuity, etc.

Aside from mission-critical SaaS apps, 80-90% of all SaaS solutions are departmental apps and these are the applications that should have an “express lane” for procurement. Imagine a streamlined process for most SaaS purchases that enables fast, easy and safe deployment. Everyone wins and everyone is thrilled at the result.

The Express Lane checklist for departmental apps

The following checklist is a framework for establishing the Express Lane:

  • Data ownership and management – Clearly define that all data is owned by the company, not the SaaS provider, and can be pulled out of the providers system at any time.
  • Security – the ability to control the level of access by the SaaS provider and the company’s employees, as well as shut off access when an employee leaves the company.
  • Dedicated support and escalation path – Access to a fully staffed support team, but probably does not need to be 24×7.
  • Reliability – Set a baseline for the provider’s historical reliability, including lack of downtime and data loss.
  • Disaster recovery processes – Internal plan to minimize information loss if the vendor goes out of business or violates the user contract.

Applying a framework creates a partnership with all stakeholders and has the following benefits:

  • Cost savings – Save money in terms of company resources needed to take providers through approval process and in up-front overhead on long-term contract commitments.
  • Scalability – Ability to use a SaaS solution for a specific segment of a business or across an entire enterprise.
  • Efficiency – Streamlined process with legal and billing.
  • Flexibility – A month-to-month contract, instead of a SLA, means a company is not locked into a long-term contract.
  • Eliminates rogue solutions – IT gains greater control by eliminating the practice of employees signing up for services on their personal credit cards and expensing.

Ending the use of perpetual license practices for SaaS applications will result in much better alignment between the SaaS supplier, the internal user and the CIO. And the creation of an Express Lane for the vast majority of all departmental apps will enable rapid adoption of business applications by the departmental user, while giving IT the oversight in the rapidly evolving world of SaaS.

The SaaS revolution has not only changed the way products are delivered and developed, but the way products are brought to market. SaaS and the departmentalization of IT recognize that the line-of-business buyer and new sales approaches target that buyer with a combination of freemium and inside sales. Couple this with a streamlined process for procuring SaaS and we create the perfect storm for a massive transformation in application deployment and productivity.

Note: Part 3 of “The SaaS Manifesto” first ran in The Wall Street Journal‘s CIO Journal.

I recently had the privilege of hosting Dick Costolo (@dickc), CEO of Twitter, at Andreessen Horowitz for a fireside chat. The event was the second in a series hosted by my firm aimed at strengthening the network of military veterans in Silicon Valley and expanding this network’s connection to the greater tech ecosystem. (As much as I’d love to claim that we precipitated the filing of Twitter’s S-1, this event and the S-1 occurring on the same day was purely coincidental.)

What is not a coincidence is how Dick’s leadership style and personality have transformed Twitter into one of the most successful technology companies of our time.  We had the opportunity to spend an hour together and here’s what I learned about leadership, culture and veterans at Twitter:

How has Twitter’s culture changed over your tenure as CEO?

Dick joked that when he came on board someone could have “thrown a hand grenade into the company at 5:30pm and only hit the cleaning people.” He started holding people accountable and rewarding projects where hard work was visible. He’d go into the office at 10pm, got to know the people who were around and then prioritized their projects. People quickly got the message.

Dick describes himself as a hands-on manager and expects the same from his team. He instituted a leadership class for all new managers, which covers topics like how to give transparent feedback (hint: don’t sugarcoat it) and how to deliver difficult news to your team, like your project getting axed (hint: don’t throw leadership under the bus). Of course, he also practices what he preaches, holding weekly 1:1 meetings with direct reports and remaining accessible to employees, regardless of rank.

Open communication is a nice objective, but how does Twitter do this given its size and scope?  

Dick admits open communication is difficult to maintain because of two opposing pressures: the first is the desire to limit communication to reduce the risk of leaks; the second is simply that everyone can’t know everything. Dick leans toward over-communicating and trusts management to synthesize relevant information, rather than publishing a transcript of every meeting. As the company continues to grow, synthesizing is increasingly important.

On leadership and veterans

Dick’s passion for good leadership is an anomaly in the tech industry. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Military Veterans are under-represented in a sector notorious for shunning authority.

Dick certainly made a strong statement traveling from Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco to our office in Menlo Park, in the middle of rush hour, to participate in our event for local veterans on the same day that Twitter filed its S-1. He clearly understands and appreciates the value that military talent can bring to the table (case in point: Russ Laraway, a rising star at Twitter, oversees their SMB unit and is a former Marine).

As for hiring vets, I couldn’t agree more with Dick when he said there are lots of roles in the technology industry for which the job requirements are a load of hogwash. For example, I can’t understand why engineering skills are part of the criteria for project management roles. Good communication skills and adherence to strict deadlines are not strengths for many engineers. But I can think of more than a few vets who would really shine with this responsibility.

On behalf of everyone at Andreessen Horowitz, I want to thank Dick and our veteran community for making this event the absolute highlight of my week!

It may sound a bit ungrateful, especially coming from someone who invests in these things, but many early SaaS companies in many ways have been successful in spite of themselves. SaaS customers have had their pick of great software products, all available from the cloud, and without the long, tortured installation efforts of previous generations of software. On the back of these frictionless software deals, SaaS companies have been growing like mad, and often without any formal sales effort. But if they haven’t already, these up-and-to-the-right companies are about to hit a wall. The reason is that early deployments and usage do not necessarily translate into sustainable revenue growth.

In order for SaaS businesses to really scale and reach their full potential as industry leaders, they need a real and robust sales effort. That’s right, you need to build a sales team.

It won’t be easy. I won’t pretend that it is. But scaling sales, while expensive and culturally challenging to implement, changes the size of the potential opportunity. The big opportunity for SaaS companies is to drive adoption across the whole organization, which requires a centralized effort to redesign corporate processes, facilitate training and manage customer success. This is especially the case with tools that work best when used by everyone at a company, like CRM, human resources or accounting

Freemium is only part of the story

Before we dive in, there’s one thing I have to set straight: Freemium is a fantastic starting point for SaaS, but freemium is not the same as building a sales organization. Freemium is a product and marketing strategy designed to generate a massive base of users, which can be approached for a future sale. Freemium is all about seeding the market and establishing a platform for building a winning offering. The best SaaS companies use their free product to iterate and improve their offering with data and feedback. But even with an effective freemium go-to-market strategy, SaaS companies still need to think about augmenting with a sales organization. Start with freemium, but don’t end there.

The evolving role of the CIO

The CIO’s role is evolving in that for most SaaS applications, the department will drive the purchase. This is different from past generations of software, where on-premise installations and routine software upgrades required the CIO to hand-hold every buying decision. In a sense, SaaS has liberated the CIO to focus on longer-term strategic business issues, rather than worry about the next Oracle or SAP upgrade.  The CIO will influence security, support and data protection policies, so understanding these up-front becomes a key part of the selling process.

The balance of influence between the departmental buyer and the CIO differs by application as well as by company—the more mission critical, secure, and integrated, the larger the CIO role. For infrastructure purchases, as an example, the CIO continues to be highly involved in the purchasing decision.

A framework for an effective SaaS sales organization

Designing a sales and marketing function targeted at the departmental buyer is key to creating long-term competitive advantage. I’ve seen many early SaaS companies reluctantly stumble into half-baked sales efforts, only to find a flattening in revenue and customer engagement.

To convince the skeptics, I’ve asked Dan Shapero at LinkedIn, one of the most successful SaaS companies of our time, to weigh in. Dan is the VP of Talent and Insights at LinkedIn and runs a 1,200-person sales organization. While most people think that LinkedIn sells itself with great product and no sales effort, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a framework that LinkedIn has developed to apply:  

Organize around the buyer. LinkedIn has multiple business lines that work with three different corporate functions: talent, marketing and sales. These departments typically make discrete decisions, with independent budgets, so LinkedIn has different teams that focus on partnering with each function.

Distinguish between new account acquisition and account success. Two of the most important lessons at LinkedIn have been (1) successful clients buy more over time and (2) the process and expertise required to acquire a new customer is very different from nurturing that customer. As a result, there are separate and distinct teams, sales processes and measures of success for managing new and existing customers.

Land, then expand. With SaaS, customers can purchase on a small scale before going all in. Rather than focusing on landing huge deals, Linkedin has been better served by acquiring many smaller scale deals at clients with huge long-term potential. Albeit smaller, success with the initial deployment often results in tremendous upside in the second, third, fourth year of a client’s tenure. Expanding in a SaaS/freemium model is particularly effective because you not only can demonstrate success, but you can also pinpoint and size future demand based on who is using the technology for free.

Leverage inside sales for the mid-market. The creation of a robust, inside sales organization to serve clients over the phone, from regional hubs around the world, is a critical part of LinkedIn’s successful SaaS franchise. Inside sales reps close their own business and manage their own territory. The SaaS model enables the client to be engaged, sold, provisioned and serviced in a highly scalable way, without the need for an in-person visit.

Monitor customer engagement. SaaS provides incredible transparency into how actively engaged customers are with the product. Understanding where usage is strong and weak across customers allows LinkedIn to improve customer experience by deploying training resources proactively, offering targeted advice on best practice, and improving the product roadmap. Most enterprise vendors are flying blind when it comes to understanding the success of their customers, while SaaS companies have a fundamental information advantage.

When you are in the throes of viral adoption, it is not immediately intuitive to many SaaS companies to build out a sales organization. Right now, those of you in all the rapid growth SaaS companies might still be thinking, “Not us, we’ll just keep booking those inbound leads.” You’ll keep thinking that until the inbound stops. The paradox of great SaaS companies is that the more successful a SaaS company is with early deployments, the more challenging it becomes for that organization to recognize and embrace building a formal sales organization to address the needs of the enterprise buyer. That’s why I want every SaaS company to consider the SaaS Manifesto a call to arms. We are at a point in the maturity of SaaS where mature sales are important.

Up next: The SaaS Manifesto: Part 3 – the requirements for enterprise-wide SaaS adoption and deployment 

Note: Part 2 of “The SaaS Manifesto” first ran in The Wall Street Journal‘s CIO Journal. You can read Part 1 here.

It doesn’t happen often, every 10 to 15 years or so, but we are in the throes of the reordering of the $4 trillion corporate IT market. And depending on which side of that transformation you sit, this is either the best time to be an enterprise technology company (see: renaissance in enterprise computing), or reason to start looking for a new line of work.

I certainly sit among the group that sees this as a huge opportunity, and it’s far from finished. If the first phase was to build replacement technologies for every part of the IT stack, the next phase—and the next golden opportunity—is to re-imagine the business side of the equation and change how buyers and vendors come together. That is where this SaaS Manifesto comes in. Think of it as a three-part field guide to the new way enterprise computing will be bought and sold.

Part 1: Navigating the Departmentalization of IT

In the enterprise IT world, companies like Oracle, Microsoft and SAP are established giants, so entrenched that every new company has had to either peacefully co-exist with them or else face getting steamrolled into oblivion. But that strength comes with a weakness: These companies are slow adapting new practices and evolving to new models. In fact, both SAP and Oracle recently attributed their missed earnings targets to “the cloud.”

And there is a major change occurring in the enterprise: Beyond the technical and architectural innovation we see in new products, there are fundamental opportunities appearing on the distribution and customer side that simply never existed in the past. In past technological shifts (e.g. from mainframe to client server, or from client server to PC) purchasing was always done through a centralized CIO organization, no matter the product. Large vendors could rely on the depth of their existing sales channel and the reluctance of customers to move outside their respective fiefdoms to successfully enter newer areas. Sure, vendors would be left behind in each shift, but it was largely due to lack of new technology, as opposed to a lack of changes in the go-to-market landscape.

Today, the new buyer is the operating department—HR, sales, development, marketing—and the decisions of which technologies to procure are no longer solely centralized through the CIO. In fact, nearly 50% of all IT purchasing decisions are now being influenced and/or made by an operating department, says an August 2013 study by Enterprise Strategy Group, as these departments look for purpose-built applications. This change creates one of the most meaningful differences in the new world of enterprise computing: Not only do the large players have to create or buy new technology, but they must also adapt their offerings and sales models to appeal to this new buyer.

Here’s why this shift is difficult for established players:

Perpetual vs. subscription licensing. Many current operating plans and sales organizations at the largest technology companies are built on the perpetual license model, where a customer pays one large sum up front and the vendor immediately recognizes nearly 100% of that payment as revenue. This perpetual license gives customers the “privilege” of paying an annual maintenance fee regardless of whether or not they take advantage of future upgrades. With subscription licensing, however, revenue is recognized over the life of the contract, making this an extremely difficult economic and organizational shift for an existing vendor.

Product cycle and software development methodology. For packaged software, new features are delivered (in the best case) twice a year. Often these feature releases are never deployed due to the complexity of field upgrades, resulting in users working with software that is years old. With SaaS, development is near continuous, allowing for rapid feature innovation and instant deployment of new features to all users.

Ease of adoption and trial-use. In the pre-SaaS, on-premise world, software purchases were made through a central CIO organization, which was equipped to deploy infrastructure and then test, certify and validate every new application. This highly concerted—not to mention, costly—effort required salespeople and systems engineers to run pilots, alphas and internal rollouts. The process would often take months, and by the time the software was ready to be deployed, there was no clear indication as to whether the product was really useful to the company.

However, with the advent of cloud and SaaS, the end user/department can easily try new software without an on-premise install, often at no cost. Developers and startups have found a replicable, reliable way to circumvent the iron grip of the industry’s major players and innovate, rather than iterate, on solutions to complex business problems. It’s a meritocracy of applications, where the best wins.

Inside sales leverage. With easy adoption and trial-use, a typical SaaS customer will have used a product and know its capability. This makes selling an upgrade or enterprise-wide deployment much easier and more economical.

Because of SaaS, the inside sales function is growing at 15 times the pace of direct sales. For existing companies that have large direct sales groups, moving to an inside sale model requires a complete re-tooling of the sales organization. This is a difficult transition and provides an opportunity for new companies to prevail.

Customer relationships. Customer lock-in has long been the hallmark of incumbent companies. Selling on-premise software directly to the CIO resulted in a tight relationship between the CIO buyer and the incumbent vendor. No matter how slow the rollout or buggy the end result, the fact that any new product had a receptive, locked-in customer, made it incredibly difficult for a new company to wedge its way in.

But with departmentalization, individual operational units have more autonomy to purchase technology. This gives the newcomer a real opportunity to establish relationships that the incumbent may not have. In fact, several large, incumbent companies are now making an effort to get to know the departmental buyer and get ahead of this trend.

The cloud and SaaS are stripping the complexity of IT to the point where any given operational department now has the confidence to purchase the tools they need directly from the vendor, circumventing a large part of the traditional IT procurement process. Moreover, the new buyers are not encumbered by risk-averse, IT decision-makers who operate under the belief that “nobody gets fired for buying IBM.”

By targeting this departmental user, Goliath topples almost before he sees David coming.

Up next: The Saas Manifesto: Part 2 – Building a sales organization that caters to the department, but recognizes the critical aspects to enterprise-wide requirements, and the changing role of the CIO.

Note: Part 1 of “The SaaS Manifesto” first ran in The Wall Street Journal‘s CIO Journal.

I recently had the privilege of hosting a fireside chat with Lieutenant General John Vines, who is regarded as one of the most influential U.S. military leaders of the past twenty years. You can see the talk here:

At the time, he was the only military general to lead combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the post 9-11 era, overseeing an organization of more than 160,000 troops.

For a man of his stature, he’s refreshingly humble. He jokes that he was the only guy to cause Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to lose his voice from screaming at him in two separate wars. The General is one of those people with whom you want to hang out after spending only a few minutes with him. No wonder he is such an extraordinary leader.

During our conversation there were many leadership lessons from his experience that are highly relevant to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Leadership is different from management.

“In the end those who follow you willingly do it because they trust you and are inspired by you. They are counting on you to have their backs and to be right.” Great leaders rely on relationships and intuition. In a challenging situation, a good leader knows what their reports will do and what the outcome will be.

Vines underscored that management and leadership, while related, have very different characteristics. Management is the science that undergirds leadership. Leadership is the art. “Where leaders earn their pay is applying their judgment, skill and wisdom to all the data. Because if we were purely a data driven organization, then we could plug it all into some algorithm and it could tell us what the answer is.”

It follows then that not all great managers become great leaders. This concept has always resonated with me and I have seen this first-hand. A great leader gets the team to follow her into battle and does it with purpose and conviction. Great leaders also understand how to instinctively use resources to the best possible outcome.

2. Leadership awareness

“It is almost impossible to really see yourself as an organization and as an individual.”

Vines relayed the story of a complex combat operation that required the deployment of several infantry units. Vines ordered a large quantity of heavy equipment to support the mission, which his reporting system indicated was available. Problem was, it had already been provided to another unit and Iraqi counterparts.

Instead, Vines devised something he dubbed a “Delta Report”, which reconciled for a 30-day period all the things that were supposed to be available but weren’t; the equipment that was supposed to be repaired but was still in the shop; the gear that had arrived that no one even knew about.

In his words: “That 30-day Delta came out to be $11 billion of end-items, things like tanks and trucks, that we had been ordering from the States because we thought we needed them, but they were already there. We couldn’t see ourselves.”

Vines admitted his team spent a lot of time understanding their threat (you might call it the competition), but couldn’t see his operations in real-time. As a result, he made some large, painful changes, but ultimately made sure the right processes were in place for he and his team to see themselves in real-time.

I’ve always believed that self-awareness and company awareness are key attributes to being a great leader. I’ve seen all too many examples of companies and CEOs who are breathing their own exhaust. Leaders need self-awareness in order to have a complete and accurate picture of themselves and their company.

3. Identifying catastrophic risk helps to prepare for the unknown, but you can’t see all the “Black Swans” that lie in wait.

Vines relayed an example of a massive air operation he was preparing that required the use of hundreds of helicopters in Afghanistan. “It was massive, the number of planes used in the operation would have made it one of the largest air forces in the world. And that was just helicopters.”

At the moment of execution of the military mission, the key guy on the ground responsible for checking the purity of the helicopter became ill. There was nobody who could fulfill his job. Mission aborted.

“We spent hundreds, even thousands of hours assessing risk, but what we didn’t understand is that there were points of failure in this enterprise that we hadn’t even considered. We certainly hadn’t looked around corners.”

This story was particularly interesting to me in that, even with all the planning, something caused the mission to go sideways. I’ve seen this in companies. They plan and plan, yet something always comes up forcing a real-time change. In my experience, planning is a great tool but leaders always need to be prepared for solving the unknown as issues arise. You can never plan for all contingencies all the time.

4. The higher up the organization, the more time leaders should be spending with people in the organization as opposed to doing “tasks”.

As his organization got larger, Vines could no longer spend time with every person. However, he spent most of his time away from headquarters talking with his lieutenants, making sure everyone developed a “shared consciousness”, a shared vision.

“I believe leadership should be eyes on, hands off.” So Vines deployed wide-scale use of video conferencing to discuss high-level thinking and strategy with the troops. “Once an organization understands the objectives, a mid-level person can figure out the strategy.” Once they knew the thinking and the strategy behind what they were about to do ”the orders almost follow themselves.”

As an entrepreneur, your natural instinct as your company grows may be to spend more time doing tasks you are good at. If you are an engineer by training, this may mean spending time with the engineering group. My advice as your company grows is to spend time with all groups and help to create a deep bench of executives who each do a better job than you in their given areas. Spend lots of time with them; spend lots of time with your employees. The organization will see you as a great leader as opposed to a micro-manager.

Veteran talent

My time with General Vines gave me a much deeper appreciation for the similarities between military leadership and leadership in companies. Over 120 folks working in high-tech attended our fireside chat from the Bay Area. The vast majority were veterans.

One of my other takeaways: Veterans can bring really important leadership qualities to your organization. These folks are truly amazing.

As Vines put it, “Sometimes the scale is different. Sometimes the cost is different in blood and treasure. But there are more similarities than differences in business and warfare.

“Every person that we asked to go forth to do something at extreme risk—at risk of their life—we owed it to them to do everything we could to create conditions that would allow them to do that, and come back alive and intact to their families.

“If you could look in the mirror and say, ‘I have done everything humanly possible to create an environment of mitigated risk,’ I think you can live with yourself. If something goes wrong because you are lazy, or because you didn’t devote the proper rigor to it, then you have to live with those consequences too.”

The views expressed by LTG (ret.) Vines in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Military or Government. “Warlord 6” was LTG Vines’ call sign in Iraq.