When tech companies succeed, there’s a story behind them. There’s the public story that is told through press releases, financial reports, analyst firms, and customers. But, behind that, there’s a bigger story to tell – the inside story of how a 100-person company grows to 2000 employees and what it took to make that happen.
When former Rackspace CEO Lanham Napier got a call from a high school friend back in 1999 telling him about a company in San Antonio looking for a CFO, Rackspace.com, as it was known at the time, was just getting started as a web hosting provider, long before cloud became a household term.
Napier was working at Silver Ventures at the time, but he was keenly aware of the internet-driven ventures many of his friends were part of.
“The internet mojo was affecting me. Every day, I talked to friends who were executives at companies that were “e-“ this and “.com” that,” he wrote in his book, Billion or Bust! Growing a Tech Company in Texas. “They were all on the internet bandwagon, and their new companies were raising millions at skyrocketing valuations. Although I was skeptical of the environment, I also felt envious that everyone seemed to have found a job at which they wore flip flops and jeans, and earned huge stock option packages.”
He ultimately decided to join Rackspace, and his book details his journey through his 14-year tenure, from the lows of watching the internet bubble burst just as Rackspace was filing for an IPO, and having a potential sale of the company fall apart with the devastating events of 9/11, tothe uncertainty of a major economic depression to changing the company’s direction and building it into a $2 billion company on the back of an idealistic customer-centric mentality.
But, don’t be fooled into thinking Billion or Bust! is a dry history of Rackspace. It’s anything but that. The book takes readers on a journey through Napier’s life, explaining how his career path followed his childhood dream of creating jobs in Texas, how that dream led him to marry a young woman whom he met when they were both students at Rice University, and the role his family dynamic played in Napier’s approach to his roles as president and CEO at Rackspace.
Long before Customer Experience became a common measure of success, we learn how the Rackspace Fanatical Support® initiative emerged as the driving force behind growing from a company that laid off a quarter of its workforce in 2000 toreaching $1 billion in revenue in 2011. As Rackspace grew, so did its reputation, bringing in new opportunities with larger and larger customers that were far different from the small business customer the company’s initial model targeted. Napier recounts these growing pains, but what is clear throughout the book is he never loses sight of his original mission of having a positive impact on the local, San Antonio community.
During this very human account of a 14-year corporate journey, we see the struggles of a CEO charged with growing a hosting company – including competing against Amazon and other giants as cloud services grew and differences of opinions with other Rackspace leaders and the Board – without straying from a core set of customer- and employee-based values.
While this is a book about a tech company, what makes Billion or Bust!a great read for everyone is the first-person narrative that introduces readers to Lanham Napier as a person, and how his experiences shaped him into the leader he became. From hunting as a child with his father to creating Lanham Land – an affectionate name coined by his wife to describe a fictional world where Napier expected magic to happen when he asked for things to be done – this is a tale that weaves professional and personal accounts into a highly enjoyable narrative. Detailing the journey that helped create the cloud computing industry and build Rackspace from a startup to a multi-billion-dollar company, includingNapier’s retirement from the company as Lanham Land began to crumble, Billion or Bust! is a must-read.
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