Success is not magic. It’s the perspiration vs. inspiration equation.
Lior Gal is CEO and co-founder of Excelero, a software-defined block storage company based in San Jose. Excelero is his first startup, which he co-founded after correctly identifying that the enterprise IT market was at the beginning of a tectonic shift – away from expensive OEM solutions. An expert in storage architectures for Internet infrastructure, cloud applications, and content delivery, Lior guides Excelero in building out its strategy, vision, product and market presence to meet the performance and scalability requirements of the largest web-scale and enterprise customers.
A seasoned enterprise IT leader, Lior has grown numerous storage innovators from concept to proven product and multi-million dollar revenue streams and, in several cases, successful exits. Beginning in technical roles at EMC and Amdocs, he led sales at Exanet, Illuminator, Crescendo Networks and most recently was global vice president at Data Direct Networks. While there he achieved dramatic revenue growth from some of the world’s largest, high performance web and cloud-based organizations. In his off-hours, Lior is passionate about surfing, running, anything near an ocean, and family time.
Where did the idea for Excelero come from?
I founded Excelero after a powerful experience showed me an unmet need in an over $40 billion industry. After 15 years of building solutions & selling to enterprise IT leaders, by 2013 and 2014 my biggest customers made it clear that they need to find a way to stop buying expensive and limited appliances and find the path to move into buying only off the shelf, commodity hardware for their data storage needs. They wanted to build data centers as efficient and scalable as the Tech Giants do – software-defined data centers where hardware is interchangeable and the magic is in the software.
I’d never built a company before, but the more I started exploring what my customers wanted, I knew they were right – and I had to help them. Today, four years later and a year after we launched, Excelero has won some of those very customers. Our product gained top awards and is included on sought-after Cool lists, which is amazing. We help meet the efficiency, performance and scalability needs of some of the largest web-scale and enterprise customers in the world – and we do it in a way that doesn’t require them to change their data center environment at all, as many IT solutions providers do.
The Excelero company name has a great story behind it, too. We chose two superlatives – excellent and accelerate – that were positive attributes of any IT solution and exactly what customers want from high-quality, reliable storage. Excellent + Accelerate became Excelero. It’s short, snappy, didn’t limit us to just the storage sector – and we had no issues sourcing that as a unique URL.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start at 6 am PT, often earlier, to be available to our business team and Israel engineering team. Between 7 and 8:30 am my teams know I’m unavailable as this is kids time. When the day ends is always a mystery – maybe 10 pm. That’s what you get running a global company.
Because it’s important that we’re all aligned, I try to find a healthy balance between being highly accessible to teams, partners and customers, and focusing on top priorities. I love WhatsApp and make myself available via Slack, Skype, Zoom, texts and of course email. Please don’t leave me a voicemail. I try to never have an e-mail backlog despite a lot of long business trips.
That said, it’s easy to get distracted by noise. Everyone wants a piece of your time and to ride your wave. Focusing on those opportunities that will generate business is critical. I also believe in the importance of taking a break and reconnecting to my passions beyond the company. That usually end-up with quality time with my wife & kids exploring new beaches & surf spots for wave surfing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Company building is a team sport. As the CEO I am in a position to have wider knowledge on all the different pieces of our company, but that doesn’t necessarily make my ideas better than others. I hire bright people so I expect them to bring something to the table. When someone does, we’ll discuss it as a team, and then bring it to life as a team as well.
We hired a chief architect and he came with fresh ideas and years of complimentary knowledge. His influence was immediate improved our engineering efficiency and their ability to be agile reacting to every changing business needs.
Excelero also has a tremendously strong set of co-founders, and I rely on their judgement heavily. Between us we cover all the bases of company building. My partners lead the technology while I lead the business. We trust each other commitment and delivery which allocates more time for each to focus in what he does best.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Watching how the big public cloud vendors pushed the market into searching for a solution exactly like ours. Not every company will migrate to the public cloud, for business compliance and regulatory reasons – yet these companies still want the same agility and competitive advantage that public cloud vendors offers as their value-add. At the same time, companies with on-premises data centers can’t afford to keep using OEM hardware, as it’s too expensive and doesn’t scale the way the cloud vendor scale. These companies’ drive for a competitive advantage is the magic recipe behind the software-defined data center industry.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Working really hard & hyper focus on the highest priority tasks. I mean, really hard.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To my younger self and just about any young person, I’d say work harder, try harder than your peers and focus on your next big wave. Success is not magic. It’s the perspiration vs. inspiration equation.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That everything is doable. It all depends on how much you really want it and willing to sacrifice to get there. When we started as 4 founders my partners believed in the vision or building a disruptive technology for the storage market but less in our ability to sell it as a solution to F1000 companies and scale as a business. How does one sell against Dell/EMC? Now with the growth we’re posting and accounts we’re landing, I believe they believe in my truth and the exciting future ahead of us.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Say no when the opportunity isn’t a perfect fit and disengage your company and resources often. Rigorously disqualify so you can achieve a hyper-focus on the best use of your time right now. At a growth phase you will always have the short blanket issue. Decide for yourself which parts will be better protected. Don’t let other decide for you by leading you into the wrong projects.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We chose not to sell an appliance when everyone else did. We also chose not to have a direct sales force and instead partner with OEMs and large channel players. We get far more bang for the buck so to speak by letting big players act as our sales force, and enabling them to deliver integrated, end to end solutions to their solutions almost without needing us. It was counter-intuitive at the time, but industry insiders totally got it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We almost decided to build our own specialized microchip. It would have been a huge mistake especially given the way the market has gone in the four years since our founding. An investor showed us the light – that building a chip wasn’t going to help. Instead we’ve innovated around software that leverages the partnership with leading vendors in the space. Our software makes their chip work better while their hardware allows our customers the best quality and options to choose from. If it was our hardware, our customers would have been locked to our hardware without options to explore.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I am passionate about hiring lately. I would love to see innovation in the job searching market where both employees and companies will have better ways to decide one of the most critical decisions. Use the fact that all of us are exposing information to enable more productive hiring/employment decisions. A business built on data analytics from public databases such as LinkedIn, FB and others that can analyze the profile of the company – based on its employees type, their retention, etc. – and the profile of the candidate to match them better would help streamline the process and help assure you find the best people for the job.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Shapa, a scale that doesn’t tell you how much you weigh but that uses technology to help you reach your health goals. Anything I can do to find new ways to diet better.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
LinkedIn for research. I use it to learn more about my partners, competitors, employees and customers.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall . Running for me is Yoga/therapy in monition. It’s where min mind disconnect from my body and wonder around exploring. I am a better person when I run at least 4 times a week. “Born to Run” was a motivational book which fueled my passion around running and what makes it so pure and special.
What is your favorite quote?
The quote that results in a PO. – That’s a little former sales rep humor there. ABC – Always Be Closing. I live by that. That’s my IM name
- Differentiate yourself in the way that you ride transformative waves in your industry. In the IT world for us, this meant a radical hardware innovation around Flash storage and low latency networking and b. the shift to software-defined defined data centers. Just as importantly we worked closely with our design partners to validate that our vision and product strategy is also in line with theirs and the market winds of change, too.
- Hyper-focus on disqualifying. Certain customers and partners and their demands just aren’t right for a given time. Focusing only on where our value will shine, with minimal to no focus where the waves will be too much during your early stage as a company and zap energy you can better spend elsewhere. It’s also OK to hire slowly and well. Timing is everything.
- Partner – don’t sell a point solution. Selling point products is so yesteryear. Enterprises need integrated solutions that are tested, work as advertised, and readily deployed. Change is risk to any sizable organizations – we make it so that becomes a non-issue. That said, you must choose you partners wisely, finding those that can take you to market well and influence your future customers with care.
- Work hard. Really, really hard. Then watch it happen.