Transcript of Staying True to Your Core While Growing Your Business written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing
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John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Yaniv Masjedi. He is the chief marketing officer at Nextiva, which is an industry leading cloud communications provider headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. So Yaniv, thanks for joining me.
Yaniv Masjedi: I’m excited to chat, John. Thanks for having me.
John Jantsch: Well, let’s just start with the, you know, if somebody met you at a cocktail party, what is Nextiva?
Yaniv Masjedi: So Nextiva, we started off as a cloud phone system years ago, 11 years ago, but our product and company has evolved more recently to where Nextiva has become more of a truly unified and integrated platform. So we bring together business phone service and a number of other ways to communicate all together so businesses can prospect, engage, and manage their customer relationships in one place.
John Jantsch: So when did you join the firm?
Yaniv Masjedi: Since day one.
John Jantsch: Since day one, okay.
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah.
John Jantsch: So you were selling VoIP to people that didn’t know what that was.
Yaniv Masjedi: Exactly, in the early days we were essentially educating the market on moving away from traditional PBX, expensive, clunky, difficult phone systems to the cloud or VoIP back in 2008.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I remember actually having one of those closets with the thing and it, because I’ve had my business for 30 years, and it was kind of a mystery to me that I think the last one I gave three grand for, or something like that, that was this thing that made the phones work. And so when services like Nextiva came along, I mean, that was giantly disruptive and all of a sudden it was like we were getting this stuff for $300 instead of $3,000.
Yaniv Masjedi: Exactly. Yeah, when we started, the idea for Nextiva came from an experience we had at a previous company where we needed a phone system for ourselves and just the phone system for our team cost us $250,000, a company with 300 people back in 2006, and that was just for the phone system. If we wanted customer service, it was an extra $110,000 a year for annual support. And that’s when Thomas, our CEO, had the idea to essentially come up with Nextiva because if we had that problem, unquestionably other businesses did as well.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I wonder how many companies through the years have made that statement. “We couldn’t find what we wanted, so we just made it.” I mean, that’s… I can’t tell you how many times I hear that.
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah. And it’s a special and probably one of the best ways to disrupt and create a creative business, right? When there’s a problem and nothing out there to really solve the gap.
John Jantsch: Are you able in hindsight to say, “Well, here’s how things have changed.” Or… And then also the flip side of that, what’s kind of remained the same? I mean you guys have grown so much that maybe you can’t even remember what it used to be like.
Yaniv Masjedi: Oh trust me, I remember. I remember. I mean we, Nextiva was an interesting… the founding of the company was quite interesting because Thomas had the idea, and then we got a tiny office with really like no room to walk, and we just put a desk in there and a few of us started to research the market. And pretty quickly we just, you know, day by day. Great things, it takes time and work. Obviously we’ve come a long way in 11 years, but a lot of work and no shortcuts. It’s just daily work. But yeah, I definitely remember the first, the early days.
John Jantsch: Well, so what of that have you retained? I mean, I think a lot of times people lose that closeness of, “Hey, we’re changing the world. We’re starting something that doesn’t exist.” And to, “Did we hit our number this quarter?” So what have you been able to retain, you think, from that kind of original, “Here’s what we’re trying to do.”?
Yaniv Masjedi: I hope that we’ve been able to retain the good things and we’ve removed the not so good things. So at its core I would say I think one thing that’s really special is most of the people that were in the room, or with Nextiva in the early days, are still working nonstop every day at Nextiva. So being together and obviously the company’s grown a lot, but the principles and just the passion and values around growing a business the right way where there really, truly is no exit strategy and we’re in it for the long run and focusing on our customers and our employee experience. Those two things, I would say the customer experience and the employee experience, I would say we’ve only strengthened since the start and it’s been so super key to us.
John Jantsch: So I think you told me early on there was a decision not to take venture capital and maybe that just was because you never felt the need to, but you want to kind of riff a little bit on whether or not that, you know, what that meant to the company, how that changed your path?
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with necessarily taking venture capital or funding, but when Nextiva started early on, we felt like there was no need to necessarily do that. We can grow and scale a business quite effectively in a self funded manner where essentially our customer revenue and our growth funds the future of the business. And that’s been the approach that we’ve taken thus far and it served us quite well. But I think it’s also a blessing, right? Because when there’s not an abundance of money, you’re forced to make the tough decisions, but also be very cautious and careful around where you put your focus, where you put your money, where you put your energy.
John Jantsch: Are you able to think about a time, a moment when maybe you collectively, you all kind of said, “You know what? I think this is going to work.” Or was it just kind of like, “Hey, let’s put in the work.” And year after year you just felt like you kept growing and evolving?
Yaniv Masjedi: You know, I think we realized the problem pretty early on that there was… we were on to something, and that was because we had the same problem as well, and we were using the service for ourselves, and we realized it’s great and it could be better and other businesses just need to know about us. And once they know about us, it’s almost like a no brainer. But there were some interesting moments definitely in the early days where we also thought there was going to be a bright future in residential phone service, so Nextiva was selling business phone service and we had a small kind of division that was selling residential, and we learned pretty quickly that the future and there is a ton of opportunity on the business side of things, but home phones are not a place to focus.
John Jantsch: Probably just as much work to get one into a home.
Yaniv Masjedi: If not more.
John Jantsch: Is that right? Yeah. Yeah.
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah, no the residential market, you’re spot on. Acquiring a customer on the business side was sometimes often less expensive and easier than the residential side. And the customer experience, just delivering an excellent customer experience was far more challenging on the residential side.
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John Jantsch: Putting your marketing hat on, if somebody was new to your marketing department and said, “Okay, what problem are we solving here?” How would you answer that?
Yaniv Masjedi: Traditionally with Nextiva it’s been around the business phone service, so I’ll answer it in two parts. When we’re looking at kind of the legacy kind of business phone service side, the ways of communicating of have evolved, yet the traditional PBX, that PBX that you once bought or have bought multiple of, they’re difficult to use, difficult to manage, expensive. Calling the local phone company for help was going to take two weeks for them to visit you onsite between the hours of 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and they’ll give you a… they’ll ring the doorbell once and if you don’t answer they’ll leave. It was just very difficult to really use, and again, expensive. But also when we look at Nextiva kind of where we are today and where we’re headed, the complexity of customer relationships are growing, and the pressure to get them right are increasing, and it’s become really difficult for businesses to manage their customer relationships. So we’ve, in the age of Amazon and Uber where customer expectations are higher, we’re trying to bring the integrated and effortless customer experience to businesses of all sizes.
John Jantsch: As a growth strategy, there’s a couple of ways to grow, get more customers or do more with your existing customers. And I’m sure there’s a real temptation once you had the phone or once you had the customer contact point, is there a lot of… is there a lot of pressure to say, “Well, look at all these other things we could do for them.” And how do you kind of balance that and with staying true to kind of your core offering?
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah, so first and foremost I think marketing is only successful if there’s growth happening. Like you said growth can happen multiple ways either acquiring new customers or keeping and growing your existing customer base. In our case we’ve been immensely focused on both ends, but I would say not as much oriented around the traditional like upsell methodology and much more around, “How do we continuously add value and keep the customers happy with Nextiva?” Because the number of options and the simplicity [inaudible] has in some cases become easier than it has in the past. So we know that we just can’t take our customers for granted and need to provide value always.
John Jantsch: Where do you fall as trying to offer this unified approach? Because I’ve worked with other software companies and so they take CRM, and email, and shopping cart, and SMS, and these kind of like, “Yeah, let’s connect it all together.” And then you end up not having best of class maybe of any of those, if that makes sense.
Yaniv Masjedi: Right.
John Jantsch: Where do you fall in terms of where we stop? Because you, I mean, you could start doing SEO for your customers frankly, you know? So where as a platform do you feel like communication ends with kind of you developing more offerings?
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah, so you bring up a great point because it seemingly could never end, and we’re not trying to be an expert in practically every single type of, kind of channel. But there are a number of core ones that we want to bring together and simplify. So whether it’s on the phone side, which I believe we’ve quite become quite excellent at. But aside from the phone, CRM, chat, and really bringing that together with like survey, and analytics, and SMS, we view… business communication is changing quite rapidly and we know we can’t be a master of all, but we want to make it as easy and effective as possible for businesses, because the reality is most businesses are just using a spreadsheet or pen and paper in many cases because most of the technology that’s out there is just too difficult or expensive.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And probably one of the biggest challenges for a lot of businesses is that the consumer wants to communicate in whatever’s convenient to them at the time in the certain… for certain things, we want to handle them with SMS, for certain things we want to talk to somebody live, and I think as businesses, the real challenge is we have to be nimble in all of those.
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah. And the pressure to get it right is increasing, right? Customers want to communicate the way that they want to communicate with you, and businesses, I would say for the most part, have been struggling to keep up, but Nextiva is really focused on simplifying that.
John Jantsch: So Yaniv, what does your team, your marketing team look like today in terms of division of labor, how many people, how do you structure your marketing team?
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah, so the organization is about 50 people today and it’s organized by really route to market. So we have a number of ways that we go to market and we, so we have an inside sales leader on the sales side and then an inside sales marketing leader. We have a partner marketing division, so a partner marketing leader on the sales side that kind of works interlocked with a partner marketing leader on the marketing side. And the same goes with enterprise and all our other channels. So we essentially route… we structure our team by route to market and then the rest of the marketing team, whether it’s content, design, video, everyone kind of serves as an agency supporting our sales organizations and our leaders. Because kind of really one of the things I’ve been super passionate about is, since day one, marketing is only successful if there’s sales. If we’re not marketing and driving growth, almost every other activity, not to say it’s worthless, it’s just probably not where I want to see us focus.
John Jantsch: One of the things that… I’ve interviewed so many business owners, folks in your seat, and hiring… when you grow, particularly if you grow rapidly, hiring and managing talent has seemingly turned into the biggest challenge most companies have, particularly if they’re trying to retain kind of the culture of what they stand for. Do you have a particularly useful nugget to share with us today about how Nextiva finds talent, hires talent, retains talent, and kind of keeps that culture where people want to work there?
Yaniv Masjedi: Many, but I’ll share one that has been instrumental for me, and I think Nextiva as a whole, is I look for three things in every marketer and it hasn’t failed. The first is looking for… you want to work with someone that’s absolutely passionate about their area of marketing. So if we’re talking about video production, this person, the candidate, needs to be absolutely obsessed with video and video production and has a kind of burning and a strong desire to always learn and be great in their area, their subject.
Yaniv Masjedi: Second is working with people that really just have an attitude of moving forward, work is never done. There needs to be a healthy balance between our life outside of the workplace and in the workplace. But you want to do as much as possible, and push ahead, and accept the fact that, and embrace the fact that work can always be better, and there’s always room to improve because that’s contagious. And third is being around people that are just really good people, have values that align with you or the company, and take care of themselves, respect others, respect themselves. Because when you have those three things, I’ve just found it to be super powerful and allows us to grow fast.
John Jantsch: Do you mind sharing maybe a little bit of your hiring process then? Because while those, I don’t think anybody would disagree with those three points you just made, sometimes figuring out if somebody is a good person, figuring out if they have that move forward attitude, I mean, how do you get that in the traditional kind of hiring environment?
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah, most of my questions tend to be focused around going a few layers deeper, so if, let’s just use a common question like, “How do you keep up to date with marketing?” That’s a very common question that I think people will ask in an interview, “How do you keep up with marketing?” And then the common answer is, for example, “I listen to the Duct Tape Marketing podcast.” And if someone says that-
John Jantsch: That’s probably a universal answer, I’m sure.
Yaniv Masjedi: Exactly, so then from there you would want to ask just a few layers deeper, like which episodes, and why, and what sticks with them, and really trying to go, like peeling an onion, getting a few layers deeper to really understand the person, and kind of how they learn, and why are they so passionate about their area of business, or just having a conversation about them as an individual and not as much about the work itself to really understand them, and their values, and what they are, what they’re like outside of work.
John Jantsch: Tell me a little bit about if, and again, this may or may not fit into the culture, but I know one of the things that sometimes is a challenge for companies, even if they very much want to embrace this, but in today’s workplace hiring for diversity, is that… do you find that that’s a challenge, or do you find that that’s something that’s just really very natural for Nextiva?
Yaniv Masjedi: I would say we’ve been, it’s been something that we’ve been mindful of. I would say more and more when we first started in 2008 I think the early days it was just, “Let’s move fast and do what makes sense.” But I think diversity of thought, and just experiences, and being more mindful of that has been something that we’ve definitely practiced and focused on a lot more because as the team grows and the company has expanded the way it has, it’s just something that it’s foolish to neglect.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Well, and I think there’s many, many companies that have realized the longterm benefits, just like you said, of getting new ideas, getting people to feel they’re welcome and safe in any kind of environment I think just benefits everybody.
Yaniv Masjedi: Exactly.
John Jantsch: So I listened to a video that I stumbled on of you being interviewed and I found one element that was really interesting because I don’t know that I hear enough people saying this, but you were talking about focus of individuals, getting them to focus on what’s important to them. And you talked about this idea of identifying one metric, kind of almost like everybody in their job, the company was like top line revenue maybe or profit, but that everybody in their position, whatever their position was, could identify a metric that would kind of say, “Yeah, I’m moving forward in my job.” You want to talk about that? And I’m assuming maybe it’s almost something that you do formally.
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah. Yeah, because, and I think probably people listening to this, we all kind of struggle with the kind of, like the game of whack-a-mole, right? There’s so much to take on, there’s so much opportunity, a lot of noise. Where do you… What really moves the needle? And for us, as a marketing organization, we try, really for quite some time we’ve tried to identify what is the… what is that most important metric that’s key to us as a business, as a unit? And then each person on the team has their defined kind of metric that in some way leads to impacting that top number that we pretty much obsess over every day.
Yaniv Masjedi: And by being organized like that, I think it helps us as an organization, staying focused and making the right decisions, but also it brings a level of accountability and just, I would say energy, because there’s visibility and our work is always tied back to a number. And it’s not to say become insanely obsessed over metrics to the point where there’s like… you know, data is important, but also I think just one number really simplifies it. And sometimes it’s really tough to choose one number. So in certain cases we, one number for a certain, like let’s say one month, and then for someone, that number may change the following month.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I think one of the important things about it is a lot of times, once somebody is, maybe a couple layers deeper in a department or something like that, or a part of the company, sometimes it’s harder for them to feel like I’m making a difference in the number that everybody seems to care about. And I think it’s like playing a game without rules, there’s no way to win.
Yaniv Masjedi: Right.
John Jantsch: And so I really love that idea because I think somebody whose job it is to grow the newsletter list, knows that that metric is an important metric, it’s hyper important for them. But it then gets translated up to the importance in the big number, and I think they feel like, “Yeah, I did my part.”
Yaniv Masjedi: Exactly. And it’s… And there’s also clarity, right? Because the people around that person responsible for the email newsletter lists, like everyone knows what he or she is focused on and what’s most important. So it just brings a level of visibility and transparency in the organization that I think is super valuable too.
John Jantsch: Yaniv, I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts on Nextiva. Do you want to tell people where they can find more about your work and obviously take a look at the product there at Nextiva?
Yaniv Masjedi: Yeah. So nextiva.com, I really enjoyed talking to you, John. Been a fan of yours since Nextiva started, so glad we were able to finally connect and have a chat.
John Jantsch: Yeah, this is great. All right.
Yaniv Masjedi: Thank you.
John Jantsch: Hopefully we’ll run into you next time I’m down there in Scottsdale.
Yaniv Masjedi: Hope so.