CEO Insights Panel

In our second edition of the CEO Insights Panel, we featured 3 CEOs from the tech industry with unique and diverse perspectives. Our full room of attendees was engaged and gained invaluable behind-the-scenes insights and tips on how to prepare for success and what works and what does not work from a leadership perspective.

Our panel included:

  • Angela Leavitt, Founder, and CEO of Mojenta
  • M.H. Raza, Founder, and CEO of Green Lambda
  • Daniel Rosenrouch, Co-founder and CEO of Viirtue

Both Mojenta and Viirtue had a bustling and busy booths at the live event. Raza’s new startup, Green Lambda is in stealth mode. He has previously been a keynote speaker at ITEXPO. All shared their personal experiences of becoming a CEO, how they led through the pandemic, and how it has changed. There were passionate discussions around a few hot topics that I will summarize in this post.

Panel Kickoff

As food for thought for our audience, I shared some key CEO and startup statistics that truly open your eyes to how hard success can be. The stats were:

  • 50-70% of first-time CEOs fail within 18 months
  • Over 90% of Startups fail, with 10% in their first year, 70% in years 2-5

Daniel is in his first year as CEO, although he had been CTO of Viirtue before taking over last year as CEO. Angela started Mojenta 12 years ago and has grown her company over the years and has passed these challenging timeframes! Kudos to her! Raza is in his second startup, being the Founder and CEO of his previous startup for 8 years, also passing those critical timeframes.

Paths to CEO

Angela had been a corporate marketer at Telesphere, and after her company was acquired by Vonage, she became a freelancer, but she started being asked by many of her connections that knew her and her work to help them, so she did start “Mojo Marketing” which last year she renamed to Mojenta. She has been well known in the telecom market space for all these years.

Daniel has been an innovator in the telecom space for about 14 years going back to his Nortel days as an engineer. He co-founded an integrator that rebranded as Viirtue and he was the CTO. He brings a visionary perspective from a technical background but loves SaaS and is now leading the company as he and his previous CEO swapped positions in 2021. This is unique, but it shows the path to CEO can take interesting twists along the way.

Raza has been in networking and telecom for over 25 years, having risen to General Manager at a large public company which helped prepare him to become a CEO. Like Daniel, he has a technical background and brings never ending innovative ideas to the table and focuses on building products that solve customer’s problems. Raza is the only CEO of the three featured panelists who builds products with hardware and software. He has authored many patents over the years.

It is interesting to see how all three CEOs have interesting and unique paths to CEO!

Focus on Day-to-Day Priorities

Our CEO panelists may love their innovation ideas but they must run the company they are at the helm of. This means they need the ability to focus on what’s important at any given time. We discussed this question about how they execute this challenge, but the consistent answers included prioritize what must be done, be accountable for what gets done, and how to avoid noise. The noise comes in emails and interruptions.

For email, we discussed if the CEO get’s “cc’d” on emails from their team members. Daniel says he reads it all, others try and have their teams only send “to” them when their involvement is necessary, because they want no CYA (cover your *ss) emails which they may ignore. I know executives who delete all emails they are copied on. Raza meets with his admin daily to review critical tasks, meetings, and projects that require his assistance and involvement.

Angela leverages the best-selling Gino Wickman book, Traction, as the framework for her operation at Mojenta. This framework and process helps her set boundaries, align her vision and her culture while helping focus on prioritization and accountabilities with boundaries for her team members.

Pre-pandemic to post pandemicWork from Home and Hybrid

This topic brought out the passion in all 3 CEOs and me, the moderator! The discussion included work-from-home vs. back to the office, changes that occurred from February 2020 when companies began lockdowns from home and last year, 2021, to this year, 2022, returning to offices, live events, and live customer meetings.

As a SaaS company, Daniel’s company had just started to open new offices but that plan did change. Yes, his employees can work remotely, but many times must visit customer’s offices to conduct business. It was not easy during lockdowns to keep it all going. Today, it seems more like a hybrid environment, which is true for just about everyone.

Angela’s company went totally remote during the pandemic. It allowed her to hire from anywhere in the US, which can be less epensive and offer more choice than the local San Diego community. Today, they are a hybrid company and they are working on their culture changes as a hybrid environment.

Raza’s company during the pandemic had offices in multiple states, and he had to follow the state laws which were different in each case so the company could not dictate policies easily. Today, his new company is entirely remote at the moment.

This topic brought out discussions about younger people, that from Raza’s perspective felt they did not want to return to the office and older employees did want to return. My argument was a bit different. In my observations working with CEOs as a consultant and as an advisor, new grads and younger employees (mostly Gen-Z) can’t benefit from the cross-generational and tribal knowledge of the people as easily when fully remote. I also think it depends on the individual’s living conditions – if there are kids at home, out of school, all-day Zoom and Teams meetings, and family or roommate challenges it became hard for some who simply would love to return to an office with real people and coffee and water cooler chats! The remote vs. office discussion is part of the “future of work” track at ITEXPO and is written about just about every day.

Other situations that occurred pre-post pandemic were when larger offices shut down as well as public transportation, people moved away from expensive locations such as Silicon Valley and New York. When the company calls them back to the office, do they rent them hotel rooms or apartments? Pay for travel? Perhaps this contributed to the “great resignation” as people were moving and not returning to the office.

Raza brought up the point, that 5 years ago, if the VP of a business function said, I am moving to Montana and I will work remotely, the CEO would say, “have a nice career” because it would not be there. Now it’s open to either negotiation or even expected in the hybrid environment. Now that is very different from 5 years ago!

Another side topic of collaboration – Zoom and Teams meetings was discussed. For example, CEOs are very busy people and they tend to multi-task. In many of these remote meetings, they may be there physically on the call, but they are not listening and processing information. This is a huge detriment to progress and collaboration. We discussed that many employees do this, but the CEO case was the worst, especially if it was the CEO’s meeting.

Multi-generational Changes and Mix at Companies

We discussed the value and benefits to have a mixed team of Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers. By combining new ideas and fresh thinking, digital natives with social media and video expertise with the older experienced generation might be the best way forward to succeed! The younger generation has gaps in “people skills” and “business skills” and the older generations have gaps in “technical” skills. It’s not like the textbooks say, but the new grads are light years ahead of most older generations regarding newer technologies. One comment was, “LOL” does not work in business emails or interviews!

It was discussed that every company should be multi-generational for the purposes discussed above.

Advice to Future Self

I asked each CEO to share the advice they would give to their younger selves now that they are CEOs. here is a summary of their advice:

Daniel: Surround yourself with the best people, and those that have “been there.”

Angela: Hire the best you can; don’t always outsource for lower costs due to language barriers and potential quality control issues. This did set back her company in the early days going for more profit than more quality work at lower profitability. This is specifically for the marketing agency, but you do see this in many tech companies.

Raza: People are everything – the best team is key.

This is consistent with last year’s four CEOs on this panel, who said their top teams are the secret to success! Hire the best you can.

Biggest Mistake

This tip came from Raza: Not acting fast enough when you uncover a personnel issue. He waited too long to take action, and it was costly inside his company.

In Summary

#ITEXPO/#TechSupershow has been one of my favorites for well over 20 years and I have been a speaker, an exhibitor, a platinum sponsor, a partner, and an attendee. I created the original Digium Asterisk World which became Open Source World colocated at the ITEXPO. The 2022 version of ITEXPO appears to have been the best ever as we continue to return to live events!

I hope all attendees and readers received valuable insight via tips and advice from our 3 CEO panelists. I may return at the next ITEXPO with our 3rd CEO Insights panel in February 2023 in Fort Lauderdale – time will tell.

Please share this on social media if you found this post helpful! Keep your eyes open for that next post.

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