Sushil Thomas | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sushil Thomas

Background:  

Sushil Thomas is co-founder and CEO of San Mateo–based Arcadia Data Inc., which provides native visual analytics software that connects users to big data without requiring the intervention of IT and computer-science professionals.

The Mistake

My mistake was trying to do it all myself and taking on too much.

This happened earlier in my career, when I was working as an engineer at 3PARdata.

At the time, I was still an individual contributor working on a very important customer escalation. In this case, the escalation had brought half of the customer’s data center down.

The customer was a service provider. They had their own clients who were all down because of this issue. So it was very important to get the system back up.

I got to work trying to solve the problem.

Initially, when you start working on these problems that seem intractable, you have a lot of hope of being able to solve them. You’re working hard on a particular goal, and you’re making some progress.

But, after you’ve tried a lot of tracks, and hit a few dead ends, you reach a point where you realize this just isn’t going to work. You get the feeling of not knowing what to do next and you come to an understanding that continuing on this path is not productive.

After about 36 to 48 hours of continuous work, trying to solve it, I fell asleep exhausted.

I woke up and realized that I just couldn’t do this in the time frame needed. After days of taking this responsibility on, and struggling with it, I decided it was taking too long.

I communicated this to a larger team of senior engineers. I told them exactly where I was.

It was so heartening to see how well they responded and how they helped to figure out exactly what the problem was and how to solve it.

By the next week, we were able to get the customer back up and running.

Focus first on the best people to hire, then trust them with agency and flexibility.

The Lesson

I learned the importance of getting a team to pull together in the same direction, versus having multiple, high-performance individuals pulling and pushing in different directions. Now, when building companies, I focus first on the best people to hire, then I trust them with agency and flexibility.

As a technologist, you believe you understand everything about how to build, maintain and innovate on complex pieces of technology. You learn to be self-driven because so much of your creative work is done by yourself, sitting next to a computer and thinking things out.

However, this moment was really clarifying to me, helping me understand that we can work so much better as a team.

I realized that I can look at all these other folks on the team as resources who can help me and who can help us move forward together. Alternatively, I could look at them and think that we are all super-high-performing individuals, and we all have to one-up each other and show each other how amazing we are.

The former approach—of treating everyone as part of the same team—and working together on a common goal is much healthier for the company and the team.

You need to find people who are very passionate about the mission of the company, get them excited about what they’re doing, encourage experimentation and be open and honest about mistakes. As long as you do that, you can get really good people to work with you, and you’ll be able to build something compelling for the long term.

Arcadia Data is on Twitter: @arcadiadata.

Photo courtesy of Arcadia Data

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