Witnessing ethical train wreck after train wreck in Silicon Valley, it’s easy to conclude that the quest for success at all costs is a recent phenomenon and one limited to startups.
I don’t think so.
Over the course of my career, like just about anybody, I was influenced by company cultures, mentors, and role models. I sought out “successful” people and organizations that had power and made money. I studied them, worked for them in some cases, and tried to understand what made them tick with the goal of emulating those “successful” behaviors. In hindsight, I suppose I was impressionable.
It’s now become apparent to me that I was complicit to a lot of bad behavior during my career in the networking industry. “Successful” came with a price that manifested itself as pangs of guilt when I passively witnessed or even propagated dubious behaviors and business practices. I got pretty good at setting those feelings aside while trying to reset my moral compass and accept that this was just the way it was done.
I can still recall specific instances when things just felt wrong. I can remember internal pricing meetings when we were setting exorbitantly high prices that were way out of line with the value we were providing with the sole justification being “because we can.”
I can remember adding a 20% premium to a Federal price list for the exact same products we sold to other markets. I’ve witnessed the networking industry execute numerous “kill competition” acquisitions – buying a smaller innovative competitor for the sole purpose of eliminating the threat (never stated publicly of course).
I can recall planned and calculated internal “kill” strategies when a new upstart company showed up in our market (often with better products). These game plans included telling outright lies to customers and prospects to create doubt about this new competitor. I chalked all this up to the cutthroat ruthless nature of the networking industry and figured since everyone else was doing it, we had to do it. I had to do it.
In retrospect, it was dishonorable behavior because it was always at expense of the customer. It was in service of growth, profit and market share…essentially greed, with what’s best for the customer falling far down the priority list.
Of course, this was never outwardly discussed and there was always a cleverly crafted message to twist a customer impacting behavior into just the opposite – voila! A customer benefit. I’ve seen more than my fair share of delusional messages like “we need to charge more so we can invest in more R&D and serve our customers with better products”. It’s pervasive in this industry to the point it becomes group think and even employees that are complicit to these bad behaviors (like me in the old days) start to believe the propaganda.
Every company in networking says disingenuous things like “we are a customer-first, customer-last organization.” In my experience, this is never the honest truth and the actions have spoken louder than the words. As I have matured and gained experience, my personal boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable business conduct have become clearer, more principled and in line with what I feel is right. I have gained wisdom and self-confidence and now find it much easier to see through the crap and stay loyal to my internal moral compass. I wish I had reached this stage earlier in my career but at least today I go to work with a clear conscience.
So, now I face a new question. Is my moral compass too “weak” to create a successful business? Should I leave the networking industry and go to work for a non-profit? Can Mojo be successful if we price our products fairly based on the value we have created? Can we genuinely put the customer first and still make a fair profit? Can we compete in an industry that’s been incestuously cultivating people to be perfectly comfortable with what I consider reprehensible behavior?
And, by the way, the bad conduct has not diminished. I see it firsthand almost every week. Competitors lie about our funding and viability, they blatantly steal our IP, our terminology, even the imagery we use on our web site. And they all probably take pride in their “win at all costs” mentality. Sorry, it’s not for me.
Back to my question: can an honorable company achieve success? I am finding my answer in the market and the indications are encouraging. Customers are rejecting the way the networking industry has operated. The actions have spoken louder than the words, no matter how beguiling those words may be. Customers have had it. They are fed up.
While I can’t claim to be a tech historian, I am unable to recall a customer driven revolt in any technology sector like that which has occurred in networking over the last few years. Perhaps the advent of Linux may be the closest comparison.
For a revolt to happen, there first needs to be grievances that have been ignored for so long that people begin to feel that conditions are unbearable. These grievances lead to actions, which may include the formation of protest groups. Finally, there is a spark, which triggers the actual rebellion.
In networking, I believe the kinds of unscrupulous behaviors this industry has fostered have resulted in deep grievances. They include, among other things, high pricing, vendor lock in, slow innovation, poor quality (e.g. buggy software), extra charges for many things that should have been included in the price of the product (e.g. the courtesy of receiving support), and duplicitous offerings couched under the term “professional services”.
Frustrated customers have taken action, which I find remarkable. This action has come in the form of a number of open networking (i.e. protest) groups. The catalyst for the revolt being the advent of SDN or NFV or whatever label you want to attach to a world where software (often open sourced) defines functionality and hardware becomes standardized and interoperable. The mission statements of these groups directly address their grievances, which, I believe, are largely a result of how the networking industry has comported itself for way too long.
Open Network Users Group (ONUG): The ONUG Mission is to enable greater choice and options for IT business leaders by advocating for open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure solutions that span across the entire IT stack, all in an effort to create business value.
Open Networking Foundation (ONF): We are an open, collaborative, community of communities. The ONF serves as the umbrella for a number of projects building solutions by leveraging network disaggregation, white box economics, open source software and software defined standards to revolutionize the carrier industry.
Open Compute Project (OCP): The Open Compute Project Foundation provides a structure in which individuals and organizations can share their intellectual property with others and encourage the IT industry to evolve. In designing commodity hardware that is more efficient, flexible, and scalable, we’re redefining tech infrastructure. Together, we’re throwing off the shackles of proprietary, one-size-fits-all gear.
One analyst recently said “the general networking vendor is an old business model”. At Mojo, we think about it a little differently. We believe “the value system of the old networking vendor does not match that of today’s customer”. The networking industry needs to change and we will advocate and do all we can to drive that change. Mojo genuinely embraces the principles expounded by the open networking groups and our actions are in line with this commitment. We welcome open standards and vendor collaboration. We will only charge a fair and reasonable price for the value we created.
I’m looking forward to proving that putting customers first and operating to a higher standard will continue to have a profoundly positive effect on our business.