Pamplin alum makes a career out of disrupting the status quo
March 16, 2022
From helping to create an online searchable database to betting high on cloud computing, Andy Wilson (BIT ’01) has made a career out of disrupting the status quo, even if that disruption risked putting Wilson out of business. Once again, Wilson finds himself in the midst of leading an industry-wide disruption.
Wilson is CEO of Logikcull, a company he co-founded with a fellow Hokie, Sheng Yang, in 2004. Logikcull is an end-to-end cloud-based e-discovery platform for processing, reviewing, and producing electronically stored information that is “disrupting an $80+ billion industry you’ve probably never heard of,” according to Wilson.
E-discovery (or electronic discovery) refers to the discovery process in legal proceedings such as litigation, government investigations, or Freedom of Information Act requests, where the information sought is in electronic format. Logikcull works to “cull” the waste, expense, and security concerns inherent in traditional discovery.
As of February 2020, Logikcull has gone 100% remote. And they are staying that way.
“We had a somewhat hybrid environment before the pandemic,” explained Wilson. “Most of our engineers were remote, and that is the largest team in the company. We had already built up a lot of the ‘remote muscles’ and some of the rituals you need to make that happen. One of the challenges that we faced, and it’s true for anyone who attempts to do a hybrid model, is fairness.”
Wilson continued, “We think being remote levels the playing field and creates more time for the stuff that matters more than work.”
Going entirely remote also allows Wilson to hire the best talent available, no matter where in the world they are located. “Our head of content marketing is from Spain,” he said.
As previously mentioned, Wilson is no stranger to being a disruptive force. “Even as a child my parents told me I would have to start my own business because I would not be able to work for anyone else,” he explained. “I was intolerable.”
Lucky for him, Wilson also had an entrepreneurial bent, running landscape design and user interface design businesses while in high school. It was only natural that he would start his own business after college.
However, there was one problem – timing.
“When I graduated it was the dot-com bust,” Wilson said, referring to the stock market bubble surrounding internet-related companies that burst in mid-2000. “Tech jobs were decimated – it was a nuclear winter.”
Though entrepreneurial prospects for the recent graduate were limited, Wilson still had a couple of job offers to choose from.
“I had the choice to go work for the Government Services Association as the youngest programmer there, or I could go work with my friend’s brother’s company, which was a printing company for law firms,” he said.
Obviously, Wilson chose to forgo the safety and security of a government job for the volatility of a small business during an economic slump. It was a decision that continues to shape his future.
“I decided to go with the small business to get more insight on how to, or how not to, run a business,” Wilson explained. “I did everything – sold projects; ran the printers; boxed the papers; loaded the van; drove the van to Washington, D.C., the DOJ, or SEC for deliveries; picked-up boxes for scanning. I did every job, which was great because I was exposed to how to run a small business.”
At the time, the business where Wilson was employed was responsible for the printing of emails and spreadsheets for lawyers involved in the antitrust litigation against Microsoft. It was then that Wilson and Yang had a “light bulb” moment.
“Looking at the work we were doing, we thought, ‘Why are we printing all of this?’” Wilson said. “We are talking tractor-trailer loads of paper. Why can’t the lawyers just keep the files and view them electronically – make it into a searchable database?”
He continued, “We could build a product to digitize all of this information, make it highly searchable, and avoid this messy printing business altogether.”
And that is exactly what they did with the founding of Logikcull.
Wilson and Yang built the software themselves, allowing clients to ship them data, which would then be uploaded into a searchable database, and the original files would then be sent back to the client.
For Wilson, though, the process wasn’t streamlined enough. Another economic downturn forced him to rethink his business model.
“During the Great Recession in 2008-09, we thought, ‘Why can’t anyone do this themselves?’” That’s when Wilson, as he put it, bet big on the cloud.
“We said, ‘This is the future. This is the internet making everything convenient.’”
But the bet was not without considerable risk.
“We were designed to disrupt the very business we founded,” he explained. “The cloud was so immature that we had to build our own cloud from scratch. So, we went all in. We bought servers, configured them ourselves, built the data center, dug up K Street to lay a fiber line. You name it – everything that you need to host a cloud service, we built it.”
As cloud services have grown across the world over the last few years, Logikcull has been able to migrate away from its original, scratch-built servers. However, the commitment Wilson showed when going “all in” on cloud services is indicative of the dedication he shows whenever he finds a business model he believes in, including 100 percent remote work.
Logikcull’s shift to remote-only work has led the company to hold more frequent all-company or departmental gatherings where the focus is not on work, but on bonding and forming human connections.
“We are committed to one major company get-together per year, with two-to-three team-focused off-site meetings per year,” he explained.
Recently, Wilson flew the entire company and their families to a retreat in Bend, Oregon. According to Wilson, much of the time was spent bonding and having fun.
Like any other culture change, the switch has come with its challenges.
“You have to be careful not to splinter the company culture by having offices that people go to every day, thus creating their own micro-culture,” Wilson said. “That can be damaging.”
Wilson also learned that, in a remote work environment, the ratio of managers to direct reports is very delicate. He explains, contrary to what he originally expected, managers need fewer direct reports in a remote environment rather than more.
“When you think about managers and direct reports, you need a good ratio,” he explained. “Too many people, and the manager loses control. Too few, and you run into the potential of micromanaging. What we are seeing in a remote setting is the need for management is very important. The manager ends up being the glue. There is a need for a more intimate connection between managers and direct reports, leading to fewer direct reports rather than more.”
Just as past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, the same can be said of success. As Wilson navigates another industry disruption of his own design, if his previous disruptions are any indicator, not only will it be successful, but the industry will follow his lead.