Crawl, Walk, Jog—and Then Sprint

November 30, 2012 | By Sudheesh Nair
| min
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“Sir, would you like a wake-up call tomorrow morning?” the handsome lady behind the counter politely asked as I was checking in to the hotel. I told them no. My job takes me to different parts of the globe and thus to various time zones. I like to keep a packed schedule during the trips and usually have meetings scheduled early in the morning the day after I land. Sleeping in to adjust for the jetlag is not a luxury I have.

Before I go to sleep, I keep my iPhone charging right next to my bed. I used to put the phone in airplane mode before going to sleep so that only my alarm would wake me up, not a phone call from someone who didn’t know that I am out of the country. But I learned that this wasn’t a foolproof plan because my meeting reminders still rang out loud.

Apple is a company that takes usability very seriously. I should have trusted them sooner because I later learned that I can put the iPhone in silent mode and set an alarm because alarms will ring even if the phone is in silent mode. Only alarms, not my meeting reminders! Someone at Apple must have really lived through a situation like mine and designed that little feature in. I raise this glass of beer in thanks and appreciation to that person.

I believe that sales teams, particularly systems engineers, have a big role to play when it comes to making the products more user friendly. SEs get to watch users interact with the system every day. They see what works and what doesn’t. Product managers play an important role, but no single product manager in HQ can be on top of every small feature and use cases that customers expect of the product.

At Nutanix, we have empowered our SEs to directly interact with our engineering team through an innovative product council. They meet every two weeks and give direct feedback from the field to engineering on what customers are doing with the system, what their areas of pain are, and what direction they would like the products to take.

Through these product councils, we learned that virtualization administrators were sometimes caught between business users and datacenter architects. An end user may think that creating a VM is as simple as snapping your finger. But VM admins know that they will have to work with the networking, server, and storage teams to get the LUNs, vDisks, network ports, zones, and VLANs before they can provision the VM. Our GUI enables a VM admin to have all resources needed to create a VM from a single administrative console and export the shares. Not quite snapping your finger, but at least like brushing your teeth!

Our early customers have been significant contributors to our product design and workflow elements. For example, placement of some icons on the screen was influenced by some of our early customers.

I think customer focus is not a buzzword, but rather something ingrained in the company’s culture. When I was in China recently I saw stores, very similar to Apple stores, with their own version of “geniuses” at the “bar.” Only a company with a deep appreciation for the customer’s interest could have come up with a design for a retail store that is being ripped off for its effectiveness.

Customer focus doesn’t mean that a company just designs and implements whatever their customers or sales team ask for. There is a calculated dichotomy at play here. Even Steve Jobs once reportedly said that the users don’t know what they want until he gives it to them. It is true in some cases, particularly when it comes to radical innovation in consumer space. However, it’s also true that not everyone is Steve Jobs.

We at Nutanix released our product within two years of the company’s inception. Of course, we made sure that the product was very reliable and it passed all the data integrity tests before the GA. But we didn’t wait for all features and other support infrastructure to be completed before releasing the product. This approach helped us get out radically new concept in the hands of visionary customers early and then allowed their input to continue to shape the direction we took. In the last full year of sales, we filled the gaps in our product features, support infrastructure, and sales coverage. Even with this controlled release, we have posted QoQ growth numbers that are well above companies in our sector and stage.

With the lessons learned in the field we are now well capitalized and poised for much more accelerated growth and give our best shot to own the market for hyperconverged appliances. You are going to see how exactly we plan to do just that: we will have a series of significant product announcements coming in the next few months.

To our customers and partners, please keep telling our field teams what you like about our product and what you don’t. This innovative model of crowdsourcing has allowed Nutanix to keep our ears close to the ground and keep the pace of innovation going at high gear. With your help we will continue to make Nutanix the user-friendliest virtualization platform on this planet.