How We Hustled Our Way into a Fortune 50 Partnership

October 10, 2013

3:00 pm

Today is a very big day for Speek. We are announcing a partnership with Dell, a modest tech company based out of Round Rock, Texas, that you may or may not have heard of.

HAHAHAHAHA just kidding: if you are reading this article, then you have definitely heard of Dell, one of the biggest, most influential tech companies in the world; the company whose made-to-order custom builds put the “personal” in “personal computing” and completely changed the PC industry forever; the sole reason that Austin, Texas is a thing (not counting Richard Linklater movies, a music show on PBS, and people yelling “hook ’em horns!” loudly, constantly, and for no apparent reason).

Obviously, this partnership is a huge deal to us and I feel very, very happy. Fortunate. Ecstatic. Blessed, even.

One thing I don’t feel, however, is lucky.

Which might seem funny, once I tell you how we got to today.

It all started just a little over a year ago, when I spoke at the inaugural Everywhere Else conference in Memphis, Tennessee, a city that’s best known for Memphis soul, Memphis BBQ, and for not being Nashville. In other words, when most people hear “Memphis” they don’t think “bustling tech hub of tomorrow.” Which is exactly the point of Everywhere Else, whose founders know that it’s hard out here for a gangsta, and wanted to shine a light on the many startups that are popping up all around the country in places that don’t rhyme with “till the lawn, Sally!”

I was invited to speak at the conference, delightfully accepted, showed up in Memphis, had a great time, tried some of that Memphis BBQ, gave my speech, and headed home.

That could have been the end of this story, except for one thing: on my flight back to DC, I happened to sit next to Scott Case, an awesome guy who had also spoken at the conference and who is best known for founding Priceline.com, but has also done a ton of nonprofit work and now runs Startup America. So basically this was like catching a ride home from Woodstock in a microbus and finding out that your seatmate is Jimi Hendrix.

So maybe I was a little starstruck, but that didn’t stop me from telling him who I was and what I did (full disclosure: there is not a lot that will keep me from talking about Speek), and we ended up talking the whole way back. Later, Scott put me in touch with Ingrid Vanderveldt, another amazing human being who is Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence, and we also hit it off. Ingrid invited me to join the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs, a club for founders which she had founded.

Soon, Dell was sponsoring Speek’s launch party (so if you were there and maybe drank too much, you can send that cleaning bill over to the good people in Round Rock), and I got to attend a bunch of events that the Center sponsored, which led to the Speek team getting tighter and tighter with the development and marketing people at Dell, until here we are today, embarking on our first major Fortune 50 partnership.

So: if I hadn’t gone to this scrappy little tech conference, if I hadn’t sat next to Scott on the plane, if he hadn’t introduced me to Ingrid, then it’s very likely that none of the rest of this would have happened.

So: Happy? Certainly. Fortunate? Absolutely. But lucky? Not a chance.

The reason I was invited to speak at that conference is because I have worked my ass off – and surrounded myself with very talented people who are also willing to work their respective asses off – to make Speek a reality.

And the Everywhere Else conference itself? They just had their second national conference in Cincinnati, and Everywhere Else is shaping up to be a great ally to startups across the country. But I didn’t know that it would be a success when I accepted the invitation. Quite honestly, it could have been a waste of time. But if there was even a chance that my being there might help Speek to succeed, even the tiniest possibility, then nothing was going to keep me from that conference.

Finally, when I realized that I was sitting next to Scott Case on the plane, I could have clammed up, second-guessed myself, told myself that a legend like him did not want to hear about my own little startup. I could have shut myself down before I even got started. But I believe in Speek. I believe in our product. I am excited to tell people about it, from consumers on up to the biggest guns in the tech world.

Talk big, and back it up. Say yes to every opportunity to help your company succeed. And know that when an opportunity presents itself, it won’t mean jack if you are not at a level where that opportunity can be taken advantage of. You gotta be ready to be lucky, and being ready means putting in the work.

When your hard work pays off, when you cross a milestone that could prove to be a game-changer for you and your company, by all means: feel pretty good about yourself. And thank whoever it is you thank for all the hard work and good faith that others have contributed to the effort, because there’s no way in hell you did it on your own.

And then put your head down, and get back to work. Good luck.

But you won’t need it.

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Danny Boice is the CTO of Speek - a 500 Startups-funded startup that lets users do conference calls with a simple link (speek.com/YourName) rather than using phone numbers and PINs. A serial startup/technology entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and MusicMaker.com in the 90′s. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice.

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