Todd Scallan – VP of Product and Engineering at Axcient

People look at my email inbox and are astonished that it’s always nearly empty. If I can respond immediately to a query, then I knock that tennis ball right back over the net and clear the message.

Todd Scallan leads product vision and engineering execution of the Axcient platform, and has more than 25 years of product management and engineering experience. He holds a Masters of Science in computer engineering, a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and has published numerous articles and papers on a range of computing topics. Follow him on Twitter at @Axcient.

Where did the idea for Axcient come from?

The idea for Axcient rose out of a frustrated encounter with technology. Our CEO Justin Moore lost a critical presentation on his laptop during a client meeting and was unable to fully recover his data. This led to research on the backup and recovery sector and its limited options, identifying the opportunity for disruption and thus Axcient’s genesis.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I run product and engineering at Axcient and have a team in Silicon Valley and in Russia, so my days are quite long. As a pretty structured guy, I have mechanisms in place that ensure visibility into the status of projects to help me stay calibrated and not spin out of control. Yes, it can be a little chaotic at times, but my approach is a combination of strategic and tactical, with a ruthless focus on prioritization.

Working with a variety of teams, from sales to support and finance, I need to divide my time across many facets of the business. I recognize that everyone wants and needs something but it’s not possible to focus on everything at once. To ensure productivity, communication is critical. When I feel overwhelmed, I take a step back, make a list, prioritize that list, draw a line and focus on the tasks above the line. Then close the loop by communicating to relevant parties the things below the line that I am not going to get to so they can rejigger their own plans as necessary. I’ve found this is a great way to stay sane and keep communication channels moving productively.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Following through on an idea all the way to completion is essential in making it happen. More often than not, people put an idea on the table and wait for someone else to pick it up and run with it. To actually execute, shepherding the idea to fruition is paramount to the process. Another important realization is that every item has to have just one owner. If two people own an item, then no one really owns it. With specific owners and deadlines, it is much easier to distribute responsibility, track progress, and move the ball collectively forward.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

In tech, the cloud really excites me. The opportunities the cloud introduces represent a seismic shift in the way IT conducts its business and we are seeing some really revolutionizing and exciting ideas come from its innovation.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I like to be hyper-responsive to colleagues and customers, and not let things sit and accumulate. By not being a bottleneck, others can move forward and the whole business can move more efficiently.

People look at my email inbox and are astonished that it’s always nearly empty. If I can respond immediately to a query, then I knock that tennis ball right back over the net and clear the message. If it’s something that will take time, I respond immediately that I’ll get to it soon, log it in my task list with a due date, and clear the message. This habit helps keep me on top of things and not get overwhelmed with a huge accumulation of pending responses. I also think this habit strengthens trust and respect between my colleagues and me.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

One summer when I was a teenager, I worked in the mailroom at law firm on Wall Street. I remember being 15 and had to wear a gray smock to push a cart and deliver mail to all of the lawyers. The firm’s partners all sat in big offices on the 24th floor, where I was instructed to deliver the mail before any of them arrived at work. One day, I was there early and paused to take a drink out of the water fountain and there was a woman who brought the wrath down on my having the gall to take a drink. To this day, I think about that woman, the coordinator of the floor, and how I don’t care how menial a job is, everyone should be treated with respect.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have taken more risks sooner. I took a solid job with IBM early in my career and thought I was going to stay there forever. Due to some changing life circumstances, I decided to move to California and join the startup scene and in hindsight, I wish I would’ve done it sooner, gaining more experience in the startup realm.

What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I reprioritize on a regular basis to make sure that I’m focusing on the right, relevant things. I recommend everyone try to be as efficient with their time as possible. It’s the one resource you can’t really get more of.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Anticipate change and embrace it. I’ve seen first hand many times where you have a great product-market fit and the business is doing great. Then the market shifts – maybe it’s a disruptive technology or arrival of a new competitor. Do you hang on and watch your business slow down or even erode? Or do you refocus the business to take advantage of the change? The latter is the tougher choice, but the only way to ensure continued growth.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Some years ago I worked at a startup where we expanded our product focus and sales reach too soon. As a result, we over-hired, took on too many projects and went cash flow negative.

It took a difficult combination of corrective actions to fix this. After stepping back and clarifying our focus, we killed some of the projects and unfortunately had to downsize the team. There were also some personal financial sacrifices that I and other leaders made. But we emerged from the situation as a stronger company, closer team and profitable growing business once again.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I have a hobbyist’s passion for winemaking and one business idea I had was to offer IT service packages to smaller wineries. Since many family owned establishments can’t afford IT and relevant infrastructure, creating a menu of plug and play services to help monitor vineyards and production control for winemaking would be a great IT business.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why? (personal or professional)

Tickets to the Santa Cruz Derby Girls. It’s a women’s roller derby league (the real thing, not acting) in Santa Cruz, CA. One of my daughters is on the team. Very cool sport, exciting to watch, and really a fun and family friendly atmosphere. Check it out!

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Flipboard is a great web service for aggregating and consuming content from many sources in a really cool magazine style format. Additionally, I look at LinkedIn as a way to maintain valuable perspective on what’s happening in the industry with talent.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Drive by Daniel Pink offers great insights into what motivates people to be engaged and productive.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Actually, I really admire my uncle. He’s a pioneer in the semiconductor industry and has always approached his work with a sense of good humor and humility along with a great business sense.