We had a grand vision for the company and I believed in Daniel’s ability to execute from the technical side of things and mine to develop a business around it.
By Erica Brescia (CEO, BitRock)

One of my first lessons in business came at about the age of 5 after tiring of selling lemonade and bags of baby carrots out of our makeshift stand in my driveway in northern California. My best friend and I decided to try something a little more inventive. We caught a slew of tadpoles in a nearby pond and launched our tadpole stand. Sadly, there were no takers. My father, an entrepreneur himself, took this opportunity to explain the basics of supply and demand.

The desire to start and build my own company has always been a constant in my life. The challenge that I had was that I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of company I wanted to start.

A few years out of college, I was ready to move from a “normal” job in sales management into something more entrepreneurial. Around that time, I was introduced to Daniel, the technical founder and CTO of BitRock, through a mutual friend when he was in town from Spain to speak at an Apache conference. I had recently been reading about Linux and Apache and how the open source software movement was developing and was fascinated to learn more.

When Daniel and I met, he shared his vision for the company he was working on. I decided to go to Spain for a month to work with Daniel and a friend of his on their project. I thought it would be a great opportunity to take a ‘working vacation’ and learn more about the software world. A few weeks into working on the project in Spain, I was hooked.

We had a grand vision for the company and I believed in Daniel’s ability to execute from the technical side of things and mine to develop a business around it. That was over 7 years ago.

Today, our software has helped millions of users all around the world get their favorite software up and running. Our installation tools and services are used by companies ranging from Intel, EMC and McAfee to universities such as Columbia, Carnegie Mellon and MIT to non-profits and indie game studios.

We are the developers of BitNami, a library of popular open source web applications used by hundreds of thousands of users per month and the leading provider of AMIs for the Amazon Cloud. Our approach to building the business has been gradual. We started with our installer development tool, InstallBuilder, and then moved into providing packaging services to most of the leading open source ISVs, such as MySQL (now Oracle), SugarCRM and Alfresco.

Out of the technology and the lessons learned in developing those offerings, we went on to launch the BitNami Application Library and then built our commercial cloud application management platform, BitNami Cloud Hosting, around that. We now have the technology platform and traction that allow us to compete with (and beat) much larger players and will continue to build BitNami into a key and lasting piece of the cloud provider market.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned along the way is just how big the gap between hype and reality can be. It is so easy to read marketing materials and thought leadership pieces and think that everyone has it all figured out. In the software world, you really have to dig in and get to know the players, the underlying technologies and who the customers are. This is not something that can be delegated – you have to do it yourself as a founder or leader.

Taking the time to meet with and thoroughly understand the needs of potential customers has saved us from many a misstep over the years. It has also given us the confidence to make fairly bold strategy decisions that go against the mainstream, but have paid off in the long run. We have even seen multiple competitors go out of business along the way due to a lack of true understanding of what users want and are willing to pay for.

So, if I can leave you with one piece of advice, it is to “get out of the building”, as Steve Blank says, and get to know your customers, partners and market as deeply as possible. Stay tuned in and stay focused on your vision and don’t get distracted by what people are saying in their marketing materials or the media. It may take some time, but it will pay off.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Erica Brescia is the CEO of BitRock, makers of the popular BitNami cloud application library and management tools. BitNami Cloud Images drive millions of hours of usage across the leading cloud providers. Prior to joining BitRock, Erica managed multiple sales teams for T-Mobile and served as a liaison to the mobile enthusiast community. Follow her on Twitter at @ericabrescia.