Aruba Networks: Transferring Big Company Culture to Startups

Stanford University

Dominic Orr, founder of Aruba Networks, discusses the excitement and challenge of working within the start-up phase of building a company.

Course Lectures
  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, describes his experience applying the HP way to a startup environment. Orr speaks about his focus on giving people freedom and trust which in turn sparks the passion and confidence that drives innovation.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, describes how a startup can compete with large, established companies. Orr argues that to compete with large companies an entrepreneurial firm must think about the ecosystem created by the larger companies and then identify the problems in that system that the larger companies are unable to address. Once an opportunity has been identified, a startup's single advantage is speed: because established firms have different incentives that lead to inertia, large firms are often unable to match the speed and flexibility of a startup.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, observes a significant difference between going public in the post dot-com boom era in comparison to the actual boom. Orr argues that in the post-bubble era investors are much more thoughtful and analytical.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, describes the tradeoffs for an entrepreneurial company between being private or public. Orr argues that being public offers a significant benefit for an entrepreneurial company because it confers credibility and legitimacy which can aid the startup in selling to larger organizations. Of course, these benefits must be weighed against the costs and limitations imposed by being a public company.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, reflects on sources of advice and guidance in his role as CEO. Orr highlights the importance of a rigorous board and advisors to challenge his thinking. However, Orr also speaks about his use of psychological counselors to help his executive team work together as effectively as possible. He suggests that this effort is vital because although there are many talented individuals in Silicon Valley, helping these individuals work together as a team is the most important element required for success.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, begins by describing two surprises he encountered when working with great people: first, how difficult it is for experienced people to change and second, how challenging it is to be intellectually honest. Orr then describes his efforts to overcome these impediments by cultivating a fast-decision making process focused on the facts and intellectual honesty. However, to achieve this environment each individual has to have a thick-skin and a commitment to self-evaluation, qualities that usually must be cultivated over time.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, wrestles with the definition of work-life balance for people who are deeply engaged by their work. Orr recognizes that it can be difficult to separate work and life but that we must still make room for relationships that matter to us and ultimately this comes down to carefully managing and allocating our time and energy.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, compares Silicon Valley to other places in the world and argues there are many more similarities than differences. Indeed, Orr emphasizes only one difference between Silicon Valley and the rest of the world: a focus on speed. By contrast, Orr argues that there are many similarities, namely how hard people work. He suggests that people work so hard for three reasons: 1) People want to have an impact, 2) People want to be in an environment they enjoy and 3) People want to be rewarded and recognized. The key to motivating people then, is allowing them to obtain these three objectives.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, reflects on what he wished he had known as a student. Orr argues that as a student, a great deal of emphasis was placed on individual accomplishment whereas in professional life the accomplishments of the team and the company are much more important than any individual contribution.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, responds to a question about whether startups have a chance of cracking markets owned by big competitors. Orr suggests that startups often can find niches in big markets because they have greater speed to execution. However, Orr argues that success in a big market may be more than simply creating a niche but rather success is creating a large, sustainable business. Orr argues that the challenge of creating a large business is that you attract the attention of large competitors who try to destroy you. At the same time, as a company grows, it too eventually becomes vulnerable to smaller startups with even greater relative speed to execution.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, argues that to sell a technical product to an executive team, an entrepreneurial firm must focus on understanding and eliminating that executive team's problems. Eliminating CEO, CIO, CTO or CFOs problems means understanding and addressing their pain point sufficiently to overcome their fear of something new.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, speaks about lessons learned from applying the HP way to startups. Orr suggests that he has achieved great results from giving employees respect and dignity. At the same time, Orr acknowledges mistakes he has made in applying the HP way to startups. In particular, in a large organization, such as HP, there time for long feedback cycles because any mistakes from giving people too much benefit of the doubt are covered by the overall inertia oflarge company. By contrast, in a startup, there is little inertia and so the feedback cycle must be shorter and mistakes or problems must be resolved quickly.

  • Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, argues that the unique benefit of advanced technical training is not necessarily analytical thinking-this skill can be developed in many places. Rather Orr suggests that the benefit of advanced technical training is the courage to address uncertain problems with brutal intellectual honesty. For Orr, this quality has allowed him to innovate on the technical frontier while having the courage to recognize when he might have failed and needed to redirect his efforts.