What my days are like, and why I love them so much

It is easy, looking at this blog, to discern who I work for. It should even be easy to figure out why.

I’ve never done a good job explaining WHAT I do on a day to day basis. I am sure some coworkers will be just as interested as anyone. In a company of over 3K employees, it is hard to know what people do. Especially people like me. Why?

I work at home most of the time. I manage a nomadic team, so they don’t need me in their faces every day. I trust them to do their jobs, and they trust me to let them. And when I work at home, I work with customers. A lot of them.

I am also part of a larger team that understands that I add a different value – one I can’t add in an office. Usually, at least :). I trust them to appreciate me, and to ask me for help when they need to. And I often ask them for the same. They are amazing people to work with, and they have a ton of my respect.

I spend my days, and nights (on good days and nights) talking to customers. Or potential customers. I love what I do, and who I do it for, so I spend a lot of time and energy doing it. I honestly don’t mind talking to a customer at 2am. 6am is harder for me though :).

I run Social Media for our company. And that is a pretty big job – we get a lot of mentions on Social Media. Our entire Social Media plan consists of two words though – “Be Helpful”. Not a lot of fluff there. No 37 slide PowerPoint Deck. We are singularly focused on helping our customers win. No fluff there.

I love customers – even one’s that aren’t happy with us – I spend a lot of time with them. I try to “fix” whatever we broke. A promise or a process has probably failed us. We are a big company – that happens. I want to fix it. It is not my job – it is my passion. My team has adopted it as their passion.

I’m empowered to cause change – and I empower my employees. And I have interesting employees. I have AMAZING employees, in fact:

Two Linux Senior Systems engineers that know more about hosting than I will ever know. Robert (Robot) Taylor and Robert Collazo have spent most of their technical careers helping customers.

Robert Scoble and Rocky Barbanica, who bring life to building43.com, and introduce us to amazing people that just need a bit of help by someone that just gives more than a shit. That’s why we do building43.com – it is helpful.

Yes – I have a team of five, and four of us are named Robert. And we have one Rocky. It DOES get confusing!

But we all have the same focus – to care for customers, share their successes, and help them build the value they deliver to their customers – that is our goal – we all win together. And it is our commitment. It is so simple.

And it is so fun! If you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong.

We have a different thought about “Social Media” than many public companies. We think we need to have a staff that knows the company and the products so well that they can actually FIX issues we see on Social Media. And we do. I am the former Director of Software Development for our Cloud. Robot and Rob Collazo are engineers that have built and supported our company for years. No fluff there either.

We also support and appear at as many events as we can possibly support. As recruiters, engineers, evangelists, speakers – it is all the same thing. We want to be where customers want to talk to us. And if that is on Twitter at 2am, you have a good chance of seeing me tweet my home phone number. Or one of my team reaching out to make sure we help, at almost any hour.

So yes – I love my role. I can touch a lot of parts of the business. But mostly, I can interact with a huge number of our customers – and help us find new ones. Mostly because I have a lot of people supporting me – from my employees, to my managers, to my coworkers.

And our Senior Leadership Team that is just willing to “think different” – and allow me to try some crazy ideas, (responsibly) and see where they take us.

And where they take me – which is to places I would not have imagined just 2 years ago when I went from a customer to an evangelist.

Find a company you love. Then find a job there. Then find a way to help them win. It is an amazing feeling.

You really can’t hire people that have the dedication my team has. You can inspire them, and empower them – trust them, and have fun with them. The right people weren’t looking for a job when they found you though.

They were looking for a mission.

Create one.

Rackspace Opens the Cloud (and I Couldn’t be More Proud)

A little over two years ago, as I was talking to Rackspace Hosting about joining their Cloud Computing Division, I told Rackspace that I wanted to change the world (again). I was involved with creating WiFi – and I wanted to again make that kind of change for the world.

More than I wanted a J.O.B. – I wanted to change the world.

And here I find myself, at 4am, not being able to sleep – even though I need to be on a flight to Boulder in 4 hours.  I’m too excited to sleep – oh, I tried!  But every few minutes I would find myself peeking once more at the OpenStack Twitter Account (@OpenStack) – wondering if the hits were still coming in (they are) – and assuring myself this is real (it is!).

We’ve been hard at work for the last several years – working towards that end. Today, I think we have helped change the world.

By open-sourcing the second most popular Cloud Computing platform on the planet, I think we’ve just changed the world. Hell, by partnering with NASA, we may actually be changing more than this world. (I can imagine OpenStack running on the Moon, and on Mars!)

The list of partners is impressive – go look at http://openstack.org. There are a lot of forward thinkers on that list – and they are company I am proud to be in.

Mostly though, I am proud of the company I work for. This is a bold move by a Leadership team that has demonstrated exceptional thought leadership in our space. In the two short years I have been with the company we have more than doubled our customer count, drastically increased the number of servers and data-centers we have, and made bold moves in many other areas.

I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions and a lot of questions about our decision (there were plenty of internal ones!) – but I am confident that at the end of the day, a truly open cloud that is already in production will better serve the world – a cloud that has proven its ability to scale and serve real customers.

It is a great day to be a Racker. I’m very proud of what we have done, and what we will continue to do to change the world – one (open) code drop at a time!

Come join us at OpenStack – change the world with us.  Change your world!

Folding and remembering. Getting more value out of a business card.

My job introduces me to a lot of people. Sometimes a few hundred in a day. Most of those are very casual and random. But about 30 times a day, at a conference, I get a business card from someone that wants to connect in some way. It could be a current customer looking for help, a potential customer looking for advice, a current customer looking to buy more, a current customer that wants to talk to me ASAP about something – there are a lot of reasons I get business cards.

Over the last two years I have accidentally discovered a way to both listen to a customer, and remember who they are, and what they need – days later, when I have traveled back home.

When I receive a business card I hold it in my hand as my conversation continues. I hold it face up, right-side up. If I am talking to a current customer, I bend over the upper right corner. If I am talking to a potential customer, I bend over the upper left corner. A current customer that wants to buy more gets both upper corners bent.

I have a lot of variations of how I bend business cards. A card folded in half means someone wants to talk to me ASAP. A card folded diagonally belongs to a competitor that I feel I can talk to.

Each fold can include the components of the other folds. Happy customer, wants to buy more, and do it ASAP. Upper left and right corners folded over, card folded in half.

If I am talking with someone that is not happy, I fold the bottom right or left corner – depending on if they are a customer or not.

How you fold business cards, or if you do – is up to you. What each fold means to you, is up to you. And if you can somehow manage all these contacts without having to resort to “memory games” – then good for you. I can’t. So I use something that is easy for me to figure out even a week later. And each fold helps me remember more of the conversation I had with that person – which makes me better suited to respond correctly to them after the conference.

It doesn’t matter how you remember people, but you DO need to remember them – and the context in which you met them. If folding business cards turns out to be useful for you, please let me know. I know it has made me much more effective in my follow up conversations.

It is an easy “trick”, and I like easy.

Some Advice for SXSWi 2011 (For SXSW, for Austin, for Attendees and for Venues)

Having ridden this pony before I can see SXSW is becoming a horse of a different color.  This year the newcomer to the Interactive, Music and Film festivals became the 300-pound gorilla, with an estimated 15,000 SXSWi (Interactive) attendees.

The rapid growth in the Interactive Festival demands some changes from SXSW.

(I started this post before I saw this one, by Jolie O’Dell – but I agree also with most of what she says.)

I’ll take each area individually.

SXSW –

This is no longer a little conference.  It is one of the major “tech” conferences in the world now – and while well run and well managed, there is always room for improvement.  SXSWi could start by defining what “interactive” means to them today and who the target market is.  Interactive could certainly include the “Social Media Gurus” that others have complained have taken over the stage.  Interactive could also refer to the proliferation of real-time data exchange applications that now exist and the real geeks that are building off of them.  Like apps built on the Twitter API, etc.  I don’t think it can be both.  Perhaps you need to add another block.

Let me pay an extra ten dollars and have my badge and shit mailed to me – the cattle-chutes are untenable.

And for the love of what makes sense – get the city to close East 4th Street between Red River and Neches, at least.  The Hilton is “Convention Center Two” even for those not staying there and the number of people trying to cross 4th to get to the convention center, along with the bikes, bike-cabs, and autos is just begging for trouble/gridlock.

Austin  –

See above on the street closure.  GET MORE CABS OUT LATE AT NIGHT/EARLY IN THE MORNING.  Borrow some from San Antonio if you must.  But the cabs are all focused on what seems to be a ten block area downtown.

Attendees –

Know what you are getting in for – don’t carry huge backpacks around with you – you block sidewalks and hallways.  Austin is a walking city – plan to walk!  Travel light. Don’t have your own mini-convention in the middle of hallways and crosswalks.  You are NOT that important – move to the side!

Stop spitting on the street, pissing in the bushes, throwing your trash anywhere you damn well please and otherwise acting like a moronic twelve year old with a doting mother.  Be a decent human being (even if just for a few days).

Remember the people who live in Austin were there before you, and will be there after you.  Respect them and their property.  I saw three arrests in Austin this past week.  I probably saw two dozen more that should have been arrests.  And I am not talking minor things, or even drug related things – I mean property damage, assaults and basic ass-hat-isms.

Venues (bars) –

Please learn to say “NO”.  You do NOT need to get everyone in every event drunk.  Really.  Tell them they have had enough – BEFORE you send them out into the streets to get into trouble.  I can’t believe how much over-serving of alcohol I saw.  People who could not stand or walk were getting served.  I know the party sponsor is paying for the booze – but the venue is responsible for serving.  Act responsibly.

Don’t pretend you hold 500 people when only 300 can fit. (Oh – this should also be under the notes for the City of Austin – re-examine your “maximum occupancy” codes – they are fucked up).

Oh – and at least have SOME plan for rain.  Like mats you can put on slippery spots where stairs meet wet concrete.  An dwhile you are at it – spray some of that adhesive grip stuff on your staircases.  You make a fortune during SXSWi – spend a little of it preventing that one lawsuit that will reverse your fortunes.

Venues (Hotels) –

Our hotels cost a LOT during SXSW – and honestly, my hotel is my sanctuary.  I would prefer that my hotel limited admission to the hotel bar and restaurant to hotel guests and their guests.  Yep – sorry, but I said that out loud, and I mean it.  Not being able to get breakfast in my own hotel because it is full of people from other hotels sucks.  Why pay so much to stay in downtown Austin if I don’t have any advantages?

There are more, and I could go on – but I’ll see what if anything you do with this simple list.

I would love to “Keep Austin Weird” – but you also need to “Keep SXSW Useful” and “Keep SXSW Safe”.

Me – on a conference panel? Really?

Yeah – those of you that know me well, or have known me for a long time would be shocked by this. I am NOT a very public/sociable guy – which is weird, because I get paid to be one!

I love customers. Hate cameras. I’ve always focused on making sure the focus is on someone else.

So how in the heck did I get nominated for several panels at SXSW Interactive? Blame it on the PR machine 🙂 I do.  And they spelled my name wrong – it is “La Gesse”

But whatever – it is what it is – and I love these panels. I could talk about most of this in my sleep so I think my stage fright will be overcome quickly (besides, when Scoble works for you, you damn well better not be afraid of cameras!)

So what are the panels?

Glad you asked – here they are:

OMG My Customer Has a Megaphone

Companies used to get away with treating customers like livestock with no repercussions, but now customers have a megaphone: the social web, and they’re not afraid to use it. Hear from Rackspace and other customer-centric companies as they share real case studies and tips about how to embrace Customer Service 2.0

Building and Creating New Business Models in the Cloud

New models for product development and marketing using social media tools and techniques which truly engage users, partners and developers are emerging. Join Lew Moorman and Robert Scoble from Rackspace who will discuss Building43, a new online community breaking down barriers to new ideas for business, and changing the world.

Managing a Crisis in a Hyper-Communicative World

Today, crisis can spread like a disease, mutating and growing as it goes, and wreaking havoc on your reputation, customer base and sales pipeline. How can you take back control, not only for the benefit of your organization, but to best guide your customers and investors through the situation?

I am most interested in the second one, but most excited to talk about the third one.  And I love the first one 🙂

I am a customer guy – so I love all of these.  I would relish doing ANY of them.  I would probably be overwhelmed if I had to do all of them!

Voting supposedly closed today, but rumor has it that you have until Monday.  Doesn’t matter.  I planned this post for AFTER voting was closed because I’m just not that “whore myself out” kinda guy (except on Twitter, where I have damned near begged for votes!). OK, perhaps I am.  Whatever 🙂

If you are interested in SXSW – or me, or Rackspace, or customers – go see if you can still vote!  Click a link above.

Rob