Agile: It’s never too late? Or is it? Competing with Old and New.

Disclaimer: I work at Rubrik. Views are my own, etc.

I spent some time this weekend reading trade websites and watching video-streamed events to catch up on the competitive landscape for Rubrik. This is not something to which I pay a huge amount of attention, but it’s always worth understanding the key differences between your company’s and your competitors approaches to the problem you are solving.

What I found was as surprising as it was comforting and certainly solidified my belief that Rubrik is 100% the market leader in the new world of Data Management. This was equally true of new market entrants as it was of old guard vendors.

How Rubrik Does it

We are predominantly lead by a laser-focused vision. We came to market to fix the data protection problem and leverage the resulting platform to deliver a world-class data management solution.  This has always been the plan, we stuck to it and are delivering on it.

Rubrik’s software engineering function has the Agile Software Development methodology baked into it’s DNA. At its core our engineering team is made up of experienced developers, many of which were at the heart of the distributed systems revolution at Google, Facebook and other new wave companies. This means we can introduce capabilities quickly and iterate the cycle at a high frequency. We have absolutely nailed this approach and have consistently delivered significant payloads of functionality since v1.0 of the product.

New features are introduced as a MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) and additional iterations to mature those features are delivered in rapid cycles. We have delivered 4 Major CDM (Cloud Data Management) releases year-on-year and are positioned to accelerate this. Our Polaris SaaS platform is a living organic entity and delivers capability in terms of hours-to-days-to-weeks.

This is pro-active innovation aligned with a rapid and consistent timeline.

How The Old Guard Do It

When referring to the old guard, I’m referring to vendors who’ve been around for more than a decade. These organisations have grown up in the era of the Waterfall Software Development Model. This model is much more linear and follows these stages: Gather Requirements -> Design -> Implementation -> Verification -> Maintenance. The cycle is documentation and process heavy. This is why most traditional vendors are only able to release major software versions in 18-24month cycles.

These vendors are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have revenue streams for ageing products to maintain and historical code baggage (technical debt) they have to contend with which wasn’t developed for the new world of cloud. More importantly the mindset change to move to Agile is a mountain to climb in itself and many long-tenured developers struggle to adapt to the change. In short the commercial pressure to retain revenue from existing products, technical debt, people and process challenges leave them hamstrung and struggling to keep up. One such vendor announced a major version two years ago and to date have failed to deliver the release.

A by-product of this challenge is that many will use sticking-plaster market-ecture to claim they can do the same things as Rubrik. This usually comes in the format of PowerPoint, vapourware and a new front-end UI to hide the legacy platform.

How The New Entrants Try To Do It

Rubrik has experienced significant success in our laser focused approach to addressing data management challenges. It is only natural in a fair competitive market that other newer companies will either launch or pivot their approach in an attempt to experience similar success.  These companies also use Agile software development, may also have distributed systems backgrounds and are able to iterate in a similar manner.

However, these organisations face a different set of challenges. If they did not build their base platform with the same vision, goal and focus, it will essentially be equally as hamstrung by similar underlying challenges as the old guard experience. Common sense tells us that if you design a product to do one thing and then adapt it to do another, it is not purpose-built and won’t do the same job without significant trade-offs or difficulties.

A second and more important challenge is that they don’t have the same mature understanding of the vision and consequently will be late to release new features. They will always have a time lag behind the market leader, waiting for the market leader to deliver a feature and then starting the process of developing that same feature. I’m seeing some competitors announcing and demoing Beta versions of functionality that Rubrik formally released 1-2 years ago. This is not pro-active innovation, it’s re-active mimicking.

Having experienced (in previous roles) those situations where your company hypes up a new “game-changing” proposition, only to feel massively deflated when it’s announced and you’re aware that the market leader has been providing it for over a year, I can tell you that it is not an awesome experience for employees.

This approach forces them to commoditize their solution, position it as “good enough” and command a significantly lower price as the value is ultimately not being delivered. It’s simply not sustainable in the medium or long term. When the funding begins to diminish, these companies become easy acquisitions for industry giants.


I have previously worked in both traditional vendors (e.g. Veeam) and new entrant vendors such as SimpliVity who pivoted to challenge Nutanix in the HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure) space. SimpliVity did not win that competition, were subsequently acquired by HPE and the solution now receives much less focus as part of HPEs large portfolio of products.

Whether new or old, with adapted or re-purposed solutions, competing with Rubrik on price is frequently the only option available. This creates a situation which is not optimal for customer or vendor. The customer doesn’t get the outcome they wanted and the vendor suffers in terms of available finance for ongoing operations as well as investing in the development of their solution. If a company is offering 80% of the functionality for 60% of the price, then you will only get 50% of the result planned. Furthermore, that company’s financials will most likely look like a cash haemorrhaging horror story.

Rubrik is without a doubt the market leader in the Cloud Data Management space. The Old Guard are re-badging their solutions as their “Rubrik-Killer” and the new entrants are pivoting to follow while burning through their funding.  It’s going to be an interesting couple of years. Ancient giant trees will fall and new saplings will be plucked by the behemoths. Exciting times in the industry, watch this space!

Job Change: Heading To The Mothership

It’s is with great pleasure that I post about a change of role and company.  I have had a phenomenal two years working as an SE at Veeam, but I am now making the move from VMware eco-system partner, to VMware itself.

I’ll be moving to VMware in the role of Senior SE and expanding the scope of my day-to-day work beyond just data protection.  VMware has posted some fantastic results in recent weeks, including double digit growth (almost unheard of for a company of it’s size).  The new role will give me the opportunity to work with customers in a wide breadth of areas with a killer product range covering Software Defined Data Center, Cloud and End User Computing.

If you’ve ever asked yourself the question, why would you want to work at VMware?, here are some key facts, VMware is:

  • a $5Billion+ company currently posting double-digit growth.
  • the #1 preferred vendor for private cloud.
  • one of the Top 3 most innovative companies in 2013 (source Forbes).

Perhaps the question you should be asking is why wouldn’t you want to work at VMware?

Monday will be my first day at the company and I can’t wait to get started. Expect more VMware focused blogs to appear in the near future.

Echoes From the Past, The Mother of All Demos – Douglas Engelbart (1968)

We tend to envisage modern desktops with keyboards and mice as something that appeared in the early 1980’s. Microsoft did a great job of commoditizing this for the masses, but they did of course get the idea (or copied the idea, depending on your point of view) from a Xerox research project that never quite made off the ground.  Anything prior to the arrival of Windows stirs up visions of large mechanical devices with green text consoles and paper punch cards for input/output.

The reality is that the embryonic beginnings of the current desktop stretch back closer to 50 years ago, even before the Xerox project. I wasn’t aware of this until I heard about a 1960’s demo on a recent podcast (thanks Speaking in Tech).  The video below is of Douglas Engelbart, who unfortunately passed away in recent weeks.  This is probably the first ever large scale demo of this kind of technology. In this video, Douglas cuts a ghostly figure as he is superimposed on the film along side the desktop he is operating.  Working as a Sales Engineer, I do a lot of demos.. you always like to feel like you’re on the cutting edge and showing your customer something new, but I think this video shows that although the technology changes a lot of what drives demos is fundamentally the same.  Great demo from who should be considered both Jobbs’ and Gates’ predecessor.

Book Review: Life’s A Pitch, What the World’s Best Sales People Can Teach Us All

This is a really cool book by Philip Delves Broughton:

What struck me about this book was that it didn’t try to position itself as some new scientific methodology for improving your stats as a salesperson. Nor did it evangelically preach someone’s view of sales and how life should be if you want to achieve your full potential. The book takes an objective observatory stance, where the author simply seeks out people who excel in the field of sales and attempts to understand what drives them, how they do what they do and why it is working for them. Personality traits are explored from a qualitative angle to give a broad sense of character and what may or may not be similar across different successful sellers.

From Moroccan souq rugs, through USA teleshopping to Japanese Life Insurance, the author takes a very broad and international sample of successful salespeople. as you might expect there are certainly some extravagant stories from this special breed of person.

Of particular interest to me were those individuals who were in the tech field, more specifically towards the final chapters where a hybrid type is identified. A hybrid type being someone who can comfortably straddle the core skills of both technical and soft skill competence. Having been in technical sales for many years, this type of individual really resonates with me as I believe it’s possible to be both technically competent as well as commercially and emotionally intelligent. Having that underlying knowledge base on the technical aspects of products can significantly boost credibility in a sales engagement and underpins Expert Selling.

This book definitely comes recommended as worth reading.

If you would like to purchase a copy, please support this site by clicking the image above.


Book Review: Big Picture Investing

Big Picture Investing, When The Market Moves Will You Be Ready by Professor Peter Navarro is a course on stock market investing. The course comes as an audio book with an accompanying 90 page course guide providing all relevant diagrams and data.

Big Picture Investing

Have you ever wanted to understand the stock market? From time to time, I have. This historically has amounted to turning on Bloomberg TV, being barraged with stats, figures and jargon for an hour then deciding to come back later to try again.  Not anymore. This 8-9 hour audio course takes most of the mystery out of what is being said on Bloomberg TV and any other business channel for that matter.

Over the past couple of decades, I have invested in the occasional stock. In the late 1990s, this was directed by investing approaches such as those promoted by The Motley Fool.  Unfortunately, while some trades were successful most didn’t really provide the gains I was hoping for. The Fool approach is primarily based on “fundamental analysis” of individual stocks, in the hope that the investor find a stock which is currently undervalued. What this doesn’t take into account is the big picture, i.e. the macroeconomic factors that effect stock prices. This is a major short fall in my opinion, as it should be common sense that even a strong company will struggle to gain in value in an overall weak market.

Navarro’s Big Picture Investing explains that there are actually three levels of significance we should be examining when investing, these being:

  • The Macroeconomic Environment – National and World.
  • Sector Trends – How sectors react at different phases in the business and stock market cycle.
  • Individual Companies – and their relative strength in their sector.

Ever wanted to know how inflation, interest rates, currency exchange rates, bond markets and major world events effect the market? listen to this course. Want to know which sectors do well in the early expansion phase of recovery? listen to this course. Need to understand how the top Wall St investors pick stocks? listen to the course.

I really can’t say enough positive things about the content. The content is well structured, very comprehensive and has been a real eye-opener. With a valuable nugget of knowledge delivered every couple of seconds, my rewind button has never seen so much action. I’ve actually listened to the course multiple times now, repeating various lectures over and over.  A colleague of mine, who is also enjoying the course, joked this week that given the opportunity.. we would both happily follow Professor Navarro around with notepads like groupies. He’s not wrong. I fully intend to purchase some of his other titles like “If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks”.

To balance out those positive comments, I should acknowledge that the course was created in 2004 (pre-2008 financial crisis) This means that although historically markets tend to follow cyclical behaviour some of the content is no longer relevant. For example, the US Uptick rule on shorting stocks was abolished in 2007.  It’s also solely US focused, so some of the cited resources simply aren’t available for UK or European Markets, or they take some digging out. Add to this the fact that ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) for trading at the sector level are sadly lacking in the UK and it will require more of a stock focus to implement this strategy for UK investors. In the last decade globalization has really evolved and international markets seem much more interconnected than they used to be. The course does examine import, export and trade deficits but there should perhaps be some more focus on that in today’s market.

I highly recommend this audio book to anyone who wants to understand macroeconomics and their impact on the stock markets. A definite listen for prospective MBAs, also for those who want to turn their attention to making money on the markets.

Book Review: Brilliant Selling 2nd Edition – What the best salespeople know, do and say

Brilliant Selling by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird takes a one inch deep, one mile wide look at selling skills, activities and results. If you are new to selling or just need to step back for a refresher this is a great book to get you started.

The book takes you through a journey to understand all aspects of selling. Starting with views on your personality as a salesperson, moving through processes and planning to effective to communication for understanding buyer needs and motivations. The journey is a well structured one where each chapter builds nicely on the previous nuggets of wisdom. Although lacking depth in some areas it does provide an excellent springboard to give a wide view of the topic and also stirs lots of different ideas for you to think about.  I found the content associated practical exercises very useful to help me understand and analyze my current opportunities. They can really give you a push to think laterally and honestly about where your opportunities really sit.

One major highlight for me in the book was the section on understanding buyers mindsets, needs and motivations. This includes the main reasons why people do or don’t buy. The documented survey results really help isolate buyer fears and motives; every salesperson should have an understanding of these to help bridge that cross-table relationship between buyer and seller.

Another recommended read. If you would like to purchase this book, please support this site in the process, by clicking the image above.


Introduction to Studying Economics at LSE

I have been researching some private investment strategies in recent days and have inevitably encountered a need to refresh my understanding of Economics. As part of this research I came across this video.  The video is the a London School of Economics (LSE) kick-off day back in 2011. It shows Professor Witztum giving an introduction to what the prospective students may have in store when they embark on learning economics at the institution.

It’s really very insightful, so I thought I would share. Something that stuck with me was the differences between “learning” and “training”, where by training you are really only repeating what someone else has already done and repeating their process. Learning can be defined as a much more philosophical experience. This guy is a very engaging speaker and worth listening to.

If you don’t want to watch the full video, you can skip the content after the first 30mins. The latter content is focused on course specifics. That is unless you actually want to know the course specifics.

Can You Spot A Fake Smile?

I found this psychology test recently on the BBC science website. A prominent, everyday and recognizable body language behaviour is the smile. Smiles are generally associated with positive communication and can send clear signals about positive states of mind. They can, however, be faked.

Can you spot a fake one?

Click this image to test yourself:


18/20 for me, but I was duped by 2 subjects.. it’s the crow’s feet that got me.  Not to worry if you’re a low scorer here, fake smiles don’t necessarily mean something deeply devious is occurring and even when recognized we, for the most part, all accept fake smiles.  Even a faked smile can indicate a positive intention.

Book Review: Book of Tells

Book of Tells by Peter Collett is a book based primarily on body language, but also includes some linguistic and vocal insights.  This book is best described as an attempt to categorize and catalogue non-verbal communication.  It is essentially attempting to isolate and document individual behaviours and their associated meanings. It conceptualizes these distinct behaviours as “tells”. The term “tell” is borrowed from the poker playing sub-culture and popularized in various Hollywood films.

On starting this book, I was surprised to find that the author was a resident psychologist on the TV show Big Brother.  I read and reviewed another body language book back in 2009 called Visible Thought – The New Psychology of Body Language. That book was written by a previous Big Brother psychologist who Collett also makes reference to in this book, Geoffrey Beattie. This link between reviews was a pure co-incidence, so I’d like to make it clear that I’m not a Big Brother obsessive. I did watch the first couple of series, but lost interest as contestants rapidly learned to play and manipulate the game. I was much more interested by the first couple of series which were much closer to objective social experiments.

I have to admit, this book was a hard read, there isn’t much structure to it.  There is no enlightening journey to follow where chapters build on chapters, it is very much written like an encyclopedia.  This means you have to be committed to reading repetitively, there is no evolution of concept. Barring the first and last chapters which have been shoehorned in as wrappers, you could easily read the chapters in a random order without losing any comprehension at all.  This is not a criticism. It’s more like guidance of what to expect. I guess the clue is very much in the name of the book.. “Book of Tells”, I’m assuming is a play on words for a “Book of Spells” which you would expect to find in this format.

If you are willing to grind through it and understand the format it comes in, it’s quite a good book.  I have seen some reviews complaining about the lack of originality in this book, stating that it’s rehashing other people’s work. This is somewhat true, but I don’t see any point in re-inventing the wheel and it does do a good job of pulling some those other texts together. I would recommend it as a beginner or refresher book on body language.

Some of the highlights for me were the real-world examples used to highlight and underscore the definitions used. I particularly liked the one about politicians kissing babies, who it seems don’t do this for popularity, but out of a fear of being hit. In short, they’re using the babies as a Saddam like human shields. Another great example was centered around Sir Alex Ferguson, Manager of the Manchester United Football Team. It suggests that a better way of understanding the fortunes of the team during a match is not to watch what’s happening on the pitch, but to monitor the speed at which Sir Alex chews his gum. I’ll be looking out for this at the next game.

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Book Review: Sun Tzu’s – The Art of War

I have had this book on my shelf for many years now.  Having been deeply into martial arts and their associated eastern philosophies in my youth, it is no surprise that I have encountered this 2,000 year old piece of literature.  As a young martial artist, I was more concerned with being warrior than general and therefore didn’t give it much more than a cursory glance and read through. As time progresses, I have developed much more interest in strategy as opposed to tactics.

Sun Tzu was a mystical Chinese warrior-philospher of times long past. This text is written in the form of a general’s manual for war and battle.  In recent times, many business leaders have bought into the philosophy of Sun Tzu and use it to draw parallels between modern day competitive business challenges and the ancient battlefield of China. In fact, it is easy to see references in the very language we use in day to day business. We talk of “meeting the competition in the field”, “rallying the troops”, “seeing how the land lies” and “taking the high ground”. All of which refer back to the ancient battle fields.

Where the book does contain to some specifics that are totally irrelevant for anyone other than an ancient Chinese general, the strength in the book comes from the ease with which metaphors can be derived and used in the modern business world. For instance, the passages detailing the use of fire in battle can be largely discounted.  In terms of the bulk of the text, we can see that it not only deals with spacial concepts such as understanding the positioning, deployment and movement of your army, but also management guidance on how to communicate with your troops to ensure faith is kept in their leader.

This is a definite read for anyone interested in strategy and strategic concepts. I’ll leave you with my favorite paraphrasing of the text, “Know your enemy, know yourself and be assured of victory”.

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