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Digging Deep in Silicon Valley: Learning the Business of the Valley through a Delphix Internship

Written by Andrew H. Li (Dartmouth '15, Delphix Intern, Summer 2014)

Written by Andrew H. Li (Dartmouth '15, Delphix Intern, Summer 2014)  

Sharpen fast and widen the moat. That's Delphix shorthand for what Warren Buffett calls "build enduring competitive advantage." [1] It's how Delphix, a company located in the heart of Silicon Valley, continues to double revenue each year, and it's also why companies like Facebook and eBay buy our software to help them develop applications faster than they could before.

"Why was WhatsApp valued at $16 billion and Viber at only $1 billion?" asked Omer, my manager, on the first day of my internship, referring to the two messaging services acquired in early 2014. One key reason: time to market. WhatsApp was first in the game, had 150 million more users at time of sale, and dominated market share in more countries. In neck-to-neck competition with execution held constant, if the key to success in the restaurant industry is location, then the key in application development is time to market.

As an intern in the Business Technology Consulting (BTC) group, I learn business fundamentals and the structure of Delphix's technology in order to resolve challenges that emerge in the sales cycle and in other segments of the company. My group finished a Harvard Business Review book on business cases on our first day, a book about bottlenecks in IT over the next few days, and a bottle of scotch an ROI model for a prospective client by the end of the first week. The experience has been like going to business school, except that you get paid to do it.

After five years, and at 230 employees, Delphix is a mature "started-up." It's not the proverbial ramen-profitable venture with air mattresses in the corner for developers to work in shifts, but the lean startup ethos remains. Paul Graham writes that startups empower you to reap the rewards of "working at a low intensity for forty years" by "work[ing] as hard as you possibly can for four," a phenomenon especially possible in the technology sector. [2] At Delphix, there is hardly any bureaucracy, no downtime except for the self-imposed, and good ideas generally rise to the top. [3] Above the minimum, the pace is self-motivated, and you can go as fast as you want.     

At Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz, CA
At Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz, CA

Omer, BTC's manager and primary mentor, supports our individual interests and works to connect us with others in the company. In my eight weeks so far, I've modeled and evaluated five-year financing scenarios for the Corporate Controller, analyzed our accounts for the VP of Sales Operations, worked to optimize Delphix's pricing model for scalability, researched business goals and drafted ROI models for a variety of companies, and learned Excel VBA in the process.

At the end of every week, the BTC group sits down with Jed, our CEO, to discuss our work. The feedback is instantaneous. Perhaps the value proposition for a prospective client should be clearer, perhaps an ROI figure needs more support, or perhaps a piece of work is good-on-delivery. Several times, Jed talked with CIOs of global companies on discovery calls. In all cases, he shares his business acumen gained from selling one startup and founding another.

Jed values building a creative, collaborative culture, a factor validated by the internship experience so far. From Giants games in San Francisco, to a BTC golf outing, to tech talks explaining concepts such as Puppet strings and Chef recipes, Delphix places a premium on strengthening the team. At Delphix, working with a smart, motivated team has pushed me to prioritize and work quickly to complete objectives.

Going back to Dartmouth for my senior year in a mere five weeks, I've gained a refined idea of how business is conducted in Silicon Valley and how emerging technologies help businesses. The experience has opened my eyes to the deep well of resources available. $534 billion was made In the Bay Area in 2013, with 7% growth over 2012. [4] To use these resources to solve pressing challenges, how fast will you sharpen?

Notes:
[1] Warren Buffett, Memo to Berkshire Hathaway Managers
[2] Paul Graham, How to Make Wealth
[3] Delphix's FY15 Q2 survey: large majority of employees agree that the "right people are rewarded and recognized," that Delphix encourages innovation even if some initiatives may not succeed, and that Delphix "act[s] on promising new or innovative ideas."
[4] US Dept. of Commerce - Bureau of Economic Analysis, San Francisco Metro. Area: $360.4 billion GDP, San Jose Metro. Area: $173.9 billion GDP