SFTA Interview

Mar 1 2012

Lenny Chesal and Chris Fleck talk about what South Florida Technology Alliance is all about. They discuss what the local tech community is, what it isn't, and opine on what we can do to make it better. Turns out, Florida has a richer tech history than I was aware of.

Links referenced in the show:

The music in the show, Have Mercy — Big Walter Horton, was provided by Mevio’s Music Alley.

Transcription

  1. Chris 00:00:22

    Hi. I’m Chris Fleck. I’m Vice President of Mobility Solutions here at Citrix in Fort Lauderdale and happy to talk with you, Ryan and Lenny, about, you know, what’s going on in the industry and what’s going on in South Florida in the tech world and looking forward to a conversation that might be interesting for your audience.

  2. Ryan 00:00:44

    And Lenny, what’s your story?

  3. Lenny 00:00:45

    Well, my story is I’m looking forward to chatting as Chris said. I’m Lenny Chesal from host.net, headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. I’m also representing the South Florida Technology Alliance. I’m the president of that organization this year and Chris is a member of our board of directors. He’s a humble guy but you’ll see. He’s got quite a resume and representing Citrix; not only for us at South Florida Technology Alliance, but also as, really, a pillar of the technology community here in South Florida. So we really appreciate having Chris involved; not only today, but all the time.

  4. Ryan 00:01:21

    So I’ve had a few podcasts with multiple people at the same time. Generally they’re, like, co-founders or co-workers. You guys don’t work at the same place so why do you guys both want to be on here at the same time?

  5. Lenny 00:01:31

    Because I figured, you know, I’m a lot of fun and Chris is really smart. So between us I think it’ll be a pretty good interview. No, I think both of us are board members of South Florida Technology Alliance and we thought it would be interesting. We talked to Jason Milgrim, who’s the CEO of Linxter, at a recent meeting and he said, you know, “It’d be pretty cool if you guys just talked a little bit about what’s going on here in South Florida.” I also represent, from host.net, you know, the smaller side of business in terms of scope. You know, we’re big in terms of network but relative to Citrix. So I think, perspective-wise, where I look at the world as a service provider will be interesting in contrast to what Chris looks at it from, you know, from our company’s perspective.

  6. Ryan 00:02:15

    I think that is interesting. I think a lot of times, even in, like, the different networking events, there’s a little bit of an “us against them” mentality, right? Like, there’s usually, like -- there seems to be a little bit of it’s based off of, you know, how big the company is, for whatever reason.

  7. Lenny 00:02:26

    Right. And, you know, and again, both being in South Florida Technology Alliance. So we sort of cover the broad spectrum of companies that we represent. So an appropriate representation here on this podcast.

  8. Ryan 00:02:38

    So you guys are talking about South Florida Technology Alliance. What is that?

  9. Lenny 00:02:42

    Well, the South Florida Technology Alliance is an organization that promotes the growth, the success, the awareness of our regional technology community. We provide events, networking, education programs for technology related companies for academia, entrepreneurs, governments, any related organizations interested to create a forum, really, to grow the business of technology in our region.

  10. Ryan 00:03:08

    Okay. Cool. So, I mean, it’s kind of the whole gamut, right? Like, when you say this is about tech, you actually mean pretty much whatever can be tied to tech, right? I mean, small companies, big companies, the education around it. It really is very much about what is the local state of the industry, right?

  11. Lenny 00:03:27

    Yes.

  12. Chris 00:03:27

    And, you know, from the, call it the mid-size or big company, you know, perspective with Citrix. You know, we’re always interested in startups and, you know, companies that are creating new innovation and looking for new ways to do things. And it turns out that, you know, SFTA is actually a good route for me and for us to identify local interesting companies. And, you know, the areas that we’re in in cloud and mobility are definitely relevant areas whether you’re big or small. And that’s one of the interesting things now, especially if you look, like, in the mobile world where, you know, you can be an independent developer and create a killer app that gets, you know, some real global recognition. You know, or you could be a service provider building the cloud like Lenny’s group as well. So they’re all interesting to Citrix and, you know, if we can help facilitate that we’re looking forward to do that.

  13. Ryan 00:04:40

    Cool. It’s good to hear that the local big companies, you know, paying attention to what’s going on with the little guys. I think sometimes you do hear stories about that, but generally it’s more of potentially acquisitions; not necessarily just general curiosity of the industry, right?

  14. Lenny 00:04:53

    Yes.

  15. Chris 00:04:53

    That’s true.

  16. Ryan 00:04:53

    So you kind of mention the elevator pitch or the mission statement of the group but what does that mean? This is monthly meetings?

  17. Lenny 00:05:01

    Yes. We provide monthly meetings. We recently had a really exciting one that in a minute perhaps Chris can talk about. But, you know, next month we’re going to talk about building a tech company in South Florida. We’ll have a distinguished panel of CEOs who have built tech companies in South Florida. And what that does, it gives the audience an opportunity to, you know, not so much one-on-one but certainly hear the stories and hear the trials and tribulations of building tech companies from the founders of those companies. And for the members of the audience, I joked last time, we had a former CIO of Burger King on the panel. And being in sales and marketing he was one of those guys that you held up/put up on a pedestal and said, “Boy, if I could only meet that guy.” You know, but, you know, cold call him? I don’t think so. Send him an e-mail? He’s too busy. But here is this gentleman who is well-respected, certainly not easy to get in front of, and, you know, an audience of 100+ people had the opportunity to not only hear what he had to say but, after the meeting, get a chance to network with him. So he’s sharing, certainly, his experience from a very large organization (very large company), what he built in terms of his technical organization, but he’s also, you know, a guy who puts his shoes on (the left shoe and the right shoe) just like the rest of us. And for a lot of folks it was the first chance they had to meet him. So, you know, those are some of the opportunities that we provide; not only from an educational standpoint but from the networking as well. And then back last year in September we put on what we still think is the pinnacle event for us in many years. So maybe Chris can share a little bit about that one.

  18. Chris 00:06:40

    What he’s referring to is an event that we had called Thirty Years of South Florida Innovations that Changed the World. And what some folks may realize is in fact last year it was the thirty year anniversary of the IBM PC, which really created, you know, the industry standard PC platform that still works today amazingly. So that actually started right here in South Florida. And we put this panel together that was pretty impactful, you know, going back to thirty years ago up through today. So we had Patty McHugh who is recognized as the mother of the motherboard. She was actually the designer, one of twelve people that actually were the developers of the first IBM PC. She designed the motherboard and did it right here and talked about, you know, the story about, you know, working through the details in a little hidden building working on that. Another accomplishment that came from the area most people don’t associate with is the first smartphone. As big as smartphones are today, the first one actually came also from South Florida. And we had Gary Wisgo who led the development of that effort. It was a joint development effort between IBM and BellSouth. The phone was called the Simon. It won Best of Show CES back years ago. And that’s really recognized in the industry as the first smartphone. Also had John Sculley, obviously from Apple. And he talked about his days at Apple and the Newton and the Super Bowl commercial and how Steve Jobs had enticed him to join the company and so forth. So he was really impactful and talked about how a lot of what he does now is in fact serve as a mentor and investor and he actually lives here in Palm Beach and is really involved in a number of tech companies in the area. Also had Ed Iacobucci who is the founder of Citrix. So Ed talked about his early days at IBM and kind of what prompted him when he worked on O/S 2. He was the original architect of O/S 2 and worked with Microsoft on that. He got a job offer from Bill Gates and turned it down. He could have been CTO of Microsoft but he also had some ideas about how to turn Windows into a multi-user platform. Taking what he learned about in the mainframe days into the PC environment and that was the basis of Citrix, in fact, and what led to him starting Citrix here. And then we also had Mark Templeton who, you know has, been with Citrix since the early days and built the company from a few million to the two billion that it is today. So really an impressive kind of, you know, all-star cast that -- we had people standing the entire time. Ran out of -- ran way over time but nobody was bored for a moment. And it’s out on YouTube if anybody wants to go take a look at it just do a Google search for SFTA and “thirty years” or something like that and it’s pretty easy to find. So anyway, you know, that set I think an expectation for what we could do here in South Florida in terms of sharing the wisdom of things, you know, that have been built here by, really, the innovators that have been here and created amazing products here and, you know, really set the tone to say what else can be done here? What can we bring forward in terms of the current dates?

  19. Ryan 00:10:35

    Yeah. I mean, I didn’t know beforehand that a lot of that stuff had happened around here, right. Like, it’s you hear everything came out of The Valley, right?

  20. Chris 00:10:41

    That’s the assumption. Absolutely. So, in fact, I mentioned some of this to Governor Scott when he was here recently and he wanted to know all about it because, you know, he’s always obviously trying to get the jobs picture, you know, to improve here in Florida and get tech jobs here. And having bragging rights like this, you know, there really isn’t a place in the world that can put off a list like that together.

  21. Ryan 00:11:09

    Would you say that it’s, I mean, that it’s a great place to start a company though? Like, I was just at SuperConf and there was a panel where people were basically saying -- they were debating back and forth whether or not it’s a great place. And, like, one of the bites that I liked probably the most from it was Alex Hillman was talking about he had got the advice that Philadelphia is probably the third best place to start a new tech company right behind, you know, San Francisco and then New York. But the problem is it’s tied with every place that isn’t San Francisco or New York. Like, basically saying, like, there’s no good place other than those two, right. And they were kind of going back and forth a little bit trying to come up with, well, everybody has strengths but maybe not everybody realizes what your current strength is. So kind of to take that conversation, kind of throw it at you guys and see what do you think about that?

  22. Lenny 00:11:55

    So I’ll give you a pretty good example of why we feel so strongly about South Florida as a hub, if you will, for technology. Our recent meeting was held at the Scripps campus up at Jupiter. The work that’s going on here in South Florida in bioinformatics and in the medical/technical world is world class. And just that alone as a hub of biomed is beyond impressive. And the panel we had, you know, they just blew your mind. Again, to be able to sit an audience at a monthly meeting of a local tech organization and hear some of the foremost experts in the world in these areas is just tremendous. And so, you know, getting the word out. And so today’s a perfect opportunity for both Chris and I to share not only what host.net’s doing and what Citrix is doing but South Florida Technology Alliance from an exposure perspective to be able to expose not just our local community but to now take that, leverage it, and get that information out to the rest of the country, if you will, and say, “Here’s some of the cool stuff we’re doing in South Florida,” you know. “Here’s some of the cool stuff we did over the last thirty years.” But looking forward, if you look at biomed and what that means to us as a global community and what it means in terms of research, in terms of putting out cures for diseases, in terms of discovering where, you know, where it used to take years to do research and the technology and the analysis that can be done today leveraging technology is speeding up that process by a quantum number. And to have heard these scientists speak of their reliance on the technology that’s taking place right here in South Florida, it’s really impressive. So it’s here, it may be in clusters, but there’s some amazing stuff that’s going on. So, you know, again, this opportunity even to just chat about that and have folks look into it is part of our charter as an organization to let people know some of the great stuff that’s going on.

  23. Ryan 00:14:06

    Are you using that as an example of something that’s working or are you leaning towards Florida has a niche in tech and that’s that if you want to have the best chance of starting a tech startup it needs to be kind of in this biomed field or are you saying that’s a great example of something that’s working?

  24. Lenny 00:14:21

    That is a great example of something that’s working. Chris, were you going to say something?

  25. Chris 00:14:25

    Yeah. I mean, I can share just some of my own experience here. Prior to Citrix, I founded a company here in South Florida. I actually worked for IBM for a long time and moved down from New York and ended up in the IBM Boca location. But created a spinoff here in South Florida. Raised 16 million dollars. I actually came to SFTA meetings when I, you know, decided or when I was thinking about leaving IBM and taking a big leap to, you know, go outside and start something new. And I came to events like SFTA and like the Gold Coast Venture Capital Club and actually ended up meeting somebody who introduced me to a VC and, you know, I was able to raise money through that course. So, certainly, you know, there’s not the number of VCs that exist in this area as they do in Silicon Valley, there’s not as many angel investors, etc… So yes, there’s barriers but there’s definitely ways to overcome that. And, you know, the world has changed. The tech world has changed somewhat as well in the context of, you know, buildings don’t matter so much anymore. You know, you can start something in your house. You can build a software company. You don’t have to buy racks of servers and build a data center; you can rent it. You can, you know, put your stuff in a cloud. You can collaborate with tools. Online you can, you know, obviously do things like Citrix has GoToMeeting and, you know, there’s online collaboration tools like that, there’s data sharing tools. And again, that obviously is something that we see happening now with Citrix, increasing the demand for our products. But I think that’s directly relevant to your question, which is, you know, how much does location matter when it comes to, you know, starting a company. And, you know, yes, it matters, but it’s not quite the same as before because the fact is, you know, you can work from anywhere.

  26. Lenny 00:16:35

    Of course.

  27. Chris 00:16:35

    And if you can work from anywhere, why not work from here?

  28. Lenny 00:16:38

    Right. And here’s, you know, one more point is, you know, host.net when I got here eight years ago, very small company. But we’ve grown twenty times in size from that point in time right here in South Florida with a physical infrastructure for our colocation services and our network services. But because of the network that we’ve built around the country and into Europe, we’re able to provide services now worldwide on our virtual private data center platform, which is, you know, which is our cloud computing solution of infrastructure and platform as a service. We don’t have to meet customers down the street and have them walk through. We can provide that service anywhere. And the important point to that is the infrastructure here in South Florida totally supports that. The fiber infrastructure, the network infrastructure, and, you know, where people worry about weather it’s just not a big issue because if you’ve got a network that can reach across the country, you can place your cloud services anywhere, you know, and connect them via that network. But you mentioned about being South Florida, Chris. I don’t want this call to end without you chatting a little bit about some of the initiatives that you’re certainly spearheading. Sorry to take the lead there, Ryan.

  29. Ryan 00:17:45

    No, please.

  30. Chris 00:17:47

    Well, yeah. Maybe to follow through on that. But again, around, you know, so if you could work from anywhere, put yourself in the cloud like Lenny’s talking about. His company, obviously, host.net is one of those cloud providers that can service companies or even individuals working for companies or startups, etc… You know, so if you can do that, you know, then the location really becomes more of a personal choice. And, you know, then you look for things around, “If I can work from anywhere then, you know, where are the tax conditions right?” Like, obviously, having no income tax is an asset that we have here. You know, having good weather, you know, year around, having beaches, etc… You know, why wouldn’t you work in an environment like we have here? So whether that means you’re potentially just a remote worker for a big company that effectively can live anywhere now because more and more big companies, in fact, have a huge percentage of their population of their employees are now mobile; they work from home, they work from anywhere. And then there’s, you know, the freelancers, the independent software developers, the graphic designers, the eBayers. Basically, there’s just a whole, you know, ecosystem of technical skills and technical workers that could live anywhere and, you know, we’d like to see some of those folks choose South Florida as a location. So we’ve created a Twitter hashtag that we use and we’d love to encourage any of your audience that’s listening to use called #WorkNPlayInFLA. So that’s work-n-play-in-f-l-a. And, you know, go out and do a Google search on that or anytime you’re, you know, you’re working from your laptop on the beach take a picture of yourself doing that and make your northern friends jealous and post it up there for the world to see. And, you know, I think we can kind of share our experiences here to improve the odds of making South Florida a good place, a good tech environment to work in.

  31. Ryan 00:20:13

    But if I post a picture of myself working from the beach, Jason might see it.

  32. Chris 00:20:16

    Well, you know, that’s -- as long as you…

  33. Lenny 00:20:20

    No, you didn’t say sitting there -- you didn’t say sitting there drinking a beer at the beach. You said working at the beach.

  34. Chris 00:20:25

    There you go.

  35. Lenny 00:20:26

    So, really, if you’re working, you’re working. Right.

  36. Ryan 00:20:26

    Subtle wordplay.

  37. Chris 00:20:27

    Just make sure his e-mail is open on your iPad.

  38. Ryan 00:20:31

    Right.

  39. Chris 00:20:32

    But I literally have done that and I have gotten a number of interesting comments back from around the world.

  40. Ryan 00:20:43

    Sure.

  41. Chris 00:20:44

    If we all start doing that, you know, I think it helps, quite frankly, overcome the, you know, the biases against South Florida which is, you know, well, it’s just a tourism environment or it’s just, you know, a niche or whatever. And there’s a lot of things going on here that people don’t really recognize. So, again, I’d encourage anybody in the audience here listening that’s in the tech business, your audience or your market may be global and you’re just, you know, paying attention to selling your product over the Web to anybody in the world. But if you get out and look around locally, chances are, you know, you might find some local skills and talent, you know, that you want to hire or you may find some business partners or you may find some service providers. And, you know, there certainly is still a benefit of, you know, being able to network in person and, you know, kind of discover, you know, what’s going on. And, actually, as it relates back to the Silicon Valley comment, that’s one of the things they really do well is they do a great job of networking. Formally and informally they have a great network of mentors and investors and companies that help each other, you know, or pay forward the folks that have made it and helping, you know, existing companies. And that’s something that we can learn from and should try to replicate here. And, you know, I’d encourage anybody listening to, you know, whether it’s coming to an SFTA meeting or one of the other local organizations, just get out there and learn about, you know, what the other tech people and tech companies are doing in the area.

  42. Ryan 00:22:32

    It’s interesting to look at it because, really, when you squint your eyes at it, there’s nothing magical about California, right? Like you said, it’s not about tax benefits, it’s not about the weather, it’s not about infrastructure, it’s not about some kind of unique, you know, like the way that factories used to have to be built on rivers. Like, there’s -- it does kind of come down to, like, this idea of people. And we can do that. Do we have that now, do you think? Like, you guys are active in the community. How strong is that? Or if not, how do we fix it?

  43. Lenny 00:23:00

    Well, let’s start a little bit with some of the universities here. Florida International University graduates -- they’re the third highest -- they’re number three in the country in graduates from their technology school from the school of computer sciences. Number three in the country. So, you know, we’re graduating students ready for the workforce. And if we don’t do a good job, and again part of our mission is to make sure we do this, you know, those students will leave and they will go to other places in the country. So a big part of it is this -- exactly what we’re doing; letting people know that there is a community, that there are organizations supporting the community, and the better job of that we do, the better and faster and more robust our technology community will be. So from a, you know, from a pipeline the workers are here, right? And the key is to keep them here. So I think the best way to do that is to communicate and this is a great way to do it.

  44. Ryan 00:24:00

    Sounds good to me.

  45. Chris 00:24:00

    Yeah. I would add to that. Certainly, you know, what Lenny pointed out, FIU is, you know, a top source of CompSci new skills. There’s also existing skills and, you know, there’s companies like Motorola, for example. You know, they’ve got a huge, you know, skill base here in mobile technologies. And, you know, so we have seen examples of companies like RIM and FoxConn and others that have set up shop, you know, and, you know, making use of some of that talent base that exists here. There’s still a lot of IBM folks that, you know, actually live here and have a huge skill base. There’s folks from Siemens, there’s folks from, you know, just a number of companies. I just met somebody recently at one of the SFTA meetings and learned -- I never knew, there’s actually American Express actually has about 1,000 IT professionals here in South Florida. I never knew it and, you know, most people don’t. So there’s just lots of talent here that, again, isn’t necessarily recognized. But if you go out and look, you’ll find out it exists.

  46. Ryan 00:25:17

    Really, what I’m hearing is we need to figure out how to bubble up the success, right, so people actually hear it. We need to surface that.

  47. Chris 00:25:23

    Absolutely.

  48. Ryan 00:25:23

    Awesome. Well, I think this is a very, you know, optimistic look at the local scene. I hope that everybody not from Florida cares. I know there’s plenty of people listening from South Florida so I think there’s nothing like a little bit of sabre rallying, right?

  49. Chris 00:25:36

    Absolutely.

  50. Ryan 00:25:37

    And if you’re not in South Florida, why not? It’s great.

  51. Lenny 00:25:39

    Come on down.

  52. Chris 00:25:39

    You know, that’s really true. Think about that. Like, okay. Especially if you’re up there. I was looking at Minnesota or someplace this morning on the news and seeing the snow come down and frost and it was snowing. You know, it’s like, you don’t have to be there. At least you don’t have to be there at this time of year. You could be working from the beach and, again, you know, work from an iPad, put your stuff in the cloud, and that’s all really viable today.

  53. Ryan 00:26:07

    Yeah.

  54. Chris 00:26:08

    You know, that was not the case in the past but, you know, that really is a viable working situation today. Part-time or full-time. And I think, you know, more tech folks that have the skills and the mobility ought to take advantage of that.

  55. Ryan 00:26:28

    Yeah. And I guess a great place to start is SFTA, right?

  56. Lenny 00:26:32

    SouthFloridaTech.org.

  57. Ryan 00:26:34

    All right. And I’ll link that up in the show notes.

  58. Lenny 00:26:36

    Great.

  59. Ryan 00:26:37

    Chris, Lenny, thanks a lot for your time.

  60. Lenny 00:26:38

    Our pleasure. Thank you for your time, Ryan. I appreciate the opportunity.

  61. Chris 00:26:42

    Thanks, Ryan.