As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Troy McAlpin.
Troy McAlpin brings more than 20 years of experience to his leadership role at xMatters, with expertise in process automation, strategic initiatives and corporate strategy. Under Troy’s direction xMatters has empowered over 650,000 paid IT power users and 2.6 million total users on the xMatters platform worldwide to prevent IT issues from impacting the customer experience. Troy’s domain experience includes IT strategy and vertical market expertise including technology, banking, consumer and retail industries. Prior to founding xMatters, formerly AlarmPoint Systems, he managed marketing, sales, development, M&A and financial aspects at two successful start-up companies and also worked at AT&T Solutions and Accenture.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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 started working early in high school about 20–30 hours a week out of necessity. After high school, I worked full time to put myself through college. I was fortunate to get a job at Arthur Andersen and rose quickly but left to go to ATT Consulting. I’ve always been purpose-driven and like to be accountable for my decisions and my efforts so I left ATT Consulting because I was concerned about the ethics of several of the decisions made by my division leadership team and decided that startups were best suited for me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Andersen expected all employees to dress in a navy blue or dark gray suit and tie everyday. We were always trying to push the limits and wear olive or other color suits to be rebels. One day I showed up in an olive suit with one black shoe and one red shoe on. Both shoes were of the same brand and it was dark when I got dressed. I was about 3 months into my new career and the partner on the job had everyone in the room stand up to see what was wrong with my outfit. When asked why I had two colors on I said I got dressed in the dark. The obvious question was, “Why didn’t you turn the light on?” My answer, “I was just too lazy to flip the switch.”
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Flip the switch. It seems silly to talk about suits or shoes as funny. In today’s business environment, who cares what you wear. But in the early 1990’s it mattered that we were buttoned up — I came off as too lazy to flip a switch. The lessons are: Flip the switch, don’t be lazy. Do the little things and the big things. Create good habits in good times so you can weather the bad times well.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are so many!
For running a business: the series by Jim Collins starting with Good to Great
For interpersonal relationships and working with people: Radical Candor by Kim Scott
For customer service: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
For lasting effect and impact: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig
Understanding habit creation and modification is important knowledge and power to determine your success or failure. Once you understand the psychology of habits, the reason for them and how you can alter them, you can really feel like you have control over your ability to succeed or fail.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Desi DosSantos, xMatters co-founder, and I set out to build a software company that changed how people communicate. We believed that humans could harness the computer telephony to solve problems quickly. We started building software but realized Software-as-a-Service was more efficient for the customer and we could provide a better experience. Today, 2.6 million users enjoy our incident response and management software to solve problems fast and protect their personal time from business interruption.
We believe that interruptions to the flow of work and digital services will always happen. How we plan for, prevent and respond to them will continue to evolve and change. We want the technical professional (e.g., developer, site reliability engineer, IT operations engineer, customer support technician, security professional) to depend on xMatters to help them prevent issues from happening by providing intelligence and observability to potential issues, capabilities to attempt automated cures with or without human involvement, to respond and receive guidance through resolution and to continually learn and continually automate prevention strategies. We want to be known as the application that keeps all digital services available.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Pay attention to culture or you will regret it. A healthy culture that puts people first is critical to running a successful business. At xMatters, we are building a culture of tolerance, acceptance and an appreciation to have the honor of working with our customers. It’s a place where we do hard things, celebrate one another, succeed and fail as a team not an individual and grow personally and professionally.
If this is the culture I want to build for my company then that’s what I have to bring. As a leader, I don’t ask anyone to do something I have not either done myself or that I am volunteering to assist them with. Our culture is very flat — I expect direct conversations with any level in the company to get things done. Pride, demeaning behavior, lack of “same team” as well as talking about someone instead of talking to someone, is not welcome.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have been very fortunate throughout the pandemic so I’m really grateful. Two employees have recovered from Covid-19 so again I could not be more grateful.
The first thing we did was communicate to our employees that we would get through this together, we had a plan to weather the storm no matter how long it lasted but most importantly their health and safety were my top concerns. Then I had to back up the words with actions — I wanted to make sure no one lost their job, health insurance and their mental health was looked after as we transitioned into flexible working.
We started by dusting off the playbooks from 2008–2010 and put several things into effect immediately. This included daily scrums, work from home, a budget to outfit your home office and a budget for snacks. We put expansion on hold and invested in our employees. Non-essential expenses were restrained and cash balances were built. We acted fast so that every employee retained their job. We have a few employees whose careers are really impacted (e.g., event planning) and we’re retraining them on other skills so they can contribute in new ways. We brought in family and mental health counseling for sessions. We shared stories and ideas. I held All Hands meetings every two weeks instead of every month.
So to summarize:
We put our people first, then delivered on the words.
We communicated often and directly.
We were always honest, even when inconvenient.
We are and were in it together.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
In the Fall of 2018, I announced I felt the economy was overheating and we were going to focus on profitability and being EBITDA positive. For the next 18 months I looked a little silly but we followed through on the plan and generated nice profits and positive cash flow for xMatters while still investing in growth initiatives. Again, I’m grateful that we prepared and were ready for whatever might come.
Having done this, during this pandemic I was able to focus on the long-term health of the people of our organization so I can stop asking myself questions like: Are they lonely? Is long term stress getting to them? Are they taking time off? Are they working too much? Are they done with video conferences and need silence or do they need more interaction? Are they all helping each other? That was the secret. The reality was while everyone was dealing with stress what I needed to do was facilitate introductions of like-minded groups and let them support each other, which we did and they did. The secret was to get out of people’s way.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona-virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I brought in a family counselor to talk about relationships, marriage, children, teens, prolonged stress and other topics and invited all employees to attend. She was awesome and usually had about 10 minutes of prepared material then 45 minutes of questions and answers. I also asked an introvert and an extrovert to start a WFH (work from home) group that was a group that talked about how to survive and thrive.
For my family the best ideas have been to stay more connected not less. Sunday Zooms calls with Grandma Betty (my grandmother) have become a mainstay. We’ve offered love, support, celebration during these calls and privately outside the calls. Faith has played an important role for my nuclear family specifically because I believe that faith and fear cannot co-exist. We’ve focused on calling fear out for what it is and talking about it as well as finding touchstones and moving past them. I’ve been listening and holding my kid’s feelings and resisting the urge to fix them for them. I’m sure it’s been a hot mess for all of us, but there is beauty in the chaos.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I’m hopeful that in addition to the experience of COVID that we’ll also learn from the inequality in today’s inner cities which correlates to racial inequality.
- STEM is the new middle-class factory job of the 1950s so companies, executives, citizens have a moral obligation to help others pull themselves out of poverty by providing opportunities for education, college attendance and jobs. Good employees will work for sincere companies with valid causes. I think the best minds want to be applied to the best purpose
- Technologies that automate mundane and repetitive tasks will become even more broadly implemented.
- Automation will allow humans to focus on and apply their talents to more valuable and fulfilling work.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
The COVID pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital services like grocery and restaurant home deliveries, banking and videoconferencing. We recently conducted a consumer survey that showed 90% of people are using web-based and mobile services multiple times a day and 82% of people will continue at that rate after businesses reopen.
As states and businesses begin to reopen in the coming weeks and months, there’s an opportunity for companies to embrace flexible work styles as the fear of public transportation, public gatherings and common workplaces will be with us for years not months. This flexible work style can help decrease fixed costs for office spaces which can become more “on demand” for teams. Establishing appropriate guidelines for employee staffing and schedule maintenance, office resource reservation, game rules for how offices work and so on communicates to employees, “We care about you, you are important, we trust you.” In return companies will likely experience higher employee loyalty, job satisfaction and efficiency.
This is a good time for employers to also consider offering more digital experiences for their employees to work and “invite” workers to join them in the office as they are comfortable.
At xMatters we are changed because we are now fans of flexible working. Wait, I don’t have to commute 2 hours a day? Just like I realized I don’t have to wear a navy blue suit everyday to be a professional, work styles here are forever changed.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As I said we are super fortunate. We are accelerating post-COVID instead of rebuilding so I am just plain lucky. For the unlucky, you are just plain unlucky. You didn’t fail. Your idea wasn’t bad, this wasn’t a statement on your ability. Nothing worth fighting for comes easy. I didn’t love getting beat up from 2008–2010, but I didn’t give up either. Those lessons made managing through COVID easier, not easy.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to get right back in the fight. Advertise your skills. You have managed through difficult times and you can handle anything now. Lessons come from failure and growth comes from pain.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Fear and faith do not co-exist. Having faith in yourself, in the result, in the cosmos, in something bigger than yourself helps you set aside the fear of “what if” so you can get on with making your own dream a reality.
How can our readers further follow your work?