How do you foster intrapreneurship in small and big companies?

Jim Brisimitzis / July, 2018


Jim Brisimitzis, General Manager of Microsoft for Startups shares his experience of building a culture of intrapreneurship and how he launched a key project within Microsoft while doing what he is responsible in his full-time role.


Video transcript:

How do you foster intrapreneurship in small and big companies?

I’ve actually done intrapreneurship at Microsoft two times now, or actually several times, but the two ones that really stuck. The first is that I discovered in the world of virtualization we had a product called Hyper-V which was Microsoft’s first hypervisor and we were bundling it up with Windows server at the time.

While this part was being introduced VMware was certainly taking off and becoming a category leader in the virtualization space. We wanted to get after that product. I was in the OEM division. I was running the server sales and my business at the time was $850 million USD, but I realized what customers really need in the SMBs space that I was selling too, wasn’t hypervisor because that was just one piece of the pie. What they really were doing was building private clouds and we didn’t know at the time that it was called private clouds, but that was what they wanted.

When I got to get a pizza box server, a one-year-to-use server, deploying windows server and then configuring it for Hyper-V, installing systems center and being able to manage that. I realized that that endeavor was a day and a half to two days. Just to deploy the software to be able to get to a point where you can actually create your first VM. So I thought at the time there has to be a better way, and there was. We created a SKU that was a combined window server and system center SKU. Hypothetically, this could probably be a pre-integrated SKU that could sell to SMBs, preinstalled on boxes, so that when it gets to the location, our partner could rack stack, plug the power and plug the network and start creating VMs.

What ended up happening as I raised $1.3 million inside Microsoft and we actually built a working prototype of this as a mini-datacenter. Today, it sits behind our executive briefing center. There is a big badge that says Microsoft Private Cloud on it, but it’s a four rack self-contained data center that had the capacity at the time to run 4000 VMs, all on free or cooling with a PUE of 1.05. If you’re in the data center world PUE is really the measure of the efficiency of power to computing and we had 0.05 where the industry normal is close to 2.

Then six months later I’m in the middle of a desert in Abu Dhabi because our very first customer, the bank of Abu Dhabi actually took this concept to build a 1.46-megawatt data center on this design principle. That product eventually got graduated into a real product at Microsoft called the Microsoft Cloud Platform Solution or CPS and is now since recently graduated into what is the Azure stack.

The reason for that is we are more and more increasingly getting away from our on-prem products of windows server systems center exchange points and moving into cloud services, and Azure fits that bill for large skills enterprise computing. That was my first intrapreneurship project. It was a two years endeavor and I was managing this $850 million dollar business while doing the side hustle. If the side hustle were to implode, it would have impacted my core job. I was truly burning the midnight oil but I had such a conviction that this is the right way to sell to customers that could really set Microsoft apart. What we in the founding team eventually proved out is that hyper cloud wasn’t just words on a powerpoint slide it was truly something that the enterprise customers wanted and we validated that and that was exciting.


There were similar efforts happening at the same time at Microsoft called the Azure Pods. The Azure pod was an 800 server deployment of Azure that eventually went to 4 or 5 customers and it didn’t do well. We were doing half rack installations so we were able to demonstrate that we were able to get into a hyper cloud scenario and really create value and that will eventually speak to Azure in the longer term. The Azure stack is one example of that.  

A recent project that the Microsoft Startup team has been working on in the last two years is called the Startup Predictor. In short, we partner with bank predicts, because they have access to a ton of very informative data around traffic patterns and web information as well as the ability to track certain identifiers that we’ve seen as identifiers for startup success. What we want to do with the Startup Predictor was to use data to select startups. Identify early stage startups that had key indicators of success; serial founders, ability to raise money, who is backing them from an investor perspective, web traffic, and a bunch of other variables.

With 30 to 45,000 active startups in any given year and a small team, it’s very hard to be able to actually get to these early-stage startups and to provide value back to them. So we started the Startup Predictor endeavor and two years later we are on the path of having it patented. We’re actually in a position to start selling to a couple of enterprise customers.

Entrepreneurship is actually an amazing journey. It’s not easy because often times you have your day job plus you’re doing this on the side and with companies as large as Microsoft there’s obviously some politics involved as well. Normal corporate politics that come through. That and this job was probably the most fun experience I’ve had in my 13-year career at Microsoft. Being to build stuff but also be with companies that are building the future of innovation in the startup world has been the most exciting journey I’ve been on.



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