Sunday, February 11, 2007

Isilon Journey as New Entrant

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to listen to Sujal Patel, founder of Isilon during Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) breakfast at Bellevue Harbor Club. He talked about the trials and tribulations last six years, he went through in bringing a new idea to mature market with Isilon.

It was an interesting presentation and hopefully, NWEN will post slides, notes or audio of his presentation online as they do with other breakfast meetings. Before discussing the four key factors of Isilon success, he talked about his background and Isilon timeline. This was on amazing story on its own.
Isilon Timeline
2001 - Series A funding $8.5 million
2003 - First customer, Kodak
2004 - NBC and Sports Illustrated using Isilon product for Athens Olympic
2005 - 100th customer
2006 - Initial Public Offering (IPO)
Establishing a storage startup during the height of dotcom crash. Isilon received Series A funding in 2001. He didn't talk about the journey from inception of idea to Series A funding, most probably another interesting talk on its own. But it was clear from his mention of 150+ meetings needed to raise Series A that it was not an easy path from idea to Series A.

Founders with no background in storage industry. He did have background in digital media delivery infrastructure. He started out solving the problem with digital media delivery instead of creating a storage solution.

Surviving when dozens of storage startups started by seasoned storage industry professionals failed. I think there were some inaccuracies in his list of storage startups RIP but the message was quite clear. Industry experience is not a corollary to a disruptive technology, solution or successful startup. It maybe an hindrance than tool to see a real customer problem and produce a solution, customers want.

His clustered storage product focused on solving a very small problem in the larger realm of storage ecosystem but an important problem to a niche digital media segment. Contrast that with technologies like iSCSI and CDP, the solutions still searching for a problem to solve, important enough to someone to pay for it.

Isilon, a case study in lessons of Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma and Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm

More in future posts. Update: John Cook posted a nice summary of Sujal's talk. As comments on his blog reflect, I also thought Sujal presentation was excellent, well-prepared and with right content for the right audience.

BTW, I asked him the last question about organizational changes taking place at Isilon as it is growing. The follow up question, I didn't get to ask would have been, how these changes will impact future innovations at Isilon.

One day, I would like to meet him as well as his product manager, Sam for whom he had very nice things to say.

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