Babson’s New EIR: Serial CTO, Software Entrepreneur & Spiderman John Landry
Thinking back to his original start in technology, newly appointed Babson Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Babson alum John Landry recalls when he first fell in love with tech. In 1972, he had been working in accounting at Shawmut Bank for six months, when his boss told him he was now in charge of the bank’s automated system. His boss had reviewed the resume of each of the 120 people in the department and John had the most computer experience – having taken the grand total of one computer course at Babson. His boss’ advice? “So you got the job. Sink or swim.” Here’s the good news: John not only swam and succeeded, but he become a superhero.
Years later, when he planned to introduce Lotus Domino, the web version of Lotus Notes secretly developed by the Lotus Skunkworks, at the annual Lotus user meeting, he knew he had to go big. Or, perhaps we should say, go high. The Lotus CTO rappelled down from a ceiling four stories high dressed as Spiderman, to demonstrate the power of the web. He would have made it to the stage, but the rope knotted and he got stuck twenty feet above stage. He was ready to give his speech from mid-air when he realized he was sitting on top of the knot. John was able to untie it and proceed downwards. Needless to say, his speech was memorable. As he put it to us, he got to have fun and have people remember what he said too.
And that certainly wasn’t John’s only success or memorable story. Post-acquisition by IBM, he pitched a new Vice President of Technology Strategy role to CEO Lou Gerstner. John said to Lou, “Let me be your eyes and ears” – meaning, John would discover “lead dogs,” new startups working on disruptive technologies, and share insights with IBM, which was developing its internet strategy at the time. Lou turned him down and headed into a meeting. But Lou ultimately couldn’t pass up the inside scoop. When his meeting was over, he came back to John and told him, “Okay, you win,” not a phrase often said and perhaps never repeated by Lou. John would go on to work directly with many startups, sit on the board of 40+ small companies (he lost count until he acted as an expert witness in a suit against Google and had to double-check the number), and to eventually parlay his technology expertise and startup enthusiasm into his role as “Lead Dog” investor at Lead Dog Ventures.
John brings years of technology and investment experience to his new role as Babson Entrepreneur-in-Residence – and with that experience come insights about how the world of tech startups has fundamentally changed. He explained the complexities, challenges, and high costs that used to hinder the development of new technologies. Developers, equipment, and training were all scarce resources. So, if you were ultimately able to build a company or product, “It would inherit all of that scarcity” in John’s words. He adds, “You could control price and you could make money” – and companies would be lining up to buy you or your product.
Roadblocks are gone and resources are plentiful today. “Machines cost nothing,” “Developers are worldwide,” and “Money is everywhere.” Scarcity of resources has disappeared, and in its place are a glut of tech companies and far fewer organizations to buy or fund them. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity, and a good reminder, for entrepreneurs: Consider how your tech business can be a leverage business, since “The next copy [of software] costs nothing,” and give thought to developing revenue streams or bringing in alternative forms of financing.
At the end of the day, “This business is the best business to be in the world,” says John. He’s continually challenged and never bored: He recently won the 2018 Commonwealth Award for his significant contributions to Massachusetts’s tech ecosystem, he’s excited about and engaged with tech mentoring, and he’s working on a new venture. Of course, after talking with John, we know for sure that he’s more likely to rappel than to ever rest on his laurels.