As Leaseweb approaches its 20th anniversary, I’ve recently had a quote from Chuck Yeager stuck in mind, “If you want to grow old as a pilot, you’ve got to know when to push it, and when to back off.” As a pilot myself, and someone who spent his early life working as one professionally, this line resonates. When you are flying, there is little room for error. Expertise, teamwork, and precision, mean the difference between a safe and enjoyable flight and one that could place people in real danger.
While the risks in the field of cloud hosting may not be as dramatic as those in aviation, they are no less real. Much like in aviation, deep knowledge of the field and the right team are important. But, expertise and teamwork are not enough in themselves. They need to be brought together in the right way to provide a framework for success.
When we started Leaseweb in 1997, I could have never imagined what the company would become. The field of technology was quite different. The internet as we understand it today had barely emerged, dial up modems were the only way to get online, and no one had even imagined the possibility of the smart phone. Access to the internet was limited and at times hard to come by. I remember being in Nairobi after a flight with our 747 and trying to find a way to get online. There were actually no local connections, so I ended up paying nearly € 800 in calling charges to South Africa just to get access to the internet.
The more I flew the more it struck me how important it was to find new ways to connect people, and that a new way to do business was beginning to emerge. During a trip to Hong Kong in 1996 I came across a company that was building websites for businesses, and remember thinking that I hadn’t come across anything like it in the Netherlands. So when I returned home I decided it was the perfect moment to try something new and soon after Leaseweb was founded.
While the company originally started out building websites, I quickly realized that there was a larger need. Back then, people barely understood what the internet was let alone saw its full potential. So instead of just creating sites, we started hosting them as well. We began with only one rented server. However, we quickly realized that if we are going to grow we would need our own equipment. So we bought four servers, and put them in a half rack in the Science Park area of Amsterdam. In those days the bandwidth charges where the equivalent of € 500 per Mbps. I remember talking to friends about how incredible it would be to grow to 10 full racks, and now we have data centers in 17 locations around the world.
Real progress usually happens in small steps, not big jumps. To be sure, there have been big steps along the way. Bringing on the first full-time employees, opening our first office in a data center, developing our global network, building our major data center in Haarlem, the expansion to the US, Germany, and Singapore, and a number of acquisitions have all marked major milestones in the history of Leaseweb, but even after 20 years it’s the day to day that really matters.
When I look back I don’t see the history of Leaseweb in terms of major changes, but as a continuing daily effort to do what’s right and create a company committed to helping its customers by providing the best solutions. In many ways I see us in a process of ongoing optimization, always looking for new and better ways to address customer needs, and offer not just the best products and service – which I of course believe we do – but the right ones.
While no longer an active 747 pilot, many of the lessons from that time that have stayed with me. As a professional pilot, it’s all about gaining experience and learning ways to be prepared to not simply fix mistakes (which you can’t always do), but to anticipate problems to make sure they don’t happen in the first place. The key to this is teamwork. When you get the right people to work together in harmony is when you get the best results.
As I stand here today looking at the changes in the field of technology and thinking about how far Leaseweb has come, I’m filled with a sense of pride. I’m proud of the hard work the team has put in to build this company and make it a leader in the field. I’m proud of the company’s values, and our commitment to helping our customers achieve their goals. And I’m proud of the fact that we’ve done this together.