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 Chris Budd.
Chris is the co-founder of Isolocity and has been with the company since its inception. He and his partner spearheaded the creation of Isolocity after years of dealing with traditional paper-based systems and has been instrumental in turning the company into more than just a consulting firm. With the transition from consulting to a fully operational SaaS quality compliance software, Chris has been able to help many businesses manage their GMP/ISO compliance more efficiently over the years and scale as needed.
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?
After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University, I spent the next 6 months living as a beach bum in Australia. Not sure what to do with my life, I thought this was the best next step in my development. After growing up — ever so slightly, I took a sales position at a third-party registrar, AQSR. This role allowed me to network with the field auditors which brought about certain career opportunities. One of the opportunities I jumped at was to work for Magna International as an internal QMS consultant. This role was a big steppingstone for me as it brought me into the heat of QA (Quality Assurance) within one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world. This experience afforded me the opportunity to work with and learn from great organizations such as Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and BMW.
In 2009, I decided to return to school to earn an MBA from the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. While completing my studies I was afforded the opportunity to spend a semester abroad at Erasmus in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Near the completion of my graduate studies my consulting practice CJB Consulting Ltd was born. The experience of being a one-man band consultant was liberating, but also scary. After a few years of this, my business partner and I started to map out Isolocity.
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?
Nearing the end of my studies at Rotman, I was interviewing at corporate consultancies. I was close to starting down that “suit” career and my Fiancée told me if I took that job, she wouldn’t marry me. That lady is now my wife and business partner. I’m glad I listened to her! My advice would be to take steps and make career decisions that will lead you to where you want to be in 5- 10 years. If I took that job for consulting company A, Isolocity wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be happily married.
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?
The first General Manager I reported to at Magna had a big influence on me. His name is David Meier. A fellow Canadian living in the USA, he knew I was green and needed mentoring. David took exception to my lack of experience and helped guide and encourage me to take control of the position and task at hand. At the age of 25 and only 6 months in the job, I was presenting the management review to 20 or so senior managers at one of Magna’s largest factories. He taught me to never get caught in the weeds, but to always understand why the weeds grow so you’re able to cut them down to move forward. He’s a great man and a major reason why I became the professional I am today. Thank you, David.
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?
Wanting to automate the ISO 9001 consulting technique, Isolocity’s initial goal was to speed up ISO 9001 system implementations. Fumbling around after version 1.0 in 2016, the business model wasn’t working. The market didn’t need to automate ISO 9001, it demanded a streamlined approach to compliance that provided intelligence in order to aid improvement and increase shareholder value. Isolocity pivoted and the rest is history.
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?
Isolocity is a secure cloud-based QMS or quality management system. Essentially it is the system that any service or manufacturer should employ in order to ensure their product is properly inspected using proper quality assurance protocol before delivering it to end users. Traditionally, this is done with spreadsheets or paper-based check-list systems. We specialize in the modernization of all that with a totally digital approach. The software houses documentation and helps train employees at a faster pace to employ methodology from MDSAP, ISO 9001, ISO 13485 and GMP — Good Manufacturing Practices, and more. These are designations that governing bodies like the FDA or Health Canada require in certain foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and even medical devices.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Cloud-based technology and automation are big technological headways that are already having a big impact on our clients and the industry. Traditionally, quality data is siloed off into its separate functions and has to be gathered before analysis but with a cloud-based system like Isolocity — all that information is in one or two dashboards which are ready for analysis. Even so, with globalization and the recent massive shift to a remote workforce during the pandemic, we have had increased demand for even more data connectivity infrastructure that will allow organizations to facilitate swift changes across a facility (in some cases multiple facilities) in order to adapt to new regulations or increased safety protocols for their staff.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Isolocity as a digital first quality management system, has always aimed at automating work and making information more accessible to its users. So, it really meant that we had to invest more in our product, people and making the company even more efficient. Our product development team worked hard to make areas such as documentation approvals and employee training more user friendly and easier to expedite to a more distributed workforce. The system has also been enhanced so that making mass changes to protocol can be done more easily without losing compliance with regulations. Implementation of single sign-on (SSO) integration with OKTA was also a big step in allowing users to securely switch between applications more easily and for organizations to have more control over facility level changes.
In addition to the software enhancements, we also heavily invested in customer success areas such as our learning management systems in order to ensure that both new and current clients would be able to take advantage of these updates quickly. Communications wise we also had to think about how to diversify our target market to attract businesses that were in the midst of tackling changes to their own operations as well.
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.
The “Aha moment” for us came immediately after many regions where our clients operated began to shut down. Clients had renewed interest in onboarding new users and we had discussions surrounding making massive shifts in what they produced (since not all of our clients produced goods that were considered “essential”). This is where I believe having a finger on the pulse of your client’s industries was very important and we have our customer success team to thank for that.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
It was definitely a challenge at first as we had to implement several more processes operationally to help our team manage the modifications more efficiently. At the same time, we wanted to continue delivering the right solutions to our clients through our software updates and learning management system. Thus, more collaboration between our marketing, development, and customer success teams had to happen. We were already a remote team but we would have in-person meetings several times a year to kick-off big projects, so that meant more frequent virtual cross-department meetings and added touch points online too. Increased investment in these areas as well as continued efforts to adapt by our team members have really been a boon to how we’ve weathered these changes.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
The need for more connectivity and resilience has never been more apparent especially when it comes to customer relationship building. I remember in early January before COVID hit north American shores, I was at a conference in Vancouver that had over 10,000 people in attendance, there were social mixers and a lot of handshaking — a far cry from what we’d be allowed to do today. Almost a year later these events are still pretty much non-existent and have had to pivot themselves greatly, if they are even still in business. Our communications and marketing have had to adapt to rely more heavily on digital means in addition to diversification on how the content itself is delivered so that it can stand out in such a crowded marketplace. We’ve also had to help transition clients who were mainly manufacturing recreational products like e-liquids to essential goods like hand sanitizer or medical grade masks as restrictions came into effect region by region. It has definitely been interesting seeing our customers pivot and listening to them to see where we can be more useful as well.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Whether it’s during periods of prosperity or disruption, I believe leadership’s role is to keep adapting, learning and to empower individuals to innovate while doing the same.
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?
Cultivating relationships that foster trust and communication is very important to us and ultimately a team effort. That’s why we encourage collaboration and input from employees at every level. Operationally, we have put in place tools such as project management platforms and internal messaging systems to help team members easily touch base with each other. Cross departmental syncs or calls are also a part of our daily work life which allows individuals to collaborate and also get on the same page when changes touch upon more than one area of business. We also regularly try to celebrate each other’s wins even if it is virtually. Contrary to popular belief a virtual pat on the back isn’t half bad at raising some spirits.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
All models are wrong. There’s always a better way and the norm should always be on trial. Let your customers dictate what the solution should be — after all, they are the ones paying for it and using it. Don’t be afraid to turn the table on its head and move in different directions with the scope and scale you have to work with.
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 a young company ourselves we always try to keep in mind the need to be nimble and swift in making changes so some principles we try to avoid are:
- Underestimating competitors or technology. We’ve seen time and time again, companies have lost their foothold in industries where they are leaders simply because they did not evolve with their industry. It is important to humble oneself and understand what a competitor is doing well just as well as their shortcomings.
- Not listening to the needs of the end-user. It’s very easy to just focus on the top-level needs of organizations and ignore the smaller grievances of those who are on the ground floor but these grievances can sometimes manifest themselves as larger issues later on so it is best to take them into consideration or be aware of them when making changes.
- Not learning from their mistakes. Sometimes for an issue such as this it is as simple as recognizing the failure and investigating how it happened, in order to prevent it from happening again.
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.
- Stay current with your clients’ needs. This is definitely something we learned more as the companies we worked with grew along with us. Our software had to fit the needs of our customer today but have the ability to adapt if those needs change along the line as well. Creating touch points with our end-users as well as the organizations that they work for ultimately inform how much more value we can bring to them.
- Never stop learning. Having an open mind to engage in how things work can be one of the biggest factors in initiating change or creating innovation. While the pandemic did usher in unprecedented change for some of our clients, at Isolocity we have hit challenges like this before. Especially, when foraying into new niches or customer segments that require different compliance needs. Without continued learning or innovation we’d still just be a consulting company.
- Invest in people, don’t do it all yourself. It goes without saying that a company’s success rests on the shoulders of its team and to that effect it is important to understand when it is time to expand or invest. In the past, operations was one of those areas where we recognized that more leadership and expertise could help streamline and increase efficiency. Thus, we sought out talent that was more senior or experienced to fill that need. This investment allowed us to succeed in becoming more proficient at our jobs and deliver even more value to our clients.
- Focus on goals, not obstacles. If we had given up on Isolocity years ago when we realized the shortcomings of our software, we wouldn’t have grown to where we are today. Without vision there won’t be progress. Isolocity is now a fully functioning SaaS software that can handle all aspects of quality management while servicing an international network of clients.
- Relationships still matter. Throughout the years we’ve been lucky enough to build partnerships with communities, individuals and organizations that have become the bread and butter of our operation. Thus, it was important for us to keep them top of mind during these challenging times. When realizing that a certain community was particularly hard hit by new regulations, we sprung into action with free educational content aimed at helping them adapt. This not only helped us cultivate our relationships with these partners but will likely have lasting effects on jobs in the areas affected.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Drink the good stuff if you got it.” This is sort of a play on “you only live once.” This adapted quote comes from a camping trip I was packing up with my dad and brothers. We were trying to decide on what alcohol to bring. My dad (being British) wanted to bring the cheap and probably expired stuff. I stepped in and grabbed his most expensive bottle of scotch. Later that weekend everyone was thanking me for mandating we bring the good stuff.
I apply this principle to my life. You have one lap around this track, might as well make it a good one and enjoy everything you can enjoy from it. Life’s too short to drink cheap wine.
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