As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Warren.
Charlie Warren is the CEO and co-founder of Convex, the software platform leading the commercial services industry’s digital-first revolution. He has more than 10 years of experience in building data, energy analytics, and enterprise software, and earned his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Bowdoin College, an MPA in Electricity Market Design and Energy Efficiency from Harvard University, and an MBA in Energy, Entrepreneurship and Finance from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Charlie works with leaders at some of the largest commercial service providers in the country, giving him unique insight into what makes for a successful service business across a range of industries that includes HVAC, security, and facilities maintenance.
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’ and how you got started?
I grew up in Detroit, where my family is in the wiring business — one of those industries that’s the backbone of the global economy. After college and graduate school, I worked in energy and finance roles before collaborating with my cofounder Blake Meulmester to start Convex. I know it sounds like a cliché, but we literally started the company in a garage and bootstrapped for six months with one whiteboard to our names. Given my early connection with and empathy for commercial services, it makes sense I would end up co-founding a company to serve that market.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
When we started out, we had confidence in our core idea that physical properties represent complex data objects, and that creating easy-to-use map-based software to leverage that data could unlock significant growth for companies in the commercial services space — which includes such industries as HVAC, security, elevators, fire and life safety, building automation, and solar. This idea would eventually become our flagship application, Atlas: map-based sales intelligence and pipeline management software. Our research showed that the digital transformation that had benefited so many sectors had left many service companies behind, so we resolved to fill the gap with a platform that helps sales leaders take their products and services to market more effectively to accelerate revenue growth.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
It wasn’t really a mistake, but it is kind of funny. It was back when we were first starting out and I had just sold Atlas to one of our current customers. I flew to their location to do the onboarding myself. After I’d demoed the product to their 12-person team, their first reaction was, “Okay, great. So…what else does it do?” While our product has evolved significantly since then, it was an early lesson to always lead with outcomes over features; specifically, how our product and support can drive success from the very start of the sales process.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When my cofounder and I asked ourselves about our purpose, the answer became Convex’s mission statement, which informs everything we do to this day: to serve as the most important partner to digital-first commercial services businesses. Because we’re applying complex data modeling and machine learning to a more traditional market, we could be considered disruptors, but we’d rather be seen and defined as a trusted partner to our customers. We realized early on that applying our technology expertise to an industry with such a durable and pervasive global footprint could have an enormous impact.
Our original vision for the company hasn’t changed: We want to be a multi-generational, best-in-class public company that always does right by its customers and employees. It may sound simple, but it’s a vision that has served us well and has proven to be our best path forward.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Before Convex was even a company, we established our core values to provide a foundation from which all our work would flow, because we fundamentally believe that how we work is just as important as what we do. Last year, we updated these values to reflect the culture of the company as it is today in a way that truly exemplifies our philosophy: by giving our employees an opportunity to be involved in the process. By doing so, we ensure that every Convexian feels invested in these renewed values: Be kind, be curious, work with candor, and commit to success. We advance these values internally through peer nominations that recognize individuals who best personify them. We also leverage them as a guide for engaging with our customers by committing to solving their toughest go-to-market challenges and tapping into curiosity to create solutions tailored to their needs.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Our number one principle has and will always be very clear: Convex exists to serve our customers, our employees, and our community. We’re guided by treating everyone fairly and with respect and empathy, and working together to always be responsive to our customers’ needs regardless of changing market dynamics.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Early product feedback and selling was extremely challenging on the road to finding our product-market fit. We often received conflicting feedback on features and didn’t have the resources at the time to meet every individual need and request. Prioritization was difficult. But we believed so strongly in our product and how it could transform the way commercial services sales teams found and won new business that we never once thought of giving up. We’ve persevered, and today, we’re well on our way to meeting and exceeding our goals.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Convex is doing really well. In fact, just last month, we were honored to be named one of Y Combinator’s Top Companies for 2022 from their elite field of venture-backed companies. We appreciate every day how fortunate we are to work with some of the biggest and most successful brands in the commercial services space. For them, we’re not just a software provider, but an active partner in their go-to-market success.
Throughout our journey as a company, our values have always been the cornerstone of everything we’ve built. As mentioned earlier, we established them before there was even a company. We embrace the idea that you can’t be successful without the values, and the values make you successful. This helps us attract employees with high standards who are passionate about working for a company that aligns with their personal and professional beliefs. As a result, our employees feel a sense of ownership and are inspired to fulfill our commitment to our customers, and our customers benefit from the resulting strong ROI. It’s this cycle that powers our company’s success and forward motion.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are the most important things I’ve internalized on our journey to success:
1. Accountability matters. Always do what you say you’re going to do and hold yourself to a high standard at every level of execution.
2. Actively listen. Early customer feedback is critical to informing how we evolve our products and services. I realized during our first six months in business just how important this feedback is when I lived two days out of five every week in Phoenix, Arizona, because that’s where the majority of our customers were at the time. Being face-to-face with them was key.
3. Be kind. There’s a reason this is one of our Convex core values. Being kind to others in business is just as important as being kind in every other area of your life. We’re all human beings, and we can achieve so much more together when everyone can be their best selves.
4. Drive. Nothing gets off the ground without the will to make it succeed. Even early on, when finding our product-market fit was a challenge, we never stopped striving for a solution.
5. Think probabilistically. Expected value is a powerful way to think through hard decisions and prioritize how to move forward.
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?
There have been many mentors and others along the way who have helped us get to where we are today, but one that stands out was an HVAC contractor in the Bay Area who gave us a true inside look at their operation when we first began researching how to go to market with our software idea. It was incredibly valuable to learn about their pain points to help inform how we developed the product prototypes that would eventually become Atlas.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
There are a couple of ways to look at this question. From a business perspective, what we do at Convex helps accelerate positive change in the market at scale around areas like healthy buildings — especially in the wake of the pandemic.
From a philanthropic standpoint, I have always gravitated toward opportunities that applied my knowledge, skills, and experience to improve the lives of others. For example, I’ve always admired the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research center that works to reduce poverty by ensuring policy is informed by scientific evidence. It’s an amazing organization that does a lot of good.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The best bet is to find me on LinkedIn.