[quote style=”boxed”]Externally, I talk to people about how they think about a problem rather than trying to “sell” them a product. That allows me to stay focused on creating innovative solutions for real problems rather than following the “feature wars” of my competitors.[/quote]
Tom Smith has over 30 years of experience with security, mobile, and cloud technologies, including founding executive roles at four technology companies. In his current role as VP of business development and strategy for CloudEntr by Gemalto, Tom is helping define and execute Gemalto’s identity and access initiatives in the cloud. In his prior roles as CEO at both IronStratus and Countermind, he drove the strategy for the business and the go-to-market strategy for their mobile and cloud offerings. Tom was also a founding executive of @hand Corporation and has held various other positions, including director of strategic initiatives at Dazel Corporation and various sales management roles at Rational Software and Hewlett-Packard. He has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Iowa State University.
Where did the idea for IronStratus (now CloudEntr) come from?
As early as 2009, we saw that the way businesses were finding and using cloud apps was very different from what was traditionally done with on-premise software. A central IT organization used to be the gatekeeper for all business software acquisitions and production rollouts of business apps, but the arrival of software as a service leveled the playing field for department managers to quickly find, assess, and roll out business solutions that solved the problems they were facing.
The find-try-buy cycle went from being measured in months to days almost overnight when business-grade solutions like Salesforce.com were brought to market. Unfortunately, the rapid growth of the number of cloud applications and users within businesses created a state of chaos from a user-access and security standpoint.
IronStratus was formed to address the issues generated by businesses moving toward cloud computing and provide a way for them to regain visibility and control. Now that cloud adoption is mainstream, IronStratus has evolved to CloudEntr, addressing cloud security for small businesses.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I get up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and catch up on world and local news, both online and with the local Austin paper. My workday usually ends at 7 p.m., and I save time for family and home from 7 p.m. ’til midnight.
Having information filtered into relevant topics online is the only way I can keep up with what’s happening without drowning in information overload.
Everyone is different, but I find email to be an effective and efficient communication tool for the operational tasks and approvals aspects of my day. Unlike many of my peers, I don’t set aside email time; instead, I check it briefly and frequently throughout the day and in the evening. I use lots of email filters to categorize what requires my immediate attention versus what is spam or can be dealt with later.
For me, email is not effective for those decisions that require discussion or collaboration. Face-to-face discussions are best for that. I prefer more informal meetings rather than regular scheduled meetings so people are dealing with issues and opportunities when they happen as opposed to constantly preparing status briefings for scheduled meetings. Since my small company was acquired, I do find myself thrust back into more scheduled meetings, which still feels inefficient to me.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I ask a lot of questions — both within my company and to other people I meet outside of work — and really listen to the responses. Within my company, I try to surround myself with people who are smarter and better at their area of responsibility than I am and then trust them to make the right decisions after giving them clear context and goals.
Externally, I talk to people about how they think about a problem rather than trying to “sell” them a product. That allows me to stay focused on creating innovative solutions for real problems rather than following the “feature wars” of my competitors.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I think the pervasive and transparent application of technology to everyday life is really getting interesting. Sharing information and the ability to leverage crowd behavior has the potential to unlock new business models and eliminate many of the artificial and parasitic cost structures built into yesterday’s service offerings.
Just look at what’s happening to things like taxi services with the advent of Uber (and other ride-sharing services), network TV with on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as wearable and always-connected technologies like smartphones, smart watches, and Google Glass.
I believe good ideas that deliver value in terms of time saved and ease of use will ultimately win in an efficient market. Finding a replacement to passwords that works at the scale of the Internet is probably one of the most challenging and important things to accomplish in the next few years for society to survive in a connected world.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Testing my crazy ideas against someone I trust who is responsible for the details on how it will be implemented. I constantly ask, “What if I could…?” and “Why can’t I…?” I also challenge others to think outside the box with products by saying, “Assume you can’t use salespeople, support people, training, etc.”
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I worked as a construction laborer for three summers during college. One job I had was a 10-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job that lasted three weeks. I was jackhammering 20 feet straight down through a steel-reinforced concrete floor at a major aluminum manufacturing plant.
At the end of each day I was covered in dirt and grime and exhausted, but it made me realize that I had a choice: whether I would be hired from the neck down for physically demanding work or complete college and use my talents and education to solve problems that are more mental than physical. I also believe that college is just one way to start, but life’s lessons are all around us, and there are new lessons to learn every day.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would be less cautious, experiment with business and social situations, and not be afraid to experience failure. I would surround myself with smart and honest people who care about others and avoid spending any time with people who are dishonest or mean to others, regardless of their position in life. I’d realize early on that it’s not about money or “things,” but rather about impacting others in a positive way. I’d live life with intention and realize that you can’t get anywhere by yourself.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Fail. It sounds crazy, but I’ve learned way more from my failures than I ever did from my successes. Don’t get me wrong; you have to have successes, too. But if you keep your moral compass pointed in the right direction, recognize opportunities when they occur, and surround yourself with really good and talented people, you will find success, and good things will happen.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Find early customers who are demanding, and really listen to them. Don’t be afraid of criticism or feedback as long as it’s delivered in a constructive manner. Never give up on being accountable or supporting your customers when things go wrong. Be honest with yourself, customers, and employees. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one failure! I’d say sticking with a business model for too long after the market data said it was not viable. Sometimes a strong sense of mission (which is important to me) keeps you from properly evaluating the realistic probability of success in the market.
As far as overcoming it, being a CEO or entrepreneur is a very lonely position. You are always in a mode of setting direction for managers and employees and reporting progress to your board and investors, which means you always have to be “on.” It’s critical to find a safe harbor of non-competitive business peers to candidly discuss hard issues and decisions you’re facing with your business and how to get through them. There has to be absolute trust among members of this type of group; what is discussed there should never leave the group.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A service that will track down and erase specific personal data or past online behavior associated with you on the Internet.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
My hobby is astrophotography.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I use various social media tools, but I don’t live in them constantly. I use Salesforce.com because it can easily be customized to your business. I use Marketo for automating marketing processes and integrating with the other SaaS tools I use. I use Google Apps because it offers a suite of basic services that every business can use. On a personal basis, I also love mapping and GPS software because it demonstrates the perfect marriage between technology and usefulness, and it just works.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Bible — not because I am a religious zealot, but because at some point, everyone should step back and reflect about the meaning of life and whether there is a God or higher power in the universe. I do believe that people should open themselves to explore different beliefs and take the time to form their own views and beliefs on what is important in life.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
My parents, family, and wife for giving me my work ethic, independence, support system, and moral compass.
I also admire other visionary business leaders who have demonstrated the ability to look at the world, think outside the box, see the future, and then make it happen. Examples include:
• Clarence “Kelly” Johnson:
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