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FCW : May 15, 2015
A little over a year ago, I took the helm of Resilient Network Systems, an early- stage software company that has its headquarters in San Francisco. Since then, I have been living a bicoastal life, spending about a third of my time out West and the remainder in the Washing- ton, D.C., area or traveling as needed to visit potential clients. I have been in a startup before, and not surprisingly, it does feel like déjà vu. Resilient has many of the same issues that most early-stage compa- nies face as they attempt to bring new products to market: building credibility and references, working to raise one’s next round of funding, hearing lots of rejection from potential customers and investors, and getting jazzed when a new deal closes. It’s quite difficult, but I, like so many other entrepreneurs, have a passion for what we are doing and the utmost belief that our technology can help change the world for the better. And like so many other entrepreneurs, I sometimes wonder why our value proposition is not immediately obvi- ous to others. Given my years of work in federal IT (both in and out of government), I understand this business and its cul- ture. So I am finding it fascinating to face a new set of experiences and cul- ture as I work in Silicon Valley and deal with venture capitalists, angel inves- tors, other IT companies (small and large) and potential customers. My observations reflect my person- al experiences, and I appreciate that there are examples that one can cite that would not align with my obser- vations. Still, I think it is instructive to reflect on some significant differ- ences I have observed between West and East. There are important perspec- tives worth noting as all of us in gov- ernment IT work to better capitalize on new, innovative technologies and solu- tions, and many of those innovations do indeed come from Silicon Valley. • Laid-back vs. buttoned-down. The most obvious difference between West and East is reflected in visible cues of dress codes, office space, etc. But if you work on both coasts, you quickly realize this is all just cosmetic. The laid-back label is not correct, and while there certainly are some truly buttoned-down firms in the East, that typically has less to do with a com- pany’s culture than with the persona they wish to project to their customers. That said, I do dress more casually on the West Coast. • Consumer vs. enterprise focus. Perhaps most striking to me has been the more “consumer-oriented” approach to building business in the West than what I see in the East. Cer- tainly there are Silicon Valley firms that do not sell directly to consumers, but even so, the approach is more about driving adoption at a grassroots level that in many cases has no immediate economic return. Clearly, that strategy has been spurred on by the rise of companies that have changed the world of social media, and it is hard to argue given some of the successes we have wit- nessed in the past decade. My sense is that the East struggles with this model. On the flip side, how- ever, I also see a need for technologies and solutions that can drive needed change for large enterprises — and they are just not coming from large, established IT companies. And I have BY RICHARD A. SPIRES Never mind the dress codes. The real divide between East and West is over how to build and for whom. When the agency CIO heads to Silicon Valley CIOPerspective 28 May 15, 2015 FCW.COM Richard A. Spires has been in the IT field for more than 30 years, with eight years in federal govern- ment service. Most recently, he served as CIO at the Department of Homeland Security. He is now CEO of Resilient Network Systems. 0515fcw_028-029.indd 28 4/22/15 9:07 AM
April 30, 2015
May 30, 2015