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Why this CEO had to adapt for successful global expansion

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Mikal Marquez

Synchronoss Technologies is a leader in software as a service transaction management for a range of activation solutions and connected devices. Founded in 2000, Synchronoss is the mobile innovation leader that provides cloud solutions and software based activation for connected devices globally.

In February 2014, Synchronoss announced a partnership with social music network Napster after Synchronoss integrated Napster’s streaming music services into the Synchronoss Personal Cloud which enables users to explore, share and stream music with millions of contacts using the cloud through their carrier.

CEO and chairman of Synchronoss is original founder Stephen Waldis, winner of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award an unprecedented three times and who has taken the business from a New Jersey start-up to one of the most successful technology IPOs in 2007, through to its current buoyant position today as an industry leader.

Adapting to change during global expansion

Waldis started his career at AT&T in a variety of product, technical, sales and marketing positions before taking executive level roles at technology start ups. He started Synchronoss 14 years ago in North America and has gradually expanded across the US, into Europe, and Asia.

“Growing it globally became more challenging as we wanted to move into these new markets and we needed to find a balance between getting the right people in these markets that understood these markets better than we did, mixed in with the smaller teams that we had initially in North America and pollinate the two together to create a world class experience,” said Waldis.

In order to do this, Waldis said that as they proceed through to a global expansion, he would select a leader in the area who was an expert on the region or particular customer segment. He would also bring in a couple of ‘lieutenants’ who had the expertise in going into new markets and who wanted the responsibility of an assignment that would give them the experience to grow from ‘lieutenant to captain in a few years’.

Throughout the process, Waldis said, “the one constant thing I’ve noticed is you have to change with the business,” and insists that communication has been the number one factor to success. Whether that was early on and involved talking to 12 people in a conference room or communicating to 2,000 people in 15-20 locations what is going on with the company.

More art than science

Waldis explains that there have been key points in the company’s growth where they have needed to bring in critical people that play specific roles and it has been important for him to recognize those stages. “The $30-50m a year company needed a different management team to the $150m a year company,” he explained. “Going public needed another management team and now we’re expanding into Europe we’re bringing in very seasoned folks who have managed multi-billion dollar businesses. Recognizing that sooner rather than later is incredibly important because the first sign that you’re not seeing on top of it is slowing revenues, lost revenues or upset customers.” In terms of going public, Waldis said the first stage is ensuring you have connectability in your business and understanding the natural supply chain of demand versus supply “from sales all the way through to making sure what the right investments you need to make to keep up with that growth”.
“I would say it’s more of an art than a science to be honest,” said Waldis. “Good business plans that have sustained long-term growth will always be investing in the business but being a public company, the challenges are to make sure you can demonstrate that and have all the predictability in and around that from reporting and compliance to in-country law and home country law which all apply a different layer of management to the company,” he added.

Culturally sensitive

Waldis explains that some people in business are better in a small entrepreneurial environment and have to learn to slow their approach down, whereas others lose their way in the early days but come into their own later on in the process and as CEO it is his role to ascertain their mind-set and position the teams accordingly.

He describes the culture as “very entrepreneurial – we’re not afraid to fail,” and explains that they have created an atmosphere where they can manage risk and limit the downside as best they can to encourage people to take risks. “Some of the biggest successes we’ve had have been the biggest risks we’ve taken as a company,” Waldis explained.

Synchronoss has also learned to become more culturally sensitive as a global company and recognize that “not everyone in the world works off the New York clock”. As they scale the business, Waldis said he tries to communicate for the teams to be entrepreneurial but “put the right goal rails around the decision-making” to ensure teams know the parameters within which they are working.

The firm has also learned from expanding into Europe where the carriers tend to work more across functional business units. As a result they have modified their sales process to be more inclusive of all the different operating groups from sales and marketing to research and development which has paid dividends, according to Waldis, as the solution is much more robust.

Waldis explains that this ‘common theme’ of communication runs throughout the business and extends to his relationship with his board of directors, who he tries to really engage with processes around the business. He believes it is a good philosophy to take the questions to board level and then go off and run whatever processes need to be done. He admits that he had an advantage being the Founder of the company, in that he felt more comfortable going directly to the Board with questions, having interactive conversations and working out solutions, rather than some hired CEOs may feel they have to have all the answers and solutions on their own. “I encourage CEOs on the boards I’m on to recognize that no one person has all the answers, make the board part of the decision-making process.”

In terms of going forwards, Waldis explains that the market is huge. Synchronoss has around one billion service devices within their existing customers and less than 10 per cent penetration, “so there’s a lot of runway to not only service more customers with our products, but also to introduce more value-add opportunities for our existing customers

“Our customers are starting to recognize the tremendous benefits of our products and that’s truly exciting,” he concluded.