How to Be Successful in the 21st Century

A story about a Taxi driver, two technology companies and doing right by the Customer.

Every so often, we meet people who inspire us.  This inspiration is usually born out of a combination of their personality and the life story they share.  Recently, while on a business trip to Munich, I had the privilege of meeting such a person and an interesting side effect to this encounter was the business question it helped me solve. 

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I had just finished presenting NetApp's Cloud vision to a group of IT professionals and asked reception to order me a taxi back to the hotel.  The taxi arrived and it was a beautiful Mercedes S-Class; a stark comparison to the beat up Taxi I had that morning. The driver got lost and ironically --due to the pricing model being tied to the meter-- he profited from his mistake.

I sat down in this beautiful automobile and the driver turns to me and says, “how come I don't know you!?”  “Well, we can change that right now”, I said as I extended my and hand to introduce myself. He told me his name was Nuri!  And I responded to that, “ah, your the one”. I've been at NetApp for 13 years and for as long as I can remember I've heard stories about Nuri from other NetAppers.

He told me that NetApp changed his life.  Quite a bold statement yet one I could relate to given that I had joined the company at the ripe age of 25 and owe everything I know about business and technology to NetApp and my Undergraduate Business Education.

Ten years ago, to start his work as a Taxi driver, Nuri had an old E-Class Mercedes that he purchased 2nd hand.  He had entered a market, which was saturated by other Taxi companies, and margins that were very dependent on the total journey distance.  During this same time, NetApp had an office, which was in close proximity to a hotel but not close enough that visitors could easily walk there.  As you can imagine, each time a taxi would be ordered, the driver would get upset given the poor economics of having to drive all the way to the office only to realize a small fare journey.  We’ve all been in this situation and it can be nerve racking both for the customer and the driver. 

When looking back on our lives we can often recognize that particular tipping point where our attitudes, habits and character coincide in the right situation that changes everything.  This moment 10 years ago was Nuri’s. 

A NetApp Executive had a car ordered to bring him from the NetApp Munich office to this same hotel hotel but this time it was Nuri in his 2ndhand taxi. When told of the destination, Nuri responded with a positive, customer friendly attitude in that it was his pleasure to take him to the hotel.  This was a complete departure from what every person going from this office to the hotel had experienced.  Nuri, was essentially putting his customer first and his eye off the Taxi fare margin. This NetApp executive was so impressed that he put in a request to NetApp Work Place Resources to use Nuri whenever possible.   

Today, Nuri has a thriving business of 17 beautiful S-Class Mercedes and a staff of 47 drivers. What I find even more incredible is that the rates Nuri’s company charges is equal to and in some cases lower then that of the standard off the street Taxi’s. 

How does all of this play into building a successful business in the 21st century.  The first principle is doing right by the customer, which in it’s essence is nothing new however I’m seeing this take a different form in the 21st Century.

Attending an Amazon Web Services Summit, one of the Keynote Speakers was Dr. Werner Vogels CTO, Amazon.  He spoke about the Infrastructure Innovation circle which AWS uses.  It goes something like this:  More Customers = More AWS Usage = More Infrastructure = Economies of Scale = Lower Infrastructure Costs = Reduced Prices = More Customers …and so the cycle continues.  Without that one key component of price reduction, the cycle does not work.  If they were to keep prices where they are, it would have a positive short term benefit however would not enable this Infrastructure Innovation and ultimately the building up of customers and most importantly, customer success.  Amazon takes the long-term view and as we see, it’s paying off.

When I look at NetApp I see a similar phenomenon.  Ever since our inception, NetApp has dedicated a large part of their Engineering Innovation towards Storage Efficiency but most importantly Efficiency on all tiers of Storage.  It’s one thing to provide storage efficiency on a relatively inexpensive tier of storage such as Backup and Archive but to do this also at the high-end and the whole infrastructure provides a whole different set of economics.  As Dave Hitz, one of NetApp’s founders, says that we help customers buy less and store more.  I personally believe this has a strong effect on our short term revenues however it is exactly what has made NetApp Data ONTAP the #1 Storage Operating System in the world.  Dave Hitz says it perfectly, “If I can help you save 30 or 50 cents from every dollar, you will be more likely to come back to me next time you get a dollar.”

To build a successful business in the 21st century, I believe we need to take a strong look at the examples of Nuri, Amazon and NetApp.  Nuri and how he focused only on what the customer wanted which was a ride to the hotel and not on his bottom line, this style of thinking and customer experience triggered a number of events, which brought him to a very successful place with his business. 

For those of you who may be traveling to Munich, I would strongly recommend you use the Taxi service of Nuri and see first hand an example of putting the customer first.  He can be reached via the following contact information:

Nuri Sezer – your personal driver in Munich
+49 172 – 786-5545