Billion or Bust!

Growing a Tech Company in Texas – Lanham Napier

Lanham Napier is an entrepreneur, innovator, and investor. He and his team at BuildGroup believe in providing smart capital to passionate entrepreneurs who want to build companies for the long haul. Lanham developed his ideas about risk capital through his work as CEO of Rackspace, a formerly public cloud company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up a proud Texan, enamored with the state climate, history, diversity, friendliness, and traditions. In his adolescence, Lanham developed a driving desire to improve the world through creating jobs for people (especially Texans). On a date with the woman he would soon marry, he said about himself, “I want to create jobs.”

Lanham went to Rice University and then Harvard Business School, and he became knowledgeable about high finance through jobs at Merrill Lynch and a private equity fund. When the internet boom hit in the 1990s, Rackspace.com, a managed hosting company founded by several San Antonio innovators, came knocking at Lanham’s door. He joined as CFO, with the main responsibility for taking the company public. He considered this the ideal opportunity to create jobs. Before the company could go public, however, the economic bubble burst. Instead of raising new capital to hire people, Lanham oversaw large-scale layoffs–not at all what he had envisioned.

Lanham became president of Rackspace and helped Rackers focus on generating profits and making the company as financially self-sustaining as possible. Under his leadership, and with a dedicated and motivated team, the company gained dominance in its industry-leading Fanatical SupportTM offering—a differentiated service that gained Rackspace thousands of small and large-business customers. After Lanham was promoted to CEO, the once-tiny cloud company grew so quickly, it converted a defunct mall into phenomenal new headquarters and underwent an IPO. By the time Lanham left in 2014, Rackspace served over 300,000 customers and had over a billion in revenues and $5 billion in market value. It also employed over 5,000 people, largely in the San Antonio area.

Lanham details the replacement of one set of ‘managed hosting’ competitors (telecom companies) by a new set of cloud competitors—Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. Their aggressive entry into the cloud space beginning around 2006 forced Rackspace to continuously differentiate its high-quality offerings, doubling down on Fanatical Support and developing new products and services. The stresses of this tsunami of competition that collectively held cash stores unrivaled in business history caused a formerly strong partnership among Rackspace executives to pull at the seams. The deterioration of the partnership had repercussions at the board and investor levels, as well. Without leadership consensus, the pressing decisions Lanham needed to make as CEO (and board member) took longer and became harder. Lanham’s ability to operate with urgency and clear direction became a daily battle, and he left the company.