Photograph by Gary John Norman via Getty Images
By Andres Rodriguez
February 2, 2017

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question, “What’s one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made?” is written by Andres Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Nasuni.

A thousand small decisions go into building a successful business, but when I think back to launching my latest company, Nasuni, one choice in particular stands out: focusing on customer pain.

Nasuni is in the data storage market, and back in 2008, the heart and soul of this industry—the enterprise datacenter—was struggling on multiple levels. Storage hardware was running out of capacity, performance was lagging, the cost of protecting that data was skyrocketing, and security was a growing concern. The traditional storage behemoths, like EMC and Netapp (NTAP), were developing increasingly targeted solutions to address each of these challenges, and the startup world adopted the same approach. And so, dozens of companies were funded to improve datacenter performance alone.

As an industry veteran who had just sold a storage startup, Archivas, to Hitachi Data Systems, it would have been easy for me to get funding for another targeted product. But instead of launching something that would have been immediately appealing to the venture world, my partners and I first decided to look at the situation from the perspective of our potential customers, analyzing their struggles on a deeper level.

See also: How I Stopped Acting Like a Corporate Robot

By analyzing customer struggles at a deeper level, we realized the existing vendors and hot new startups weren’t solving the problem. They were contributing to it. Hyper-targeted solutions, expensive hardware boxes, and complex software schema: Together, these solutions created a level of complexity and cost that was impossible to manage. Even if businesses found something manageable, hardware vendors would push upgrades and new boxes on a rolling cycle to maintain their hefty margins.

These companies needed fewer solutions, not more of them. They needed simplicity. So we started to explore whether we could address multiple problems with one system. The struggles around data storage, protection, performance, and access were all file problems. Enterprises needed a more efficient way to deal with the files clogging up their datacenters, and it needed to be a single, comprehensive, easy-to-manage solution.

 

Simple, right? Not exactly. Our initial decision, and the findings it produced, demanded years of development and at least one giant gamble. We had to redesign a mainstay of the enterprise datacenter—the file system—so that it could reside and operate within the cloud, which at the time was not a widely accepted storage medium. The payoff for diving into the fray with a targeted solution and the contacts we had developed in the industry would have been quick, but it wouldn’t have led to a truly successful company.

As a business leaders, there are always going to be decisions that you’d like to have back, but Nasuni wouldn’t exist in its current form had we not chosen to focus on customer pain. We chose the harder path, but eight years later, we can also say for certain that it was the right one.

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