Why I Joined UpStack After 15 Years in Silicon Valley
6 min read
Jeff August, UpStack’s Chief Strategy Officer, discusses why he joined New York-based UpStack after 15 years of working in Silicon Valley for game-changing companies like Facebook, Dropbox, and Square.
The future is hybrid cloud and we at UpStack are here to help you build that future, whether you are buying, advising or selling. As the classic 80’s song by Timbuk3 proclaims, “The future’s so bright, I have to wear shades.” I have been here for 4 months now, and – believe me – I’ve been wearing my shades! I’m so excited about where we are taking UpStack. We have built a tool that is an indispensable utility for anyone seeking colocation, but that is just the beginning.
Before I go off on this bright future, I want to give you some of the back-story on why I’m here.
I joined UpStack for 3 simple reasons:.
- A vendor-neutral platform that supports both the buying and selling process equally is long overdue in the Internet Infrastructure space – UpStack made this a clear focus early on and it will change how the game is played. We are building an indispensable utility for the benefit of everyone who participates in this industry. We don’t play favorites.
- I understand the IT infrastructure marketplace in a deep way and I believe my unique experience will go a long way towards helping UpStack avoiding the pitfalls of growing a small company trying to disrupt a big space.
- The people that work at UpStack are the kind of people I really want to work with – humble, honest and focused on getting stuff done.
I distinctly remember the first time I met our CEO Christopher Trapp. We were sitting in the Little-r Coffee Bar at Dropbox HQ in San Francisco, CA. It was a crowded and loud spot and not particularly good for meetings, but what did I care about a guy from NYC trying to sell me something I probably didn’t want?
I was only there because a colleague I respected had reached out to me and said, “I know this guy who is building a tool to help buy IT infrastructure. I think you could give him some good feedback. Do you have 30 minutes?”
I had heard this sort of pitch several times over my 20 years of planning, building, supporting and operating network architectures of various scales and purposes. My gut reaction was to expect another telecom agent who had built a tool that only partially solved one of my challenges and was really focused on getting info out of me. But right off the bat I knew I was lucky to have (begrudgingly) accepted the meeting. Lessons from previous interactions with folks who had “a tool” were not applicable during our interaction. Chris came ready to talk – and more importantly to listen – about the challenges I had as an IT professional. Some challenges he already understood from being on the sell side of the transaction and some he hadn’t yet thought about. I was impressed that he was thinking broadly, and although the platform was not fully-featured yet, Chris was aware of the shortcomings and had a plan to correct the deficits. His vision for an ecosystem that helped seller and buyer alike was intriguing, so we agreed to stay in touch and he went on his way.
Over the next 18 months I followed along from afar as the product came to life. UpStack was progressing right along the path that Chris had laid out for me over coffee. One lesson from my days working at Facebook was “Done is better than perfect.” I always took this to mean “make small progress regularly.” I admired how UpStack was executing on a broad vision one step at a time.
Soon thereafter, I came to a place in my career where I realized I wanted to do more than was possible for me at Dropbox. I spent time consulting with friends and colleagues, many of whom have tenure at companies that have changed the world. But the discussion that set me on a path to UpStack was with a friend I had worked with long before I ever even thought about working in Silicon Valley.
Dave Sroka and I worked together at a small company in Stockton called Pac-West Telecomm. He came to Pac-West in 2004 and we both learned a painful lesson a few years later: what it was like to dramatically reduce your work force when a big bet doesn’t payoff. We parted as colleagues in 2006, but we stayed in touch. We even ended up on opposite sides of the bargaining table several times as Dave worked with many of the stalwarts in the colocation portion of the broader data center market.
When I reached out to Dave to give me his take on my impending career change, I found out he happened to be nearby in San Jose. He was on business representing “a new company.” I drove down to shoot the breeze at Peet’s Coffee and Tea on the Alameda in the Capital of Silicon Valley (What can I say? I like coffee shop meetings). We shared some good natured ribbing about the state of the Oakland A’s (my favorite team) in comparison to the Boston Red Sox (his favorite team) and a little more ribbing about the fact that I STILL drive a 10 year old Honda Civic badly in need of new shocks (appalling to an almost blasphemous level for Dave, a car-guy’s car-guy).
After a while he opened his laptop and said, “Let me show what we are working on.”
Imagine my surprise when I looked at the logo that popped up in his browser: UpStack. I pretended not to know what UpStack was and I let him walk me through a quick demo. I realized two things during this 5 minute stretch:
- It had been a few months since I had checked in with Chris and he and the team had blown past where I thought they would be in terms of executing on the original vision. I was impressed.
- Dave’s enthusiasm for UpStack’s mission was not unlike his enthusiasm for cars. It was absolutely infectious.
A conversation or two later and I found myself in New York City, talking with the people who make UpStack what it is. The conversation was engaging, the team was excited, and our discussions about the long term plan confirmed that they knew exactly what they had to do to get there. I saw areas where my expertise could be of value, but also saw that I could learn from these people. When I left New York that day, I knew I was coming to UpStack.
In my first few months at UpStack I have been reminded time and again that this is the place I am meant to be. We have worked hard to improve the vendor experience by giving our vendor platform members the ability to preload pricing and turn around RFQ responses in a matter of minutes without losing the ability to manage what the customer sees. We have released enhancements to the platform that make the buyer experience even better, including the ability to run multisite colocation projects through our intuitive interface. All of this is happening while our small (but mighty!) team works across multiple time zones and hectic schedules. We are all-in on this because we love it and it shows in the work we produce.
So, now you know why I’m here. In the next installment, I’ll talk about how I sourced data centers in my past life, so you don’t make the same mistakes I have. In the meantime, check out what we’ve been building or connect with me on Linkedin to chat all things infrastructure.