Channel Partners Advisory Board Member Profile: Liquid Networx's Don Douglas

Ask Don Douglas why he went into IT and telecommunications, and he’ll tell you it’s because he has fun.

Channel Partners

January 23, 2015

5 Min Read
Channel Partners Advisory Board Member Profile: Liquid Networx's Don Douglas

By James Anderson

**Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of profiles featuring Channel Partners advisory board members. Meet Douglas and the rest of the board by attending the Spring 2015 Channel Partners Conference & Expo. Register here.**

Ask Don Douglas why he went into IT and telecommunications, and he’ll tell you it’s because he has fun.

“I don’t know that I have a ton of ambition. That may sound really odd,” said Douglas, CEO of Liquid Networx. “I’m not trying to take over the world, and I’m not trying to become a billionaire. I’m just trying to work on stuff that’s fun, things that interest me, things that I can learn.”

Douglas has spent the past 12 years at the helm of the San Antonio-based MSP, where his passion for technology and an inherited propensity for entrepreneurship have merged. But his career began, simply enough, as a 14-year-old who wanted to direct movies and design video games.

“Being able to tell a story using computer graphics and special effects – I knew you were going to be able to do that stuff with computers, and it’s fascinated me,” he said. “So more than just saying, ‘Oh, well, hey, this going to be a great career, and I can make money doing this,’ it was more like, ‘This is really cool; I want to do this.’”

Video games were a relatively new phenomenon in the early 1980s, with Nintendo in its infancy and Atari “becoming lame,” Douglas said. He laughingly recalls that his father, Donald Sr., advised him to get into business programming long-term because video games looked like a fad. The elder Douglas, then a vice president of IT operations at a regional bank, was instrumental in his son taking the IT route.

“It’s really kind of funny because he was really, really wrong about the video games. … It definitely wasn’t a fad,” Douglas said. “But he actually helped me sell my first programming jobs. There’s no way a company is going to hire some 14-year-old to write a system for them.”

Donald Sr. helped his son buy his first computer, a top-of-the-line product that cost about $10,000, and Douglas began writing software from his bedroom. A grant he earned from a company called Datapoint led him to start his own company rather than go to college. He later left his hometown in San Antonio to pursue jobs in different, diverse cities.

“I got to work in New Orleans, Atlanta, New York, San Diego, spend some extensive time in those cities,” he said. “And then I got to work overseas in the U.K., and the Netherlands and France.”

The companies also were diverse: Sequa Corp. dealt with aerospace, and IBM hired him for a launch in the restaurant vertical.

He said he was bothered that IBM didn’t offer IT outsourcing or services to customers that couldn’t pay at least $10 million per year.

“It got me thinking that there was a huge gap in what was available for growing companies that couldn’t afford an engagement with Accenture or IBM,” he said. “And even if they could, the time demands required to get the project and solutions off the ground were often a deal-killer.”

That prompted him to envision his own company: a managed services provider flexible enough to work with budding firms, but knowledgeable enough to help those companies grow. Liquid Networx, based in Douglas’ hometown, became a reality in 2003.

Douglas says he’s always maintained a San Antonio residence. He’s a longtime fan of the Spurs, an NBA team he sees as representative of the city’s business mentality.

“San Antonio’s a funny place. It’s another reason I kind of identify with the Spurs,” he said. “You look at – it’s kind of a small market team, kind of the underdog – and somehow they end up being very successful.”

Douglas plays basketball in his free time; he sees it a source of not just exercise, but business lessons. In fact, he wrote about that very perspective in a recent blog for Channel Partners.

“I watched the Spurs struggle for years to try and win a championship and then saw all of the things that had to come together to make it happen,” he said. “Basketball has everything you have in business: Competition, heartbreak, winners, losers, bad attitudes, selfishness, selflessness, team-first, gym rats, salary caps, marketing, geographical issues, coaching, mentoring, management, and I could go on and on.”

Along those lines, as much as Liquid Networx is a team affair, it’s also a family affair. Donald Sr. serves as chief financial officer for the company. Douglas said he and his father get along well in spite of personality differences.

“What amazes me most about him is how active he is and how much he still wants to make an impact in business and helping others,” Douglas said.

In addition to running his own company, Douglas invests in multiple startups. He particularly looks for the ones solving the technological business problems that many companies have neglected amid the cloud revolution. He points to Testlio as a noteworthy up-and-comer. The company, based in both Texas and Estonia, tests mobile apps via crowdsourcing.

“Any time you launch an application, you have a tremendous amount of testing that needs to be done for quality assurance, because if you release a product that doesn’t have a good user experience or is glitchy or buggy or does weird things or loses data, you can lose customers quickly, because there are competitive products,” Douglas said.

Testlio is one of the many young companies on his radar.

“There [are] a lot I’m really excited about,” he said. “It’s kind of like which kid you like the most. I like them all for different reasons.”

He says he enjoys getting to know entrepreneurs during the process of mentorship. Listening, he said, is key, and often goes both ways. He says one of his biggest takeaways is to “spend as much time as you can with people smarter than you.”

“I have a number of people I try and surround myself with that will smack me upside the head from time to time, and I appreciate it,” he said. “I try and return the favor for young entrepreneurs, as it helps keep you humble, which is really important when running a business.”

He said his company is looking to grow “around our core competencies while enhancing our mobile and cloud experience” and is keeping its eyes open for potential mergers and acquisitions.

The No. 1 takeaway from his career?

“Do something you are passionate about,” he said.

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