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Legends of Tech: Episode #21

Presented by Chris Georgellis, Steve Coad
Originally aired on 

A weekly podcast where Chris Georgellis, on the Customer Development Team, interviews people across the tech industry. From veterans, to hall of famers, day to day tech industry people as well up and comers. Get to know them as individuals, find out what drives them, how they got into tech, and what they see now.


Transcript (Beta)

Good morning everyone. Welcome to episode 21 of Legends of Tech. Today we're joined by an absolute legend.

He's known as the godfather of IT, the startup king. He's worked for companies like Cisco, EMC, XIV, VMware, HP, Aruba, Big Switch and the list goes on.

He loves his cars and he's an overall good bloke. Please welcome Steve Coad.

Thanks very much Chris. Sounds like you've been on my LinkedIn. I have mate. It took me ages to go through your jobs that you've been on.

I didn't get, I went back to the early 80s mate.

So you've been in and around the traps for a long time mate.

So mate, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it. It's been a while since you and I have last met or seen your head anyway.

So mate, good to see you again and mate, it's good to see that Melbourne's out of lockdown.

Yeah, absolutely.

Yeah, the last time I saw you, you had a Santa Claus beard. So I didn't even recognise you.

Yeah, but just the moustache for November. Exactly. So mate, how's life in sunny Melbourne?

Well, we're on a big high here because as you know, our lockdown has been removed.

So we can actually go outside and mingle around with some other people now.

So it's fantastic after months of being locked in. Yeah, fair enough mate.

That's good. Well, look mate, thanks for your time today and mate, I've been looking forward to this session as well because, you know, you've got a pretty strong history in our marketplace, especially around, you know, I guess for you, it's, you've always been good at finding, I guess, tech companies at a start point before they become big.

So mate, but look, like all things, you know, there's always a background story to where you got to now.

So mate, how did you get into the tech sector?

Yeah, well, it was a long time ago. It was around 1985 and I decided that I had no technical experience, like in terms of from my education or anything like that.

So I decided that tech was kind of a hot spot and I wanted to be in sales because actually prior to that, I was selling fruit in the markets, in the fruit markets in Brisbane.

So, and I knew that that was, I looked around me and I thought, you know what, I want to be something different to this and these people around me.

So I applied for a job in tech and I went for jobs with companies like, and I didn't get them, with companies like Verbatim selling floppy disks and Memorex selling, you know, floppy disks as well.

And I can remember doing all these job interviews and I was really wet behind the ears.

But I landed one selling for an Australian company called Time Office Computers selling CPM machines before, you know, we had DOS, but it wasn't very popular.

And so that was my first job.

And from there, and that was in Brisbane, took me about a year, a year and a half to work out that most of the buying decisions were not in Brisbane at the corporates.

And so an opportunity came up in Melbourne and I, but they had no money to relocate me.

So I just offered to drive down and set myself up.

So I did. There you go. And so, so you had no technical background, no technology background.

You just said, you know, I like sales and I don't want to be a fruit seller anymore.

It was kind of funny because they had around 100 candidates, all young, right?

It was a sales, sort of like a cadet role, junior sales role. And now they, and they got down to two.

One was myself and another guy, his name was Chris Carrigan.

And they, and the, the man at the, I got interviewed by the company, the MD of the company who was in Sydney, but we're working for the state manager in Queensland.

And anyway, they sat us down together, pulled us both in and sat us down together and said, we can't decide between the two of you.

One, Chris had, you know, a degree in engineering and he was a tech-o and, you know, he knew he was really super into computers.

And the other me, who was just a street fighter, no knowledge, no, no core technical knowledge at all.

And they said, we can't decide which one of the two of you will be more successful.

So we want to hire you both, but we can't afford you both.

Will you agree to work for half the package each? So I think it was like a 24K package and they offered us 12 each.

And so, so we thought, I looked at Chris and Chris looked at me.

We never met each other before that.

And we went, yeah, why not? He just come out of uni, had no job. And I was working in the fruit markets, driving forklifts.

So yeah, that's what we did. How did that turn out?

Pretty much they gave us the phone book, you know, he got A to M and I got L to Z or 8L and M to Z or whatever.

And it's funny. Yeah, that's a good one.

So, but, and then you moved to Melbourne, was that with the same company? Yes, I moved to Melbourne with the same company, replacing a rep who left.

And the company was sort of starting to go down the gurgler, you know, financially, which I knew, but it was a good vehicle for me to get to Melbourne.

So I came to Melbourne, stayed around for six months, and then with that company, and then they, you know, they definitely, you know, the end was coming.

So I jumped ship to another local Australian company called Datatel.

And they don't exist anymore. They got acquired after a year and a half or so.

So yeah, it was great to get into Melbourne.

Mate, that's fantastic, mate. So tell me how you got into Cisco. Yeah, well, I guess that's a, you know, sliding door moment, right?

I was, I was working for a distributor.

I actually, I was working for a distributor called MPA and I jumped ship out of MPA, I was there for a couple of years and went to a bull, group bull, it was American, but French company selling.

And that's when I got introduced to Cisco.

So I was selling Cisco, 3Com and Synoptics back then, networking products. And, but all three of those companies were looking to set up in Australia, or 3Com was already here, they were looking to grow, but Synoptics and Cisco were looking to, you know, set up their Melbourne teams, basically.

And anyway, Cisco came after me, and for a rep role in Melbourne, and I was really excited about it.

But I really didn't like bull because it was too big and crusty and slow.

And I wanted to, you know, I wanted to leave.

So that's a push factor. But Cisco was really slow to make their decision.

So I started interviewing with Osborne Computers, which is back then a big supplier of, you know, x86 boxes, basically desktops, and servers to, you know, the Australian market.

And I got the offer from Osborne, but I hadn't received anything.

It was kind of like crickets from Cisco, even though I'd been through all these interview processes.

So I accepted the Osborne offer. I thought this thing was dead.

And I was driving to the office to start day one on Monday morning at Osborne, and I was halfway down the road, and my phone rang.

And it was Cisco saying, we've got your letter of offer, come and sign it.

I did a detour by the Cisco office, serviced office and sign the letter of offer.

And then I rang Osborne and said, I'm an hour late, actually, I'm going to be really, really late.

So yeah, I had to do the backflip.

So, but yeah, I got the, that was, and so I was the first sales guy in Cisco in Melbourne.

And there was only one other sales guy in Cisco back then that was in Sydney.

So there was two of us and we had all of A and Z. So yeah, it was a pretty, it was a wild ride.

The Cisco thing, you know, we were, we were going very, very hard in Australia trying to, you know, network the place up.

Yeah, I was going to say, because I mean, you know, Cisco is now like a $1.8 billion company just in A and Z.

So, you know, there was four people in Australia when I joined it.

And when I left in 2002, in Australia, there was 1200 people.

That's crazy, man. So what was it like joining?

I mean, you know, networking, as we know today was probably emerging in the 90s, especially companies like Cisco.

So what was it like coming into that market? And why?

And I guess what was the appeal of Cisco to you? Well, Cisco had great technology.

That's the thing I really liked at the time. I mean, it had a lot of differentiation.

And we had a major competitor called Wellfleet. But then there was all these other competitors as well, like IBM was a competitor, you know, HP, everyone had their own sort of router at the time.

And this was before switching, right?

It was just routing that we were selling. And it will, you know, people like, people would say that it was easy, you know, the old Cisco days, you know, it was really easy and all that sort of stuff.

But actually, it wasn't, it was hard.

And we had no resources, you know, one or two SEs. And we were trying to get relevance in IT because we were just networking at the time was, you know, basically, projects that were under people's desks in the corner, you know, you weren't strategic, that was all mainframe or mini computers, you know, all that sort of stuff.

So we were fighting against other big vendors and application owners within the end user community would say that you couldn't run their app over IP networks, because they were unstable, you know, not guaranteed delivery, you know, all that stuff, poor support, cowboy stuff, you know, so the first three or four years was hard.

And then when we did go into a bake off, we were fighting every big deal against Wellfleet, who ended up becoming Bay Networks or Nortel.

But in the early days, every win was like, A, it was a new land and B, it was hard fought.

Yeah, yeah.

But you know, Cisco in Australia hired the best team. And that's what happened.

Yeah, right. Fair enough. So it was all running in the early days. And you said it took three or four years of hard slogging.

Was there a point where you felt like things started to turn and momentum started to sort of hammer home?

Yeah, for me, you know, I got promoted, you know, I was running the southern region, because, you know, I hired sort of underneath me and had a big team, then I got promoted and moved over to Asia.

And I was in China, and it started to get, you know, it was really big, then, you know, it was really a lot of internal focus.

And after a couple years in China, I moved to Singapore, and then it became quite bureaucratic.

Actually, when I left them, you know, in my exit interview, I said to them, you know, I joined a startup, and I'm leaving HP, you know, me, it was just a different company.

But you know, I have extremely fond memories of Cisco, it was a really, really, really good part of my career.

And they were an excellent company to me.

Yeah. So but they but they became just really, really massive. Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, when you get to that critical mass, it's gonna happen, right?

There's no way around it can't stay a startup forever.

No, exactly. You know, yeah, the goal was to sort of dominate the networking world.

And you know, that was the whole objective and the goal from the from the outset, you know, and to dominate the Internet era and all that sort of stuff.

And john chambers was a fantastic leader, you know, pushing that agenda.

And then when you achieve it, you sort of look around, you go, I kind of don't like it anymore.

Yeah. So man, what was it like working out of China?

So you know, worked in Oz for quite a fair bit. And then you what role and what was your task in China?

So I was looking after the service service provider market for going China, which was kind of about almost a half of their business, that enterprise service provider, and then they had a commercial SMB, they called it commercially called resume.

And so it was what it was like was complicated, because English was a real problem.

This is in 2000. You know, so 1999 2000 2001.

So it was really hard to, you know, like, I had seven sales managers, or, you know, sales directors reporting to me.

And it was two or three of them that had no English at all, like I had to communicate through EA to talk to them.

And then underneath those guys, there was 50 or so reps, and they also you know, mixed bag of English very distributed around the country.

So complicated, different, totally different way of managing people up in China.

But at the same time, enormous growth, enormous opportunity to go.

And for me, cultural learning was really, really excellent.

You know, it was fabulous to get around to all the different cities in China.

And, you know, see what it's like. Would have been awesome.

And in terms of I guess, you know, now there's this whole, you know, China only mode at the moment was what was it like, I guess, what was the market dynamic like back then compared to now in terms of, you know, you know, I guess, China working with countries or technologies that are outside of their own remit?

Yeah, so there was still there was still a lot of competitors that have been there for a while, like so China had a, you know, a lot of Alcatel, ALU, Alcatel -Lucent, and had a lot of Nortel and, you know, sort of free Cisco tech, and mainly the carrier environment there.

And those vendors that all set up big JVs with local companies, and Cisco resisted that they were they were what they what they call a wholly owned foreign enterprise.

So they stayed in that model. And that made it a little bit more complicated, because, you know, it was a it was a difficult, it was better for Cisco, but it was harder to sell with, you know, because you weren't quite as invested in China, and not participating in a lot of the, you know, aspects of the China business model that, you know, maybe the JVs did.

Yeah. So we were reliant on partners a lot more, and distributors and resellers.

So yeah, it was, it was difficult to get transparency.

And that's a big issue up there. We also saw the emergence of Huawei in that time come out of the Chinese military.

And they were, you know, they were basically even then, you know, back then, 20 years ago, they were copying Cisco, you know, the old 2500 routers they had.

You know them? Yeah, well, it was funny, because I was in the TAC at that time.

And we used to get these cases that came in.

And then at a point, we're like, there's something a bit strange here.

And I remember there's a notification that came out, that said run this command, anything that has this type of serial number, it's a copy.

Yeah, that was happening.

They're doing all the copying, and they're buying like the most basic smart net contract you can get in order to get support.

So we're supporting and it was all out of China.

And I think, not Singapore, it was all out of China. And we'll get all these TAC cases for all these dodgy copy 2500 routers back then.


And so it wasn't like a massive problem for Cisco back then. It was more just a bit of a thorn in the side.

You know, obviously, it grew into a lot more than that later.

But yeah. Yeah, because then they started reselling that into actual like telcos.

I think Singtel bought a lot of, I guess, counterfeit Cisco boxes, which I don't think they've been aware of back then.

Maybe they did know. But yeah, I remember from a support point of view, it became a huge issue because you're trying to support products that weren't built within the Cisco factory.

Or they'll get an RMA for actual legitimate Cisco equipment afterwards.

So yeah, it was a pretty interesting time.

So yeah, I guess, did that become a major issue from a market landscape point of view at that time?

Later on, it did. So it was a small issue.

And we were catching the first wave of IP networking in these carriers as they were building out their big IP networks.

So, you know, China Mobile, China Telecom, all the different China telecoms and mobiles in every state, you know, there was a carrier for every state, 31 states.

So in the end, you know, it was great in the time I was there.

But I think more subsequently, China's buy local policy has caused more challenges for Cisco versus, you know, the vendors up there.

And there's a lot more local vendors now too, up there, right?

It was just one big one when I was there, but there's a lot of them now.

Yeah, absolutely. So I had Mark Adams on last week, and he was telling me about the time when Cisco became like the world's richest company for like one day.

Do you remember that day? And I guess, was that a big thing in your, I guess, you know, seeing where you pretty much started the local operation?

Did that, was that a big thing for you when that happened? Good day to sell your stock.

I remember the day well, the press was saying, so it ticked over 500 billion in market capitalization.

And Cisco got hit by the tech wreck, but a little bit delayed after most of the tech industry, because the industry was still buying networking.

But, you know, Sun and all those guys crashed, because the modern all that was dying, died, right?

There was a big crash in 2000. And I don't think Cisco really crashed until 2001, from memory.

But that meant that Cisco's market cap versus, you know, the other big companies stayed up.

So yeah, for one day, they became over 500 billion.

And then all the pundits were saying they're going to be the first company to go to a trillion in market cap.

And at that time, the stock price was like 80, I think it hit an 82 high.

And then, and then, you know, basically, the next day, it started tanking.

That would have been crazy. I still remember just to my brother was he started, I think, was 1999.

So he had shares on paper, he was worth a bit of money.

But by the time he shares invested, they weren't worth that much in the end anyway.

Yeah, I was fortunate I bailed out.

Yeah, that's good. Well, mate, you've been there for 10 years. So why not? John Chambers always used to say, you know, scrape the cream when you can.

So I was doing a bit of that.

Why not? No, that's good, mate. So mate, you spent 10 years at Cisco.

So when so what, I guess, where was your next move? And what made you actually hang the I guess, hang the switches and routers up there and move to another company?

Yeah, so it was a big, big deal for me to move off from Cisco, because it'd be part of my life for nearly 11 years from, you know, it was a big part, you know, in the first sort of nine years, you wouldn't have got me out of there with a crowbar, you know.

So but I, I followed one of the VPs who had been my boss previously Gary Jackson to EMC to run Southeast Asia and India.

And that was really good.

I mean, I really liked it. And it was after the tech wreck. So EMC was in, you know, in terms of its stock price, and its revenue was really, you know, really hurting, really, really hurting.

And, you know, wasn't meeting expectation, it was, it was getting smashed up pretty much left and right.

So there was a bit, it was quite a big rebuild.

It was a big job to do. I learned a huge amount in that job.

And that and that also was, you know, Southeast Asia and India.

So there was a whole, it was a different region. It was fantastic. I loved it.

It was great. Yeah. Yeah. Had you run Southeast Asia at Cisco or was it just a new realm for you?

Well, in Cisco, when I was in Singapore, I was running the services business.

So this was, which I did for a year. So this was actually owning the countries for EMC.

So it was a proper deal. Right. And so, yeah, and also, it was building them from India, you know, was starting at, you know, only three or four people.

And so of course, I poached the Cisco country manager, and he joined as the India country manager.

And in the four, I think four years I was doing that role, he grew that business to like 100 people before I left.

That's amazing, man.

So what was it like, I guess, I guess, culturally working at a Southeast Asia being, you know, not just one country, multiple countries, was that was that challenging, rewarding or the above?

What was it like? Yeah, it was awesome.

Like, every country has its own culture. It's, you know, highly diverse. And, you know, it gives you a lot of satisfaction doing those roles.

And, you know, I enjoyed going to every single country.

I guess the big challenge was, you know, once, so Singapore, I had to get back on track, because it was a bit, you know, it was suffering from the tech wreck, and also had too many staff and whatever, we had to change a few things around.

But because Singapore has, you know, high skills, you know, employment market, we were able to recruit really strong people in Singapore.

So I actually built a strong team there under a country manager.

So but where I was more challenged was in some of the other countries, so Malaysia, Thailand, India, those sort of places.

And so I spent a disproportionate amount of time there.

And that meant I had to travel a lot. And it's, you know, so the sort of the challenge from being in Singapore is that, you know, you're being away a week, and you come back Friday night, you know, park yourself for the weekend, you know, what are you going to do on the weekend, go to another shopping center sort of thing.

Yeah. A lot to do there, right? Yes. So after five years of that, we decided that, you know, it was time to come back to Australia, I was missing that sort of open spaces.

And, you know, all the stuff that we value so much down here.

Yeah, fair enough, mate. So you're still in Asia, was that five, six years while you were there?

How long were you there? I was away? Yes, I did a year in New Zealand.

And I did about seven years up there in Asia. And then, yeah, so eight years in total.

Right, that's brilliant. So EMC, so where did you go after that?

Came back to EMC. I was here for two or three years with EMC in Melbourne.

And then I joined another startup, which is XIV. So I was looking to replicate the Cisco days, right?

They were acquired by IBM, wasn't quite the same, but a huge amount of fun.

Like I, we, I remember, we did the first, it took us nine months to get our first box, our first, yeah.

And it was on the last day of the third quarter.

And it was 140 face-to -face sales calls that I traveled to with my SE.

It was just him and me, it was just the two of us. We traveled, we did 140 calls and we got our first sale.

And then after that was like dominoes, they started falling.

It was great. Like all the work that we'd done, huge ramp up and then they started falling and that was fantastic.

And then, but I got, the IBM thing was tough.

It was kind of like the, it was like Cisco, like it was really big and bureaucratic and they were suffering their own challenges as well in terms of head counts and all that stuff.

So that was impacting us. So, but I was still going to stay, but I got poached, recruited into VMware.

So I thought, you know what, I need some software expertise or experience.

So I went there. Yeah, cool. So from a, like, I mean, obviously you've always been inclined to doing startups.

I mean, what's the mindset or what's your approach to getting businesses off the ground and pushing and I guess to the great heights of Cisco, even XIV, what's, what are your, what are your key things that you drive and what's important to make them successful?

Look, I've done that with Cisco XIV, Big Switch was, you know, like nothing on the ground here, you know, and even maybe even Aruba to a little degree.

It's a bit bigger, but it was sort of starting up. What I think is that you've got to just stay outbound, focused on end users and selling.

You know, there's a lot of pull from these American companies to want you to, you know, be internally focused, right.

And they kind of want to measure everything and analyze everything.

And I think you probably full well know that, but I try and push back and just, cause at the end of the day, no one's going to buy anything from me unless you go out and spend time with them and convince them to do it.

Right. So you've got to stay outbound channel, always channel focused, always end user customer focus, segment the market, go after, you know, what you consider to be your low hanging fruit as a, as a startup and get focused and do a lot of reference selling.

I've always had a strong in the startup world.

I've always had a strong affiliation with Canberra, with the federal market because they have real projects to fund new tech, you know, acquisitions.

They're open to it. It's a community that you can reference from one to the other and strong network of partners there.

It's a good market for a startup. Yeah. Okay. And does the same method apply to any startup that you've been at?

Has there always been this like a similar building blocks or have you had to adjust it for, I guess, per technology or per sector that you've focused on?

No, I found it's the same method. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

It's pretty much the same. All the soft skills, you know, like the non -technical skills are the same.

Yeah. Obviously running storage and networking is a different, different, different selling, you know, it's different technology, but you still got the same methodologies around it.

And you've just got to stay focused and quite assertive about it.

And, you know, Cisco taught me this confident humility thing.

So try and be confident, but also not be, not be, you know, big headed, you know, you can't, you can't make enemies.

Yeah, that's right. Small industry we're in.

Yeah, exactly. So, you know, we've, we've had a very interesting year, as we all know, you know, Zoom has become the, I guess, one of the mainstays or whatever, whatever chat program we're using.

I guess, what's that like for a startup?

You know, the fact that you can't go out and meet people and socialize and actually engage in, I mean, how, I mean, you've obviously been in your roles as well.

I mean, have you had, have you dealt with that during this time? Yeah, that's been hard.

So, you know, I've always worked from home for the last sort of nine or 10 years as a preference.

So that hasn't been the challenge, but, you know, selling new tech to a customer over Zoom is more challenging than, you know, going out face to face, right?

So, and especially being in Melbourne, where we've kind of really been locked in, has been a lot more difficult and also managing my team, you know, like, I haven't even, even here at Nutanix, I haven't met my team yet.

Not, not even the Melbourne team. You know, it's really, you know, it is definitely adds an element of challenge, but I think that most of us have, have learned to deal with it because everyone's got the same, same scenario.

Yeah. So we're making the most of it.

I think next year will be a really good year because, you know, there'll be like, your shackles are off.

Yeah. I've got the feeling out Melbourne's obviously different, but Sydney, I think customers and everyone's craving to just meet with people.

We had a conference a couple of weeks ago. It was just amazing.

People just wanted to chat for the first half of the meeting because I haven't physically met anyone new for like, you know, six months.

Yeah. It was like going back to school after, you know, you've, you've had your six weeks holidays.

People are sort of all, do we shake, do we, you know, but it's quite interesting because, you know, you can't, and the conversations that you have on a personal basis is very difficult, you know, you know, I guess, you know, this sort of format, unless you know the person, it's very hard to build that, that connection with them.

But once you meet them face to face, you either like them or you don't, and you can, you can figure out the person pretty easily.

So it was, it was a really interesting thing.

It was like, everyone's going back to school. Everyone's sort of paranoid.

Do we shake hands? Do we, do we hug? Do we not hug? Like it was just, it was quite bizarre, but it was, it was really good.

And it just shows, I think in Sydney in particular, I've got, you've got that feeling, everyone's just trying to get out and they really want to get things sort of moving, which is great.

Absolutely. Look, on the 23rd of November, we can travel out of Melbourne to, to New South Wales and ACT.

And I'll tell you what, we'll be on the first flight out.

I'm so looking forward to getting back out in the field. And I don't know if I'm going to be pressing the flash, maybe the elbows.

Yeah, exactly.

Just do the elbow. Mate, Steve, mate, it's been an absolute pleasure, mate.

There's a whole bunch of stuff here that I still want to talk to you about, mate.

So we're probably going to have to have an episode, another one afterwards.

So I appreciate your time. Have an awesome day, mate. And once you're, when you're in Sydney, mate, let me know and we'll catch up.

Absolutely. A hundred percent.

Thanks for inviting me. It's been a pleasure. See you, mate. Cheers.