Exploring the Digital Ocean of Cloud Computing

A recent Monthly Recap introduced a company called Digital Ocean (DO) that provides virtual servers for software developers which run “in the cloud.” If you are unfamiliar with this concept, it’s fascinating and their minimalist homepage has a 20 second animated GIF that explains it.  To summarize, you click a few buttons, wait 55 seconds, and can then login as a superuser to your very own barebones Unix server complete with Internet access. A basic server can be created for an arbitrary length of time for just $0.007 per hour or run continuously for only $5 per month. In either case, the price is the same: 30 x 24 x $0.007 = $5. There’s no hardware to configure, no monitor/keyboard to plug-in, no USB memory stick needed. Just click and poof, a server magically appears ready for use.

Needless to say, this service has become extremely popular and scrappy little DO has been compared very favorably with massive solutions from Amazon (AWS) and Google (GCE). However, DO’s founders certainly have had a rough path to their “instant success.” You can see from one of the founder’s public LinkedIn profile that he has spent years in a wide variety of roles honing his skills.


He is clear about the challenges he has faced along the way. In his description of his position as President of ServerStack, he says, “Where I learned how to do things wrong for a decade so that we could make DigitalOcean an overnight success.” He is even an active participant on Quora answering a wide variety of questions on startup strategy including questions on his own company like, “Is it still worth to copy DigitalOcean?


Also, as I mentioned in the previous post, DO has crowdsourced their documentation. It’s a genius idea. Many techies love to play with servers and the incentive of up to $200 for writing an in-depth tutorial makes it even more compelling. To their credit, DO has made it easy by providing “Writing Guidelines” that explain how to write a technical article describing their services and a comprehensive author application.

The result has been a set of 1,379 tutorials covering all the major features of their products which are available at no charge. There’s always so much to say about companies that seem to be run well with the right intent, but I’ll close by simply posting DO’s Core Values again. While “Love is what makes us great” is my favorite, the rest provide that glimmer of hope that there are some companies out there that continue to “Think Different!” and still succeed.


Monthly Recap: The Hard Work (and Love) Behind An Instant Success

This month’s posts covered a wide range of topics.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?” used Google’s concept of micromoments to demonstrate the importance of the fact that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Today many high tech companies in niche markets still do not utilize the most basic online tools such as Google, LinkedIn, and Email marketing.

Just for Fun… Computer Hardware Then and Now” was a brief tribute to the massive computing hardware of yesteryear. It ended with the observation that in a way, computing has come full circle from large centralized mainframes to personal computers with local storage and back to cloud computing running on large centralized datacenters.

Finally, “Pokémon Go: The Hard Work Behind An Instant Success” provided an overview of the decades of technical and creative genius that have gone into making Pokémon Go the massive success it has become. It focused especially on the conscious design philosophy developed by it’s chief designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of classic games like Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda.

DOInvoiceSoon after writing these posts, I came across Digital Ocean, a company that demonstrates several of these concepts. They provide cloud based virtual servers for software developers. I have dabbled with Linux for decades, starting in the 1990s when I installed an early version of Slackware Linux that was distributed on 24 floppy disks in order to run open source scientific software written in Fortran. Today, Digital Ocean can deploy a cloud based Linux server in under a minute that can be used for less than a penny an hour.

The next post will explain the technical details, but my ah-ha moment came when I was reading their documentation. I came across a post “Digital Ocean’s Writing Guidelines” that explains how to write a technical article describing their services. Digging deeper, I realized that they have completely crowdsourced their documentation and even pay up to $200 for accepted articles. As a result they now have almost 1,500 tutorials. There is some controversy about this practice, but overall it seems like it has been good for both Digital Ocean and their writers.

DOCoreValuesIn the digital world, this company is considered an instant success. They are highly funded and the second largest web hosting provider in their technical niche. However, the founders have traveled a difficult road to arrive at this point. This is another topic for the next post, but one reason for their success might be buried at the end of a very long, “About Us” page. This is where Digital Ocean has published their Core Values. The last of these is “Love is what makes us great” and that might be one of the most transformative values of all.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Google has done a great job with storytelling in their video on Micro-Moments. As part of their Think with Google series, it is a two minute introduction to capturing a customer in their “moment of need.” It’s especially powerful on LinkedIn where it presents complex scenarios as images delivered regularly. Four can be found at the end of this post.

When marketing jargon like a “micro-moment” is stripped away, the underlying idea is that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Many high tech companies in niche markets that I have worked with still rely primarily on trade shows, industry magazines, and other traditional methods. They do not take advantage of even the most basic online tools. There are many reasons, but most center around lack of resources and the challenges of reaching customers in fragmented markets.

Potential solutions vary hugely by industry, but here are three that almost every niche, high tech company should be addressing:

LinkedIn – Despite being bought by Microsoft, it is still an excellent resource. At the very least, have marketing deliver regular updates to your company page at least once a month to boost customer awareness. Avoid having random employees provide status updates unless coordinated by marketing. This looks amateurish.

Google – A basic Google Adwords campaign is a good idea, but even better is “organic search results.” Many “SEO consultants” charge expensive fees for this, but it can easily be developed over time by publishing technical content on your website that customers can find via a Google search. Over time, your company’s website will rise to that coveted first page position… at zero cost!

Email – Contrary to popular belief, email is not dead. You can even reuse the technical and marketing content you are already creating. Assuming this content is useful, your customers will be happy to signup for regular updates. One warning however, once you start, don’t stop, it could look like your company is having troubles.

As I quoted Elon Musk (Tesla / SpaceX) in a recent post, “When you have a product that really resonates with customers, the word of mouth grows like wildfire.”








Part 1 – Communication, Training, and Fractal Mandelbrot Sets

To continue last month’s post, “Slack Teams Do Amazing Things,” a critical piece of the sales and marketing puzzle includes effective internal communication and training. This is especially important for sales engineers and technical staff. Large companies have the budget and resources to employ dedicated training teams, but for smaller high tech businesses, in-depth training might only be required occasionally. A good example is when an important new product or service is ready for release. Anticipation has been building for months. The sales team is excited about having something new to sell as well as the inevitable market buzz the new offering will generate. What happens next? In 90%+ of the clients I have worked with, salespeople meet either physically or on webinars and application engineers force feed them their newly acquired knowledge via lengthy technical PowerPoint presentations. In the worst cases, training only occurs once a year at a national meeting with day after day full of technical content.

What happens after this? To grossly simplify, typically the highest performing salespeople are experienced enough to distill this deluge of technical information into something they can use effectively with customers in the field. The middle performers will struggle with the new material, mostly sticking with the old products and existing customers they were already having success with. Eventually the new product will become familiar enough that they will begin to sell it. The lowest performers were probably playing Spider Solitaire during the webinar and will flounder around until they come across a customer where a sale is unavoidable.

Behind these issues is the basic fact that most sales technical training is not appropriate for the audience. After a few introductory slides, it quickly degenerates into something like the initial sentence of the Wikipedia article on the Mandelbrot set. “The Mandelbrot set is the set of complex numbers c for which the function Fc(z) = z^2 + c does not diverge when iterated from z=0, i.e., for which the sequence Fc(0), Fc(Fc(0)), etc., remains bounded in absolute value.” Additionally, the training is out of context. What sounds straightforward in a classroom looks very different when a salesperson is under pressure in front of a customer with a challenging application.

Some companies hire salespeople who are engineers and don’t want training “dumbed down,” but does this lead to creating a more effect sales team or a team of unpaid consultants? It’s a fine line. In my experience, salespeople need to be able to bring value to every customer meeting. The best salespeople bring value by understanding the customer’s issues and by being able to suggest appropriate solutions. However, this post is about communication, not Sales 101. How can communication improve salespeople’s ability to fulfill their key function?

Fract_al_backgroundAn example might help illustrate. Let’s say you sell a system that generates high resolution images of fractals. A more traditional training program would provide an in-depth technical training similar to the Wikipedia page on Mandelbrot Sets. A more modern, effective program might be represented by the wonderful explanation of Fractals from the IOS App Frax. It provides a complete, yet understandable training on fractals appropriate to the users of their app. Fractals are a very complex topic, so this is no easy task!

2016_05Post_fractal_lowresTo be continued in part 2 of this post, but in the meantime, enjoy your weekend and this 9 MB image of a Mandelbrot based fractal!



(Note: For future reference, in case the website http://fract.al/background eventually disappears, here is a link to a PDF copy of the page.)

Monthly Recap: Gwen Stefani, Six Days of Acoustics, and Slack

April’s posts had a little something for everyone. It started with some business wisdom from pop superstar Gwen Stefani in the post, “The Key to Creativity – and Success – Is Truth.” Her message about how critical it is to be truthful in the moment in both professional and personal life is very inspirational. With so many recent news stories about untruths (VW diesels, politics, corporations, etc.), it is refreshing to hear about her commitment and how it has contributed to her success.

Another series of posts in April were focused on acoustics. It is amazing how many areas it touches in our lives. The post “From the NY Times – Dear Architects: Sound Matters” explored the importance of soundscapes. There was also a five day series of articles on acoustics which covered a wide variety of acoustic phenomena and applications.

Day 1 of 5 – Listening to the Universe
Day 2 of 5 – Visualization versus Sonification
Day 3 of 5 – The Audio Cookbook From iZotope
Day 4 of 5 – Five Uncommon Acoustic Applications
Day 5 of 5 – Five More Uncommon Acoustic Applications

SlackCommercialFinally, the post “Slack Teams Do Amazing Things” continued my long term fascination with using the messaging app Slack for technical training, communication, and collaboration. With Slack now valued at over $4B, it looks like it is a tool for high tech companies that is here to stay (and for great reasons). Their commercial, “Slack Teams Do Amazing Things” is a lot of fun too, well worth the minute it takes to watch it.