The CPD (Continuous Product Design) company claimed to be the first unicorn of 2021 after raising $200M in Series B financing in January, a unique achievement for a Colorado Springs-based company. Yet, Mario explains why he would rather be a dragon than a unicorn. Throughout this inspiring interview with Quantum Metric’s leader, Mario reiterates the importance of hiring the best talent wherever it is and the three attributes that he hires on: passion, persistence and integrity.
Mario elaborates on why ‘it’s mission-critical to have a mission’ -especially when your company grows at scale-, how his number one company objective is “happy people, healthy culture” and what his 13-year-old daughter taught him about friction points in eCommerce during the pandemic. We even had time to talk about Braveheart, carpentry and skiing on Colorado slopes.
Russ: [00:00:00] Thanks for downloading the 14th in our series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto, and their own Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies to find out about the key issues, pain points and challenges that start-ups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. My name is Russell Goldsmith and my co-host for the series of interviews is Tyto’s founder, Brendon Craigie. And today we are thrilled to be joined online from Colorado Springs in the US by Mario Ciabarra, Founder and CEO of Quantum Metric. Quantum Metric raised 200 million dollars in Series B financing in January of this year, which had them proudly announcing on their website the fact that they were the first unicorn of 2021 with a valuation exceeding one billion dollars. Welcome to the show Mario. As always it would be great if we can start with a quick introduction to the business.
Mario: [00:00:54] Sure, thanks, Russell, thanks Brendon for having me, it is an absolute pleasure. Yeah, on the business, Quantum Metric helps businesses become truly digitally customer obsessed and we specialise in a category that we call continuous product design. We essentially help businesses listen to customers’ digital touch points at every aspect of their daily life, from mobile banking, buying clothes online to booking vaccine appointments. You can think about your life and we are all online today, whether we’re on our mobile devices, on our laptops, we are somewhere digitally connected. As we interact with those brands, how do we ensure that our customers on the side of those brands are having the most incredible digital, simple, fast, quick experiences that they can have?
Russ: [00:01:42] Now, if I’ve got this right, this is actually the fourth business that you’ve founded. So, before we get into understanding more about, obviously, this particular company, it would be great to just understand what you’ve learned from the companies you previously founded, and also if you’re doing anything different this time around.
Mario: [00:01:57] I found the similarities between all of the businesses is finding a pain point and going after it and being passionate about that pain point. I don’t think that you can start a company unless you’re in love with the problem and then the solution. Specifically, I love creating product and it’s been exemplified in all of the four companies, we’ve nailed it early on at that product market fit. But what I’ve come to find out here at Quantum and in the differentiation is like the first couple of companies were in the tens of millions and obviously, as you mentioned, we’re in the billions – to get to that scale, you can’t just create great product. You actually have to focus, most importantly, on people. And so, what I’ve learned on that journey and what’s differentiated this business is get the greatest talent, get the greatest people on your team, and then everything will come into place.
Brendon: [00:02:48] Picking up on that point about continuous product design, could you maybe elaborate a little bit more on what actually that entails? I kind of read in a few articles, people have kind of seen it as a cross between, you’re both addressing dev ops and addressing marketing teams within organisations.
Mario: [00:03:03] Yeah, yeah, absolutely, continuous product design, I would love to come to you and say, guys, I’m super smart or someone on our team is like a genius. But unfortunately, the truth of it is we just looked at the best organisations, that we were working with, the best organisations, that maybe we can say things like digital natives. But you look at a company like Netflix, I don’t know how old you guys are, but if you’re as old as me, you used to get DVDs in the mail from Netflix. They’re not a digital native, despite what people might think today. And what made Netflix so successful was they adopted agile, they adopted continuous delivery, continuous integration. They took all these methodologies that made their teams move faster. But if you look at where they moved faster, they moved faster on the tech side of their business. What Netflix and other organisations figured out was they had to be beyond just tech. We had to understand from the business perspective, how do we listen and learn to customers about our customer experiences? How do we listen to our customers at a faster pace? Agile and all those other methodologies, they helped technology teams do that. But how do we get the entire organisation aligned? And I think what differentiates companies today is for the same reason that I will fall on my sword and say we’re not the smartest people in the world per se. You don’t have to be the smartest organisation; you have to be the fastest organisation. And that speed is in speed of listening and learning about what is delighting your customers and what’s frustrating your customers. The two words that I went around maybe two years ago as an exercise asked our customers describe quantum in two words, sorry, one word. The two most common words were speed and confidence and that speed incumbents aligning the entire organisation around the customer. So, Quantum Metric introduced continuous product design to the world in March of 2020. But it was truly an effort of learning from what do the best digital organisations do from an organisational alignment, from a culture perspective? How do they get their teams to do the simplest of things? Things that Jeff Bezos says over and over, that not many of us fully understand: listen to your customer, obsess around your customer. This is the foundation of continuous product design.
Brendon: [00:05:12] And what’s at the heart of that in terms of what’s unique about your value proposition compared to, say, what may be your competitors out there are offering?
Mario: [00:05:21] Yeah, if I can name company names, maybe I’ll exclude names. But if we think about marketing analytics, who’s using it? Guess what? Marketers. You don’t see engineers in the marketing analytics tools. You don’t see marketers in the log analysis tools or the server-side analysis tools. And that can go ad nauseam with different tools and different silos that we create in these enterprises. And by the way, they’re all valuable tools. The problem is they miss–align our teams, so within a team, awesome. Let’s use the marketing analytics tool to align with inside of our marketing team. But when we think about how do we align our entire organisation, what I love to ask executives, if I called the leaders of your teams into one room and I said ‘What is the number one thing that we can do that would have the biggest impact to the business?’, my question to you would be, ‘Would they all answer it with the same answer?’ And the worst part about it is they all say no and they laugh and they say and the worst part about it is they all use data to prove that they’re right, that the number one thing is what they’re saying. But it’s just because they have a different perspective, they have a different set of data. So, what’s different about Quantum is we need to align the entire organisation around something. What are we going to choose? Hopefully, it’s not marketing analytics. Hopefully, it’s not server-side analytics. Hopefully, it’s not, and so on and so on. Hopefully, the only thing that’s common among all of organisations, that we’re serving our customer. So, by default, it makes sense, let’s align our organisation around the customers’ experiences, the customers’ viewpoint or perspective around customer data. And so, what Quantum does is it collects first party the experience that everyone is having on a website or native app, and then we can replay it as if we were standing next to them. So, you never get a developer to say “it works for me” because we fully understand the experience. But most importantly, how do we aggregately understand, oh yeah, of the thousand things that we could do better or a thousand experiments that we want to do, which is the experiment that may lead to the best outcome, which is the friction point or glass wall that we can remove that would have the biggest impact for the business? So, it’s really about aligning the organisation around customer. So, when you think about the individual point solutions of digital analytics, experience analytics, product analytics, really user monitoring, marketing analytics, I can go ad nauseam with all these different point solutions. They’re valuable, but what’s differentiated about Quantum is that we pull all of that together and align the entire organisation.
Brendon: [00:07:44] I was reading recently how, in Gartner, it was saying that one of the biggest barriers to digital transformation is that departments aren’t talking to each other and aren’t collaborating. So, it sounds like not only are you kind of solving a technical problem, but you’re actually helping to address almost like an organisational problem in terms of those different departments working in silos.
Mario: [00:08:04] My favourite comment in the last couple of months, I was talking to the Chief Digital Officer of one of the largest Fortune 10 companies in the US using Quantum. And he said, “Mario, do you know what Quantum Metric is doing at our company?” I said, “I’d love to hear in your words”. He said, “Quantum Metric is changing our culture”. And, you know, no one on our team goes out and says, “Hey, I’m selling culture change, would you like to buy some?” Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell. You got to be more concrete, more specific. But yeah, it’s exactly that. I was actually talking this morning with a customer opportunity in the UK this morning. And what he was describing was the Spotify culture and how they have tribes and so on and so forth. And so, he’s talking about how the word that they use at their organisation is autonomy. Now, imagine autonomy when everyone’s using different sets of data to make decisions and they’re all scattering in different directions. Doesn’t make a lot of sense. But what I’ve heard from one of our customers, the way he phrased it, was “I finally have my organisation, playing off the same sheet of music.” And you think about leaders that are like conductors at an orchestra, how do I get everyone to play the same music? And that’s music to your ears when everyone’s playing a different sheet of music, doesn’t sound so great, does it? So absolutely. It’s about culture change. It’s about aligning an organisation. And again, the only thing I can think of, which is why we’ve positioned ourselves here. Let’s align around the customer. I mean, for millennia we’ve watched people come into stores. We watch them happy and delighted; we double down on that. We have seen them get frustrated with a product or service and we iterate that to make it better. And that is normal and physical. I think what Quantum and continuous product design is, how do we do that on digital? It’s not part of our muscle memory, in our DNA, we don’t know how to do it on digital, digital is new to humans. So, teaching humans how to listen to customers through bits and bytes, that’s what we do and at an aggregate scale and then connecting with the empathy of when you see the experience, you can make it better.
Brendon: [00:09:53] You talked in your recent interview with TechCrunch about the fact that you are focused on addressing friction and frustration. I was wondering, thinking about the kind of customers that you’re working with what have been the top common challenges that they’ve been facing, and how have you been approaching and helping them?
Mario: [00:10:09] Yeah. I like to divide the company into two things that we address. One is like finding and fixing problems. The other one is how do I get the teams to learn faster about where the delight? I get a question like, where do I even experiment? How do you decide, I was actually talking to an organisation and they said, well, we took a look at what Amazon did and we copied everything. And like, that sounds good, but I think you can do better. I think you can understand that your audience is unique to you and how to use data to make those decisions. But, yeah, the common, so I’ll focus a bit on the friction points because we all get friction points really well. My 13-year-old, she was turning 13, it was her birthday during this pandemic, and you can imagine she wanted a new bed and normally that process, she’d go to the store, she’d lay on the beds, test them all out and find something she loved. But she ended up having to go online because it’s a pandemic. And she laughed, I will never forget this moment, she clicked the add to cart, I won’t name the company name, not a customer yet, but I’m hoping to make them soon. But she clicked the add to cart, she found the bed she wanted, and she said, “Dad, you have to look at this” and nothing happened when she clicked Add to Cart and you can imagine if you’re in a physical store and you’re like, “I‘d like to buy this bed” and everyone’s like just ignoring you. I mean that’s essentially what it feels like when you click that. But you know what most people do when they click the add to cart button, they click it five times when it doesn’t work, they raise click it. You’ve been on an elevator before, I bet Brendon, right? Russell? The elevator doesn’t come fast enough, you push it five times, it’s the same thing with add to cart button. And so, what we found was we can aggregate around these behavioural indicators. We also found technical indicators like an API slow or it’s failing. And what we’re looking for is that friction point, did it lead to less likely to success, in the world of e-commerce it’s easy to talk about eComm, but did it lead to less likely to purchase. And so, what we’re doing at Quantum is we’re taking a petabyte scale analytics platform, feeding it like tens of thousands of what I would call guesses or maybe suspect segments and using the aggregate analytics saying, “OK, evaluate the tens of thousands of guesses and tell me which one of them leads to a negative outcome”. And then I want to highlight that. I want to quantify it. And now I can prioritize and say this is a 17-million-dollar issue, this is a five-million-dollar issue. Hopefully, Brendon, Russell, you guys don’t mind that I don’t talk about pounds and we can talk about pounds. We talk about a currency you guy like.
Russ: [00:12:20] That’s absolutely fine!
Mario: [00:12:23] Dollars is fine. OK, great. But yeah. So being able to specify a dollar amount and then tie that to the experience, I can show you you’re losing seventeen million dollars because my daughter is clicking add to cart and there’s 600 people like her trying to buy that bed and the button doesn’t work. So just really helping focus on, you know, there’s thousands or tens of thousands of guesses. I want to show you the exact thing that’s going to make the biggest impact to your business.
Russ: [00:12:46] What about the fact that I mean, obviously it’s been a pretty tough year for a lot of companies during the pandemic. Has that business uncertainty impacted on potential clients of yours, you know, the attitude to adopting your technology?
Mario: [00:13:00] Yeah, I would say I had a really fun conversation about six months ago with an executive that we’ve been working with for about 18 months. Incredible success, incredible momentum, incredible adoption. They’re loving it. But I asked this very simple question, “How are things for you? How is the business?” You know, the business is up like the business is up even during a pandemic. But more specifically, they had a physical presence, and they had a digital presence. Digital was about 10 percent of their business. Now digital is ninety five percent of their business. And so, I said, how are things? He was like, “You know, Mario, I would go into an exec meeting, we would talk about the brand, we would talk about the store sales, we would talk about the product that we’d be creating and if there’s any time left at the executive meeting, they might ask, ‘Hey, how’s the e-commerce going?’” Now, when he walks into the room every week, the first question is, “How is e-commerce going?” It is the centre of the business; it is how all of us are doing our transactions online. So, yeah, I mean, Covid, it’s a massive change in all of our lives. But in the world of digital, when I go around rooms and digital, I mean, there’s a little bit of like angst and anxiety because we are all under so much pressure to eight times our business in just a few weeks, is what happened to many of these people. But it’s also an exciting time where the folks on digital are the centre of attention and getting that right. You can have the best products, the best marketing, the best pricing, the best distribution, logistics, you can get all those things right. But if you don’t get the experience with the customer online, an app or website, everything else doesn’t matter anymore.
Russ: [00:14:25] Obviously, I can assume it’s accelerated your growth as a company, were you set up for that, though?
Mario: [00:14:31] You know, it’s funny the way you ask that question, because we were set up for massive growth, we saw the trajectory. The thing is, like everybody else, and I’d love to be, you know, an oracle and would have seen around maybe two- or three-month window. But what happened to all of us in March and April and May of 2020 was this kind of contraction, I was resisting, I felt like I was playing football and I had the stiff arm and I’m like holding out the contraction, I’m like, no, I’m not going to let it happen. But I think in May we kind of felt that like, “Wow, we don’t know what the future holds”. And we contracted the organisation a small amount thinking about, “Hey, we don’t know where the future is”. About two months later and I wish I had that foresight, two months later, it all came into play. Wait a minute. This is actually a massive accelerator for our business. Everyone’s moving online and we need to scale with that. So absolutely we were kind of set up for growth, we kind of contracted a little bit and then now it’s been massive. And obviously, as you mentioned early on, the 200-million-dollar Series B, that’s about investing in our forward growth. We cannot get enough feet on the ground, although they’re all digital feet nowadays to say it out loud. But we need more team members. We’re hiring. I have four interviews today to give you an example. I have about two to four interviews every day. We’re hiring at a scale we’ve never done before.
Russ: [00:15:48] Let’s go back to that 200 million investment, because obviously, as I said, that’s what I think took you to a unicorn status. And there’s a couple of things that I’ve read, one, that you’re the first tech unicorn in Colorado Springs. But also, I read this thing where you said you want to actually be a dragon rather than a unicorn because dragons eat unicorns, which I thought was quite an interesting comment. But I mean, how much has that changed the perception of the company reaching that milestone?
Mario: [00:16:15] Yeah, I mean, I think on becoming a unicorn, especially a unique one in the world of Colorado Springs, the first one, I’ve gotten a couple of messages from people I didn’t know, like, “Hey, this is amazing!”, like it’s great to see this kind of success in Colorado Springs to see tech expand outside of the umbrella of Silicon Valley. But I think, like just every entrepreneur in the early stages is vying for airtime, is vying for their voice to be heard amongst a sea of entrepreneurs. And I think there’s this breakaway moment when you hit unicorn status. Is that like this is, this is a real company, this is, there’s something, we’ve vetted this, we should be listening. And when you want to sell a commodity, like we’re like Uber eats, but we’re called something else. Right. Like, that’s easy. Like people understand it but when you want to create a new category, it’s so much more difficult. And it’s hard for you to get organisations, to buy into that vision when they’re not quite sure, like, “Is this a company it’s going to be around in a year?” I don’t want to invest in changing my culture, to investing in adopting a new methodology if this hasn’t really taken off. And I think when you hit that unicorn status, of course, it’s basically the world screaming, “This has taken off, don’t miss the boat”. So, I think what it allows us to do. Yes, faster introductions to new opportunities, to be able to connect with more executives without having to go through the ranks to get to them. But I think that when I talk about the company and its focus is on people, I think the biggest highlight is we’re getting just the calibre of talent that we get at volume, is just so impressive. I interviewed someone yesterday and I was like,”Wow, this person is like better than I am”, and my job is to find people better than me at every one of the jobs that I have and hire them. So, it’s quite an honourable job to have. And I would say that it’s just so much easier when you make that breakaway threshold, when you kind of escape the pull of gravity and you’re headed out into space at that escape velocity, it just, it’s weird, but it actually makes everything a little bit easier. But when you have the demands of your board saying, “OK, but now we need to double again”, I will say it also is still a little bit harder as well. So, when you get this inertia, when you get this massive size, obviously things are a little bit harder. But when you get better talent or access to better talent at a greater velocity, it makes it, it kind of offsets that skill challenge that you have as well.
Russ: [00:18:42] On that note about hiring talent, in terms of bringing on people, given the fact that you’re Colorado Springs as opposed to Silicon Valley, as you just talked about there, to those top talent, does that matter, where you are based?
Mario: [00:18:55] I used to get that question, I love it all the way in the UK, you ask that question, but no, when I was working with folks in the US and thinking about investors and so on and so forth, that was the question I got a lot. You know, the company from the beginning has completely been distributed. So, we have about twenty five percent of our organisation is here in Colorado. By the way, we have about 30 to 40 in the UK. So just to be fair, we’re across the pond as well. But the rest of it is distributed here in the US. And I’ve always thought, and I’ve actually got a lot of pushback from Silicon Valley and investors like, “Hey, this is not going to work distributed” and of course, ha ha, the whole World’s distributed. Of course, it works. And obviously Quantum has been successful, but we’ve always thought about where is the best talent. We’ve never limited ourselves to Colorado Springs. At the same time, I would tell you wherever you are, there is massive talent there. There isn’t a lot of tech unicorns here as you mentioned, it’s the first one in Colorado Springs. So, you might think that there’s not a lot of technology talent here. They are. A lot of them actually work remotely because there isn’t the tech talent to go work here, there’s no hub here to go kind of aggregate around. But they’re here and you’ve got to go find them, honestly, I would tell you the best analogy I could give you is you’ve got to shake the trees. And when you shake them, these talented engineers fall out, they are working remotely already. And you can find them and we found some incredible talent here in Colorado, but of course, the world is our sandbox and playground for everybody today because we’ve all realised that remote work actually works. And I’ll tell you the secret, if you want my secret to remote work and this is part of the journey that I’ve been on. Of course, like four or five years ago when we started this remote work process and I still see it, I saw it over the years and I think people are figuring it out because they’re forced to now. But I think the biggest fear people had about remote work. “Hey, Russell, do you get up and work today? I don’t see you every day. Are you working hard today?” How do you hack that? Right. How do you stop wondering, is Russell is Brendon working hard today? And I’ll tell you, we have three attributes that we hire on and we still believe in these today and we still hire on these today. And I ask every single candidate, tell me about what they mean to you: passion, persistence and integrity. Passionate, if people show up to work and they love what they do. If you’re passionate at what you do Russell, I don’t need to call you and say, “Russell, did you work today?” I’ve actually had the opposite problem where if you’re passionate, Russell, I’m like, “Russell, are you making time for your family?” Because, like, work is fun, but you got to make time for your family, too, and make time for yourself. Persistence, the only difference between success and failure to me is that people that fail stop trying. So, you absolutely can persist and then with integrity, I have found people that have the first two they can make an impact to the business, but I don’t enjoy working with them when they can’t be honest with themselves, with me, their peers, our customers. So those three passion, persistence, and integrity, I think they’re a growth hack, a secret to how do you make a remote culture successful?
Brendon: [00:21:50] That’s great, we’re a fully remote business, actually, you know, with a team across multiple European countries and I think it’s really exciting being able to work with the best people regardless of location. It kind of opens up so many possibilities. Thinking about you guys now, you’ve kind of reached the milestone that you’ve got to today, what’s next for the company? How do you see things evolving?
Mario: [00:22:11] Yeah, like Russell said, I am really excited about creating a dragon, and the dragon is not about some financial outcome. We have six company objectives that we’ve shared with our entire organisation. I won’t bore you with all six unless you want to ask about them, but I will tell you the number one item. It’s happy people, healthy culture. So, it is not about, and hopefully our investors will give me a second before they jump to a conclusion, but it’s not about returning shareholder wealth, it’s not about hitting some specific goal. It is not about creating a dragon and making a 10-to-50-billion-dollar company, which we will become. It’s about creating a space where people can be happy and having a healthy culture. And when we do that, I know that we will, exceed our shareholder expectations. We will deliver on their goals, the best way to do it is around people. So, what does the future hold? Yes, like I see our geographical space expanding. We have continuing to dominate new industries. I mean, the reality is like who has a website, who has a native app? That’s our audience. But of course, we’re not going to go after everyone all at once. We’re going to solve it for a specific industry and kind of repeat that process across industries one at a time. So, you see the geographical space expanding, you see the industry space expanding. Obviously, we’re growing our team to service all of them. We’re creating new product, we’re investing in machine learning and AI to like, how do we automate these processes? You know, there’s turning points in your business, one of them was when we invested in AI and built some of the data science into our platform, people were like, “Oh, my gosh, this, like does my work for me” and so on and so forth. So, continuing to advance all of that, but all of that under the umbrella of, I want to have fun, I want to have a good time, I want our team to have a great time. If you look at our Glassdoor rating, if you talk to our team members, what you’ll hear over and over again is how happy they are. And that is what’s most important to me is let’s just create an environment where you can have a good time. I hate to be a drag, but Brendon, Russell, you live, and you die. And what we do in between, no one cares how much money I get buried with on my gravestone. So, what I think for me, the purpose and happiness for life for me is, let’s have a great time and let’s share that happiness with others, share it with our team, share it with our customers. And I hear it even from our customers, how excited they are about the culture that we have at Quantum. In fact, have an e-mail from this morning about one of our larger enterprise customers and she just shared, like, how our team members come to her meetings and make her smile every time that they’re on a call together. How delightful is that? Like, shouldn’t we just be having fun?
Brendon: [00:24:39] Yeah, that’s great, well, it certainly comes across from you Mario. Out of curiosity, is that a similar blueprint that you’ve had in all of your businesses or have you really kind of come around to that more as you’ve progressed on to this business?
Mario: [00:24:54] Yeah, I mean, the first companies are one to three people, so the absolute answer is really quickly no. They were just so small that you didn’t have that. One was a B2C in the world of iPhone apps so very little interaction with the consumer. The other one was sold early on to a larger enterprise, so just didn’t have the time to expand and scale, it was actually just one person. So, I think I made myself happy, but actually caused a lot of stress for myself, a lesson to young and early maybe even inexperienced entrepreneurs is, no reason to stress so much. But I would tell you, it wasn’t the same but at Quantum, my brother, he’s an entrepreneur, he raised 120 million dollars. He had an extreme success with a company called Rebel Systems, he’s on to his sixth or seventh endeavour today. You know, I learned from him, watching him and the way he interacted with his team. He had six, seven hundred people and I watched the way he did it. I have, we announced John Chambers joined our board last week. John is a mentor, advisor, but most importantly, a close personal friend now. And I’ve watched the way that John interacts with either his portfolio companies, with other executives, his team. And what was amazing about John is he led eighty thousand plus people at Cisco and his culture resonated throughout eighty thousand people. And so, what’s really cool, I think is like, you know, when you have a small company, you know you can control the culture. You’re interacting with 50 people. When you get to eighty thousand, he doesn’t know all eighty thousand faces, yet his culture was pervasive throughout the organisation. And I think I simply just try to learn from others and watch what they do and look at who can mentor me, who’s done this well before. And I want to learn from them.
Russ: [00:26:29] On that topic of building the culture though, how have you managed to do that, particularly over the last year if people have been working remotely because a key part of that culture and all those things that you’ve been talking about, about making sure we’re having a great time and all that kind of stuff, is a lot of that, you learn that when you’re working with your colleagues and in the same offices and stuff, which obviously you don’t have at the moment. So how have you managed to build that company culture, as I said, as you’ve grown, but also particularly over the last 12 months?
Mario: [00:26:55] I get this question a lot, a lot from our candidates because they have talked to six people in our company, they feel it and they’re all scared because they’ve worked at other organisations where they’ve lost it. And so, I’ve been very intentional about every meeting that we have, we have one every two weeks, during the early days of the pandemic, as I was a little bit nervous about all of our feelings, like I mean, me included. We had it, once a week, but we moved to I think everyone’s comfortable with every other week we do an hour and a half meeting. The first thing we start with is our people. We introduce the new people on our team, we talk about passion, persistence and integrity and ask someone kind of adlib, anyone have an example of where they’ve seen that in our team the last two weeks that they would love to highlight. But I interview every employee, I get together in groups of teams of kind of random people across the organisation to make sure I have my ear to the ground, because as the organisation grows, I’m not as closely connected to everything that’s happening. But I think that you have to be intentional, and you have to find a way to connect with people and you have to just, you have to highlight those core values over and over, it’s not lip–service and people keep asking me, “Why are you interviewing four people today?” And that’s three hours of my day. I don’t know how long yours are, but I think still it’s only twenty-four hours, that hour change I think I had twenty-three-hour day it kind of sucked for on Sunday. But anyways it was the intention about how you spend your time. If you tell me that people are the most important part of our business, but you’re telling me I can’t spend three hours of my day on people, I mean that conflict is a problem. So really being intentional about where I spend my time and our leadership’s time on what’s most important to our business. Look, I would love to double or triple our business this year, I think the best way to do it is focus on our people.
Brendon: [00:28:35] Thank you for sharing all of that, that’s really insightful. One of the big themes of this podcast series we’ve been doing is diving into issues around communications and culture. It would be great to understand what’s your kind of approach been to raising the profile of your company and differentiating yourself in such a noisy environment.
Mario: [00:28:56] Yeah, I mean, externally, right, is the question. You know, it’s hard, it’s hard, and I have to tell you, when you sign up to start a company or be the CEO or an executive leader, what you’re signing up for is solving problems. And when you go to create a category, it’s like you’re basically asking for punishment, because if you want to just do what someone else is doing, but you’re going to do a little bit better, it’s easy. “Hey, we’re going to replace this product in your organisation. We know you have it. Here are the pain points. Aren’t they your pain points?” “Yes.” “We can do it, let me show you.” “Awesome.” “It’s the same price. Cheaper, more, whatever it might be.” Like, that’s an easy conversation. When you come in and say, “I want to change your world”, it’s really, really hard. And to do that, you have to position yourself as a thought leader, you have to connect with executive leaders when there were events when we could get together physically, you can have that happen almost as accident, a little bit more planned, but it can happen very casually. Now it’s a little bit and I hate to say the word, but I’ll say it, of a hustle. You know, it’s a little bit more intentional and a lot of work around getting together with thought leaders, with visionaries, with early adopters and communicating, “Look I’ve worked with organisations, just like you and here’s what we did, is that’s something you’re excited about?” And of course, I wouldn’t ask the question if I didn’t have a good hunch, the answer would be yes. And if it’s no, that’s fine and I love to learn why, what are you more focused on? And let’s see what I can learn to understand about that direction. But yeah, the communication I mean, creating a category is hard, getting thought leaders, I think one of the things I’m most proud about from that context of the business is if you think about vendors and I hate the word, but ISV’s, software companies, SaaS companies, whatever you want to call these companies that like Quantum, a lot of executives don’t really buy into it, they sign a cheque and like, leave me alone, let me get my business done. What’s really exciting about Quantum, because we’re changing culture, executives, senior level executives from Fortune 100 companies are being spokespeople for us. They’re sharing the impact that we’re having to an organisation. And so, I think how do you do it well, no one wants to listen to me because I hate to say it, Russell and Brendon, but someone might label me the word, I’m a salesperson. Yeah. And you know what? Maybe I am. That’s fine. I’m OK with it. But it’s hard to get that confidence, that trust foundation with someone that might be selling something, I get that challenge. And so best way for me to share and communicate, let me get people that have used the product that have changed their organisation, let me have them tell their story. And it’s so much more of a connection than it is for me. So, I think when you asked me that question, like, how are we doing it? I think getting champions, getting spokespeople, especially senior level executives, which are really hard to get to speak out on behalf of a, I hate to say the word again, vendor, I think that was transformative for our business.
Brendon: [00:31:39] That’s brilliant and very powerful, like you say, and thinking about you and the role of the CEO and the leader is critical in terms of how you’re presenting yourself out there. I just wonder how do you see your role as a spokesperson and what have you learned along the way, either in this business or in previous businesses in terms of representing the company as that as that figurehead?
Mario: [00:32:02] I remember when it was probably 2010 and Steve Jobs is stepping down, I‘m like Steve Jobs ‘Shmobs’, like this one guy is ten thousand people with all these developers, like, what is he really doing? And I saw it hiccup and I think Tim has done a great job. But I was I was amazed about what the impact one leader can have, looking at John and kind of him leaving Cisco and you could come up with 50 of these examples where leaders leave and it has an impact. And I want it to be naively telling you, like, you know, what does a leader do? I’m not into sports, I love running, climbing, skiing. This this little black eye I had I got in a fight with the halfpipe this weekend on Sunday at Copper Mountain and I’ll tell you, ice and inanimate objects always win, in case you’re wondering, you know, but I do have my face imprinted on the ice at Copper if anyone wants to ski down it. I fell off 15 feet and I think my face has been imprinted into the ice. But, you know, I love I love sports. And one of the things that happened to me along this journey turns out there’s a lot of sports culture and competition in the world of sales. And so, I’ve been able to interact with coaches, other incredibly successful sports leaders. And what I came to find out about coaches is, they do that same thing as executives do in their companies, is they squeeze talent out of people. Like I used to think like, look, these guys are smart people, what can a leader do? What can a coach do? But somehow coaches, somehow leaders inspire their team to give 120 percent, even though that they want to give 120 percent. You get more out of it when you motivate them, when you get that inch of passion that, you know it’s in there, but you got to squeeze it, you’ve got to go find it. And so, I think that that communication role of a leader is how do you sound the alarm? You know, you guys are in the UK, you’ve seen Braveheart, right? I’m kidding a little bit, but like you look at that movie and what a leader. I mean, obviously, this role plays itself out in sports and war and everything, but how you, a human being, can inspire other humans to overdeliver, to overachieve. And I think that is the role of a leader to be that rock of resilience, of inspiration. When Covid hit, I’ll be very direct, like I didn’t want to show my fears, I mean, of course I have my own fears, I have a family, I’m worried about what’s happening too. But the team is going to turn to you and say, like, look, if he’s freaking out or she’s freaking out, then we’re all going to freak out. And I think leaders need to have that that solid resiliency. That’s what people flock to, that’s what people need out of out of the leadership. So that’s my perspective, that’s something I’ve learned along the way, especially in times of trouble and fear. I think your true colours shine. And I think for me, it was learning about what does a true leader do for an organisation, I think that was the probably the biggest impact of the pandemic for me.
Brendon: [00:34:48] And maybe you might have answered this question or at least started to answer it but what’s been the biggest communications challenge you’ve faced along your career as a CEO and why was it the biggest challenge?
Mario: [00:34:59] The organisation changes every double. So, 10 to 20, 20 to 50, 50 to 100, 100 to 200, 250 to 500. And I talk to other C levels, CEOs, founders I talked to, Chambers has seen it. He’s seen like every movie, every playbook, and he shares his learnings. But like, how do you change and adapt when your organisation is changing underneath you at each one of these doublings? And so, changing like, for example, I knew everybody, knew everyone’s name and their wives and husbands and kids’ names and dogs. Now, I don’t. And it’s angering to me a little bit like I miss it, I want to be able to connect. And so, I found ways to, I don’t have time to connect with every single team member for an hour every week, Right, that’s not possible, not enough hours in the week. But so, I’ve changed my behaviour to do like eight to ten people in a group. And I’ve gotten incredible feedback like, yes, thank you so much, this is amazing. Just to make sure my voice is heard, to hear your voice and so on and so forth. So, I’ve heard that from a lot of executive leaders. Some of my coaches have advised me to do that, I did it and it was tremendous feedback from the team. So, I think it’s just adapting as the organisation is changing. That’s what we have to be mindful of. It’s a living thing, these companies. And so, the communication has to change as the company grows as well.
Russ: [00:36:13] You’re clearly a confident speaker, but have you always been a natural communicator, just going back to some of the things that you just been touching on or have you had to kind of formulate a plan? Have you had to be trained into the role? Because not every company founder is a natural communicator. You know, they might have a great idea, but they don’t necessarily want to be the front of the company.
Mario: [00:36:36] I can only laugh of what the comms team here at Quantum, they’ll probably dig up a video from like nineteen, maybe nineteen, but definitely like 2016 where I’m sitting there on stage so nervous kind of fumbling through my words, I get off the stage, I’m like kind of sweating and yada yada. So, I think, I think like everything that we do is about practice. And you get into that zone, you get to comfort level. I was on a media interview just two months ago and a friend of mine’s a reporter and I shared it with her and she’s like “16 seconds” and I’m like, “What?” She’s like “16 seconds in, you got comfortable, and your nervousness went away. But those first 16 Mario, you sucked”. She didn’t use those words, but it was something like that. I mean, I felt like I sucked the first 16 seconds. So, I think it’s just practice if you do it enough, what I’ve also learned I remember speaking with Bonnen Baule he’s an amazing orator, he’s probably one of the best I’ve ever met. And I met him the night before we were in Monaco for an F1 race and the night before he was totally chill, we were having a beer together, just relaxed. The next day he goes up, he went on before me, he’s dripping sweat off the stage, animated, incredible presence, and I’m like, I have to go on after you? Are you kidding me? Like you know, I’m pretty confident, but still, like, this guy was just incredible delivery. And I said, “Hey, Bonnen, how the hell did you do this? Like, how do you how do you deliver like that?” And he said, “Mario, the secret is simply practice”. I’ve done that pitch 17,000 times, I could do it in my sleep and every time I do it, it gets a little bit better. So, I think repetition, practice, this is how you deliver on that oration. If I have to talk about a topic, I’m not confident about, I don’t really know it, I’ll probably get really nervous pretty quickly. But if you want to talk to me about people, about our organisation, about my journey, I mean, I know this, I was there. It’s natural. So, I think speaking to things that you’re confident about can help you project your confidence.
Russ: [00:38:32] Who have you been more nervous in front of? What would it be pitching for money, speaking to a client, talking to your team?
Mario: [00:38:40] All of those are easy, I’ll tell you. Media, somehow in my mind when I’m talking to media and we’re recording and I know it’s going to be broadcast live because like that, it just gets underneath my head and it messes with my brain. I don’t know why, but it makes me nervous every time I’m still working on it. I still have a little bit of a journey to do with that. But no, the rest of those, like they’re kind of like I’ve done it so many times and investors and so on and so forth, that like that’s a walk in the park. I have fun every time.
Russ: [00:39:08] So, Mario, let’s just take the conversation away from work for a moment, because I can’t help noticing the book on carpentry there in your bookshelf behind you. Tell us a little bit about, how you relax away from work and whether or not that particular book is relevant.
Mario: [00:39:23] Yeah, I’ve got an oscilloscope on the shelf behind me. I have a little sign about, I’m a private pilot, I love carpentry. In fact, the house I’m in, it’s quite a large one that I built over 18 months, designing, architecting and doing some of the carpentry, in fact, as well. I think in life we have to have our passions. I am extremely passionate about Quantum and the work that I do here, but I have to have other passions. I have three children and they are a passion of mine. 9, 11 and 13, Ella, Cody and Tessa. And what I’ve learned from a great father that I highly respect. He shared with me the best way to lead your family, your children and interact and have this relationship with your children, for his perspective, was to find a common passion that you could share with your children. So, mine are I don’t have one, we ski together, we’ve skied twenty five days this season, in fact, this black eye I mentioned that I have here was a little bit of a run in with some ice this weekend. But we play piano, we play Minecraft, we do some woodworking together and we do at least we do it where we all go rock climbing together. I was thinking the biggest passions that I with have, my children, those are them. And so, I think that you’ve got to find some passion, you have to engage. You know, I talk about passion, persistence and integrity is important to our culture. Have you ever someone without passion? It’s kind of boring. And so, finding something that you love and just chasing that dream, I love it every day, I think it’s what brings me to life. It makes me excited to wake up in the morning. And so, yes, in short, Russell, I love woodworking, I made my children’s crib, maybe after the podcast, I’ll send you a quick photo of it. I’ve made a poker table, I’ve built some of the walls here in the home, and I love it. I love making things come to life with my hands, I also like things coming together with my mind and doing this thing on digital. But yeah, I think I think life is about being passionate about anything and then following that dream.
Russ: [00:41:15] Tremendous. Mario, we’ve got one final question for you, we’ve actually asked this of all our unicorn leaders, so it would be great to get your thoughts on this. If you had to go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give yourself about communications? And also, what steps would you encourage yourself to take in order for you and the business to excel in comms?
Mario: [00:41:35] In my brain, I have the answers, like I have the answers to vision of the company, what the product’s going to do and how this is all going to grow. I literally have it right now. It’s like, I’m like holding it down and squeezing it in. It wants to blow up and explode out of my head and I don’t often share it with everyone, sometimes out of fear like, well that might get off to competition or maybe it’s not important, like we have other things to talk about. But the vision of the company is so important to get everyone aligned, to get everyone behind that shared goal, that shared mission. I wish I understood it earlier and it’s not like, you know, it was so terrible and the company went to pieces without it, it would just have been more, it kind of happens when you get past maybe 20, 40, 50 people, when like, I don’t spend my day with each employee. When that happens, like, you’ve got to get people around a shared mission and have them understanding where is the company going? Why are we doing this? It can’t be just for money and it’s definitely not. But explain it to me, help me understand and when you get to where I don’t have these touch points with each team member every day, it’s mission critical to have a mission, so having that mission statement, having that vision shared across the organisation, I think I tell and by the way, I think of myself quite young still, Russell and Brendon, I hope you believe so, too. But yeah, that’s what I would tell my younger self is just something I’ve learned along the way. I think we kind of learn these little changes that happened. You look back like, “Wow, maybe a year ago, six months ago. I wish I knew that”. That’s one of those things that I kind of, it wasn’t destructive, but it would have been better having done it just a little bit earlier.
Russ: [00:43:07] Mario Ciabarra, thank you so much for joining us online and chatting today, it’s been absolutely brilliant. Thanks so much.
Mario: [00:43:13] Russell, Brendon. My pleasure. I enjoyed it, thank you guys for the time.
Russ: [00:43:19] Wow, Brendon, he was excellent. What did you think of today’s chat?
Brendon: [00:43:24] Well, I kind of really wanted to ask at the end whether I could be offered a job because, you know, he was just incredibly inspiring as a leader. And he started talking at the beginning about how his number one focus was having a happy team and a happy culture. And you can really pick up on everything that he does to ensure that that’s the case. And, you know, I think probably no other leader has focused on that in such a committed way as him. And it’s obviously paying great dividends for the company and the morale of the business. So, I think that was kind of my big takeaway from this was just the real opportunity that comes by driving a culture that’s completely anchored around having a happy team and happy people, how that can kind of really pay off.
Russ: [00:44:11] And you can tell how, like you said, the inspiration that must, it can only… I’m trying to think of the right word… it kind of feeds that whole culture, doesn’t it? I mean, absolutely brilliant.
Brendon: [00:44:23] I think, you know, he kind of gave the example of how that was reflected in the feedback from their customers, so you can kind of see how it’s not only internally inspiring, but that’s actually also externally inspiring for their relationship with all of their customers. So, I think it was a very powerful lesson.
Russ: [00:44:42] Yeah, that’s absolutely great. Obviously, that wraps up this latest episode that we’re recording in partnership with Tyto. If you want to find out more about Quantum Metric, it’s very simple, their website is QuantumMetric.com. We’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat and you can share them via our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter feeds or in the comments of the YouTube version of this podcast and those are all linked from the top of the website at csuitepodcast.com, where you’ll also find all our previous shows and supporting show notes plus links to where you can follow us for automatic downloads of each episode via the likes of Spotify and Apple, and if you’ve like what you’ve heard, then please do give us a positive rating and review. We’re, of course, available on all podcast apps, just search for the csuite podcast and hit follow or subscribe. You can also subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto, all the details for that are on their website. Just head to TytoPR.com and click on the podcast link in the top navbar. If you are a unicorn leader and you’d like to be part of the series, then please do get in touch via the contact form on the website at csuitepodcast.com. Plus, of course, anyone can get in touch with us with any feedback they may have. Finally, you can reach me via Twitter using @Russgoldsmith or you can find me on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye.
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