Ron Burr gives a lot of credit to the co-founders at CallFire Inc. for bringing him on to lead their business.
But as tough as it was for Komnieve Singh, TJ Thinakaran, Vijesh Mehta and Punit Shah to swallow their pride and turn to someone else to lead their business, it was also a tough situation for Burr.
“It’s a challenge for anybody to come in and know you’re hired to take over a business that was created by other people who are still there and still very invested in the outcome,” says Burr, the company’s chairman and CEO. “The reason they brought us in was because they recognized they wanted to grow the business, but the business needed to change. Your job is to introduce change and people aren’t always comfortable with that.”
CallFire provides user-friendly, intuitive voice and text connectivity products to more than 100,000 businesses. The key to making that work was the willingness of the company’s co-founders to admit what they could do and what they couldn’t and ask for help with what they couldn’t.
“In the process, I built out a complete management team,” Burr says. “So we’ve taken a business that was very early stage and small to a mature business with a management structure and processes in place that people can follow.”
Be a mentor
When Burr first arrived at CallFire in late 2013, he found a team of very smart technology experts who lacked financial expertise.
“They were doing very well, but they just didn’t have the awareness to understand how to analyze their business and look at metrics,” Burr says. “What does it cost to acquire a customer? What’s the lifetime value of that customer? How long do our customers stay? What do they spend when they are with us? What’s the profile of our customers?”
Burr’s first step was to bring more order to the company’s financial infrastructure so those questions could be answered.
“It really became about understanding, organizing and presenting the finances into a mature set of financial statements that you could take to an investor group or bankers,” Burr says. “Then also supporting the story behind it. What is the business? What is the growth story? How does this thing grow in the future? That was one of the first things that I spent a good six months on.”
When you’re stepping into a situation where changes are being made, you have to be respectful of the people who have put so much effort into their work up to that point. You can’t leave them feeling like it was all for naught.
“Hey, the reason I’m here is you guys want to take this to the next level,” Burr says. “This is how we get there. You’re really approaching it from a mentor perspective.”
It becomes really helpful if you have previous experience helping companies address the issues you are working on and can share some of what they can expect as you help this particular organization.
“Here are the next five things that are going to happen,” Burr says. “This is what you need to watch out for. Even when we went out and raised money, it was helping them understand what is going on when an institutional investor gives you a term sheet. What do those terms mean to you? How could they impact you positively or negatively? It’s really a collaborative process. It’s like being their partner versus being the guy who is coming in and saying, ‘You’re going to do this.’”
If there are difficult decisions that will need to be made as part of the process, don’t put it off. That only makes it harder.
“You’re better off just to be very candid upfront,” Burr says. “People fall in love with their own business and then they don’t want to see the warts on their business. You have to be really honest with yourself. It’s really about being brutally candid about what works and what doesn’t work and admitting what doesn’t work is not a failure, but an acknowledgement of another thing that we can fix to make us grow.”
Set understandable goals
Burr wanted CallFire to get a better plan in place for selling their business and attracting new customers, and to know whether that plan was having an impact.
It’s great to talk about taking care of your customers and talk about how important customers are to your business. But if you don’t have any data that shows this strategy works and this one does not, you’re flying blind.
“Putting goals out there every day where we say we need to achieve this growth target, this is the number of daily new customers we need to get, which translates into this many conversations. Now this is a measurable dashboard that people can look at and understand,” Burr says.
Burr is pleased with where his company is at in 2015 and looking forward to continued growth. Late in 2014, CallFire acquired FireText, a United Kingdom-based company in the text message-marketing business.
“It gives us an international footprint, so we’re very excited about that,” Burr says. ●
How to reach: CallFire Inc., (877) 897-3473 or www.callfire.com