Live and dangerous: a Q&A with 8x8, Inc. CEO Bryan Martin
Who: Bryan Martin
Title: Chairman & CEO, 8x8, Inc.
Where: Santa Clara, Calif.
Biggest Hit: The Packet8 broadband voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and video communications service which lets broadband Internet users add digital voice and video communications services to their high-speed Internet connection. Videophone users now account for almost 5 percent of Packet8’s 74,000 lines, and are one of several drivers in the company's quarterly growth, up 54 percent in the most period to $6 million in revenue.
Next Big Thing: The company has been on a tear recently of adding new services aimed at enhancing its core market. On August 18, 8x8 announced the launch of interactive online community designed to create a forum for Packet8 subscribers and prospective VoIP users to share, communicate and learn from one another. More recently, the company announced a new Virtual Attendant service to its line of small business VoIP-hosted telecommunications solutions.
Live and dangerous
By Sean Wolfe
Special to IPInferno
It's a common perception when one mentions blogging to the greater proportion of people who don't blog: Visions of jobless wretches pounding away at the keys while waiting for their unemployment checks, and monomaniacal "enthusiasts" posting endlessly on their favorite things. In short, blogger today (for many) is little more than an updated definition of slacker.
It's also a common perception that company CEOs rarely diverge from the script mandated by their PR departments, and try like the dickens to avoid stirring up any controversy, because, after all, there is no god before shareholder value.
Bryan Martin, CEO of Packet 8 (and whom we've written before, and discussed in our Podcast series) defies both these descriptions. An engineer by training (he holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Stanford), he's inclined to speak and write plainly. Early in his executive career, he was also inspired by Micron founder Joe Parkinson who was famous for telling it like it was, and letting the chips -- no pun intended -- fall where they may.
There's a convergence here: Martin's firm has launched a blogging service for its users and resellers, and Martin, true to the leadership adage of leading by example, has his own blog where he holds forth on the issues confronting the VoIP space.
In our Podcast between IPInferno publisher Ted Shelton, and VOIP Magazine editor Bryan Richards, the pair wondered where the value was in setting up such a service. After all, with blogs now largely a commodity service, why launch a blog service of your own?
Martin responded to this and other questions in a telephone interview, and his answers may surprise.
SW: So the big question is why launch a blog service for your users. Where's the value in it for your users, and for your company?
BM: The original seed of this idea was that we sell these video phones as part of our Packet8 service. They're very popular, and our video phones are just flying off the shelves of our Web store.
Ken Pyle runs a newsletter about using these phones to do sit-down Q&As with other users; some people are using them as security devices, to do surveillance from their home. So we decided to open our site up as a general forum for a number of our users who are passionate mavens.
The impetus was to create a space where these users could meet other people who are video phone users, and meet folks who play with these new phones they bought. We saw a lot of interest in these users sharing best practices among themselves.
SW: But it's not just for power users, right?
BM: No. Some of the people using the site are resellers who find this a very cost-effective way to generate sales. I sympathize with that. Considering we run a retail channel, and retail has the worst economics I've ever seen, I think it's a very effective marketing tool. For us, it's just a further development in pushing marketing dollars into the Internet channel, which frankly, is where our customer is.
SW: To my thinking, that must give your PR people some sleepless moments. I mean, you have all these users, resellers, and so on. From a PR perspective, what's to keep the company's site on-message?
BM: Our PR folks are pretty forward-thinking. The fact is, the site is really designed for Packet 8 subscribers. It's a useful tool for them. And while it is moderated, we're not heavy-handed about it. If you come on and have a negative experience, we want that posted as well. Because another motivation for the site is to reduce costs of customer service.
SW: In what way, exactly?
BM: Of our SG&A [Selling, General and Administrative Expenses] budget, a quarter of it is dedicated to customer service. If there's a forum we can make available in a cost-effective way to solve these problems before they have to call us, and cost us money that way -- or worse, disconnect us, then everybody wins.
With the site, there's more two-way communication, and the users can feel like these guys are going out of their way to treat me well.
SW: That brings us to your portion of the site. Unlike many CEOs in the tech space, you have your own blog, and you actually write it. It's not a PR department thing.
BM: No, I'm live and dangerous!
SW: That's the killer quote of the day! But it must give them some gray hairs.
BM: Look, we're a small company of 150 people, and it's an open forum. Our PR people are too busy doing their day jobs to worry about me.
SW: You appear to be perfectly happy to editorialize on what you see in the marketspace, judging from your E911 column, which we've written about here before.
BM: Yeah, but to be fair, I'm biased as a poster on behalf of the company. I hope to get to the point where I can post some negative stuff, and tell people how we as a company are dealing with it.
SW: Do you think your willingness to be plain-spoken is a detriment or an asset?
BM: I think it's just my style. It takes people a while to learn about me. In financial meetings, for example, if things aren't going well, I say so, and sometimes people are shocked.
I think it's my education and my training as an engineer. We have a certain frankness.
I also became CTO under Joe Parkinson [former company chairman], and I learned from Joe's style. He was a big believer in stating the facts, and just the facts, and not putting a baloney spin on it.
I think that it comes across to our customers, when I send them replies to their emails. I think it's ultimately something I've turned into an advantage.
SW: Thanks very much for your time.
BM: You're quite welcome.