As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Day.
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 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. He began his career with Fleet Financial Group as a Vice President in the Bank’s structured finance group.
Brian has a B.A. in Economics from the University of New Hampshire, and a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.
Outside of work, Brian is an avid sailor and skier and has even been known to show up at a triathlon or two.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve worn various hats throughout my career, but at my core I’ve always believed in the power of numbers and data. This belief led to a 20+ year career in finance as a leader and operator at high-growth companies. While I greatly enjoyed my role as CEO at Apperian and CFO at Octave Communications and then Fuze, I’ve always been interested in broader strategic business decisions -– leading me to assume my role of CEO at Fuze, which I’ve held for nearly two years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
With COVID-19 overhauling traditional workplace communications norms, we were all looking for ways to stay connected at the onset of the pandemic. In an effort to support my employees and also fulfill gaps in my own interpersonal communications needs, I decided to call five random Fuzers (our name for Fuze employees) each day, with the goal of checking in and having those casual conversations that would otherwise take place throughout the work day.
My plan backfired. Most of the Fuzers that I called were uneasy receiving a random call from their CEO, and immediately assumed that something was wrong. I quickly learned that small talk cannot be forced, and there is no natural virtual replica for office banter. From now on, I’ll let my employees give me a call when they want to chat — my (virtual) door is always open!
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’ve learned a lot from my colleagues, bosses and peers over the years, but I owe a special thanks to Ron Elwell, who served as CEO at Octave Communications during my time at the company. We worked very closely together, and he specifically taught me the power of product marketing. A great product can fail upon launch without an innovative strategy, and Ron’s insights instilled the importance of creating a holistic go-to-market plan.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Fuze was built to provide the enterprise with a cohesive and specialized cloud-based communications and collaboration platform. This all started back in 2006 before cloud-based and UCaaS were even phrases that people knew about. We understand how important efficient communications are within the workplace, and the ripple effect that unreliable communications can have on business results and business continuity.
Our mission was, and continues to be, to help business leaders overcome one of the biggest challenges associated with digital transformation — effectively meeting the communications requirements of the modern worker. This vision has only evolved over the past 18+ months, as remote work became center stage, and employees across industries had to overhaul their traditional business communications processes.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
As I mentioned, Fuze is an enterprise communications and collaboration platform. Specifically, our solution consolidates fragmented communications, often replacing 4–8 applications in an average deployment by combining audio and video calling, meeting, chatting, and content sharing into one application.
Communications should never be a burden — it should be completely integrated into company operations. However, too often, collaboration tools cause headaches for those utilizing them. Fuze solves this problem by providing a seamless user experience that drastically improves productivity, regardless of a worker’s physical location or device.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across industries had to immediately shift to remote working models, leaving many businesses scrambling to keep their teams connected and engaged with virtual collaboration tools. This led to a major change in the market, with players like Zoom and Teams becoming the go-to source for video collaboration tools, as well as an influx of additional tools being brought to market to meet the growing need.
While traditional office workers seamlessly made the shift to full-time remote work by simply taking their computers home and downloading video conferencing services, frontline industries that rely on in-person operations, such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, logistics and agriculture, found the transition significantly more challenging and were often left out of the flexible work conversation. This paradigm left a major gap for these industries and left them scrambling to find solutions that could accommodate their unique business needs.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
The term pivot implies that something must be changed because it wasn’t working. We know that we provide a strong, reliable communications platform, so we underwent more of a refinement than a pivot to better reach those industries that were left behind once COVID-19 forced us all into remote work.
When looking to make business decisions, it’s important to know that you can’t be everything to everyone. Instead, you must look for market gaps and invest time, money and resources to fill those gaps. Knowing this, we developed a specialized approach that brought legacy and traditional systems to the cloud and enabled frontline workers to sign on and continue to work safely at home. We also doubled-down on our voice-based solutions and prioritized the introduction of various vertical-specific solutions. Throughout the pandemic, conversations focused on video collaboration tools and features, but in reality, virtual meetings can take place without video. Audio is the key to successful collaboration, so we relied on the power of our voice-based capabilities to better support our customers.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Throughout my career, I’ve learned that early-stage companies thrive when they focus on specific segments. While Fuze does not fit into the early-stage category, I had a moment of clarity realizing that we could apply this model to refine our operations and dive deep into the vertical markets that major players like Zoom and Teams could not effectively support.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
We’ve seen great success with this strategy. Throughout the year we’ve launched various vertical-specific solutions, including manufacturing and recruiting. These specialized solutions allow companies of all sizes to maintain business continuity throughout any disruption, reduce their operational costs, and scale operations as they continue to grow.
As a specific example, we worked with one of the largest US-based manufacturers of wholesale apparel to transition its legacy on-premises phone system to the cloud at the onset of the pandemic. With Fuze, the company unified its workflows, creating a streamlined experience for everyone across the organization, and enabled them to successfully transition to remote work and scale production of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
The COVID-19 pandemic put us in a unique position to truly help businesses connect virtually while physically separated, especially in traditional industries that did not previously have the option or ability to work remotely. There was a need for platforms like Fuze more than ever, and we were able to seize that opportunity to better create solutions that worked for our customers’ evolving needs.
As a result of our adaptability, we saw significant growth during this time, specifically as it relates to Fuze usage. Not surprisingly, we saw a significant increase in new mobile users and interactions between video calling and meetings. We were able to support enterprises as they worked to keep their teams engaged, boost morale, retain talent and reduce burnout during a difficult time, and as we can now see from our data during that peak time, our solutions were just what these companies needed.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. The onus is on leaders to keep their employees, stakeholders and customers informed about any changes or re-alignment within the company. You don’t want to surprise the people who will ensure the business remains successful, as it will lead to uncertainty within the entire operational ecosystem, hindering success and productivity, and disrupting business continuity.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Once again, honest communication serves as the best way to boost morale among the team. I emphasize “honesty.” People want to know what’s going on and you need to be able to trust them with bad news as well as with good news. As Fuze navigated uncertainties throughout the pandemic, we took several proactive measures to make sure our workforce felt seen and heard. This included:
- Ask-Me-Anything Sessions (AMAs): We maintained transparency with our employees by hosting weekly ask-me-anything (AMAs) sessions beginning in March 2020. These sessions are presented by members of the Fuze leadership team and began as a way for Fuze employees to open up about how they were feeling about fully remote work and get clarification on Fuze’s plans moving forward. One year later, the AMA sessions have continued to empower employees to ask hard questions. Worldwide participation in the AMA sessions averages around 170 attendees per meeting and topics include everything from return-to-work plans to workplace strategies to support colleagues.
- Fuze Community: Fuze has also maintained an employee engagement group called “Fuze Community’’ that hosts regular virtual activities, like yoga, cardio-kickboxing, weekly book clubs, and open mic hour.
- Screenless Time: Our recent Flex Study shows that a third of employees are not taking breaks throughout the day and 25% report working longer hours. At Fuze, we encourage everyone to build “screenless” time into their day to enjoy some of the personal benefits of working remotely like being able to go for a run, eat lunch with their partner, or cheer their kids on at an afternoon game. Leaders need to encourage their employees to look ahead at their calendars each week to block off time for both the important personal events they don’t want to miss and breaks that are purely for self-care.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Agility. Too often, companies shy away from making the necessary changes to grow and elevate their brand. However, the only way to survive turbulent times is to embrace this change and harness it to inspire innovation and growth throughout the company.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Being afraid to change: Change is inevitable, especially in the business world. Instead of running away from the change brought about by disruptive technologies, leaders should look to change with it, and develop solutions that will strategically fit into the new environment.
- Not trusting your instincts: Nine times out of ten, your gut instinct is correct. Instead of quieting the voice in your head coming up with unique and proactive ideas, embrace it. During times of uncertainty, big ideas will help move the needle and set innovators apart from laggards.
- Not listening to employees: Employees are the backbone of any organizations’ success. If corporate leadership works in a vacuum, they are excluding important ideas and opinions that will help the company thrive, and risk losing crucial talent to the organizations that prioritize their workforces’ opinions and ideas.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be willing to move fast: Business leaders too often fall into a pit hole where every decision is examined under a microscope — whether that be through the creation of committees or seeking in-depth outside counsel when looking to reposition their company’s position in the market. However, when facing disruptive technology, time is of the essence, and every minute wasted gives the competitive technology a greater advantage. Leaders must be willing to forego traditional processes in order to stay relevant once disruptive tech comes to market. We’re smaller than our peers so we need to be able to use this to our advantage. We have the necessary corporate governance in place, but if we need to move fast for a deal, or add a feature to a product, we do it faster than others.
- Be agile: As I said before, agility is the key to success when faced with disruption. Once new technology comes to market, it is no longer acceptable for companies to stay in their traditional lanes. Instead, they must work to shift their strategy to be laser-focused on taking back market share in the quickest way possible. Adding Fuze for Manufacturing and Fuze for Professional Services are good examples of this.
- Trust yourself and your stakeholders: Leaders must have confidence in their ability to guide their organization through turbulent times. And if they don’t have the specific expertise needed to challenge disruptive technology, they must openly rely on employees, peers and stakeholders that do hold the expertise to help them succeed. We put together a “Leadership Network” at Fuze where we all share ideas. 50 smart people are more effective than 5 smart people!
- Focus on business continuity: While competing technology may cause disruption in the industry, it should not disrupt continuity within a company. Leaders must create a culture that reinforces internal calm when faced with external chaos — stressing that the best way to stay relevant in times of change is to carry on with traditional operations, while leadership makes the necessary decisions to realign their business strategy. And once those decisions are made, they must be presented and executed in a manner that does not disrupt continuity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rodgers
This quote directly speaks to the need for agility, in both my personal and professional life. Chances are that things will continue to go well if one sticks to the status quo, but true opportunity is born from taking risks and looking for innovation in unexpected places.
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