Hitting the First Lap After Five Months as a Company

December 27th, 2014

Jacob Smith

Jacob Smith

SVP, Revenue
Life at Packet is starting to feel much more like an Indy race, with each of our teams working in tandem orbits, moving quickly around our goal, and only stopping to take on fuel or check in with the team's race manager.

The past 8 weeks at Packet have been a whirlwind...and it feels great!   Actually, scratch that - the use of the word "whirlwind" makes it seem like a disorganized confluence of forces: mother nature and randomness at their worst. In fact, life at Packet is starting to feel much more like an Indy race, with each of our teams working in tandem orbits, moving quickly around our goal, and only stopping to take on fuel or check in with the team's race manager.

Building Product on Top of Process
As I look back on five full months of Packet, it's exciting to focus on all of the things happening on our product front: servers booting in about 4 minutes, a truly innovative software-defined IP network up and running, an entire stack deployed on Docker, etc.  However, I'm confident that we're just starting to reap the rewards of something far less sexy: a decently organized and aligned company.  

When you're dealing with innovative boundary-pushing technology, it's easy to assume that running the company is the easy part - but after 15 years as an entrepreneur, I know that's rarely the case.   That's why Aaron Welch, Zac Smith and I started Packet with a few big goals, not least of which was to build a world-class company and operate it better than any other in our industry.

What Does it Look Like?
Our company got started in July and there was a lot of fluidity in roles and structure for the first few months.  It wasn't until the middle of October - when we welcomed Ian Coffey and the core of our software team - that Packet was able to get itself organized around five areas of responsibility and put the right people in the right place:  Product, Software, Network, Revenue, and Finance.   We also have a CEO role, filled by Zac Smith - since "CEO" doesn't tell you much about what someone does aside from sit at the top, at Packet the CEO is responsible for setting our company vision, defining our role in the marketplace, and serving as the "integrator" that brings the main teams into alignment.

Set the Vision, Ignore Org Charts, Create a Pulse
The process we followed took us three months to complete (including a few full day management retreats), but taking the time to explore & set the foundation of our company feels like a smart move now that we're running around the race track at Indy car speeds.  The model involves 6 components, but I think three have been especially critical for us thus far:

  1. Vision & Values - Our core beliefs drive everything we do at our company and is the touchstone for decisions big and small.   We use a one page summary to keep it alive and codified.
  2. People - Ignore organizational charts and embrace accountability charts.  Find the right people, make sure they are in the right seat, and help them delegate what they don't do best.
  3. Traction - We set the big, critical goals for each other and our company every 90 days.  To stay on track and handle issues, we meet for 90 minutes once per week.  This is our operating pulse.

Our Challenges
Getting our company up and running has been filled with challenges, and each day seems to demand more from each member of our team.  The areas where we still need a lot of work include data, documentation, and handling issues.  

  • On the data front we're doing our best to identify a set of 10-15 numbers that are predictive of how well the company is operating and meeting its challenges.  
  • Documenting our processes is moving faster in some areas (software, network, finance) than other less mature activities (marketing, product/community) but we hope to pick up that pace as we go to market in the coming weeks.

As part of an overall commitment to transparent accountability whenever possible, I look forward to circling back from time to time to discuss our progress and challenges.  Thanks for any feedback!