Mike Knapp is a co-founder and head of technology at Shoes of Prey, one of the country’s most successful and fastest-growing online retailers.
Knapp, a former Google employee, started Shoes of Prey with the intention of putting every single tech service in the cloud. He spoke to SmartCompany about the company’s tech structure, and why using the cloud to its full potential is a good idea for other SMEs.
So you keep all of Shoes of Prey in the cloud. What convinced you this would be a good idea?
It was a combination of us seeing it work at Google really well, but it was also due to convenience. We [Knapp and his fellow co-founders Michael and Jodie Fox] got an apartment in China and lived there for six months; we spent some time there, while one of us would be back in Sydney. I was in the US for a period of time, so we were all around the world. We didn’t have an office, so it made sense to us to do it that way.
We did a lot of development work in China, and the shoes are actually made there. It was an interesting place to be.
So what are the benefits here, apart from the cost?
Not having to actually administer our own servers was a big plus. We wouldn’t have spent the money in order to do that, we were very scrappy and it was actually quite affordable to do anyway. I don’t have a particular interest in managing servers, anyway. I’m a software developer by trade, so I want to be able to concentrate on software. In fact, a lot of the new people here even today think I’m the tech support guy!
And what actually convinced you this would be a good idea?
Working inside of Google, I’ve seen the controls they have and how seriously they take all of that stuff. I’ve been one to wear the pager and get up in the middle of the night when servers have had an issue, so it was good for me having seen how awesome Google is at all that stuff to trust cloud providers.
What exactly are the operations you have in the cloud right now?
Sever management, document management, calendars, our accounting – pretty much everything.
I’m struggling to think of a downside here. Is there a disadvantage at all?
The downside is the odd occasion when the internet doesn’t work, but that happens very rarely. The internet will go down for an extended period of time, when that’s happened in the past people have just gone out for ice cream! It’s strange because you literally can’t do any work, so that is the downside. But I guess the plus side is that we have people working from home, we have a young mother right now working from home today because she can just login to everything she needs from home. It makes it all really easy. We also have an office in China, an office in Japan, so we can easily share documents without having to set up FTP sites or anything like that.
It seems too easy.
I think we were lucky because we started fresh. A lot of companies have legacy systems, where they have to replace all this infrastructure that’s come from several years of use, so we don’t have to worry about that.
Does it end up being a lot cheaper? I imagine if you use a lot of cloud services it could become expensive.
I’ve never actually done the analysis, but to be honest, I think at some point when an organisation gets really large it may make more sense to bring some stuff in house. But it’s just not something I’ve thought about much, to be honest.
It’d be easier for your staff to manage, I’m assuming.
Definitely. The other benefit is that it’s very self-help friendly. They’re easy to use, you can point someone to a password they need and that’s it. It’s very intuitive. People use Gmail in their personal lives, and then when they use it for work there’s nothing else they need to know.
Is there any sort of training involved? Or perhaps a new policy you have to explore for this type of tech?
One thing is when people leave, you’ve got to claw back their access to stuff. But fortunately it’s really easy if you set it up. We used to use personal Gmail accounts and share documents using those rather than work accounts, but looking back now it was kind of silly. Then when people would leave we had to figure out which accounts we shared certain things with, and then try and remove access to things. Sometimes they were the creator of documents we needed access to, and so on, so it was complicated. So now we’re really strict now about using company addresses and only sharing with people in the company. So now when someone leaves it’s just a one-click revoke.
You’ve got to think through the implications and people leaving, but there are a few little inbuilt features, you can prevent documents from being shared outside the company, when someone leaves you can automatically transfer all the documents to someone else, which is really useful.
So it sounds like you’d be keen to recommend putting everything in the cloud for other businesses as well.
I think the answer is yes in a lot of cases. I can struggle to think of a business where it wouldn’t be a good idea. We were actually working with a company that was struggling to set up their email using a traditional email server, so I just said, stuff it, I’ll put you on Google Apps, and they love it. So it’s often a good idea.