There are over 4,000 cities in the world with more than 100,000 people. Why do a handful of these cities dominate the world's startup scene? As I wrote in my recently published book, Startup Cities, the world's dominant startup cities have the highest concentration of what I call marathoners -- leaders who've turned their ideas into fast-growing public companies worth billions.
One of the world's most successful startup cities is the Silicon Valley/San Francisco region. And one of the key reasons for its success is its ability to turn world-class engineers into successful leaders.
As I wrote in October 2017, one such engineer is Mohit Aron who cofounded San Jose, Calif.-based storage hardware maker Nutanix -- which went public in 2016 and as of April 20 was worth nearly $9 billion. In 2017, Aron's stake in Nutanix was estimated at $300 million.
Aron left Nutanix before its IPO to found Santa Clara, Calif.-based Cohesity, a maker of so-called hyperconverged secondary storage (HCSS). In April 2017 Cohesity received a $90 million capital injection from Silicon Valley stalwarts such as Sequoia Capital and GV (formerly known as Google Ventures).
Cohesity board member and retired CEO and executive chairman of storage technology supplier NetApp, Dan Warmenhoven pointed out in an April 2017 interview that he was excited about the chance to mentor Aron, who had never been a CEO. As Warmenhoven explained, "Mohit is a world-renowned engineer -- he developed Google's file system. He is brilliant and was asking for advice on how to be successful as a CEO. He has a great personality, is anxious to learn and has a good heart -- he wants to help his people develop and create products that improve his customers' operations. He will be a great CEO."
When it comes to leading growth, Aron seems to be a quick study. Here are 6 keys to Cohesity's growth strategy.
1. Recruit A Great Chief Operating Officer
First, he was able to hire a very experienced chief operating officer, Rob Salmon, to help turn his vision for Cohesity into a growing business.
As Salmon -- who joined Cohesity in October 2017, explained in a March 28 interview, "I was president of NetApp with 22 years of sales and go-to-market experience and had retired. I took 18 months off and didn't need to do it but it was too exciting not to get involved. Cohesity's product is not incremental -- it's 50% to 100% better than current products and Mohit's vision resonated with me. We are a great fit -- the company is scaling and it will be one the next great companies."
2. Pick the Right Strategy For Each Revenue Band
Aron articulated a clear vision for Cohesity's growth. As he said in a March 28 interview, "A company's growth happens in three stages: early, middle, and growth. In the early stage, a company is growing from $0 to $15 million and the key is the quality and actions of its first-tier leaders who are hungry and always learning. In the middle stage -- growing from $15 million to $50 million, you need to hire VPs -- such as in sales and other key functions -- who have done it before. In the growth stage -- from $50 million to over $100 million you need to hire someone like Rob who has experience growing a company -- he scaled NetApp to $6 billion in revenue."
3. Make The Right People Accountable For Results
Cohesity seems to be in this growth stage and a key to managing the company as it goes from 200 to 500 people is distributed processes that encourage communication and sharing across departments.
As Aron explained, "We use Google's [Objectives and Key Results] OKR process. Each department -- sales, marketing, engineering, and customer service -- has its OKRs which can only be achieved if the departments work together. I don't have to sit in on the departmental OKR review meetings. I check every month with the department VPs in the executive staff meeting. Once a week, every function in the company has action items and I depend on the leaders of the departments to keep the ship running. We have stretch goals so if we are meeting 70% to 80% of them, it's good; 60% or below, we are underperforming."
4. Encourage Everyone To Innovate
Cohesity does not depend on Aron to come up with new product ideas. As Aron said, "We don't want the same people to keep coming up with new product ideas. We just had our first hackathon -- two days of teams coming up with innovations. Some could turn into patents, others are incorporated into products. We have brilliant engineers and we want them to be excited about their work. I was blown away by what I saw. We invest in the projects that will give us the most bang for the buck and make our customers happy."
5. Be A Beacon For Top Talent
Indeed one of the features that distinguish a marathoner is the ability to attract and motivate the best talent -- which is a particularly significant challenge in Silicon Valley due to the intense competition. As Salmon said, "Everybody knows what Mohit accomplished at Google and Nutanix and what he is doing now to create a distributed file system at scale. Brilliant engineers are here to learn from him and from each other."
6. Build To Last, Not To Flip
Aron wants Cohesity to be around for a long time. As he said, "We want to change the way the world thinks -- as Google and Nutanix have done. The company is built to last, not to exit. It's about mission, passion, and changing the world."
These six growth principles are working for Cohesity. Can they help you be a successful growth leader?