The CEO of Vonage Talks Failing Forward and Building a Strong Foundation for Success
Education and Careers Mediaplanet asked Vonage CEO Alan Masarek about the stepping stones to his success and the work he’s done to create an innovative work culture.
What was the most helpful part of your education and previous employment history that brought you to the position as CEO of Vonage?
I’ve always been fascinated by business. I always liked learning about business. When I was an accountant, what I liked the most was that every six weeks, I’d go to a new company, learn a new business and eventually a new team. I enjoyed the diversity of the opportunities I had and the challenge of learning a new business.
What I enjoyed about business school was all the case studies. I liked the idea of trying to crack the case and solve the issues each business was facing.
After business school, I worked for a Leveraged Buyout Firm (LBO). What I liked about that was looking at companies with the prospect of buying it. What I disliked was that, once we bought something, I had never run anything, so I didn’t feel comfortable with the operating leadership. I was just a 28-year-old MBA in a position of authority, but I didn’t feel I had quite deserved it yet.
What I really loved was that I was getting the opportunity to try and fix the company by being in an operating role. When you are on the LBO side, you are pretty detached. You are there in a counseling capacity working with the highest levels of the company, but you’re insulated from the day-to-day.
When I got the opportunity to be in an operating role, I found I really liked the day-to-day and really liked working with people at all levels of the company. I liked the organization channel and helping people to achieve and, by extension, getting the organization to achieve. I always knew I would be in business.
I always use the metaphor of a skyscraper for my career. To build a skyscraper you need to build a strong foundation. All of the experiences I have had in my career have prepared me for senior roles.
But it took me 30 years to do that. Every experience I have had has built on the next, and that’s why I have been able to get to this level. You need a strong, deep foundation. I have had many successes — but also failures — that I have learned from. Because of this, I am not driven by ego. I have the authority by virtue of my title, but I don’t need the title to have that authority.
In recent years you have transformed Vonage’s business model and focus. What brought this about, and how did you make these changes?
Vonage redefined the home phone with the introduction of VoIP in 2001 and has enjoyed a legacy of disruption in the communications industry ever since. Four years ago, we made a decision to transition this expertise to the business space, realizing that this same technology could truly revolutionize the way businesses operate. And in the process, we have returned to our roots as a software company and, organically and through acquisition, quickly become a leader in business cloud communications. We are providing businesses with innovative tools, products and services — from unified communications solutions for enhanced internal collaboration to cloud-based APIs to improve external engagement with customers — that allow nearly 100,000 businesses across the globe to achieve better business outcomes today.
What is your biggest piece of advice for execs making organizational developments?
If you are in a business that is worth winning and you have the tools to compete, move fast and make the hard decisions, that will help position you for leadership in any industry.
We are in an industry that is growing and changing rapidly, and we have had to redefine our business to grow just as rapidly and to become a leader in a completely different space in less than four years. When Vonage was founded in 2001, the company helped shape a new form of communications — one that had no boundaries, delivered unprecedented value and forever changed the telecommunications industry. We have since focused our innovation efforts in the business space. We’ve not only reinvented ourselves but we’ve reinvented how businesses communicate, transforming the way they operate and transforming ourselves into a business cloud communications leader.
Agility is a must. You have to move fast. You cannot fear failure. While you won’t succeed on every decision, you need to innovate and fail forward. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, cannot hold you back.
You want to attract, develop and retain wicked smart people who live your values and are committed to working together toward a common goal. An ownership mentality is a must. We all have to act like we are owners of the company we work for and each decision needs to be made as if you are an owner.
Create a culture that drives and thrives on innovation and acts as one toward a common goal. Break down silos. Create a culture that harnesses your values into behaviors and a way of working together that drives you to succeed.
Prior to joining Vonage, I sold my business, Quick Office, to Google and spent a couple of years working there. One of the things that stood out was that Google has done a remarkable job of hiring great talent, managing them well and delivering great results. That’s led to hiring more great talent, managing it well, more great results. Very virtuous cycle. We want to do the same thing here; create Vonage as a destination place to work, and I think that’s key for any organization.
What has been the most exciting part of running a business that is at the intersection of technology and business?
I think the most exciting thing about what we are doing with technology is not only redefining business communications but redefining how business gets done
Today, businesses face a dual challenge when it comes to communications. Employees are no longer tied to the office, and as the workforce becomes more mobile, businesses need to provide employees with a broad array of communications tools to ensure that they are productive and can work anytime, from anywhere, on any device. Simultaneously, to stay competitive, businesses also need to provide their customers with exceptional experiences, service and support.
Vonage believes that cloud communications is a technology uniquely positioned to answer both of these issues for businesses. With a focus on flexibility, mobility, efficiency and more meaningful customer relationships, Vonage’s ever-evolving suite of services for business is aimed at helping its clients become more productive than ever before.
The seamless connection of communication to business systems makes employees more productive (G suite), salespeople can link their calls to activity reports (Salesforce) and Lawyers can link their client communication to their client billing (Clio) without filling out a timesheet.
All of this is made possible by taking advantage of the latest and greatest technology and making it interoperable with existing business systems. And we do this for mid-market and larger companies as well as for small businesses. To us, communication is at the core of how business gets done and our goal is to provide tools that allow our customers to drive better business outcomes and thrive. Communication is everything.
What seems to be the most useful tech solution for the legal industry for B2B? B2C?
Today’s business cloud communications capabilities have the unique ability to help legal service providers bridge the gap between client services and the bottom line in a highly competitive market. Many businesses — legal service providers in particular — require a communications system that allows them to work any time while on-the-go and seamlessly integrate into various business applications or CRM tools for real-time access to client information.
Cloud-based unified communications provides this seamless integration to streamline legal business practices and help boost efficiency and productivity in reporting of billable hours.
Integration of unified communications with a CRM system enables automatic tracking and capture of all client calls and automatically logs them for reporting and billing. With no software to download or install — because these systems reside in the cloud — the integration also allows for a direct course for inputting data and accessing it from anywhere on any device. These benefits directly translate into increased profitability for legal service providers and overall better business outcomes.
What business/tech trends do you think we will see in coming years?
The impact of technology over time has dramatically changed the ways in which businesses operate. More and more businesses are moving to the cloud, and with this leap they are elevating their communications to transform the way they connect and collaborate with each other and with their clients. The ubiquity of the cloud will continue to open up new paths of communication for businesses as they look for innovative ways to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
And as business communications technology continues to evolve and expand, emerging technologies, once relegated to the consumer space, are becoming pervasive within the business space. As the integration of cloud-based APIs into existing business applications continues to grow and see mass adoption, the practice will enable businesses to plug more easily into new and emerging trends in communications technology. Chatbots, artificial intelligence, virtual assistants and VR are all finding a place among even the most traditional of business’ communications systems. As these trends take hold, they will make a significant impact on the ever-changing face of enterprise communications, empowering businesses to strategically compete in their industries better than ever before.