21 Feb

SmartDeploy Almost Wasn’t

When I was invited to be a guest on a podcast focusing on entrepreneurs a couple months ago, I was curious enough to say yes. As I prepared for the interview, I spent some time thinking back to the “early days.”

I have to say, it got a little nostalgic. When I talk with customers and other CEOs, they’re often surprised to learn that we built SmartDeploy from scratch and that the whole idea began more than 10 years ago. While the first few years were rocky, the last few have been highly successful. The fundamental difference between then and now is the attention and priority we give your feedback and how urgently we react. As a result, we now count customers in the thousands and customer actions, like deployments, in the millions. For those who are interested, here’s a bit more of our story and the podcast episode.

It was 2008. We had been working with and loving virtualization for years when we realized that virtual machines (VMs) could be used by more people in creative ways – if only they were better tooled for it. The super-abbreviated story is that we took rudimentary tools and VM optimization technology and applied what we learned to build the best, most progressive OS deployment and distribution solution available today.

But the truth is, we almost didn’t make it. Some of our friends and customers know that despite having a reliable first-generation product and some outstanding early customers—customers who are still with us today, nearly 10 years later—we didn’t do the things great software companies do to ensure survival. First, we didn’t listen to our customers closely enough. And second, based on that customer feedback, we didn’t prioritize properly and move quickly to execute.

We created SmartDeploy because we believed that there was a fundamentally better way to manage computers in businesses, especially for end-user devices. We had a bias. Our early customers confirmed our bias and we got cocky. That arrogance got in the way of continuing to give customers what they expected. We had to fight internally, occasionally literally (i.e. some regrettable shouting matches), to overcome our pride and balance our technical and business taste with customer priorities.

To be fair, we had a massive backlog of work and a very small engineering team. We weren’t simply ignoring feedback. There was a ton of work to do to accomplish basic things, like broadening compatibility and fixing bugs. However, our failure to take the time to understand, act, and communicate quickly enough on customer feedback nearly ended the business. We weren’t making enough money to keep going.

In 2014, it got so bad that we started to cut programs and staff. Entire teams were rolling off SmartDeploy. Some found roles in other parts of our organization. Others had to look for new jobs outside. It was the worst. Sadly, this is the norm for software companies. Most fail. But I was too stubborn to give up. We made some progress with the product, so I encouraged the remaining team to keep selling. We kept talking to new customers and maintained good support for our existing customers. Amazingly, the more deeply we cut to save money, the more successful the sales team became. It was leaps-and-bounds more successful: By 2015, our new customers multiplied monthly.

With customer growth back on track, we now had the unique opportunity to rebuild, and we did so with the insight of 100% customer-centric priorities. I looked for the people and teams who would ask, “What do customers want?” And I put them in roles where they could best drive those capabilities into the product and into the story we were telling.

In addition to people, we had to change our processes and tools to make it work. We had to move much faster, too. We needed smart mechanisms to collect, validate, and implement those capabilities and tell those stories. That second step, validation, would prove to be one of the most important to get right. We also learned that we can get details wrong as long as we communicated that we were trying to build things right. We, like most software companies, usually don’t nail a new capability on the first release. But we learned that if we simply told you what we were doing and where it was going, you would reward us with patience and loyalty. Thank you.

Today, we have a demonstrably simpler and more reliable way to deploy Windows devices. Especially now, with Windows 10, which has a faster release cadence and unpredictable release quality, you have told us that having a simple way to deploy, redeploy, and continue to manage Windows is important and increasingly valuable to you.

We will continue to deliver on your needs by adding the capabilities you want, the way you want them: quick IT service delivery at low cost, accessible to all local and remote targets, across lots of different device types.

SmartDeploy is the simplest way to achieve hardware-independent desktop deployment. We designed SmartDeploy to support all Windows-compatible devices. Today, it natively supports more than 1,000 devices from dozens of manufacturers across multiple operating systems. SmartDeploy is also the only product that can deploy Windows from the cloud. And we’re just getting started.

We are reinvesting tons back into R&D to listen, execute, and improve. Our engineering momentum will land more features into the product faster than ever before. These capabilities continue the job we start with deployment: . We are designing these services to be maximally efficient, complementing and extending your existing services subscriptions. We don’t know of another software company addressing way.

We now have more than 3,000 customers and SmartDeploy has been used to deploy nearly 2.5 million endpoints around the world. You can bet on SmartDeploy to continue to give you superior capabilities and support from our unique experiences (and failures) as a truly independent software company.

About the Author

Aaron Suzuki
Aaron has spent his entire career as an IT consultant. Rising at the age of 26 to the role of President for a regional Internet application development firm, Aaron led the company successfully through the economic downturn of the early 2000's. From there, he moved to a broader technology business opportunity, taking on the revival of an ailing Seattle-based IT firm where he acted as the Director of Business Development. Aaron co-founded Prowess in 2003 and co-founded SmartDeploy in 2009. As the CEO, he helps create and instill process in production and management. He is responsible for the ongoing operations of the business, including day-to-day management. Aaron drives the strategic direction of the company, and he is the primary liaison to the Advisory Board.