The importance of being relentless

The importance of being relentless

Lauded by Goldman Sachs as one of the 100 “most intriguing” entrepreneurs of 2012, Mr George Slessman, 39, has been inventing and delivering disruptive technologies as well as creating over US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) of value for investors over 14 years.

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Lauded by Goldman Sachs as one of the 100 “most intriguing” entrepreneurs of 2012, Mr George Slessman, 39, has been inventing and delivering disruptive technologies as well as creating over US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) of value for investors over 14 years. From a team starting out with a folding table, three on-sale laptops and used office chairs, it took Mr Slessman six years to grow IO into a data centre industry leader with operations throughout the United States. Its first international data centre — located here in Singapore, to service Goldman Sachs in the Asia-Pacific — was officially opened on Sept 18.The CEO of IO has at least 10 patents to his name personally and has been described as “relentless” about breaking boundaries. For example: His passion for fast cars led to a partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies to tap the intelligence of Formula 1 cars with the aim of improving the design and operation of data centres and reducing energy consumption.

Not bad for someone who started out playing college football as a fullback for Arizona State University, and who started his first online software company with his brother while still in college. In an email interview with TODAY, he talks about innovation.

For some people, innovation comes naturally. For others, it’s a mindset they have to learn. Which are you?

Innovation has come naturally to me for as long as I can remember. If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t now be seeing IO’s US manufactured data centre product and software installed in Asia in less than six months.

Being inquisitive as a child, I remember dismantling a new VCR player my father bought (I reassembled it and hid the loose parts — everything except the eject button worked and no one in the family noticed it). My father was a great influence in getting me to think out-of-the-box and always supported my interest in all things tech.

I was fortunate enough to have a PC at the age of eight, which was not an opportunity every child back then enjoyed. Growing up, my brother, Bill, and I were always trying to think about what the next big thing in technology could be, and that was how our first business started, right from his college dorm room.

When you are surrounded by innovative spirits, it is very natural for innovation to be deeply embedded in the way you think and act.

What was it like for you starting out? Any lessons from your early years for would-be innovator-entrepreneurs?

My brother and I started our first software application development business which we eventually sold to a public company shortly after we graduated. One key take-away from my early experience was the importance of dedication, which is now reflected in the naming of my company, IO.

I chose the name IO for its binary nature and for how it visually represents on/off. In carving the path to innovation and entrepreneurial success, one needs to be completely sure about one’s vision, even as you remain flexible to realise it. There is no standing in the middle of the road — you either go back to where you began or cross over, otherwise you risk being run down.

After successfully exiting our first business, my brother and I woke up the next day, immediately itching to realize our next innovation.

There are innovators, and then there are disruptive innovators such as yourself. What does it take to be the latter? And more importantly, be wildly successful at it — convincing the market it needs your innovations?

Being a disruptor means that you are departing from many great thinkers — each of them extremely intelligent and innovative in their own regard. Many experts will tell you that you are wrong, and if you are not comfortable with that, you will waiver.

To be truly successful, disruptors need to understand their audience. How does your solution solve a problem in the market? A better mousetrap makes sense when mice are the desired catch — but a disruptive product makes sense when it solves a problem that the market has yet to realise, or creates new opportunities.

Tell us about the inspiration behind the partnership with McLaren.

McLaren and IO share the same vision. We’re both firm believers in the use of software to optimise hardware and yield breakthrough results. On a daily basis, both our companies collect an immense volume of data, are empowered with the ability to extract and analyse it, and subsequently apply meaningful insights to drive design. For McLaren, that means creating a faster race car; for IO, it means greater energy efficiency in the data centre.

What changes are there in terms of the innovation drive when you grow from a small start-up outfit to a large company?

It is imperative that the momentum for innovation is maintained throughout different levels and departments as a start-up grows into a large company. It cannot be sustained if the founders of the company are the only ones who are passionate about innovation.

Early members of the company must impart their passion for innovation. Every additional employee owns a part in propelling the company towards its next incarnation, and people must be passed that torch during on-boarding.

As a boss, how do you cultivate a high innovation/creativity quotient on your IO team? And how much of the key ideas still flow from you?

It always starts from hiring the right people. Once they are a part of IO, I strongly believe in encouraging every team member to take intelligent risks. They must know that they have the room to make mistakes and will receive unwavering support from the rest of team, so long as their risks are calculated.

As a CEO and Product Architect, I set the trajectory, but my team has free reign to propose new products and services within those parameters.

With the new IO regional headquarters here, any chance of some of that innovation culture rubbing off on Singapore which is grappling with how to get more creative/innovative?

Singapore is one of the most important and demanding markets in Asia, and Asia is obviously the epicentre of global growth; innovation is a must here. IO has in place all the facets of the business — customers like long-term, strategic technology partner Goldman Sachs; our highly efficient and transparent data centre Intelligent Control platform; ecosystem partners like TMI; and top talent — to position us for a long legacy of innovation. IO will have a very symbiotic relationship with Singapore, when it comes to new and better ways to meet the business demands placed on IT.

This is part of a weekly series on Innovation that runs every Wednesday. To read previous articles in the series, go to tdy.sg/cominnovate.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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