More than a few times in our exit process potential buyers would ask about our “IT team”, “servers”, “back up policies” and so on and so forth. “No” and “none” became common, seemingly flippant, but wholly true responses. We had no full-time business IT staff, no servers and without on-site data, no back-up policies.
Using Capital for Growth Instead of IT
We always ran lean and bootstrapped. We had all the resources we needed for growth and stability, but that was because we ran so tight in some areas. One of those was certainly IT. And the rapid evolution of subscription-based software combined with the availability and cost effectiveness of bandwidth made it all possible.
A number of years ago we moved into newly built-out digs to accommodate roughly twice the headcount of our previous space. Yours truly… CEO/CMO of an Inc. 500 growing tech company was THE IT guy for roughly 30 heads and I was staring down the idea of that becoming 60+ heads in short order. In our old space, we had on-site data on redundant RAID drives replicated in a cloud service. It was finicky, consumed mass amounts of bandwidth, and slowed employee productivity because of all the data moving over the network.
When faced with the idea of doubling down on that topology, I balked. I was distracted enough with 30 heads and couldn’t imagine adding to that noodling. That was the fork in the road… Invest in dedicated IT headcount or pop the stack on the whole thing and start over. I tend to pop the stack more often than not and this was no exception.
Part of the impetus for our physical move was that the new building had a fiber internet connection that multiplied our bandwidth 10x for about the same price we were paying. That new bandwidth provided the freedom to think about SaaS and cloud solutions that were otherwise impractical at scale.
No On-Site Data
Instead of adding dedicated headcount to manage on-site infrastructure, we chose to eliminate that infrastructure. Basically, the whole plan would have been a failure if we couldn’t move everything off site. Any data stored on-site would have necessitated redundancy and back-ups. For it to work, among other things, we had to move file storage, finance and HR to secure, cloud-based solutions. And, we had to provide continuity for the legacy apps, or at least their data.
I philosophically oppose anything that feels or is cumbersome. I want the tools to just work, and work well, for the greater good of employees and customers. To that end, I will sacrifice luxurious features, chalk them up as ‘nice to haves’, and go with thinner, less cumbersome solutions. I’d much rather have 80% of the features run well 100% of the time than the inverse. When it came time to source cloud solutions, we applied that mindset.
Thin and Scalable Hardware, Software and Talent
We ended up with a fast, secure, cloud-based stack of business apps that freed us from all on-site infrastructure. Yes, we ended up tapping 25% of a head to administer all of the tools, but I was completely out of the fray, so that was a huge net gain. As a side and very real capital benefit, our typical laptop configurations also thinned out with fast, but lower-capacity ssd storage and overall lighter, less costly builds. Hardware cost went down and lifespan increased because the machines weren’t chasing storage and processing demands.
We ran and integrated two offices—collaboration tools; conferencing; business tools; finance; HR; telecom/VoIP; marketing; sales; project management; engineering—everything—in the cloud. Aside from the P&L benefits, our people were happier and more efficient. On top of all that, we gained the ability to hire people to work from anywhere, and to weather any hurricane without missing a beat. We literally had no dependencies on a physical location.
From a security standpoint, nothing was on hardware, so the laptops themselves were expendable and easily replaced/restored. This also meant, when a machine was lost or stolen, or an employee was terminated, access was remotely and immediately disabled. Of course, we were dependent on the security of our chosen apps, but that came down to choosing best of breed and living with the inevitable risks. (When we were on-premise, we had equal or greater risks, just different ones.)
Before I make this sound too fall-off-a-log, it did take a lot of work, research and restraint to put the right tools in place and to continue to maintain the integrity of the stack. (There are a lot of tempting tools out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for you.) It also coincided with rapid evolution and innovation in many of the markets we were shopping. I can’t begin to explain how far tools in our toolset came in the last decade. And, we also had some missteps—bad platform choices—that required switching costs.
Overall, I’ve seen a culture of relatively thin laptops accessing secure, reliable cloud-based services work incredibly well while freeing up capital to work on actually growing the business in sales, marketing and product development. In lean business, everything’s a tradeoff and I’ll gladly trade “IT” for faster revenue growth.
For more perspective and context, please watch my related video.