This is about learning, not from mistakes, but from a … well … empirical approach to “partnerships”.
When I started up the company 10 years ago, we weren’t on anyones radar. Self funded, running out of my basement. Yeah, real big threat there.
I noticed something though. During our time operating, first as an LLC, then as an Inc., we attracted a range of … er … partners and others. Many of whom would come to try to, for lack of a more accurate way to phrase this, pry ideas, plans, and IP/designs out of us.
At first, I paid it no heed, happy to work with others, pleased to be in control of my own destiny and all that.
But I noticed, over time, that we were getting more and more requests. At the lowest level, you could imagine this being “free” consulting. Thats what people wanted. Give them ideas, review and improve the concept.
They of course would promise (and then later fail) to send business our way. And when we called up to inquire as to projects, our inquiries were quickly brushed aside and new questions on “how”, “what”, “where”, and “why” came about.
We stopped being so free with our time and efforts. Never gave our designs/IP away. We are a business, not a charity. Not a collective for the betterment of society. There are people whose well being depends upon my ability to bring in revenue. This happens when you are responsible for sales as well as most everything else.
It grew. People were noting that some of the stuff we were doing was very good, and they wanted us to share it with them. For free. Tell em how to build it.
Others noted we were really good at optimizing system design to maximize performance of various codes for benchmarks. And they wanted us to share with them how we did what we did. For free. Tell em how to build it.
These inquiries ranged from subtle digging, to overt bullying. If they made promises, never was there a follow through. There was no path to revenue for us that we could really exploit. Our “partners” wanted it all for themselves.
Some of our customers tried this stuff too. Worldwide perpetual, royalty free licenses for software were demanded. Ownership of IP we developed while providing consulting services or support was insisted upon, covering not simply the work we were doing, but … well … everything.
So over time we looked at what was happening and articulated a number of core principles and policies based upon them. I won’t go through them all here, just one.
Our first, and probably most important core principle is that we do not help or teach potential/actual competitors how to better compete against us, under any circumstances. Its real easy for us to savage other peoples crappy designs and stacks. Its much harder to beat a good design, and a good stack. Competing against ourselves is very hard.
Some may be nodding their head in agreement now, thinking, yeah, our (e.g. your) stack is good. Thats not what I am saying. Our systems are amongst the fastest in market, at very aggressive price points. Most of our existing, new, and erstwhile competitors get lots of press (we don’t). What we do get are quiet, backend consultation and requests from folks who know what real performance needs.
We won’t ever, under any circumstances, help or teach someone to better compete with us. Ever.
There are many things that go into making something fast and work well. And we’ve seen people do their damnedest to copy our stuff. Coming back to us later and asking us for our special sauce.
Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.
We’ve had people offer us a little money to buy help/designs/IP. We separate out IP generation (e.g. R&D) from consulting and support. Happy to provide the latter as a service. The former will cost you (a great deal) more, but again, could be had as a service.
But most companies/groups don’t want to pay for this stuff. They’d prefer getting it without giving anything in return.
All I can say to that is TANSTAAFL.
In the past, when we thought there might be something to these offers, we did a token design, a token investment of effort. Just to watch the behavior of the other party. In, I’ll call it, 100% of cases, the other party ran away with what they thought were the “crown jewels”. Didn’t hear from them again, until they had trouble.
Funny about that.
We’ve had others run off with the designs, pass them off as their own, and have frustrated customers call us up when things broke. This was amusing at first, but it quickly devolved into a “hey look, you paid for support from people who can’t support you, don’t demand we support you for free.”
One in particular asked us to build something akin to a JackRabbit for an embedded design. We designed something (much slower) than a deltaV for them, as they didn’t need more than that. They disappeared from our radar after we sold a few for them. Found out later they had copied the design we used, and tried selling it themselves.
Since we’ve determined that this is the case, we don’t even make token efforts along these lines anymore. Someone wants what we have to offer … they actually have to buy our stuff. If they want to partner with us on these things, they can’t also simultaneously compete with us on the same things. Novel concept that.
This is to a degree, the other side of sending gear out for evaluation. A serious customer will test the unit in situ via an ssh tunnel. The customer that wishes you to invest your capital into lowering their preferred vendors price will demand you send out your gear to them, insisting that they can only test it in their environment.
You learn much in 10 years. I hate to say I’ve become more cynical … probably better to say I’ve got a deeper and more nuanced understanding of business-business and business-customer interactions.
But this is a curious feature. This … I guess … knowledge and awareness of our value, and those whom wish to rest it from us.
We are about to push the limits even harder/farther in the next few weeks and months. You’ll hear about some of these things over this interval.
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