Nov 27 2007

CEO Rearview Mirror: Lucas Roh

CEO, Hostway- 2006 Revenue: $80 Million, estimated
John W. Ellis
Photo: Shane Van Boxtel

Looking into the rearview mirror, what’s been your best IT investment?
Hostway has always focused a great deal of attention on constantly fortifying our engineering capabilities, both from the standpoint of hiring top-notch personnel and investing in state-of-the-art infrastructure. Compared to other companies in our industry [Web hosting services], our investment in engi­neering has always been much greater for an organization of our size. As a result, we have been able to develop a lot of technologies on our own rather than relying on third-party vendors. This enables us to build applications and tools that exactly fit our needs.

At this point, Hostway has half a dozen independent R&D centers around the world and multiple cutting-edge initiatives in the works. Our entire corporate culture centers on the continuing growth and investment in engineering resources year after year.

In hindsight, what would you say was your biggest IT mistake?
The biggest mistake would have to be not investing enough in testing, both in the process and in resources. There is always a battle between launching products as quickly as possible versus ensuring that they are of the highest possible quality and totally bug-free. Of course, this is the challenge for any company that is constantly pushing the envelope of new technologies.

For example, a major publisher launched a famous software upgrade with something like 40,000 known bugs. At Hostway, we realized we were overly aggressive in pushing products to market and recognized there was an opportunity to improve our prelaunch quality assurance process.

“I would say that I probably qualify as a total geek. I built my own computers and wrote my own games when I was a teenager. I received an undergraduate degree in physics and a Ph.D. in computer science.” —Lucas Roh

We are now putting more emphasis on testing and devoting more resources to the process, but it’s an area where I’d say we still need to do more.

What is the best IT advice you’ve received?
Technology is fundamental to Hostway’s business, so as a result we have dialed into the heart of how to use technology for growth. The key is to clearly define your core business and, from that, to identify exactly how a given technology can facilitate achieving your objectives.

In some cases, the best option is to outsource it to a third party instead of building it yourself — leverage the experience and investment of others to your own benefit. You reserve your own resources to focus on taking the technology to the next level.

In other cases, your organization may have the unique ability to independently distill the required technology into an essential component. If so, you have the opportunity to develop a critical and differentiating capability that will allow you to build competitive advantages.

Bio in Brief: Before founding Hostway, Lucas Roh worked for a few years as a computer scientist at Argonne National Lab, where he conducted pioneering research in the emerging field of automatic differentiation, incorporating computer technologies into mathematics. He also worked for several years in software and hardware engineering for various companies, including Tektronics and Hewlett-Packard. To this day, he yearns to get back into playing with electronics and writing programs but, unfortunately, no longer has the time to indulge in those areas.