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Racking Up Success

Friday, February 2, 2018
Trinity alumnus Dirk Elmendorf '97, co-founder of Rackspace

Trinity alumnus is tech exec who is passionate about encouraging and advising new start-ups, improving his community

Dirk Elmendorf  ’97 B.A. Economics

by Mary Denny

Here’s a shocker: one of the founders of the internationally known cloud computing firm Rackspace came to Trinity without a computer intending to be a chemist. San Antonian Dirk Elmendorf says that although he “got involved with computers early,” it didn’t seem like a field that would turn into a job. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Although he ended up majoring in economics with a focus on Russia and Eastern Europe, Dirk couldn’t suppress his fascination with the emerging technology and remembers spending a lot of time in the computer labs. “The web exploded while I was at Trinity,” he recalls. “The first web page I saw was just a screen with text, but I quickly realized that this was a frontier. I remember convincing IT services to give access to web servers at Trinity so I could learn to build web applications on my own.”

Dirk honed his computing skills during a summer internship with a small import/export company in Dallas, where he bartered free Internet for the company in exchange for doing MAC technical support. He also built them a shopping cart for one of their customers. “I spent several months building it and they never paid me for the work, but I learned an important lesson about making business deals and getting things in writing.” He also learned that he loved to build things.

After a semester in Russia, Dirk and a roommate had planned to get international MBAs together and then pursue their idea for introducing TexMex to the Eastern Bloc.That idea was put on hold after Dirk met Richard Yoo, also at Trinity, who had heard about Dirk’s “weird web projects” from a mutual friend. He decided to stay in San Antonio and join Yoo in a venture he thought would be “an interesting project for a year or so.”

Interesting, indeed! The “project” became Rackspace, the international managed cloud computing company famous for Fanatical Support®. “I had no concept of what an amazing impact it would make on my life,” says Dirk. (The company went public in 2008, was purchased by Apollo Global Management LLC in 2016 for $4.3 billion and taken private again.)

Evolving from a small computer consulting business, “the first version of Rackspace was really just us packaging up what we wanted—the right equipment, on the Internet, at a great price,” he says modestly. “The idea of fanatical support came later, and it made all the difference.”

Looking back, Dirk sees all the mistakes and long odds that could have meant failure, but says he was too young and inexperienced to know any of that. He believes his naiveté worked to his advantage because it allowed him to get started. Although he says there’s no special formula for success, he acknowledges that it takes a combination of an idea, execution, team, and timing, but adds, “Nothing happens if you don’t start.”

Since moving on from Rackspace, Dirk is focused almost exclusively on San Antonio and improving all aspects the city. He is involved with math and science education at UTSA and serves as vice chairman of the Witte Museum. Generous with his time and expertise, Dirk speaks frequently with individuals and groups and stays engaged and available to entrepreneurs just getting started through r26D, a local consultancy, where he helps select and develop product ideas that have spun off into new start up ventures. Currently he is helping get Brokerage Engine, a new start up, off the ground. Designed as a tool to help real estate brokerages thrive in an increasingly competitive environment, this start-up puts Dirk back in the role of lead tech and his enthusiasm is palpable.

“I love seeing my ideas put in motion,” he says. “I gravitate toward situations and problems that are blobby and undefined, which allows me to design a framework to address a problem and improve the outcome.”      

Married with two “great kids” Dirk lists his hobbies as a mix of video, card, or board gaming, cooking, and— ever the technophile—“figuring out how to duplicate things I’ve seen on the Internet.” Passionate about encouraging young entrepreneurs, Dirk insists building and creating companies has never been easier. “Once upon a time it would have been impossible or financially impractical for an individual to reach 10 million people. Now it can happen by accident. A lot of times people are daunted by the expectation and pressure to make something massive, but everything starts small. Even if it doesn’t work out, that journey is amazing. I believe the future belongs to the creators and I hope more people will put what they have to give into the world.”

NOTE: Dirk and fellow Rackspace co-founder Pat Condon will deliver the Keynote address at the annual Trinity on Tour event, to be held this year on April 21, in Washington, D.C. Click here for details.

You can contact Dirk at dirk [at] r26D.com.