Posts Tagged ‘ssd’

Back to back acquisitions are adding to the excitement in the Flash arena. As Pure Storage pulled in another $150M in Series E funding and EMC was putting the finishing touches to its VNX2 with an all-Flash option complete with controller and software enhancements, even bigger Flash news was brewing.

Western Digital/HGST announced acquisition of PCIe Flash and software company, Virident, for $685 million on September 9. This is the third Flash acquisition the company has made in recent months. After acquiring SSD veteran, sTec, for $340 million, WD/HGST apparently beat Seagate to the punch in acquiring cache company, VeloBit, for an undisclosed sum. Seagate, along with Cisco, was also an investor in Virident.

On September 10, Cisco announced that it will purchase Flash array vendor, WhipTail, for $415 million. Undoubtedly there are folks out there humming along to the tune of the “Hokey Pokey” and wondering how serious Cisco is about storage as it expands its Unified Computing System.

It’s appears that the ability to aggregate, manage and manipulate Flash through software is a good place to be as the market moves towards consolidation.

Fusion-io and Violin will certainly be under increased scrutiny as the industry-wide game of musical chairs progresses. Will Seagate ever manage to snag a Flash chair? What shall we see at Oracle Open World in a few weeks?

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, cloud and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

The August 2013 Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara had a record attendance estimated at just under 5,000 people. There was a wide diversity of sessions ranging from an introduction to 3D NAND technology, to Flash DIMM components, to SSD enterprise systems, to product differentiation (my Differentiate or Die panel discussion with editors, analysts and VCs). Frankly, there was nothing new on the marketing side from the vendors selling enterprise SSDs. If you took the logos off the slides, one deck could tell the story for them all. They all have fast products, they all have similar use cases (OLTP, VDI, etc) and they all have customer success stories to tell. It appears that most have some market traction as well. Several announced new VC funding allowing them to scale up their businesses.

The fact that we now have 75+ vendors targeting enterprise buyers with products that are remarkably similar made the VC forum session the stand-out session for this marketer. It was a small crowd, probably because most of the vendors have funding and because business capitalization is not a topic that concerns most engineers and marketers. Nevertheless, it was a very valuable session that had many insights that should interest any C-level executive. Some of the same points were raised by Guarav Tehari of SAP Ventures in the earlier Differentiate or Die session. Here are the key take-away points with some added insights for CMOs.

VC Forum

Panel: Bob Witkow of Westwood Marketing, Alex Benik of Battery Ventures, Jacques Benkoski of USVP, Kambiz Hooshmand of Archimedes Labs, Ketan Patel of New Ventures Partners and Roy Hercules of Technology Growth Capital.

Flash market insights

  • The is so much competition that it will only take a year or so for the vendors to achieve product parity. Then it’s a race to the bottom with price. VCs are not seeing pitches that would compel them to fund new entrants.
  • VCs are interested in seeing products that do something interesting as a result of having Flash, but they are not seeing much so far.
  • Large enterprise has already accepted Flash. There are opportunities to sell to the mid-size enterprise.

General VC insights for entrepreneurs seeking funding

  • VCs judge proposals based on the team’s track record, the product and the problem it solves, and the business model.
  • A-Rounds fund product development and beta testing. Currently these rounds are hard to get and the product should be beyond proof-of-concept if it is to be attractive to VCs.
  • B-Rounds fund sales development, but the product should already be with some (beta) customers who will vouch for its value.
  • C-Rounds fund scaling a business that has proven its value and ability to win customers.
  • Entrepreneurs should seek enough funding to get to the next stage (funding round) and anticipate that it always takes longer, and can be more difficult, than initially thought. That means a big A-Round is important.
  • Expect to give up 30% of the company for a sizable A-Round.
  • Each large investor expects 20 to 25% of the stock so it’s important to plan capitalization through to the end. Of course, it often gets contentious.
  • VCs don’t put much value on the analyst charts that show rapid growth and large future markets. They want to see the predictions, but don’t build your funding case solely on them.
  • VCs want to see go-to-market realism and they know how hard/expensive it is to sell to a large number of small and medium businesses (SMB).
  • When presenting, start with the management team. What products have they worked on? What are the successes and failures (with lessons learned)?
  • When presenting, define your customers, the problem, how you solve the problem, and how your named competitors do not solve it.
  • When presenting, define the 3 key variables that drive your business. This is more insightful to a VC than the revenue model.
  • When presenting, specify what you will accomplish before the cash runs out for each round.
  • Intellectual Property (IP) is not seen as critical until the scale-up stage. That does not mean it’s not ultimately vital.
  • If ultimate profitability depends on high volume economies of scale, VCs are not very interested. They recommend seeking strategic investments from the large manufacturers (OEMs).
  • Ask for references from your prospective VCs (when serious negotiations start). Make sure there is a good fit amongst the people involved.

Marketingsage insights for marketers at VC funded startups in new markets

  • You are dealing with a new technology that is still evolving: new products with little or no track record; a yet-to-be-solidified market that doesn’t quite know what it wants; a new firm with VC owners whose goal is to exit profitably within 5 years; a new team that may include executives that have no hands-on marketing experience; market hype that inflates everyone’s expectations beyond reality; and a flood of big spending, noise-making, competitors. That’s as tough as it gets for a professional CMO.
  • Pessimists don’t get funding. Pessimists don’t get hired. You are on the hook for achieving some lofty goals and you may be expected to have a “magic bullet” strategy that delivers a high volume leads/sales, quickly, at a low cost.
  • Your ability to generate critical sales leads largely depends on your discretionary budget (money you can direct at lead-generating programs such as advertising and events). However, by the time you pay for employees, analyst contracts, software, pet projects, and multiple agencies, you may not have enough funds or time to get the required volume of leads. Typical A-Round and B-Round funds usually mean you have to achieve a lot with constrained resources. Of course, leveraging an integrated multifunction agency, like Marketingsage, can help solve this problem.
  • Market hype (see Gartner Hype Cycle) around new technologies results in a low conversion rate for sales leads because lots of people want to learn (triggering an inquiry/lead), but few have actual projects underway. However, the sales team articulates this phenomenon as “marketing only produces poor quality sales leads.” Of course, this can be managed with lead filtering, pre-qualification and nurturing, but it’s not unusual for sales-marketing politics to get in the way of the necessary cooperation and mutual understanding.
  • Purchase decisions can take a lot longer than anticipated, especially if the technology is new, product installations are complex, and/or the prices are relatively high. It’s not unusual to see sales cycles lasting 6 months or more. That means December sales depend on leads generated in June (or earlier).
  • Most firms go through 2, 3, or sometimes even 4, VPs of marketing between start-up and exit. Marketing executives are often last in and first out. The initial VP is highly unlikely to be there for the exit/harvest.
  • Most VPs stay about 2 to 3 years, but employee stock options often vest over 4 years.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

This is a list of positioning statements used by firms who make storage products using Flash memory. For the most part these statements come from the first line of press releases. The list was compiled for a session I was chairing at the 2013 Flash Memory Summit. However, it’s updated periodically when new vendors appear or old ones disappear.

Positioning Statements

  1. Aberdeen — a leading manufacturer of servers and storage
  2. AC&NC — custom designed and pre-configured JetStor plug-and-play storage solutions that meet and exceed each customer’s application(s) requirements
  3. Amax — a leading innovator of Dynamic Enterprise IT & High Performance Computing (HPC) solutions
  4. Assurance — leading The Way In High Performance Enterprise, Cloud and HPC Storage Solutions
  5. Astute Networks — the leading provider of performance storage appliances
  6. Atlantis Computing — the leading provider of Software-Defined Storage
  7. Avere Systems — the leader in network-attached storage (NAS) optimization
  8. Balesio — the leading provider of Native Format Optimisation (NFO) solutions for unstructured data
  9. BiTMICRO — a leading developer and manufacturer of flash-based SSD (solid state drive) technology, products and solutions.
  10. BridgeSTOR — the company Advancing Deduplication to the Cloud
  11. CacheIO — the high performance storage leader for intense media applications
  12. Calxeda — a leader in the low power server market
  13. Coho Data– a leading innovator in web-scale flash storage for the enterprise
  14. Cisco — the worldwide leader in IT that helps companies seize the opportunities of tomorrow by proving that amazing things can happen when you connect the previously unconnected
  15. Condusiv — the leader in high-performance software optimizing technology, people and businesses
  16. Coraid — a leading provider of scale-out Ethernet storage solutions
  17. DataCore — the premier provider of storage virtualization software
  18. DataDirect Networks — the world leader in massively scalable storage
  19. Dell — listens to customers and delivers innovative technology and services that give them the power to do more
  20. Delphix — the leader in agile data management
  21. Dot Hill — a leading provider of SAN storage solutions
  22. Echostreams — a leading provider of server, storage, and system packaging technologies for today’s fast growing vertical markets such as Cloud, Datacenter, Video/broadcasting and Telecommunications
  23. EMC — a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to transform their operations and deliver IT as a service
  24. Enmotus — provides users with their critical data when they need it
  25. ExaGrid — the leader in cost-effective and scalable disk-based backup solutions with data deduplication
  26. Fastor — engaged in bringing future-proof solutions to the rapidly growing Cloud and Enterprise SSD markets
  27. Fixstars — Speed up your Business
  28. Foremay — ULTRA FAST, HIGH RELIABILITY, ULTRA LOW POWER, SECURED SSD
  29. Fusion-io — delivers the world’s data faster.
  30. GreenBytes — a developer of full-featured virtual desktop optimization solutions that uniquely support existing infrastructure
  31. Gridgain — a real time Big Data software company
  32. Gridstore — the leading provider of optimized storage for the modern data center
  33. HGST — develops advanced hard disk drives, enterprise-class solid state drives, innovative external storage solutions and services used to store, preserve and manage the world’s most valued data
  34. HP — creates new possibilities for technology to have a meaningful impact on people,businesses, governments and society
  35. Huawei Symantec — a leading provider of storage, networking and security solutions
  36. IceWEB — an award-winning Unified Data Storage appliance provider for cloud and virtual environments, as well as the highly secure, scalable IceBOX BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Private Digital Cloud Solution
  37. Infinio — inventor of downloadable storage performance
  38. iXsystems — builds rock solid enterprise-class servers and storage solutions
  39. JDV — a cutting-edge developer of innovative enterprise-class SSD server appliances
  40. Kaminario — the leading scale-out all-flash array provider
  41. Kove — a pioneering leader in high performance storage
  42. LSI — designs semiconductors and software that accelerate storage and networking in datacenters, mobile networks and client computing
  43. Marvell — a global leader in providing complete silicon solutions enabling the digital connected lifestyle
  44. Micron — one of the world’s leading providers of advanced semiconductor solutions
  45. Nasuni — a provider of enterprise storage to large, distributed organizations
  46. NephoScale — creator of the NephOS next generation cloud infrastructure services platform
  47. NetApp — creates innovative storage and data management solutions that deliver outstanding cost efficiency and accelerate business breakthroughs
  48. Nexsan (Imation) — a global tiered storage and data security company
  49. Nimble Storage — the leading provider of flash-optimized hybrid storage solutions
  50. Nimbus Data Systems — the leading provider of unified all-flash storage systems for enterprise and cloud infrastructure
  51. Nutanix — the leading provider of hyper-efficient, massively scalable and elegantly simple datacenter infrastructure solutions
  52. OCZ — a leading provider of high-performance solid-state drives (SSDs) for computing devices and systems
  53. Panzura — a leading provider of global cloud storage solutions
  54. Permabit — the recognized leader in data efficiency technology
  55. Pivot3 — a leading provider of converged storage and compute appliances
  56. Proximal Data — the leading provider of hypervisor I/O intelligence software solutions
  57. Pure Storage — the all-flash enterprise storage company
  58. Qsan — making data smart
  59. RAID Inc. — an end-to-end customized solutions provider in HPC, Big Data, and Virtualized Environments
  60. SanDisk — a global leader in flash memory storage solutions
  61. SGI — the trusted leader in technical computing and Big Data
  62. SimpliVity — a provider of simplified IT infrastructure solutions for virtualized environments
  63. Skyera — a disruptive provider of enterprise solid-state storage systems designed to enable a large class of applications with extraordinarily high performance, exceptionally lower power consumption and cost effectiveness relative to existing enterprise storage systems
  64. SolidFire — the leader in all-SSD storage systems designed for large scale cloud infrastructure
  65. Starboard Storage — a provider of unified hybrid storage systems that simplify and consolidate NAS and SAN storage for midsize enterprises
  66. sTec — a leading global provider of solid-state storage solutions
  67. StorageQuest — a global leader in data and archive management software and hardware
  68. StorTrends Performance Storage with Proven Value
  69. SuperLumin Networks — a leading provider of scalable, high-performance media proxy and application acceleration solutions
  70. Supermicro — global leader in high-performance, high-efficiency server, storage technology and green computing
  71. Symform — a revolutionary, distributed cloud backup service
  72. Tegile — a leading provider of hybrid storage arrays for virtualized server and virtual desktop environments
  73. Tintri — the leading producer of storage for virtualization and cloud environments
  74. Violin Memory — provider of memory-based storage systems
  75. Virident Systems — a performance leader in flash-based storage-class memory (SCM) solutions
  76. Virtium — a leading innovator of storage and memory solutions designed specifically to meet the dynamic requirements of embedded systems
  77. WhipTail — the data storage-industry innovator powering faster applications and more energy efficient computing for today’s global businesses via flash storage
  78. X-IO — a recognized innovator in the storage industry

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. This post is the 3 part of a primer on product positioning. It highlights a dilemma for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers who position their products as part of a new technology solution.

Riding the Solution Wave

It’s very common to position an enterprise IT product as part of an overall IT solution. For example, positioning an SSD or cache as part of a Big Data, virtualization, or Cloud solution. Usually, these solutions relate to trends that get lots of press and analyst attention. There’s nothing wrong with riding the latest wave. It can be great for PR and lead generation. However, sometimes it does not result in as many sales as you might expect. If sales are falling short of expectations, it’s important to understand what could be happening. You may be at the front end of the Hype Cycle.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Gartner Hype Cycle

The Gartner Hype Cycle describes a common occurrence in the technology industry. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity for a new technology. The early publicity produces a number of success stories. As a result, IT people start to download white papers and attend events to learn about this latest breakthrough — triggering lots of sales leads. Some early adopters take action, most sales prospects do not. That results in a low conversion rate from market qualified leads (MQLs) to sales qualified leads (SQLs).

In this case, I believe that Big Data is somewhere approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” It’s a promising area, but at this time most people are still figuring out how they would use Big Data — more of a business question than an IT question. They need to figure out where would the data come from and when they have the data, what questions should be asked to turn it into actionable information. Those questions need to be addressed before an organization gets to storing and analyzing data. On the other hand, server and storage virtualization was the new, promising, technology 10 to 15 years ago. Many of the issues have been resolved and that technology is somewhere on the “Slope of Enlightenment” with a large number of real customers for virtualization-related solutions.

Misunderstanding the Hype Cycle/new market situation is a huge problem for IT firms, especially start-ups. It frequently results in changes of executive management as the VP of sales and VP of marketing each incorrectly assumes that one or the other is not pulling his/her weight. The sales team wants more leads. The marketers generate more leads. The leads don’t turn into enough deals so something must be wrong. Is it the quality of the leads (marketing is blamed), the quality of the follow-up (sales is blamed) or the product itself (engineering is blamed)? Of course, any of these could be real issues. However, assuming the team is qualified and experienced, and there’s nothing wrong with the product, the problem lie with the market. Put another way, the product is positioned for a young “market” that has a lot of people who are interested in learning, but few actual buyers at its current stage.

It’s not just the VP of marketing and VP of sales who suffer by misunderstanding the Hype Cycle (and the Honeymoon Period.)  I could name one firm that bet it all and lost (sold at a low valuation) by repositioning their product from an intelligent cache to a Big Data solution, despite good advice to the play the cache position. Obviously, this also hurt the CEO, the VCs, and the entire team.

If your product is a critical enabler (must-have, not nice-to-have) then it may be bought as part of the overall solution. However in a new market triggered by a new technology, the early adopters will need some time to figure out what’s really needed to create a working solution.  Many of the early “solutions” will fail, resulting in the “Trough of Disillusionment.” As a result, the number of vendors thins out significantly as they fail to sell product and run out of capital.

The Positioning-Publicity Dilemma

The positioning dilemma is obvious. It’s much easier to get publicity and sales leads when you position your product as part of an exciting new trend. If there is one thing worse than low sales, it’s low sales and no buzz.

Buzz matters because editorial and social media coverage ultimately lowers promotion costs and builds brand recognition. A recognized brand is twice as likely to be selected (trusted). However, you have to be pro-active at creating this publicity, especially when repositioning your products.

Interestingly enough, in June 2013 I listed 50+ vendors promoting an enterprise solution that uses Flash memory. As of writing at the end of July, that list is now 75+ vendors:

Aberdeen, Amax, Arkologic, Astute Networks, Assurance, Avere Systems, BiTMICRO, BridgeSTOR, Cachebox, Cisco, Condusiv, Coraid, DataCore, DataDirect Networks (DDN), DataON, DDRdrive, Dell, Dot Hill, Echostreams Innovative Solutions, EMC, Enmotus, Fastor, Foremay, Fusion-io, GreenBytes, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, Huawei Symantec, IBM Systems and Technology Group, IceWEB, Infinio, Imation, Intel, iXsystems, JetStor (AC&NC), JBOD, JDV Solutions, Kaminario, Kove, LSI, Marvell, Micron, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Nimbus Data Systems, OCZ, Oracle, Panzura, PernixData, Pivot3, Proximal Data, Pure Storage, QLogic, Qsan, Radian Memory Systems, Reduxio, Renice Technology, Runcore SSD, SanDisk, Scalable Informatics, SeaChange, Skyera, SolidFire, Soligen, Starboard Storage, sTec, StorageQuest, Super Talent, System Fabric Works, Tegile Systems, Tintri, VeloBit, Violin Memory, Virident Systems, WhipTail, and X-IO.

Many of the firms that I forgot to add to the initial list were very familiar to me. They were typically 10 to 15 years old and had survived the virtualization “Trough of Disillusionment.” However, to many analysts, journalists, and admittedly myself, they are not perceived to be part of the latest trends. They are perceived by the pundits as HDD RAID suppliers or suppliers of older data management software, even though their products have evolved over many generations to include SSD, intelligent provisioning, real-time de-duplication and caching. That said, I expect they are doing better on the important sales side. Of course, the positioning issues with the pundits could be fixed by a good agency – obviously not one they are using, so I’ll take the opportunity to plug mine — Marketingsage.

In general, it’s smart to position your products for a new trend. Besides the publicity advantages, you may be entering the next big market at a time when you can make a real difference. However, there are some strategic implications, particularly for start-ups whose VC funding and the ability to attract talent is based on a new trend approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” If those firms do not also position their products effectively for more mature markets, or if they are not funded for the long game, then such firms can, and do, fail.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  3. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

You can suggest questions and discussion topics using the comment box below or by sending me, David Lamont, an email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. If you’d like to support this topic and enhance your own social media reputation, please click the “Share This” and “Like This” buttons below. Your support is appreciated.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. So, as part of a primer on product positioning, I thought I’d explain the concept of positioning as it relates specifically to Flash-based products.

An earlier post, Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers, explains that your product’s position is whatever your prospective customer thinks it is, not necessarily what you want it to be. Positioning or repositioning is your attempt to influence that opinion. The post also lists the 5+1 elements of a strong position, and gives an industry relevant example.

This post highlights how customer interests change, and therefore positioning must change, as a market matures over time. Understanding this evolution is important because the market for Flash-based products is moving to a new phase. The early customers have bought their first Flash-based products already.  Those “innovators” and “early adopters” have demonstrated that there is a compelling case for Flash-based products in the enterprise.

Here are some of the use cases that gained traction:

  • Software runs faster with Flash, so fewer servers and licenses need to be purchased to support a growing user base. Users are happier, IT costs and support costs are lower.
  • Very fast IT systems give some organizations a competitive advantage in their market so Flash-based storage is mission critical for high frequency traders, some online retailers and even government agencies (think NSA).
  • Virtual servers lower IT costs, but predictable boot-storms and unpredictable surges in demand for data access can slow the system for all users. Flash-based systems make virtualization work better.
  • Flash-based systems require significantly less space and power than hard drive-based systems, substantially reducing the cost of running a data center.
  • Big Data analytics and structured databases, whether real-time or batch processed, deliver information faster when run on Flash-based systems. A batch process measured in hours can re reduced to minutes or seconds.

These tangible dollars-and-cents applications, along with the falling cost of Flash-based products, bring new customers into the market. However, these follow-on customers have different expectations to their predecessors.

Time Adoption of Innovations, Redrawn from Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, New York Press, 1962

Time Adoption of Innovations, Redrawn from Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, New York Press, 1962

Innovators (Enthusiasts): These buyers are willing to try new ideas at some risk. They can be very knowledgeable. They like to test new ideas and may not need a complete product or solution, just access to the latest technology.

There are very few, very hard to find, buyers in this market and they rarely buy in volume. In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game at this stage if they are perceived to be a technology leader. For example, first with eMLC Flash, first with an Infiniband interface, etc.

Early Adopters (Visionaries): These buyers adopt new products early, but carefully. They seek breakthrough advantages (e.g. High Frequency Trading on the stock market using solid state disks.) They can be respected opinion leaders. They will invest in creating their own complete solution so they may need lots of support.

There are few such customers, but when you find one, you often find more in the same industry. These customers are looking for products, so with a little bit of sales and marketing, they may find you. However, many start-ups are mislead by this market and their failure to recognize the situation sows the seeds of their demise. For more, please read: Storage start-ups: What CEOs, VPs and VCs should know about the honeymoon period.

In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game with these visionaries if they are perceived to have the lead with a product feature that’s enables the visionaries to achieve their goals. In this case, that might mean they have the fastest product, or the lowest cost per terabyte product. But it also helps to be perceived as experts in a particular application because customers need help building a solution for their particular situation. Today, that situation often involves databases and virtualization.

For those who did not notice, TMS employed Mike Ault, a recognized Oracle Guru to help customers better deploy their SSDs with Oracle databases. TMS (Texas Memory Systems), a 30+ year veteran of the industry and former client of my firm, Marketingsage, was recently acquired by IBM. TMS was very successful in its positioning for early adopters of solid state disks.

Although these Early Adopters may not buy many units, they can be very influential on the large “Majority” market that will buy in volume.

Early Majority (Pragmatists): These buyers adopt before the average firm, but are rarely leaders. They make deliberate, more considered, decisions and they want references. They have a wait-and-see attitude and like to work with proven solutions and vendors.

This is the market phase that drives the high tech industry. Sales grow rapidly because a large number of new customers enter the market. They are buying a new type of product so new vendors do not have to dislodge an entrenched direct competitor (e.g. it’s not like asking a customer to switch their existing brand of backup software). However, these buyers do not want to experiment and they are more risk-averse than earlier buyers, so well known trusted brands often win against the new lesser known brands.

In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game with these pragmatists if they are perceived to have the best product that’s safe to purchase.

Late Majority (Conservatives): These buyers are keeping up, but not leading. They prefer simple solutions and look to the established standard. They can be resistant to change and are more risk averse.

In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game with these conservatives if their product is perceived to be an industry standard, plug-and-play, 100% compatible option with a great warranty that’s on sale from their favorite vendor.

Laggards (Skeptics): These buyers avoid change and very risk averse. They may only purchase when there is no other choice. They buy like the Conservatives do, but only when they are forced to (remember all those UNIX gurus who wanted no part of a GUI?).

Although the real market is not likely to be a nice symmetrical bell curve, and it is hard to know exactly where the market is at, there are indications that we’ve reached the “tipping-point” and the enterprise market is entering the Early Majority phase. In this phase, a large number of new customers enter the market. Of course, as demand grows so does supply and competition.

In July 2013 there were 75+ vendors trying to capitalize on Flash-based products for enterprise customers. This list includes some newborn vendors (not yet shipping) and some undead vendors (they look dead, but still might bite.) In general, I excluded those selling only hard disk drive form-factor SSDs (e.g Seagate) and Flash chips (e.g. Toshiba, Samsung), but I included PCIe SSD vendors if they claimed to have a product for enterprise servers. Here’s the list:

Aberdeen, Amax, Arkologic, Astute Networks, Assurance, Avere Systems, BiTMICRO, BridgeSTOR, Cachebox, Cisco, Condusiv, Coraid, DataDirect Networks (DDN), DataON, DDRdrive, Dell, Dot Hill, Echostreams Innovative Solutions, EMC, Enmotus, Fastor, Foremay, Fusion-io, GreenBytes, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, Huawei Symantec, IBM Systems and Technology Group, IceWEB, Infinio, Imation, Intel, iXsystems, JetStor (AC&NC), JBOD, JDV Solutions, Kaminario, Kove, LSI, Marvell, Micron, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Nimbus Data Systems, OCZ, Oracle, Panzura, PernixData, Pivot3, Proximal Data, Pure Storage, QLogic, Qsan, Radian Memory Systems, Reduxio, Renice Technology, Runcore SSD, SanDisk, Scalable Informatics, SeaChange, Skyera, SolidFire, Soligen, Starboard Storage, sTec, StorageQuest, Super Talent, System Fabric Works, Tegile Systems, Tintri, VeloBit, Violin Memory, Virident Systems, WhipTail, and X-IO.

If we wait, most will be gone by the end of the decade. A handful will be gone because they will have won the positioning game with the global players and been acquired so the bigger firm can compete in this market. Unfortunately, most of today’s vendors will just be casualties who could not differentiate themselves in a way that attracted enough customers, or who could not defend their position from competitors claiming the same benefits at a lower cost.

What is the time-frame for success or failure with Flash-based products sold to enterprise customers?

The answer differs depending on whether you are a major global player or a start-up hoping to be acquired. If the history of the IT industry is a guide, I would say that the global players like EMC, IBM, HP, Dell, and NetApp are just getting started and will play for the next 10+ years.  They already have the sales channels, promotion budgets, and customer base in place. They are trusted brands adding a new line of products to complement all the others.

However, if the start-ups and JBOF (just a bunch of Flash) vendors are not hearing alarm bells, they are not listening. The strategic acquisitions, where the large players buy smaller firms for their technology (not customer base), are in full swing and there can’t be more than a small handful of healthy buy-outs left to go in this round. To survive with iterative technology innovations (rather than major breakthroughs) the smaller firms need to get their sales and marketing right within 12 to 24 months (4 to 8 quarters, if they are lucky) — at the time of writing in July 2013, that means they win or lose somewhere between 2H14 to 1H15. In most cases “losing” results in a change of senior management and a zombie company hoping for a reboot before having to sell the IP assets at a loss.

That’s good news for the firms who have/get their marketing act together now, because in 2 years time they will be on more solid footing with fewer competitors in a large market. In this case, marketing means:

Opening new sales channels. A reseller (incl. OEMs and service providers) is only going to sell one or two brands. With 3 to 6 months to sign, and 3 to 6 months to sell, you can see why the time to act is now. Resellers mitigate end-users’ risk (very important in the Majority market) because they already have a trusted relationship with their end-user customers. They also supply complementary products and expertise so the end-user gets a complete solution. For the vendor, they deliver quick access into new market segments without the high capital costs of doing it themselves.

Build a large prospect list. Email marketing allows you to consistently and frequently promote to named prospects, often prior to their brand-selection decision. It’s relatively low cost and effective. However, it only works when your contacts have subscribed (self-identified and shown an interest in what you have to say). Buying or renting a 3rd-party list won’t do it effectively enough so investment in lead generation is important.

Not everyone who shows an interest in learning (e.g. a subscriber downloading a white paper) is ready or able to buy a system costing tens-of-thousands of dollars (or more) so only a small percentage of your marketing-qualified leads will become sales-qualified in any given quarter. Therefore, you need to (properly) nurture that list. The response rate will be a bell curve from “hot” (buy quickly) to “cold” leads (don’t buy), but 6+ months average would not be unusual. As a result, you need to front-load your lead generation efforts to build that list sooner rather than later.

It takes months and quarters to get a lead gen. machine humming so if you wait to add the talent (employees or agencies, like Marketingsage) or wait for an inexperienced team/agency to experiment with tactics you will likely run out of time — your revenue won’t equal your capital burn rate so you’ll get weaker and weaker with each passing quarter as competitors become the hard-to-dislodge incumbent suppliers to both resellers and end-users.

Build your brand. A typical buyer will only consider 2 or 3 products, not 5 or 60+. If they do not know who you are or what you stand for (i.e. your perceived position as the fastest, best VDI solution, lowest cost, etc.) you will not be considered at all. It’s easy for EMC, HP, Dell, etc. to be recognized and considered, but not so for the other 50+ players. Even if they make it to the small consideration set, the recognized brands are 50% more likely to be selected because familiarity and trust often go hand-in-hand. Branding and positioning are closely related.

Takeaway Points

1. The market is evolving. The new buyers of Flash-based products are more risk-averse. To win the positioning game you need to convince a high volume of potential customers that you have the best product that’s safe to purchase for their particular needs.

In this market, “safe” does not just mean a reliable product. It’s is not just about MLC vs eMLC vs SLC technology or redundant components. A safe purchase is also about proven interoperability (e.g. certifications), ease of integration (e.g. same brand as server), warranties, references (e.g. customer case studies), endorsements (e.g. awards), familiar brands names (e.g. firms they read about in the press, see at events and hear about regularly) and trusted suppliers (e.g. vendors they have experience with).

2. Marketing is more important now. If technology innovation remains iterative (not ground breaking) and quickly matched by competitors, sales channel development and marketing promotions will separate the winners from losers.

3. Time is short. If you are not one of the big global vendors, your time frame for success is very limited (I’m predicting 2H14 to 1H15) for most. In this case, success might mean getting acquired or becoming profitable before the initial capital runs out. Of course, profits come from customers. The early winners have the advantage of revenue, references and incumbency.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  3. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

You can suggest questions and discussion topics using the comment box below or by sending me, David Lamont, an email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. If you’d like to support this topic and enhance your own social media reputation, please click the “Share This” and “Like This” buttons below. Your support is appreciated.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. So, as part of a primer on product positioning, I thought I’d list the players in the game. In this case, I’ll narrow the field to those competing for enterprise buyers. In most cases, the solution is a hardware product that uses Flash memory, but not always. Some vendors develop software products that mitigate the need for additional hardware, essentially fulfilling the same customer need.

As you can see from the list of 75+ (below), there are enough vendors, products, and brands to make any buyer’s head explode. But if they wait, most will be gone by the end of the decade. A handful will be gone because they won the positioning game with the global players and were acquired for big bucks. Most will just be casualties who could not differentiate themselves in a way that attracted enough customers, or who could not defend their position from competitors claiming the same benefits at a lower cost.

Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash

This June 2013 list (with a July update) includes some newborn vendors (not yet shipping) and some undead vendors (they look dead, but still might bite.) In general, I excluded those selling only hard disk drive form-factor SSDs (e.g Seagate) and Flash chips (e.g. Toshiba, Samsung), but I included PCIe SSD vendors if they claimed to have a product for enterprise servers.

  1. Aberdeen
  2. Amax
  3. Arkologic
  4. Astute Networks
  5. Assurance
  6. Avere Systems
  7. BiTMICRO
  8. BridgeSTOR
  9. Cachebox
  10. Cisco
  11. Condusiv
  12. Coraid
  13. DataCore
  14. DataDirect Networks (DDN)
  15. DataON
  16. DDRdrive
  17. Dell
  18. Dot Hill
  19. Echostreams Innovative Solutions
  20. EMC
  21. Enmotus
  22. Fastor
  23. Foremay
  24. Fusion-io
  25. GreenBytes
  26. Hitachi Data Systems
  27. HP
  28. Huawei Symantec
  29. IBM Systems and Technology Group
  30. IceWEB
  31. Infinio
  32. Imation
  33. Intel
  34. iXsystems
  35. JetStor (AC&NC)
  36. JBOD
  37. JDV Solutions
  38. Kaminario
  39. Kove
  40. LSI
  41. Marvell
  42. Micron
  43. NetApp
  44. Nimble Storage
  45. Nimbus Data Systems
  46. OCZ
  47. Oracle
  48. Panzura
  49. PernixData
  50. Pivot3
  51. Proximal Data
  52. Pure Storage
  53. QLogic
  54. Qsan
  55. Radian Memory Systems
  56. Reduxio
  57. Renice Technology
  58. Runcore SSD
  59. SanDisk
  60. Scalable Informatics
  61. SeaChange
  62. Skyera
  63. SolidFire
  64. Soligen
  65. Starboard Storage
  66. sTec
  67. StorageQuest
  68. Super Talent
  69. System Fabric Works
  70. Tegile Systems
  71. Tintri
  72. VeloBit
  73. Violin Memory
  74. Virident Systems
  75. WhipTail
  76. X-IO

If I missed a vendor, please let me know.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  3. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

You can suggest questions and discussion topics using the comment box below or by sending me, David Lamont, an email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. If you’d like to support this topic and enhance your own social media reputation, please click the “Share This” and “Like This” buttons below. Your support is appreciated.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

 

FMS 13 Banner

I am delighted to be chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

Product differentiation is a strategically important topic for businesses that develop products using using flash memory. It’s important because there are many ways to position such products, competition is fierce, and the process of positioning (or repositioning) is difficult, costly, and time-consuming. To succeed, these flash-based products must appeal to as many customers as possible. They must also appeal to the press, analysts, and investors.

Are these constituencies looking for the same things? Are they still responding to technology underpinnings such as SLC or MLC, or benchmarks such as latency and IOPS?  Do they focus on features such as on-the-fly de-dupe, reliability and price, or are they more responsive to benefits such as TCO and ROI? Or, are they looking to solve problems with Big Data, cloud, databases, and virtualization?  And in the end, do any of these details matter more than the brand name on the box?

Great Panel of Opinionated Experts

So who can help us answer these questions? It would be great to ask all the buyers directly, but we don’t have that luxury. Besides the logistical challenges, each buyer represents just one viewpoint in a large and diverse marketplace. However, the press and analysts have their fingers on the pulse of the broader market. They communicate with the broader market and they’ve been on the receiving end of almost every vendor pitch. Additionally, the buyers look to these people to help them form their opinions on the best SSDs for their situation. So, we’ve invited some of the most knowledgeable people in the SSD industry to share their opinions on what matters. They include some of the smartest, most experienced editors, analysts and VCs in the industry:

Panel Photos

Rich Castagna, Editorial Director, Storage Media at TechTarget. Rich oversees content for Storage Magazine, SearchSolidStateStorage.com, SearchStorage.com, SearchVirtualStorage.com, SearchCloudStorage.com, SearchDataBackup.com, SearchSMBStorage.com, SearchDisasterRecovery.com, SearchStorage.co.UK, SearchStorageChannel.com and Storage Decisions seminars and conferences. Rich has been involved with high-tech journalism for more than 20 years; previously, he was executive editor of ZDNet Tech Update and Cnet Enterprise; editor in chief of Windows Systems magazine; senior editor for Windows magazine, and senior editor and technical editor for PC Sources. Rich has written more than 600 computer technology articles.

Mark Peters, Senior Analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Mark is an ESG senior analyst focused on storage systems. His particular areas of emphasis are block storage; virtualized storage; all types of solid-state storage; and the challenges of power, cooling, and space efficiency in data centers. Mark has more than 25 years of data storage industry experience and has held senior management roles in sales, marketing, product management, business development, and customer intimacy in the U.S. and internationally.

Chris Preimesberger, Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis, eWEEK. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager’s Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work.

Gaurav Tewari, Director at SAP Ventures. Gaurav is a venture capitalist focused on growth and later-stage investments within Software/SaaS, Internet, Digital Media, Mobile, and Technology-Enabled Services. Prior to joining SAP Ventures he was with Highland Capital Partners and led or was instrumental in their investments in Violin Memory, Criteo, Marin Software (MRIN), , Affine Systems, Beyond the Rack, Cafemom, Coremetrics (IBM), Navic Networks (MSFT), Rent the Runway, StyleFeeder (TWX), and Yipit.  Previously, he was a Corporate Strategy executive at Microsoft, and a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, where he led strategic initiatives for Fortune 500 companies.

Frank Berry, Senior Analyst with IT Brand Pulse, a trusted source of product testing, IT Pro research and industry analysis about data center infrastructure. Prior to founding IT Brand Pulse, Frank was vice president of product marketing for QLogic, and vice president of worldwide marketing for Quantum.

David Lamont, Partner, Marketingsage. I am a marketing professional and strategist with over 25 years of storage experience, including 10 years marketing solid state products. I’ve helped large storage vendors including IBM and Seagate as well as innovative storage and Flash vendors such as Texas Memory Systems, Tegile and GridIron Systems. I share insights on Flash, storage and marketing topics on this blog and on the Words To The Wise section of Marketingsage website. I am a founding partner at Marketingsage, an agency that helps storage marketers with content development, publicity and lead generation.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  2. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  3. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

You can suggest questions and discussion topics using the comment box below or by sending me, David Lamont, an email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. If you’d like to support this topic and enhance your own social media reputation, please click the “Share This” and “Like This” buttons below.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I made my annual pilgrimage to the 2012 Flash Memory Summit at the convention center in Santa Clara, CA. This is one of my favorite conferences and this year’s event was bigger and more professional than ever. There was a lot to see and hear, but I’ll focus on what what caught my attention in the enterprise SSD arena — the market I’ve worked in since 2003 (the year my agency, Marketingsage, started helping Texas Memory Systems with PR and lead gen.)

Seagate’s annual slap-up-side-the-head for SSD vendors

The “Business Case for SSD” keynote by Jeff Burke, Seagate’s VP of Strategic Marketing, made an impression — not just on me. It was also one of the noteworthy topics being discussed at the lunch tables.

Seagate’s presentation amounted to their annual slap-up-side-the-head for the SSD vendors touting the imminent overthrow of hard disk drives — basically everyone in the very large room.

Seagate Chart (myyellow notes paraphrase what was said)

Seagate pointed out that the SSD forecasts have so far been overstated, the SSD sector is a tiny portion of the storage market, and Flash manufacturers could never meet the near-term or medium-term capacity demands of the market. He’s right…but this presentation (and others by Seagate) sure make me think that Seagate may be sandbagging on some real strategic issues:

  • A big chunk of Seagate’s profits come from its high end, higher margin, enterprise HDDs that typically go into arrays. The high-end market is readily moving to SSD because the economics in this performance-centric arena favor Flash over spindles. And, the laptop market is increasingly impacted by Flash-based tablets.
  • Seagate is essentially a vertically integrated manufacturing firm that’s fully invested in HDDs, not necessarily storage (all devices). It faces the Innovator’s Dilemma and may easily become another Kodak if it doesn’t match its lip-service with a big commitment to new technology.
  • Seagate lacks the core Flash technology in an arena where the firms with the core technology may be too big to easily acquire.
  • Building SSD systems causes a conflict with their OEM customers like HP, EMC, Dell, etc.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see Seagate make a big acquisition as it moves to secure its future.

Start-ups and the new audience

The keynote by Rado Danilak, CEO of Skyera, also stood out with me. Skyera is a start-up that just announced a box of flash with de-dupe, compression, and technology to extend the life of their MLC chips.

The room was packed. However, the presentation turned out to be an overview of some well touted storage and performance issues.  Frankly, I thought the presentation was too light for a room full of technically orientated industry insiders. But by the end of day Thursday I had met so many first timers, that I now think the presentation may have hit the mark with this year’s attendees. There are a lot of new people learning about the technology, products and market.

Skyera is the shiniest of the new players, but Whiptail came sporting their new look (designed to be more corporate.) The memorable lizard logo was gone. Whiptail also makes a Flash system and uses de-dupe and compression to lower the cost per (stored) gigabyte. I’ve always thought they were smart to focus on solving cloud and virtualization performance problems, rather than marketing boxes of Flash in the face of well established players like Texas Memory Systems and low-cost producers. However, one look at the VMworld lineup shows how crowded the point-solution space  has become.

Another new firm, Shannon Systems, also exhibited. They are one of many new China-based makers of Flash-based products. Shannon was showing another MLC-based PCIe card.

It was good to see these innovative players at the expo, but I’ll bet they met far more industry peers than enterprise customers at this particular summit. This event is better suited to those with an OEM model.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Summary: A look at the love, launch and lapse phenomenon encountered by many start-ups, what underlies the lapse, and how to mitigate it happening to your firm.

Over the past 20 years I’ve followed the successes and failures of firms in the data storage and data management arena. I’ve noticed a phenomenon that impacts those who sell enterprise software and systems based on new, or potentially disruptive, technology. In today’s market such technology would include systems based on solid state disks (SSD) as well as some cloud enablers, virtualization/VDI solutions and Big Data solutions

The phenomenon is the love, launch, and lapse phases many start-ups experience. In other words, most tech firms experience a honeymoon period that eventually ends. Here’s what happens:

Love at First Sight: The executives and board members are working their Rolodex to sign up beta customers and these initial customers love you. Additionally, analysts and journalists are calling you and you haven’t even come out of stealth mode. If you are out of stealth you may even have been recognized with a “most promising” or “company to watch” award.

Launch Like a Rocket: You hire a PR agency and announce your venture funding and your new product. You get lots of press coverage, especially in the storage media that you read every day. Additionally, your sales team has a bunch of prospective customers. You may even have some noteworthy customers.

Under these circumstances the typical CEO adds salespeople and minimizes the budget for paid promotions like advertising. After all, the prospects in the pipeline were relatively easy to get and PR is driving the funnel. Given everyone’s enthusiasm the plan presented to the board will likely be high on the revenue forecast and low on marketing expenses.

Lamentable Lapse: However, as the quarters pass the vast majority of “hot” prospects turn cold and the press coverage is no longer generating many leads. Other firms now dominate the editorials. The resellers are signed-up, but not selling. There’s little discretionary budget available for promotional campaigns and the few that are tried don’t produce enough results. The marketers are sent on the fruitless quest to find the “magic well” — a single source for high volume, low-cost, purchase-ready leads. The blame game is heating up so office politics between sales and marketing are becoming a drain on productivity. The PR agency is fired. The VP of sales is replaced. The VP of marketing is replaced. Eventually, the CEO is replaced.

What happened?

The analysts and press are always interested in new technology, new products, and new firms. It’s their job to know what is going on in the market. They trade in that knowledge as well as sell their own services to storage vendors. Almost every technology start-up can get their “15 minutes of fame.”

PR agencies know that, so a few storage specialist PR-only firms have built their entire business on the “launch and leverage” model. I prefer to call it the “launch and lapse” model. It’s a great model for PR agencies. News about new technology, products and VC funded companies is in demand so the agency can usually show great initial results to the client (and to the client’s competitors — the PR agency’s new prospects). However, when the launch is done the “heavy lifting” starts. At that point, the PR agency executive that sold the service turns the start-up over to a less influential account manager and moves on to new business (often the client’s competitors.)

Most new publicity (PR or advertising) will release a pent-up demand for information about what’s being promoted. It’s that pent-up demand for certain information that results in an initial surge of leads, followed by diminishing returns. These diminishing returns are easiest to see with some online adverts. The early placements generate more results than later placements (I know, it’s the opposite of print and what the advertising sales rep tells you.) The initial demand is satisfied so when the publication’s audience is not growing at a sufficient rate, the volume of sales leads falls for the same advert. It’s normal!

Of the leads that come in, it’s not uncommon for a technology firm to see a high number of “false positives.” These look like good leads, but don’t close quickly (or at all) so the close rate is very low. False positives result when the hype surrounding a new technology piques peoples’ curiosity. They want to learn about it so they end up downloading the white papers and otherwise flagging themselves as a lead. However, if the new technology has multiple applications (e.g. SSD in consumer and enterprise applications), is complex (e.g. integrates into larger systems and requires buy-in from many people) or is expensive (e.g. beyond the budget authority of the purchase champion) you should expect a long and difficult sales process that can take months, or even years, of nurturing and selling.

What about the happy customers? Beta customers are not the same as real customers, even if they are big names. Many large enterprises are willing to try new technology. The real test is whether they deploy it widely as a result. Additionally, the start-up probably sold the beta product at a big discount (or gave it away) and the tech support people are the best engineers who’ll drop everything to deal with an issue. Lastly, as good as the executives and board may be at at leveraging their executive-level contacts, that sales model is not scalable or repeatable by ordinary salespeople.

STEC stock value after announcing that OEM customers may choose other SSDsUnfortunately, big OEM deals can also result in an eventual lapse. The big OEMs – HP, Dell, IBM, etc. – have annual design cycles for their server and storage products so the components suppliers chosen this year may not be the same as those chosen next year. Big suppliers like Seagate and Western Digital can keep up with the design cycles, but a start-up is typically so overwhelmed with the initial design-in business that they fail to secure the second and subsequent supply contracts. An established vendor that loses a design-in contract will turn to other customers (often through an established distribution channel), but a start-up often goes out of business (or gets acquired at a low valuation). Others, like STEC, may just lose half their stock value.

In fact, it’s often the lucky start-ups that are overwhelmed with fulfilling the demand of a large customer. They are generating revenue and have proven the end-user demand for their innovation. Others sign promising deals with big OEMs (with all kinds of hooks and exclusivity requirements), but the OEM does not sell nearly as many as forecast.

All of these factors assume that a market exists and therefore the sales issues can be overcome. That’s not a given, but I can accept that it is for most data storage products. There is a growing need for capacity, speed, protection and management of data. However, a market is made up of different types of buyers who require different things.

Enterprise SSD is in the Early Adoper Phase

SSD Market 2011

A new market segment is made up of “Innovators.” These buyers are technology enthusiasts willing to try new ideas at some risk. They like to test new things and don’t need complete solutions. They just need access to new technology. These Innovators may buy the product based on its technological capabilities. However, the larger number of “Early Adopters” have different needs.

Early Adopters are looking for a breakthrough advantage in their business and require complete solutions. A solution is not a just box full of Flash or some other technology. Solutions include expertise in the customer’s environment. Therefore, successful firms sell an augmented product that includes more than their raw technology. For example, Texas Memory Systems, a 30+ year old solid state disk supplier, speaks fluent Oracle. They employ an “Oracle Guru” who works with the DBAs that initially identifies the performance problem that’s ultimately solved by the product being sold.

The challenge for the start-up in new market segments is to solve both a technical problem and a business problem. Solving the technical problem can generate a few sales to the Innovators. However, a business problem must be solved to sell to the Early Adopters and many technology start-ups don’t invest enough to market and sell in this environment.

What Really Happened?

The lapse is a result of the executives doing something reasonable. They believed their own eyes and planned accordingly. Unfortunately, they did not recognize that they could be in a honeymoon period so the number of prospects in the pipeline was significantly smaller than it needed to be and the infrastructure to generate leads was lagging.

The initial good news made everyone optimistic when they would have been better served by hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.

Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst

Technology start-ups often establish just one of the 4-Ps necessary for sales success. They establish the product, but do not establish a working promotion, pricing, or channel (place-of-sale) model. In a nutshell, they do not build a working sales and marketing system before the clock runs out. A working system allows you to execute a process and get reasonably predictable results.

Sales leads are at the core of the system. Since people can’t buy what they don’t know about, promotions are used to create market awareness, build brand recognition, and generate sales leads. These promotion-driven sales leads not only have the potential to drive revenue, they are also critical to optimizing your overall marketing. They are the equivalent of an early warning system.

For example, if you know what you are doing and what to expect (as my firm, Marketingsage, does) and it turns out to be difficult and excessively expensive to generate sales leads then you’ve learned something. Your message is not working for the audience you promote to. If the audience includes your customer prospects and your message talks about your product, you may have a positioning issue or need to rethink the offering.

On the other hand, if you are generating leads at a reasonable price it’s fair to conclude that your message is resonating. Therefore if there is a sales issue, you save time and considerable money by investigating product, pricing or channel expectations first. Without a reliable flow of leads, you have to ask if you’ve generated enough awareness for your offering. The only way to answer that question quickly is run many simultaneous promotions. That’s expensive and a big risk for resource- and time-constrained start-ups.

There’s another benefit to building a lead generation system. If you do enough lead generation you’ll end up with a fairly reliable cost-per-lead (CPL) number and a close rate percentage. Those numbers allow you to plan and budget effectively.

For example, if you pay the industry average of $60 CPL and close 0.5% of leads, you can calculate that you need 200 leads per sale and those leads will cost $12,000. If this year’s revenue target is $10-million and the average customer generates $100,000, you need 100 customers. The 20,000 leads you need for 100 customers will cost $1.2-million in promotions. If the sales lead time is 6 months you need all your leads by the end of June. That means the promotions had to ramp up last year. Of course, that’s a little simplistic, but hopefully you get the idea.

Your numbers may be different, but the scenario presented is typical enough. The good news is: When you have data, you can start to drive down the CPL and drive up the close rate to optimize your system. Additionally, happy customers can be expected to purchase more. Therefore, their 3- or 5-year value is often substantially higher than the value of the first year’s sales and the cost of incremental sales is far lower.

There are many ways to generate sales leads (see The Most Effective Sales Lead Generation Methods for Storage and Enterprise Software) – too many to discuss here. However, the difference between a mature lead generation system and ad hoc promotion is typically the inclusion of online advertising.

Done properly, online advertising is effective, cost-effective and relatively predictable. Unlike other promotional methods you can control the placement, timing, message and call-to-action. This control allows you to adjust and optimize in a relatively short period of time. Additionally, it’s scalable!

Bogging, tweeting, cold calling, trade shows, seminars, etc. all require human resources. Consequently, they can be considerably more expensive for the results achieved than just spending a few well placed dollars on advertising.

Bottom Line for CEO’s, VPs and VCs

Recognize that your firm is likely to experience a honeymoon period. Set realistic expectations so you have a chance of success and can justify the necessary up-front investment in lead generating promotions, not just product development.

Realize that the sales cycle for enterprise storage products can be very long. Think 6+ months for today’s enterprise SSD systems and other new technologies in emerging markets. Add months to get promotional campaigns producing. Add quarters if you need to staff-up, build infrastructure as well as get the campaigns producing.

From day-one, build a scalable lead generation and lead nurturing system so you know that you can generate more/less leads as required from various sources.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I go to Oracle OpenWorld (OOW) in San Francisco every year because my PR and lead gen. firm, Marketingsage, helps data storage and data management firms market to the large enterprises that use Oracle.  Wednesday Oct. 5 was my day to visit the 2011 expo and this post takes a marketer’s look at the exhibits of some of the most innovative firms who were showing off their high performance storage hardware at the show.

This was the last day of the expo so you might expect it to be somewhat quiet. In my opinion is was far too quiet at any booth that was not front and center in the main hall or giving way a car, iPad, iPhone 5 4S. While that may be bad for exhibitors, it was good me because I got to see most of the high performance storage players. Besides the big guys like Oracle, EMC, HP and Dell, there were more start-up firms this year. Most of them paid big bucks for big booths.

I’ll give the award for biggest-bang-for-the-buck to our friends at GridIron Systems. They did not have a booth. They used a high traffic station in the highly visible Intel booth to show off their TurboCharger caching appliance. This device fit right in with Oracle’s “Big Data” theme because it accelerates (in real-time) the “hot data” that’s in-demand. Users do not have to put their Oracle database, or even the tables, onto expensive solid state disk (SSD) to get SSD performance. That makes the GridIron hardware somewhat special in the value-for-money department. I know all that because Marketingsage just started helping GridIron with its PR 🙂

Start-up, Pure Storage had a big bright booth and lots of people wearing their distinctive shirts. They also scored a visible spot in the Samsung booth. Their solid state disk is special because it uses real-time deduplication and compression to reduce the amount of data that’s actually stored on more expensive SSD. Therefore, they claim the cost of their system (when available) will be lower than purchasing hard disk drive-based systems for the same volume of data.

Fusion-io had the most visually impressive information walls backed by a mini data center. They also had some pro-active salespeople willing to grab passersby. I can respect that. Fusion was touting “a tier on a PCIe card” and they are getting some impressive Flash capacities on relatively small cards. The other vendors went out of their way to point out that this PCIe-based storage is not shareable.

STEC had a front row booth in the corner of the main hall. They had a small theater where they did a good job introducing their rather large Kronos PCIe card. They subsequently gave out t-shirts to those who filled in their sales lead survey. Customers can use a single STEC Flash drive to replace a hard drive in a server or they can array them for rack mounted enterprise environments.

Violin Memory also stumped for a big front row booth. Interestingly they only used half of the booth for meeting attendees. The other half was hidden and off-limits. Violin prefers to call its SAN-attached SSDs “memory arrays” and they see them as primary storage to be used in an “all silicon data center” without hard disk drives. Meanwhile, Quantum was at the back of the same hall proving that tape is still an important part of today’s data centers. I was impressed  by Quantum’s high performance StorNext system. It’s used to quickly ingest and provide shared access to REALLY BIG files, like satellite and geology images, and manages all of the storage complexity of  managing and archiving to hard disk or tape.

Our friends at TMS exhibited their SSDs at OOW years before some of the other SSD firms even existed. They had their usual spot in the middle of the main hall. And as usual, you could be standing next to the booth and not notice it. However, Oracle users seek them out. TMS had a small theater where their genuine Oracle Guru talked to Oracle users and developers about how to accelerate Oracle. TMS does not confuse OOW with SNW (Storage Networking World) and their no frill SSDs are always fast.

I went all the way across the road to see Kaminario in the lower traffic West hall. They had a small 10×10 pop-up booth, but they were getting their share of visitors. They probably deserve the runner-up prize for the biggest-bang-for-the-buck booth among SSD vendors. Kaminaro’s SAN-attached SSD lets customers choose DRAM and/or Fision-io’s Flash memory.

Nimbus Data Systems was at the show as well, but their small booth looked like a parking space. It was 80% sports car, 20% SSD. No, you could not win the car. I was laughingly told by another vendor you could win the privilege of sitting in it for a while.

We would have liked to seen WhipTail, SolidFire, Nimble Storage  and some of the other serious vendors of high performance enterprise storage systems. Alas, they were not at this particular show.

Other SSD Posts

If you like to read about the marketing of SSDs you can join the mail list for this blog (top left sidebar). You’ll get an email when a new post comes on line. Here are some recent SSD related posts:

Storage start-ups: What CEOs, VPs and VCs should know about the honeymoon period

A Strategic Marketing View of Flash Memory Products

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).