Posted by Emily Leinbach on August 27th, 2020
August 27, 2020 – The Bowdoin Group, a Boston-based executive search firm with deep expertise in leadership search and team expansions for companies across the Innovation Economy, shares the second episode of the C-Suite podcast series “Decoding the Journey: Stories from the Technology C-Suite.”
In this second episode, our own Jim Urquhart (Managing Director, FinTech) talks to Brian Day, CEO of Fuze, a global cloud communications and collaboration software company. As CEO, Brian is responsible for the operational leadership of Fuze. Brian has a 25 year track record as a successful financial leader and operator in the C-Suite at high-growth companies, most recently at Apperian where he served first as CFO, and then President and CEO through its sale in 2016. Prior to Apperian, Brian held financial and operational leadership roles at Goal.com, Gomez, Inc., and Octave Communications. Outside of work, Brian is an avid sailor and skier and has even been known to show up at a triathlon or two.
In our latest episode, you’ll hear more about:
- Brian’s decades-long career in tech, including the jump from CFO to CEO
- How he and his company are handling the challenges of COVID-19
- Best practices around talent management, hiring, and culture at Fuze
- Managing productivity in a remote world
For more ways to consume this episode, check out the transcript of Episode 02 below:
JIM URQUHART: Hello and welcome to Decoding the Journey, a podcast where you’ll hear more about stories from the technology C-suite straight from the mouths of CXOs who built these companies. AI and ML have moved to the forefront in today’s enterprise software development, intersecting dozens of ecosystems. And as executive recruiters working with the software and technology companies, we’re always curious to dig deeper into how C-suite leaders get to where they are today. I’m Jim Urquhart, managing director of FinTech here at Bowdoin Group. In this series, we will explore the stories behind these companies leaders, and from their perspective what’s going on in the industry today. Today, I’m honored to be joined by Brian Day, CEO of Fuze.
JIM: Alright, welcome to another episode of the Bowdoin podcast, Decoding the Journey. We’re here today with Brian Day, CEO of Fuze. Brian, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
BRIAN DAY: Thanks for having me, Jim. Pleasure to be here. Excited to do this.
JIM: Awesome. Well, maybe to kick off if you don’t mind. Give us a little bit of background on yourself. You know professionally speaking, kind of where you’re at today and what got you here?
BRIAN: Sure. So I actually have been in Boston my entire career, save for five years down in Dallas, Texas in the late ‘90s. So, you know, I’ve worked for such institutions that probably people don’t even remember these days. You know, Fleet Financial Group, which bought Bank of New England back in like 1990 when I first joined out of college. So, I was in Boston back then, wound up going to law school at Suffolk here in Boston, in the mid ‘90s. After that, went to Dallas to work for one of my former customers from Fleet. And then since we sold that company, came back to Boston with my wife and then two kids—when first went to Dallas, we had no kids. So Dallas proved fertile. And then came back and got into the technology business here in Boston right around 2000, 2001. And I’ve been doing this ever since.
JIM: Awesome. Great backdrop. And then maybe if you can, tell us a little bit about Fuze, tell us a little bit about where you guys fit into the market.
BRIAN: Sure. So Fuze is what’s called the unified communication as a service (UCaaS) business. So in simple terms, think of it as we help and we focus on enterprises. We go in and essentially replace their on-prem PBXs so think, you know BigIron, Avaya, Cisco switches, things like that, that—that IT departments have to put in closets with ventilation and all that kind of stuff just to allow for an internal-external communication. We replace all that with a cloud-based solution that essentially gives you—the users a lot more in the way of tools, data, information on how calls are going. We offer video, we offer contact center, all those types of things all in one platform. And the market that we focus on is really enterprises. So it’s businesses with you know—we’ll go down and as small as 250 employees, but generally our typical customers are companies that have upwards of 1,000 employees.
JIM: So, one would think, given the current state we’re in and we’ve been in, you know, just from a remote work remote kind of distribution, there seem to be a premium on, you know, any level of enterprise kind of communication collaboration tools. What’s that landscape look like right now? And have there been any sort of significant changes in the—in the recent months?
BRIAN: Yeah, it’s actually-it’s an—it’s a pretty timely question. And we’ve seen a bunch of different changes. And it all—it seems to happen a month at a time. So, you know, prior to March, it was really business as usual. I think there was a little bit of concern on the part of some of our CIOs and some of our customers that “Hey, you know, we’re not sure what’s coming our way but we better make sure we have our ducks in a row.” But March got here, we saw obviously, all of our customers say “Okay, employees are working from home now.” We decided to do it at Fuze first week of March, so we had kind of a head start in. Quite frankly, I think given our technology, we’ve always had a large segment of our employee base working from home anyway. But we’ve never had 100% of employees working remotely 100% of the time, which is totally different. But we had a couple weeks head start and we kind of learn, okay, here are the—here are the plusses, here are the minuses, here are the pitfalls. And what we found was that, you know, within our customer base, they were—customers were at various stages of readiness. So we had some customers that made the transition seamlessly, had no issues whatsoever. We had other customers that hadn’t really thought about it. And it may be that they didn’t have the license to use the full collaboration services. Maybe they just had voice licenses with people sitting at work with handsets. That’s obviously a tougher transition. So, we put together some programs to help customers like that to give themselves at a smooth flow to the transition of the work from home environment and that proved to be quite successful.
So, in April, May, June and even in July timeframe, you know, I think people kind of settled into a new reality. CIO said, “Okay, this is probably going to be here for a while, it’s probably not permanent.” But in some state in some ways, it probably isn’t permanent. Right? I don’t think we’ll ever go back to 100% of people going back into their office buildings and in downtown Boston or New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles. So-so I think, you know, in the long run CIOs are trying to figure out, okay, what’s this going to look like? And what are the tools I need in order to do that? So, so we’ve seen a nice run-up in our in our pipeline for the back half of the year, which is great to see. So the question remains in our mind is okay, how fast are CIOs going to execute on these new plans, given that a lot of them spend a lot of their budget in the first calendar quarter this year in empowering their employees to work from home? So it’s an interesting market right now. It’s, it’s certainly a lot different than it was back in January.
JIM: (laughing) Yeah. It’s a—quite a lot has changed in-in a relatively short amount of time. So that all makes sense. And then I would—well, I don’t want to assume. But like, given the state of the market in terms of potential competitors, other firms that are doing something around collaboration, communication tools, like, what are the biggest challenges now and going forward from a differentiation standpoint?
BRIAN: It’s probably market visibility. So we’re using a tool right now, Zoom, right. So-so, you know, Fuze offers a similar product, again, we are not consumer focused, like Zoom tends to be consumer focused. We’re not. But given that we’re still a privately held company, and we’ve raised—we’ve raised a lot of money from a lot of very substantial and well known investors. But we’re still not public at this point in time. So, I think given the fact that we’re a privately held company, and we’re on a path to profitability this point in time, so we’re being careful with our spending on the marketing side. I think brand recognition is probably one of our weak points at this point in time. So, you know, I think that’s probably the biggest challenge we have is making sure that when larger enterprises are making decisions to buy technology like ours, that we’re actually in the conversation.
JIM: Right. There’s the old adage of like, you know, y-you just lost the deal. You didn’t know about it from a brand kind of visibility standpoint.
BRIAN: Exactly. Yeah. And I actually I actually use that line a lot. It’s like, “I lose every deal that I don’t see.” So, and you know, it does happen, I think we’ve done it, we’ve done it, we’ve done a better job of making sure that we’re talking to all the right analysts in the space. And we have all the right partners in the space, but there’ still being a—being a privately held company does have its disadvantages at times.
JIM: As well, like, everything’s got its trade-offs, but that all makes sense. You spoke about data of humans that we were talking a bit about kind of some general background about Fuze. Seemed like that’s a, you know, a big kind of, you know, arrow in the quiver for you guys, so to speak. Can you talk about how Fuze thinks about data and analytics, and is that—do you view that as a significant part of the value prop?
BRIAN: It absolutely is. And again, I think back to the old technology. And if you worked in any kind of business that had an old PBX and essentially you had a handset on your desk and you’d pick it up and dial a number. But it’s essentially a dumb handset. It doesn’t provide the IT organization any information on who’s talking how often—other than at the end of the month when they get a bill and say, “Okay, this extension, talked for three hours, this extension talk for two hours.” It doesn’t do anything else.
What we find is the customers that use our entire platform have, at their fingertips, all kinds of really valuable information. And then they can—the call flows look like who’s talking a lot. If you’re in a meeting, who’s engaged in the meeting who’s not engaged in the meeting. If you’re a sales manager, you can say, “Okay, I’ve got sales reps and two are productive and one is not productive.” What are the characteristics of these individuals? And through the data that we have available to them in the platform they have access information. And again, it’s really it’s fairly new. It’s a tool that we just started offering within the past 18 months. We do have customers availing themselves of this, and I think it’s going to continue a big part of how companies manage their employees and understanding what the communication patterns look like.
JIM: Yeah, no, I mean that—look, you-you’re bringing me back, like looking at old call reports and talk time and all those things. And, you know, when I started at Bowdoin, I mean, we were doing probably in a very archaic way in terms of, you know, producing those. But now with this type of kind of more intuitive—and you said dumb headsets, dumb handsets. And now with having smart technology, this becomes a lot more like truly click a button at your fingertips.
BRIAN: Correct, yep. And of course, you’ve got to balance it with the privacy concerns too, right? I mean, right. You can take that to an extreme you can say, “Okay, well, whose eyes were not focused in the meeting for how much the meeting?” Right there’s a fine line between providing IT departments with good information to help manage the productivity of their other team and being overly invasive. So, we’re always—one of the things that we do as a company, I think we do a really good job of, is ensuring that, that we take we think seriously about privacy within everything that we do and in security. I mean, those two things are really, really important. And if you if you become known as a company that doesn’t really take security seriously, you’re not going to be successful in the enterprise.
JIM: Right. Yeah, I think that’s, that’s a big deal. And, and also, like you said, that line between kind of, you know, driving and trying to improve productivity versus kind of being a, almost like a big brother behind the scenes. You know, to your point about kind of some of the not—none of these things security, bu-but some of these privacy elements as well.
BRIAN: Right, right.
JIM: So, without giving away any sort of trade secrets or “the goods,” so to speak, you talked a bit about kind of brand recognition and some of the you know—the things that that you’ve improved on as a business. Can you talk about—a bit about kind of the second half and what you’ve done at Fuze are focused on for the kind of balance of this year?
BRIAN: Yeah, we’ve got some pretty neat things in the pipeline from a product standpoint. We just recently announced within the past couple weeks our Microsoft Teams integration. And again, it kind of goes against what I said earlier where if you use the entire Fuze platform you ha-you have the ability to have exposure to all this information. But we’re also realists. And if you’re selling into enterprises that have 25, 35, 45,000 employees, they’re probably going to have other tools as well. And if you don’t integrate into those tools, then you’re going to put yourself at a disadvantage. So we decided—you know, Teams is one of those because a lot of what we see is a lot of large enterprises use Teams. So we’ve got some pretty, pretty cool click-to-call features within Teams, things like that. Same kind of thing with Slack. We see the same kind of trends within enterprises who are using Slack. So, if you’re in a Slack session right now, you can just—with one click you can use Fuze to make a phone call to somebody that’s in that session with you. So a lot of what we’re working on right now is integrations, integrations into third parties.
We’re also investing pretty heavily in our contact center product. So that’s a great market as well, it’s we’ve always had a contact center product. And earlier this year, we announced our new version of that which has been very well received by our customers. So, you know, expect to see more announcements as we move forward on that product as well. So yeah, I think we’re pretty excited about what we’ve got coming forward and the product roadmap. And then we’ve got, we’ve got some great customer features we’re coming out with as well, you know, some of which are sexy, some of which are not so sexy. You know, unfortunately, you hate to say it, but part of this business is-you’ve got to have the—it’s the not so sexy features that are what sets you apart in many cases. Like, you know, how do you handle 911? Things like that, that are critically important as you move forward.
JIM: Well, look I—you’re talking to someone who I’ve done a lot of work, broadly speaking, kind of, you know, with technology and solutions that live in kind of the middle and back office throughout my career. And I’ve always been—it’s an overstatement but I’ve always been an advocate that if it’s unsexy and you can’t see it, it’s usually pretty critical. And it can ultimately be—if you get it right, it can be a pretty big money moneymaker. And to your earlier point, I mean, the ecosystems that we all operate in right now we’re, so you know, disintermediated and there’s so many different kinds of incumbents versus newcomers. And integrations, a huge, a huge opportunity and a huge piece of that right to have seamless experience, like you said, from clicking in, you know—from going from a, you know, a written chat and a Slack message uniform to seamlessly into a call. Th-that’s not insignificant. I mean, you know, when you really think about it when you’re in the moment versus taking two, three, four steps to have to accomplish that otherwise. So that I mean, this is—it may seem simple or may seem kind of like you know, unsexy, but these are big deals.
BRIAN: They are and we sell-we sell the CIOs and these, these are the types of things that CIOs appreciate.
JIM: Right, I would imagine that makes a lot of sense. So, shifting gears—we’re talking a lot about the business and kind of where you guys at Fuze and where the business is kind of at, where it’s going and some of the things you’ve been doing well, and opportunities and challenges and so on, from a business perspective. Just shifting gears a little bit to the people side of your business. Are there any general kind of philosophies or best practices that have served you well, as you think generally about talent management, hiring culture, like kind of that bucket?
BRIAN: Well, Jim, I think like everybody else, hiring is harder when you can’t meet people face to face, right.
BRIAN: I mean, video is great, you know. But there’s no—it’s not the same as meeting somebody and having a face to face meeting with them or having a cup of coffee, or meeting for a beer and just saying “Okay, what’s, what’s this person really like?” Because, you know, when you hire somebody, if you think about it, you’re spending more time with that person in many cases than you are with your partner or spouse. Right? So-so you better get along well, and it’s sometimes going to be a challenge. Just if you’re doing a straight video meeting, how well do you really know that person? So, you know, I think we’ve—as a company, we’ve become more deliberate in our hiring. We haven’t slowed down the hiring, we continue to hire people. But we’re a little more deliberate in it, making sure that—OK, we’re really kind of, you know, instead of having maybe a half-hour interview, maybe get a 45 minute interview and make sure you really think through the questions in advance. And try to get to know that person as best you can. And I don’t see that changing, unfortunately, in the near future, you know, we may get back to the office at some point time the next few months, but, you know months feel like years at this point in time. So we’re-we’re kind of hunkering down assuming that’s not going to happen in the near future, we’re going to continue to hire and operate like we have in the past four months.
JIM: Yeah, that’s a great point. And we at Bowdoin have been big advocates to all of our clients and companies who we know in the market too. This is an opportunity to shift back to basic fundamentals right and just being very disciplined and kind of rigorous about having a true—you know, in this case, an interviewing, like you said, if it’s 30 minutes spend 45. And the reality is, you know, you go through any sort of search, right? I mean, you can—you can condense the search process and get it done a lot quicker, but you can still spend the same if not more time. Meaning it’s much easier to get someone on a succession of, you know, Zoom or other types of video chats versus having them come in a bunch of different times. You know, especially if they—and that’s assuming it’s local, let alone having to, you know, kind of ship them somewhere or get them connected with another executive. And, like, there’s no magic bullet, but being able to kind of think about it that way and spending more time being more focused on building the relationship in a way that you can, in the best way that you can, in this current kind of climate. Is, the you know—the touchy-feely aspect of it is certainly decidedly different than for the foreseeable future is going to be that way.
BRIAN: And I think it causes more weight to be placed on things like references. Right, it’s not just the references that people give you. It’s the back-channel references. You know—
BRIAN: You know, how was—calling somebody that worked with Tom, eight years ago, “How was Tom to work with, talk to me about how we interacted with other people?” You mean, I think that’s probably the best you’re going to do at this point in time.
JIM: Yeah, no. And I think it goes back to the fundamentals piece. I mean, the reality is when we were meeting people face to face all the time and all these different contexts. We weren’t batting 1,000—we got things wrong. So you know, how do you find opportunities to just be more diligent and work smarter, not harder. And just, you know, realize that there’s going to be some challenges. But you can, you can bridge the gaps. So, I guess does anything come to—when you talk about just some of the differences and things you’ve had, like you said, just being more deliberate, you haven’t slowed down. But whether it’s related to hiring or any other aspect of the business that’s changed in the last few months in the wake of the pandemic. Anything that’s pleasantly surprised you? That you—either you’ve proven to be resilient, it’s proven to work really well when maybe you thought, you know, it wasn’t going to work well? And maybe things that you might implement long term and not just over the course of, you know, kind of the medium term?
BRIAN: Well, we’ll certainly be more flexible with working from home. No matter what, right. So, you know, we’ve announced that already, it’s already—this is feels like day to day news this one time at the earliest we could consider coming back to the office is September 1. And that’s not going to happen at this point in time. You know, we’ve already made some decisions to push that data out further. So, and I think even if we were to reopen the office, I mean, at this point in time, you know, we looked at a bunch of information and data as to how many people were coming in on a daily basis into our office in Boston, and it wasn’t that many. So I think we’ll continue to say, “Okay, you know what.” The one thing that we’ve been pleasantly surprised about is that we haven’t lost any productivity. You know, we’re— as a company, we’re as productive now as we were prior to that. And so by having people work from home, you know, people don’t people don’t really feel they’ve lost things. I like to tell the story of my comptroller who was commuting, close to an hour and a half each way. And, you know, his attitude was, look, I think finance people need to be in the office to be productive. That is, there’s a lot of discussion that happens. And as he says, “Look, you know what, I’ve gained three hours a day back to my schedule, and we have not lost any productivity in the finance team.” So, I think people have been pleasantly surprised with how productive they actually can be. Given the tools that are out there these days. I can’t imagine had this had happened 15 years ago, what would have happened? Right, I mean, I mean, I think it would have been “Great Depression Two” because we just didn’t have the tools to collaborate at work so people would have gone home and would have done nothing. So, you know, thankfully, if there’s a silver lining here so that we have the technology and people, generally speaking, have enough bandwidth to be able to get the job done. So, you know, that’s I think some of the—that’s what we will probably do as a company is we will go back into the office, but it won’t be 100% like it was prior to that. And I don’t fear that. And maybe five or six months ago, I would have said,
“Gee, the sooner we get back the better.”
JIM: Yeah, it, it might not surprise you that some of our, you know, most adamant opponents of work from home or kind of the flexibility, you know, are now kind of 180 degrees different—
JIM: And in terms of when—and frankly, you can have—I mean, if you’re being opportunistic minimally or you’re thinking about it from our viewpoint, from a talent perspective, you’ve got a lot more, you know, figuratively speaking a lot broader reach, right? I mean, if you’re not, if location—
JIM: If you’re not putting up those barriers needlessly, then you might be able to kind of get access to certain talent that you wouldn’t have even thought of before. Because, “Hey, you know, we’re based in Boston, I don’t want to consider someone in New York or Philadelphia or Chicago.” And, you know, those things do matter. But I think a lot of companies that are leaning into that are finding they can get access to people that they would never even thought about before.
BRIAN: It does-it does expose you to a much broader talent pool.
JIM: There’s no doubt about it. So and I think that’s a net positive for a lot of companies. I guess, you know—as you said, hiring has gone on for you in a deliberate fashion. How are you thinking about—because we found, both internally Bowdoin and kind of as we talk about it as a team and as we talked to a lot of our clients. The, you know, the touchy feely aspect of things, you know, the most, you know—kind of in that bucket, in my opinion, is going to be things like culture. Which, it’s so tough to define, it’s so tough to talk about. You have to kind of experience it—particularly for new people. Whether they’re senior or junior, or somewhere in between, you know, there’s a difference of someone who’s going through this now who’s been with Fuze for five years. I mean, it’s difficult for everybody, but they’ve got at least a body of work, that they understand, they know the operating, you know, kind of rhythms of the business. But someone who kind of came in in the last few months, that’s different going forward.
So how have you thought about it from a culture perspective? From an onboarding—and even though we’ve got these tools and platforms and technologies to physically do it, you know, there’s still that sense of even though you’re kind of connected digitally, you could make the argument that you’re not as, quote, unquote, “connected” as you would be if you were in the office all the time. You know.
BRIAN: And that’s a fair comment. And I just hired a new general counsel, who started three and a half weeks ago. And, you know, I think one of the things that I’ve worked at, and I know other people in the organization have as well is you’ve got to work extra hard to bring somebody in and get somebody on board. And you’ve got to over-communicate. Because, you know, because you’re right, there’s just, there’s no substitute for coming into the office and walking around and having a cup of coffee and just shaking hands and meeting people, right? You just—unless you have a reason to talk to somebody in the virtual environment, you don’t talk to them. So, so the faces that I used to see on a day to day basis, you know, I have to you know—I put together a list and say, “Okay, I want to try to talk to five people today that I wouldn’t otherwise talk to.” So, you know, I wind up doing a lot of things like that. And that’s, I think, that’s what one of the things that I certainly do miss is, is exactly that—just that the casual interactions that you have for no reason. But back to your point of bringing somebody in, that’s the toughest part is they don’t they don’t get to really live that culture because they weren’t here when it happened.
JIM: Well, right. I’m just thinking about—I had a recent conversation with—there’s a candidate we placed as the head of HR for a company down in New York, and she was there all of I think six business days from, you know, beginning of March until they went into lockdown. And her view I think kind of more on the silver lining, that was taken away some positives—and this is an international company that’s got some offices in the U.S., but also in a couple other countries in Europe. And, you know, yes, when you’re in the office, physically, whichever office you typically go to, you know, you develop that level of rapport and you kind of you meet a lot of the people there. But in her view, it’s like, you know, there’s three, four or five other offices where I might not really ever have a substantive conversation with, you know, my counterpart in, you know, this European office or that one or so on.
So, I think the upside of like being able to extend and really have developing meaningful relationships with people, depending on the kind of the size and the stage of the business and how you’re distributed already, was a net positive. Because, you know, there are certain people you might not, you know, maybe you would have gotten to know here or there or some, you know, holiday party where you try to bring everyone to one central location, but nothing that really kind of, is a formal relationship, you know versus having some so online. So what you’re saying is trying to like, you know, push to have those conversations and use those as opportunities to get to know people and get to know coworkers. And, you know, ironically, in some ways a deeper way than you might have otherwise before this all happened.
BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah. Fair point. Yeah.
JIM: So we’ll see. But I-I’m generally with you. We-we’re going to be in this state for some time to come. It’ll never go back to the way it was. And that’s not necessarily all bad. But, you know, I think there’ll be a lot of lasting elements that we’ll take away from this, that no doubt proves that, you know, there’s a lot more efficiency to be gained. I’m very thankful and fortunate—to your point about the technology and the fact that we’re literally able to do it. I think we still got some work to do on how to how to how to solve for the culture and the, you know, the more subjective piece but you know, more time to come on that—
BRIAN: Yeah, yeah.
JIM: So really good dialogue, having a lot of fun talking to you about the company and some of your philosophies and how things are going. I guess, going back to you individually, you talked I think it was around the early 2000’s when you moved back to Boston, you kind of got into the tech space. What was your inspiration—and then you know, what keeps you motivated now after having been doing it for a while?
BRIAN: Yeah, so actually, the company that I went to work for in Dallas was actually a technology company. And it was it was a company that—I had actually been their banker back when I was at Fleet in the he had bought he was in the semiconductor business and bought a software company in southern California. And I financed the acquisition for him, then went to work for him afterwards after I finished law school. So I really, I really kind of enjoyed the technology I enjoyed—you know, it’s just the opposite of commercial banking, which is, which is fairly staid. And you know, it’s not super-fast moving, you know. Technology is just the opposite. I mean, technology, if you don’t make a decision today, you don’t get to make it tomorrow because things have already changed, right. So, so I was— part of it was I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to make my own decisions when I went down to work for this company. And I joined them originally as CFO. But I had IT, I had legal, I had HR. And I remember I walked in after my first week and told my boss, the CEO, I said, “Well, I think I want to make a change in the IT group, and I don’t think the CIO is the right guy for us.” And he said, “Okay.” I’m like, “Well, what do I do?” He goes, “You just tell him he’s not the right guy.” (laughing) And “just do it” right? So I was like, “Wow, that’s—I’m not used to things moving that fast.” And granted technology that doesn’t have—it doesn’t have that the fast-moving market stuff sorted all by itself, but it certainly is a fast-moving world. And I kind of I kind of like the adrenaline and the excitement that comes with living in a world where things change on a daily basis. It-it’s a lot of fun. It keeps you fresh. It keeps you young, keeps you on your toes.
JIM: That’s awesome. Yeah, and I agree with you, that, that sense of being kind of dynamic and ever-changing and, you know, being able to be nimble. That’s, you know, as being, you know—in the search space, obviously, we’re more of a services firm, but we get to work with a lot of cool technology companies and represent them and that, you know, kind of feeling of kind of moving fast and that rapidly kind of evolving, you know, kind of landscape is what keeps me charged up for sure. I guess flipping it around, what keeps you up at night? What are the what are the things that that kind of hang on that side of things?
BRIAN: You know, right now I’d have to say the economy. You know, it felt like we had made pretty good progress on this thing back in April and May and even into maybe early June, and now it’s doesn’t look that way. So, you know—and we feel it within our customer base. You know, we didn’t have a ton of customers asking for what we were calling COVID relief. But we had some, and the fact that they are still coming in at this point in time is a little discouraging. You know, I would have thought that, that we would have done a better job as a as a country and kind of reacting to this thing than we actually have. And so it’s it—that part’s a little discouraging, you know, we don’t have any concentration to any particular segment of the economy, but like everybody else we have—because everybody needs to communicate—but we have, you know, retail customers that are struggling right now. We’ve got, you know, companies in the recruiting business that really had a hard time back in March. And they seem to have come back nicely at this point in time. But, I do worry about where’s the economy going to go the back half of this year? Are we going to-are we going to—are things going to get better? Or are they going to get worse before they get better? And that’s probably the biggest concern I have right now.
JIM: Yeah. And I guess tied to that it’s just the level of unpredictability. Or there’s nothing to model this against, because it’s such a new and, you know, kind of, you know—it’s overused at this point, but I still think it’s true that it’s unprecedented, right?
JIM: And that makes it and—a lot of this is based on, you know, and driven by a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s not objective, and it doesn’t just say, you know, say, “Okay.” It’s—and even if things get, you know, stamped out, and you know, we get to a point where hopefully, we have some type of a vaccine, that doesn’t necessarily directly correlate with how people are going to respond.
BRIAN: Correct, right—
JIM: And their habits and what they’re going to do. And so, I hear you. I think that’s, I think that’s a very fair one. One other thing I was curious about, so you’ve got a very cool and kind of interesting background. You talked about you kind of your law background, having the J.D. and then you know, at least that your last—your current company and the one prior you were CFO before you became CEO, right? So can you talk a little bit about those transitions? And when you kind of look at the amalgam of being a chief executive, CFO, legal background, do you think that those moves have been strategic for you and helped you? And are you able to kind of—do you feel like more of a rounded executive being able to draw from a lot of these different buckets?
BRIAN: Yeah, I mean, the J.D. thing helped me out early on, I never did practice law. You know, I was planning on it and I graduated went right to work for one of my customers and, and was planning on taking the bar, but like anything else, you get into a new job, and there’s no time to do things like that. So I think that’s been helpful. You know, the finance background is always helpful to have, right to understanding how to how to read a P&L, how to read a balance sheet, a cash flow statement, those things are always important. And, and let’s face it, when you’re dealing with particularly venture investors, you better be able to read that kind of stuff because they sure can. And if you can’t, they’ll find somebody who can. So you know, the last company I was at it was essentially we had some really good investors. But I think that the market had kind of shifted from the time I joined up until a couple years later. So I think it was kind of a bit of a battlefield promotion, they said, “Hey, look, you’re now the CEO. That’s the good news. The bad news is go try to find a buyer for the company.” So and I ran it for as CEO for two years before ultimately selling it. And it was a pretty, pretty good outcome. So I was happy with that. And I really enjoyed that. I was planning on being CEO again.
But one of the investors in my last company, who’s also an investor here, at Fuze, said, “Hey, you really need to come over to Fuze and be the CFO.” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know if I want to be the CFO again.” And he said, “Look, it’s a gigantic market. It’s a $50 to $60 billion dollar per year market. There are only so many opportunities to get into a market of that magnitude and the company could really use your help.” So I listened to him, decided to do it. And, you know, I’m glad I did. And I think at the end of the day, they made the decision that “Hey, you know what, you did a pretty good job as CEO at the last company we think you could do it here again.” So I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve only been CEO here since beginning of December. So what’s that now? Is it eight months, seven months? I’ve kind of lost track. But and, you know, if you had told me back on December 1, that “Hey, by the way, there’s going to be a global pandemic, you know, three months into your run as a CEO, and everyone’s going to have to work from home on a full time basis?” I would have said, “Okay, maybe this is not going to work out so hot.” But um, it’s actually it’s actually done quite well. I mean, the team’s really rallied. And I’ve been really proud of my team here at Fuze—at how good a job they’ve done.
JIM: That’s great to hear. And I’ve got a former client friend too who recently took a CEO gig—and this was not too long from when you when you joined Fuze, but same deal, right? You come in and no one’s predicting—you look at all the kind of the SWOT analysis and all the kind of, you know, the annual planning you’re doing, and no one had global pandemic written down anywhere.
JIM: And I think it’s a testament to—I mean, look, a lot of lot of businesses and people have been hit very hard. And that’s unfortunate. But I-I also think that, you know, there’s been a lot of, you know, people and companies and organizations who’ve tried to rise up and adapt and just, you know, do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. And, you know, I think some of the— it’s proven time and time—is the one similarity to past times of, you know, economic or, you know, downturn and civil unrest—a lot of these things that are typically born out of that change and that turmoil are, you know, the next wave of really great, you know, leaders and companies and so on. So it’ll be interesting to see, you know, a year or two or five from here, kind of what, what comes out of this?
BRIAN: Absolutely. As somebody said to me back at the end of March, he said, “Well take your annual operating plan that you built for 2020. And yeah—and just hit delete.”
JIM: (laughing) Yeah—
BRIAN: And start all over again, because whatever the plan was in December isn’t the plan anymore. So.
JIM: That uh—I-I’m laughing, but I, I’ve heard it plenty. And I think that makes sense. And what’s your view? Like, does that, you know—obviously, you talked earlier about being, you know, being a private company, right, and having a different kind of operating rhythm and marching orders. You just, you know—looking back across your investors, your board, I mean, has everyone—given that this is all, you know—even people who’ve been in certain industries and markets for a long time, no one’s seen anything quite like this. So, I mean, have you felt like expectations have been relatively consistent? And are people generally, you know, kind of, you know, operating the same way? Have you seen kind of that disconnect at all?
BRIAN: You mean from board members? People like that?
JIM: Yeah, just kind of—
BRIAN: No. They don’t, they’ve got no patience. They don’t expect you to be to change anything, right? They’re like, “Oh, look, you know what, you guys were dealt a tough hand. So has everybody else in the world? How are you going to react to it?” you know, “Let’s—you know, let’s see what you’re going to do to react to it.” So yeah, I don’t think the expectations really changed. You know, we’re all dealing with the same kind of thing here. So I think they just they expect you to be able to pivot react well, and, and, you know, as far as I’m concerned, I mean, you just got to stay nimble, right? Who knows what’s going to happen? And you can, if you can move fast and try to figure out what’s happening, then then you’ll survive and prosper.
JIM: Well, right I think that’s, I think that’s well said. And it’s not like this has been, you know, only aimed at one, you know, one part of the market, right, everyone’s dealing with challenges in some way, shape or form. So you’ve got to, you know, adapt and figure it out. And, and like you said, be nimble and you know, I forget who said it back in the day, but you know, “Never waste a good crisis.” Find opportunities.
BRIAN: Yeah. I think it was Winston Churchill actually said that in his writing. And, you know, I’m not— I’m never going to complain. I mean, there are so many businesses in so many industries that are much worse off than we are, right. And in many respects, no, it’s this has been—there’s been there’s been certainly been some headwinds in our customer base was also always some tailwind here as well. So, we’ve gotten up relatively easy compared with some other industries.
JIM: Yeah, fair point. And that makes sense. So you talked about some of your, you know, kind of lingering concerns around just kind of economic recovery. You know, just focus on kind of the remainder of 2020. Anything from your standpoint that, you know, you’re optimistic about? Whether that’s just generally in the market, whether that’s Fuze related? How are you thinking about the balance of this year?
BRIAN: Yes so selfishly from a Fuze standpoint, we’re pretty optimistic right now. And I think, you know, the view had always been that enterprises we’re going to move from their old on-prem solutions to UCaaS. And it’s probably going to be a three to four year, you know, transition period, maybe right through 2025. And I think if anything, this crisis has really accelerated that transition. So we’re looking at deals now in the pipeline that we didn’t expect we’d see probably until 2021 or 2022. So that’s been a positive for us. And you know, making sure that we’ve got the right people in there to kind of—t-to resource these requests and deal with these opportunities is a challenge for us. But, it’s a pleasant challenge and one that we should be able to rise to, and I’m confident we will be able to. You know, the pessimism really comes from, you know, where’s the whole economy going? And even if these CIOs want to move to UCaaS, are they going to have the budget to do it? Or if the economy goes into a deep recession, are the budgets going to get cut? And they’re going to say, “Hey, look, you know, I want to go with Fuze. But right now, my old system is not broken. And I can either choose to spend money with you or just keep the old one up and running the best I can.” And you know, that can be the decision that they make as well.
JIM: Right, which is, you know, obviously even with, you know, a best-in-class type of solution that it’s out of your control if budgets could happen.
BRIAN: Mhmm. Yeah.
JIM: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. Okay. Well as we kind of wind down here, a lot of fun talking to you, Brian, maybe we can, you know, think about more kind of like an industry market theme to wrap up and then kind of more of a, of a personal one to end on. So what do you view as kind of the next wave of innovation? You know, relative to your world of kind of UCaaS, as you as you refer to it?
BRIAN: You know, it’s a good question, Jim. And if I had the perfect answer, I probably would be executing on it. But it feels to me like—I talked earlier about the one thing that I really miss is the casual interactions with people. So you know, it feels like there should be a way to somehow—you put that into a tool, right? So, if I’m walking around the office, I want to go just take a tour through the support group and just say hello to some of the support guys. There’s really no way of doing that with the tools you have right now without short of just calling them up and talking to them. Which is, at best an awkward conversation. Right, if the CEO calls you it’s like “Woah, what’s going on? Why is the CEO calling me?”
JIM: (laughing) Right.
BRIAN: Whereas if I just walk, I’m walking around the office and I go talk to one of the guys in support, it’s not awkward at all. It’s just, you know, it’s a natural thing. So maybe somehow coming up with something that makes those casual interactions, a little less awkward than they might be today would be great. We try to get around that by having what we call “ask me anything” meetings. We have them twice a week and somebody different hosts one every single time. And it’s a casual meeting, people show up and just ask questions and have conversations. We have like the virtual cocktail parties for departments, and every once in a while, I’ll jump into one of those and just say hello. But there’s no—it’s again, there’s no substitute for just kind of being able to walk around and say hello. So, if there’s a way to somehow build a tool that allows for that, that would be great. I don’t know how to build it. And I’m not sure what it looks like, but it’s kind of the-that’s kind of the—to me, that’s kind of the big missing piece of the puzzle at this point in time.
JIM: Well, if I figure it out first, I’ll cut you in. It’s definitely—
BRIAN: (laughing) Ha! Thanks.
JIM: It’s mainly your idea. But I agree, I think that makes a lot of sense. And as much as we have access to people, we have opportunities to talk. I mean, back to the earlier point about connectedness, right? I mean, we’re technologically connected, but sometimes that level of engagement, you just don’t know. And the opportunities to be able to have, you know, more and up and down the organization, right, a CEO popping in on a new hire, or someone who might just be otherwise nervous, “Am I getting fired? What’s going on?” versus just having a casual interaction as two people, there’s something to be said about that. And I think, you know, it’s kind of just, organizationally speaking, just being kind of comfortable in your own skin.
JIM: I like that. I think that’s well said. So let’s end on a bang, you know, not to bury the lead. But let’s go with the burning question that I think all of our listeners are clamoring to understand is, what kind of music is Brian Day listening to? Talk to us about—do you have a favorite musician or band and maybe elaborate on that a little bit, so we get to know the man a bit?
BRIAN: It is a question from left field. Okay, I’m going to totally date myself now. Led Zeppelin.
BRIAN: It was it was the first concert I ever saw. And I tell people that now they’re like, “Wow, you saw Led Zeppelin. And I was lucky enough. I had, I had older cousins living in Toronto, in the late 1970s. And I used to spend like a month every summer with my cousins up there. And I got up there one year, I think I was maybe 13 or 14 years old. And they said, “Hey, we got we got Led Zeppelin concert tickets.” So I went, and you know, it just—it was the first concert ever. And of course, the first concert could have been anybody and they would have been my favorite band from that point forward. But, you know, it’s nice that it was Led Zeppelin. So yeah—and to this day, you know what if I’m out for a run or something like that, I’ll still put on Led Zeppelin on my iPod and listen away or on my Spotify app. So, I like that. It’s good stuff.
JIM: Awesome. Well, that’s, that’s great to hear. Glad that you’re a rocker at heart. And yeah like I mean— there’s dating yourself by saying something like a PBX system, and then there’s dating yourself in a very cool way but which would still rally support with Led Zeppelin. Because if you don’t, you know— there’s no accounting for taste but I think you know, everyone who has any sort of connection to music can appreciate, you know, what they did. And even my six year old son rocks out to “Immigrant Song” and some of the classics—
BRIAN: And he probably knows who Jimmy Page is right?
JIM: He does. He does. And on a personal note—for myself I’d probably put Robert Plant in at least my personal kind of top three, top five of just kind of all-time rock and roll voices.
BRIAN: Yep. I’d have to agree with you there Jim.
JIM: Yeah, well, I—and I’m not pandering, I promise. That’s a very good choice. So, awesome. Well, this has been a lot of fun. We really appreciate you taking the time. I think it’s always fun to get to know people as people, hear about the companies, hear about personal stories, so hopefully it was fun for you to talk about. I know people who listen to this, I think will find-will find a lot of value from it. So thanks for taking the time with us, Brian.
BRIAN: My pleasure. I really enjoyed it. Thanks, Jim.
JIM: Awesome. Take care.
JIM: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of Decoding the Journey here with The Bowdoin Group. Don’t forget to subscribe to and like our podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you stream. And subscribe to our blog at bowdoingroup.com for the latest episodes when they drop.
About The Bowdoin Group
Founded in 1994, The Bowdoin Group is an award-winning executive search firm that specializes in leadership and strategic roles, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) services, and major hiring projects for a wide range of companies, from small firms building out their executive team to larger firms sourcing talent for rapid market expansion. With deep expertise in BioPharma, Digital Health, FinTech, and Software & Technology, Bowdoin is a national leader with the ability to source talent and service companies globally. The company’s service reputation has earned it a ranking in the top 2% of the recruiting industry for client satisfaction year after year. The Bowdoin Group is also active in supporting the local entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as several non-profit causes, including Life Science Cares, NEVCA, Hack.Diversity, and FinTech Sandbox.