When I initially contemplated the notion of writing a year’s worth of columns for the local paper on creativity and innovation, I did what all good staffers at my office did when confronted with a new idea: I stepped across the hall and consulted our most trusted adviser to all new ideas: our office manager Judy Morton. Judy had been there since the early, early days and she has an innate organizational and community compass that is our touchstone.
I explained to Judy my curiosity about local companies who are forging new directions, and she simply replied, “You are looking for the bongo factor.” She explains it like this: All other things being equal, if there’s someone who can play the bongos when no one else can, that’s the distinction that propels them to success. The bongo factor wakes the brain; makes you take notice. I like to think of it as a differentiator among competitors.
For a great example of the bongo factor click "Read More" below.
When I first heard about a local IT company, Varrow, I knew they were an innovator. The more I learned, however, I realized that they were a living local example of the bongo factor. Varrow specializes in virtualization, storage, and disaster recovery services for organizations in the southeast. Think that’s boring? Don’t ever say that to them.
These innovators are passionate about what they do, and they seek ways to make it even more fun and exciting. They host an annual conference for customers called “Varrow Madness,” which this year included a flash mob performance, an NCAA basketball theme, and a Saint Patrick’s Day Happy hour. Their website is filled with employee baby photos and birthday greetings. And they are apparently great at what they do. In 2011, Varrow made the Inc. 500 for the second year in a row, were named a NC Company to Watch, and placed #1 on the Triad Fast 50 for the second year in a row. Varrow’s revenue grew from $1.7 million in 2007 to $31.5 million in 2010 -- 1708% growth over three years.
Needless to say, these folks are thinking big. I spoke with Jeremiah Cook, one of Varrow’s founders and their Chief Technology Officer. He wants to “accelerate our journey to the Cloud.” Like many in his field, Cook believes that cloud computing will increase efficiency and agility. With the Cloud, organizational IT becomes less about the technology infrastructure and the huge amount of people-power needed to manage, update, and troubleshoot -- and more about business applications that can solve problems and help companies grow. For Cook and his colleagues, that’s cool stuff they want to learn more about.
Varrow believes many of their customers are doing lots of little things to develop their own private cloud infrastructure. However, when these innovations are shared, they can amplify the Cloud’s potential. To incentivize sharing of cloud innovation, they created the Varrow Cloud Innovation Contest. Varrow provides funding for the contest, the event website, and the judging.
The sharing of new technology is only one goal of the contest. The first prize winner will choose any middle or high school in NC, SC, or southern Virginia to receive a “cloud in a box,” $20,000 worth of servers, switches, and storage devices needed for cloud computing. Varrow and the first prize winner will go to the school to install and train folks on the equipment. It’s a win-win-win. Students get hands-on learning using the actual hardware that makes the Cloud work. The community gets young people (a.k.a. future IT employees) who are excited and learning about the new technology. Varrow and their customers learn from each other to fuel their mutual success. Now, that’s a bongo factor