Ed Henigin of Data Foundry: “Live within your financial means”

Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health. We all know the feeling of being reminded how important our health is when we are compromised. It’s easy to take health for granted when you are healthy. But health is not something that just happens by accident. Resilient people have a pool of physical […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health. We all know the feeling of being reminded how important our health is when we are compromised. It’s easy to take health for granted when you are healthy. But health is not something that just happens by accident. Resilient people have a pool of physical capacity that they can draw upon.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Edward Henigin, CTO of Data Foundry.

After graduating from Bradley University in 1994 with a B.A. in Physics, Edward heeded the call to move to Texas and become Data Foundry’s first employee. He has played an essential role in the company’s growth from an ISP to the colocation provider serving enterprise companies that it is today.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I grew up in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. Hawaii is a great place to grow up, I spent a lot of my time outdoors with my friends playing and exploring. I left for college, Bradley University in Peoria Illinois, where I got a physics degree. I only realized in my senior year that I really should have gone for a computer science degree, considering how much I enjoyed doing things with computers. At 11, I taught myself how to program in BASIC by typing in code from a cartoonishly large “Big Book of BASIC Programs,” and over the years I have done a variety of coding.

I was fortunate that my college years, 1990–1994, coincided with the beginning of the explosion of the Internet. After graduating and realizing that a physics degree didn’t set me up for any great jobs, I signed up to work for an Internet friend who was starting, with his parents, an internet service provider in Texas named Texas.Net. The rest, as they say, is history.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Data Foundry is the secondary evolution of Texas.Net. We still provide Internet access to a group of customers. Around 2001, our core Internet routers got really bogged down and stopped passing traffic. I was the lead network engineer at the time. Our most important customers were all down because of our router issue. At first, I felt panicked and I didn’t know where to start to solve the problem. I realized that I was on my own and had to figure out a solution to this problem. I needed to act on it regardless of what others felt. My approach to the problem and solution was testing all ports to isolate the bad traffic impacting the router. I wrote custom scripts to navigate and find what caused the issue in the first place, so it wouldn’t happen again. My takeaway was that sometimes you need to ignore the pain of a situation and just put one foot in front of the other in a logical way to walk yourself out of that pain, and to get to a place that is actually better than before.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

From day one, our owners (the Yokubaitis family) have beat the drum of quality, quality, quality. Consistent quality for our customers is our approach. We’ve never tried to undercut our competitors because we don’t need to. Our customers are nationally recognized names, due to confidentiality agreements, I cannot name. But you’d know their logos if you saw them.

One of the things that speak to our quality is our customers themselves. We had a Fortune 100 opportunity to call up a Fortune 10 customer as a reference, turning a major deal in our favor. We won that deal because of our authentic commitment to quality.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m profoundly grateful for the support that Jonah, Ron, and Carolyn Yokubaitis have given me over the last 26 years.

I met Jonah Yokubaitis over the Internet in 1993. We shared an interest in the nascent Linux operating system, and all the fun things that people were learning how to do together once they are digitally connected. When I graduated from college in 1994, I learned that Jonah was starting an Internet provider in Texas with his parents, Ron and Carolyn, and they could use some employees. I signed up and headed off to Texas. I was excited to actually get paid to help connect people to the Internet, and they were willing to take a chance on me given that my primary qualifying trait was that I really wanted the job.

Over the years, the Yokubaitis family has continued their unwavering support for me, to the point where I’m now a senior executive at one of their companies. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for their belief in me.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the ability to continue your mission despite suffering misfortune.

It’s about having excess capacity and contingency plans to overcome setbacks and continue the mission. When your full capacity is exhausted, there is no further ability to get back on track.

A key example is financial resilience. If you bet all your funding on your project having zero problems, then you won’t have any funding to deal with a problem that unexpectedly happens.

I read a quote which has stuck with me: “Fear is that which you feel in between confronting something new and mastering it.” Resilient people are either open to and capable of learning quickly or have had life experiences which they can draw on to master new situations. Having an excess pool of experience beyond what’s strictly necessary for the mission allows you to respond to more unexpected circumstances.

A key criterion for selection into a team should always be whether a candidate personally cares about the mission. That personal connection to the goal will drive motivation and there will be resilience naturally. Resilient people have reserves they can draw on when the path forward becomes more difficult than originally planned.

Ultimate resilience is bigger than any single mission. Sometimes the wise choice is to redefine or even abandon individual goals so as not to sacrifice the long term for the short term. It’s possible for a goal that is worthwhile when envisioned to become not worthwhile once circumstances change, and you should walk away to save yourself for the next worthwhile goal. Resilient people have agency and are able to change their direction when the original direction is untenable.

That’s what resilience means to me.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Elon Musk is a public figure who has been able to persevere through some profound setbacks. I read a story about the first three failed launches of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket between 2006 and 2008. He was able to secure enough funding to keep the program going until the fourth launch which finally succeeded and set the company on a path to success.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by people in my career who don’t think that way. A big example for me is the decision made by our owners to build a brand-new data center in Austin, TX in 2009. Prior to that decision, we had been operating out of existing data centers that we had bought out of the 2000 telecom bust. We envisioned opening a data center with four times the capacity of our existing site in Austin, on a campus that could repeat that scale five times over. We were planning a 50 million dollars+ dollar speculative build. At the time we had never considered a price that high.

Once our owners had committed to the project, the prospect of executing it was daunting. It felt almost impossible. As one of the people expected to pull it off, it was scary to consider what we had to do and what was riding on it. We overcame the fear by talking extensively with the experts around us to learn how everything worked. We built relationships, learned from experts, and spent an enormous amount of time just paying attention and staying involved in the process from beginning to end. Ultimately, we opened our first solely owned purpose-built colocation data center in July 2011, which is a major milestone for Data Foundry.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My first daughter was born in 2005 and there were complications which required an emergency C-section. Due to the complications she was put into neonatal intensive care (NICU) for three days to monitor her and administer IV antibiotics. My wife and I were in shock due to the difficult labor, fear for our newborn daughter, followed by her being abruptly whisked out of our arms. The doctors didn’t quite know what was going on and were falling back on a “better safe than sorry” approach to care. My wife was exhausted and on pain medication, and I had limited time to understand and take action within an institution in which I had little ability to navigate.

As with new parents we had specific plans from the very beginning as to what we wanted to provide from day one with our daughter, and the potential separation of her in NICU was stressful. Our kind OB/GYN prescribed hospital stay for my wife due to the C-section, so we turned the hospital room into a hotel for the two of us. Through this we were able to accomplish and maintain our vision for what we wanted, and with the help of the nurses and the neonatologist we were able to work through the associated stress. In one conversation, I asked the neonatologist what was going to happen with our daughter. She said that whenever the parents were around and attentive, the outcomes were typically very good.

After three days they declared our daughter free of any issues and released us. We left the hospital with a healthy baby and a healing mommy.

Excess resources contributed to our success at every step. Caring doctors stepped in to help us. Our insurance and our financial stability allowed us to afford staying in the hospital room for extra time, to be close to NICU and our daughter. My job afforded me the flexibility of taking time off. If we had been much closer to the edge in any of these ways, it would have been much more difficult to walk out that quickly with our daughter in our arms, healthy in a way that was personally important to us.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I had a variety of life experiences that I think helped with my perspective as an adult. When I was two years old, we moved to Brazil for two years. I have few conscious memories of that time, but one thing I took away is that the world is big and there are a wide variety of people out there, and we should respect their perspectives as being meaningful to them.

When I was five, we moved to Hawaii. There is no dominant ethnicity in Hawaii, everyone is a minority. It is a true mixing pot, where bits and pieces of different cultures are sampled and mashed-up into a new tapestry. I internalized non-judgement and an openness which I continue to carry to this day. In times of stress, I try to be careful about which beliefs I cling to which might leave me fragile or vulnerable. I’m often able to “go with the flow,” like “a leaf on a stream,” which enables me to learn from others, be adaptable and find solutions.

In high school I ran track and cross country. Challenging myself physically, I learned that I had depths of energy that I could draw on even when going through discomfort. I wasn’t an especially good runner, it’s not that I could run far or fast. What I learned, though, was that I could feel tired, I could feel winded or worn out, but nevertheless my body could keep going if I only asked it to. My mind would play tricks on me, telling me I simply couldn’t push any harder or continue any longer, but in actuality it could. I don’t think I’m a special person in this way, I think this is true for everyone. Our brains naturally want us to be lazy, to have a life of ease, to not over-exert ourselves, and our brains whisper lies about our limits. I learned that I could set aside those sneaky lies and keep pushing and that my limits were beyond what I would have thought.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Since my view of resilience is that it centers around excess capacity, the way to create resilience is to create excess capacity.

My five steps for anyone looking to become more resilient:

1. Live within your financial means.

To be truly resilient is to live within your means, so that you have excess capacity to deal with unexpected occurrences.

2. Cultivate meaningful relationships and friendships in life.

A clear professional example of this is networking to find a job. Losing your job can be a painful shock, and that shock can be mitigated if your network of professional friends can help you find new opportunities.

3. Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health.

Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health. We all know the feeling of being reminded how important our health is when we are compromised. It’s easy to take health for granted when you are healthy. But health is not something that just happens by accident. Resilient people have a pool of physical capacity that they can draw upon.

4. Learn how to function under stress and create a game plan to mitigate it.

Stress tolerance is like a muscle: you need to expose yourself to stress to learn how to deal with it. Too low of an exposure doesn’t do any good, and too high can be harmful. You have to take your opportunities for appropriately stressful situations and embrace them.

5. Avoid junk food and eat healthier options for better energy and focus.

My advice is to not drink calories, avoid food that you find difficult to limit (especially fried food and desserts), find an enjoyable exercise routine that you can stick with, and get good sleep. Over the years my routines have waxed and waned, but I always have had my best excess pool of physical and mental capacity when I’m fit and eating the right food to fuel my body.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that nuclear energy could be a huge benefit for mankind. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t trust it and public support is lacking. I think it is a misunderstood and underestimated technology that deserves a fresh look. It can provide sustainable green energy, benefiting current and future generations.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I very much admire Bill Gates for his thoughtful work on trying to help the people of Earth to live healthy and productive lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


Dr. Doug Nemecek of Cigna Behavioral Health: “Ground yourself in the situation”

by Fotis Georgiadis

“How to stay focused.” With Charlie Katz & Shane Menking

by Charlie Katz

Mark Noonan: “Pay it forward when you can”

by Ben Ari
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.