Two decades at Equinix: Bean bags, booms and … luck?

Pete Ferris

“Man, we were lucky.”

That’s what I tell people who ask me how Equinix survived its early days, when we went all-in on a new business model, somehow restructured our debt when we were one payroll away from extinction, and then outlasted the bursting of the dot-com bubble. Sure, we were lucky.

But this quote from Emily Dickinson helps explain more fully what I mean: “Luck is not chance. It’s toil. Fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”

In other words, we made our own luck.

This year, Equinix is celebrating 20 years, and I’ve been here for almost all of them. I was here before Equinix had a single data center and I sweated out our early close calls. I’ve watched Equinix reach two decades, and we still have the same spirit I felt when I first walked in the door: We believe anything is possible, and we’re ready to work as hard as possible to prove it. That gives me a lot of confidence about the future.

Bean bags and booms

I came to Equinix in 1999 to serve as vice president of sales. The main meeting space was a big room full of bean bag chairs and there wasn’t a suit or tie in sight – though there were plenty of dogs because employees brought their pets.

The market was in the middle of the internet boom, and there didn’t seem to be any limit to the good times. We were all on board, pushing hard, even though we had no customers and no revenues. At the start, Equinix was going gangbusters, and I saw it as verification of our business model. As the internet grew, the network providers discovered they needed to exchange traffic in carrier-neutral facilities, and we were ready to offer them. One of the biggest moments in those first days came in the early 2000s, when a half dozen of the largest telecommunications carriers in the U.S. decided to build exchange points, and house them at Equinix. That put us on the map, and it had the same kind of magnetic effect back then that’s still drawing companies to our industry ecosystems today.

Of course, it wasn’t all good times. The Dotcom crash of 2000-2002 wasn’t directly associated with a single day, like the 1929 or 2008 market failures, but rolled out over a couple years that coincided with when we were just getting started. At the start of it all, we were still able to get sufficient investment and financing, which we badly needed to build our data centers and deliver the interconnection we were promising our customers. After the bad times accelerated in 2001 and companies started failing left and right, I think we were able to hang on for a couple key reasons:

  1. Peter Van Camp was brought on in 2000 to take the company public, and he pulled it off, even after our lead investment bank backed out on us. The IPO happened in August 2000, just months before everything really went south in Silicon Valley, and the cash we raised gave us resources at a critical time.
  2. Two years later, our management team was able to renegotiate our debt at a time when we were one payroll away from closing our doors. This 2002 article from the San Francisco Chronicle lays it out: stock price down to 31 cents a share, $263 million in debt with insufficient cash reserves and financing to cover it. But we got new terms and a new life.

Maybe it all felt lucky at the time. But it was about hard work, great people and a tireless belief in the enduring ideas we were founded on.

Three pillars: employees, partners, culture

Things change at a company like Equinix over the course of 20 years, especially since we’re in the technology space, where things almost no one was talking about six years ago (like the Internet of Things, for instance) end up driving entire industries. But there are a few critical assets Equinix has always possessed, which will continue to carry us forward:

  • Dedicated employees

I look back at the employee efforts over our first decade, and words like “passionate,” “herculean” and “heroic,” come to mind. We were on a shared mission to build this company. It wasn’t just the executives who did all they could to make sure we got what we needed. It was thousands of individual efforts. That spirit still exists today, and that enduring sense of our employees doing whatever it takes to move us ahead leads to extraordinary loyalty, and great results.

  • Outstanding partners

Our customers have proven to be incredibly loyal to us, and that’s not just a credit to what we can deliver. They’ve also stuck with us during tough times, and that helped us get through them. Our business model requires strong partnerships. We needed to work closely with our customers when we were building the business in our early days, and we are offering magnetic, robust industry ecosystems with their help now. Our partners have been and always will be a huge part of our success.

  • Exceptional culture

The late management guru Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and I couldn’t agree more. A company’s culture is the glue that holds everything together, and ours is exceptionally strong. Equinix’s culture was formed in those first years, as we went through a near-death experience, and it created a resiliency, determination and unity that still exists. I can honestly say the people at Equinix are like my second family, and as we’ve grown together, the bonds have only strengthened. People who work here, even the newcomers, tell me they feel an uncommon buzz and enthusiasm. They feel like they are part of something special, and I believe they are.

Looking ahead

The good news for Equinix in the digital age is that demand is only increasing for the kind of global interconnection we provide, so the opportunity for even greater growth is in front of us. Over these past two decades, we’ve wisely resisted the temptation to broaden the scope of what we offer customers beyond the things we do extremely well. We need to keep that kind of razor-sharp focus, while staying disciplined, innovative and passionate about putting our customers at the center of everything we do.

Equinix’s success has not come easy, but that’s one reason it’s been such a joy to be part of it. I’m incredibly grateful (lucky?) for my two decades at Equinix, and I still can’t wait to see what’s next.