TalkingHeadz Podcast with Kira Makagon of RingCentral

by Dave Michels

There’s a lot of reasons we can list that have made RingCentral a success. Among them is Kira Makagon. She has touch nearly every successful technical innovation (and acquisition) at RingCentral in the past 10 years.

You can subscribe to the TalkingHeadz podcast on most podcast apps. Do it today.


Dave Michels 3:23
Today, we have with us the one and only Kira Makagon from RingCentral. Welcome Kira.

Kira Makagon 3:29
Thanks for having me.

Dave Michels 3:30
It’s great to have you here. You are our second executive that we’ve had on this podcast from ringcentral. And looking forward to another informative discussion. Now the time of this recording your profile doesn’t introduce you at first because your profile says you’re the Chief Information Officer at ringcentral. And you’ve been there since 2012. Congratulations. But I thought your title changed. And so clearly, what is your title these days?

Kira Makagon 3:56
The title is Chief Innovation Officer.

Dave Michels 3:58
Okay, so that’s good. We got that established. That’s good. Let’s get into what did change. Tell us about what this new ringcentral ventures role is.

Kira Makagon 4:08
Right. So for a number of years since joining the central I ran our products engineering, basically everything to do with product delivery to market from when we were pre IPO company, to the end of 2020. And recently, I took on a new role to run ringcentral ventures, our newly formed investment arm.

Evan Kirstel 4:33
Well, that’s fascinating. So would it be fair to say that our CV or ringcentral video is one of your bigger projects at ringcentral?

Kira Makagon 4:39
It’s certainly a big project and certainly it was a major undertaking. Then we announced it and at the right at the onset of pandemic that was our first release in an April 1 I believe of 2020.

Evan Kirstel 4:51
Well, great timing and ringcentral video obviously a huge accomplishment congratulations. I mean lots of UCAS companies have developed video, but you are going up against zoom with an app that could replace it. How are you doing?

Kira Makagon 5:08
We’re doing great. So first of all, it took a village to do this as it continues to take a village to continue to add more functionality. And we’re moving very, very quickly. Every quarter, we announced a bunch of new features, and just lots of waters being put into this product. But only the difference between us and everybody else when it comes to vj is really go to market was a message Vidya voice application, and they’ve knows the app. Well. And where are you interoperating? Louis, in between three channels, you never lose context. And this is something that’s unique in to a large extent to the example. Because our in starting was our voice product. It’s really a full class, ideally, robust, world class PBX product that’s really is hidden behind the simplicity of an app.

Dave Michels 5:57
Well, I agree with Evan, that your RCV implementation was pretty impressive. But you say it took a village. I mean, why is video hard? He just simplement you just copy down the download of WebRTC stack and you’re done. What did you have to do to make our CV actually work?

Kira Makagon 6:13
Right, right. I wish it was that simple to just download web RTC track look for a simple use case, it is pretty simple. What happens is it gets a lot more complicated. And a lot more work needs to be done to make sure that you can cover all sorts of conditions, use cases conditions, which are not perfect ever, for users, especially in the heat of the pandemic, everybody conducting from their home, not optimized Wi Fi, lots of congested networks. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure that meetings was lots of participants work really, really well. And then there’s lots of functionality to do also, to make sure that the experiences smooth to make sure that you’ve got things like we do now. Virtual background, transcription, closed captioning, there’s lots more to enhance the experience beyond the basic experience beyond web RTC, the basic web RTC, we’ve also worked very closely with Google in some of the instances where WebRTC and chrome required some additional work. So we were pretty close relation there, and are also helping to improve the overall WebRTC stack.

Dave Michels 7:20
So I think you did a great job. In our CV, there’s a lot of features I really like about one of my favorite features of for anyone listening that hasn’t tried it is that you have a clock in there, which is great when you’re recording. And often when I’m in a meeting and taking notes. And I can’t keep up, I just write down the timestamp. And other conferencing apps don’t have that timestamp for me to reference. I think that’s a really nice feature. But as a chief information officer, obviously you’re doing development and now you’re doing ventures and so were you involved previously in the acquisitions, because ringcentral has made a few acquisitions. And by the way, I think glip was a pretty bold acquisition, because that’s pretty early in the messaging days. Were you involved in that?

Kira Makagon 8:01
Yes, in the role that I had. And the year also allows me to participate in our innovation, roadmap and strategy. When we looked we were coming we acquired Gloop in 2015. And then we made some additional acquisitions and contact center space was the mela that became our digital contact center solution. We recently acquired deep effect for enhancing our post meeting transcriptions and things like sentiment analysis that was done last year at the very end of the year. But the signing was glib, you know, the vision was that as we looked at how people are using the product, and a lot of innovation really comes back to you listening to our users and the listening to how they interact, like what will enhance their experience, and and sort of adding them a step function steward. So Gloop was that step function to basically say, Look, when you’re on the phone, whether you’re on video or voice, that’s the channel that you’re on, you want to be in a situation where you can interact with the team, that is part of your work stream. And what better way to do it than was a team collaboration platform, which is how we came to realization that what we really want to do is, is build that in or acquire and we found a small company that we acquired and then became the foundation for our team collaboration and messaging, which is now the foundation for our message voice media.

Evan Kirstel 9:26
Very good. And clarify something for us if you would. ringcentral says it’s getting a lot of synergy, from offering both UCAS and C Kas, but to my understanding ringcentral offers in contact as well. So what’s the difference between a customer buying UCAS and CC CAD separately?

Kira Makagon 9:46
So one, when the customer buys separately, they save to manage two systems, the systems don’t really talk to each other and he can’t really do handoffs easily. So they’re just joint worlds and each system has to do its own User Management, its own traffic management and so on. combined together, you have a single solution. One way to manage the system, we actually enhance our incontact implementation. Even worse things like being able to take agent escalations, then back to Team messaging. So you can do back office three hours, which seems to help agents and help bring in knowledge workers into the conversation. So to basically reduce things like case time resolution, bring that down. That’s just one example. So these synergies really create a much better way for it to manage, but really, more importantly, a much better user experience between front office agents and back office Asians.

Dave Michels 10:43
It’s an interesting development, because a couple of the UCAS providers and offer seekers are talking about how they’re getting synergy now with the combined suite, including ringcentral, of course, and wasn’t long ago that C cause was really dominated by pure plays. And so I would say the CC UC combo is kind of the the new power play of 2021. What’s the next power play going to be? What do you think it’s going to be next?

Kira Makagon 11:07
Well, I think we’re still playing the uccc, that’s still being played out. And that’s accelerating, just based on what we’re seeing from our customers. The next big thing is going to be that we’re just beginning to see is it really bringing intelligence into all of these interactions, so that that creates much better, ultimately, user experience for for the users, but he only puts intelligence in there, whether that’s in the form of being able to, in case of contact center, you don’t do better, basically deflection or better so agent support, to being able to understand what’s behind a meeting, so that you can easily find context within the actual meeting or find what you’re looking for. So that you can get to the bottom of like the summary of something that just took place in either a phone call, or a medium meeting. And I think we’re gonna see more and more of that intelligence being added to boy, those seek as a new guest over the time, and it’s almost like I would I would want to say is, in the future, those things will be one of the defining differentiators for companies.

Evan Kirstel 12:15
Awesome. I can’t wait to read about it in the talking points newsletter. But I would like to know more about your new role, or should I say this new venture, tell us more about your new job.

Kira Makagon 12:25
So in central ventures focused on the future of work, which is really means new companies, new technologies, coverage of new use cases, evolving use cases, in this changing work home landscape, as we’re returning to the office. Interestingly enough, we’re so now used to working from anywhere. And interestingly enough, this was always the waiting central approached our solutions we talked about anywhere on any device, anytime, your convenience, way before pandemic, so was the new role and focusing on the future award, as there’s innovation in the space, really, for us to invest in entrepreneurs and startups that are going to become leaders complementing and complimentary adjacent spaces or kind of functionality. To in Central, which there’s plenty of examples, one of the companies that I can give you an example of all this kind of helps, is a company that today’s a unicorn, they came to ringcentral and integrated with ringcentral. For doing agent training Gong, everybody knows Gong now but when they first approached us Central, and southern Iran, we’d like to integrate with you because we can we’re enhancing agent training was the way that we analyze conversations, we set out great that you can run on our platform. So you can basically do the integration yourself. There are many examples of these startups that we got to know very early. And that are built on our platform, for example, and that make ideal candidates for us to also invest in,

Dave Michels 14:00
I met Gong, a ringcentral event, they had analysis event, I can’t remember if it was 18 or 19. But I met them there. And then they ended up applying to the innovation showcase and enterprise Connect, and they were indeed selected and featured there. So it sounds like you’ve just got glads credit card, right? You’re just you’ve got ringcentral credit card that you’re just walking around trying to figure out what to invest in. Do you have a limit on that credit

Kira Makagon 14:22
card? This is always the limit is you know, it was exceptional. We’re we’re always very judicious and deliberate in how we spend money and how we allocate budget. So yes, there’s a pretty good governance process around spending on mentors. So that is, that does not give me just the feed grade card.

Evan Kirstel 14:43
Well, what makes up a good investment beyond Dave Michaels advice is is it the goal to make money or is an IPO the goal? Or is it never to have an IPO and ring just acquire the company you’re partnering with.

Kira Makagon 14:56
So what makes a great company is number one, a great team and idea that can live on its own? That’s sort of the definition of Oh, no,

Dave Michels 15:03
no, no, we know what makes a great company, he asks you what makes a great investment.

Kira Makagon 15:07
Alright, so that would make a great investment isn’t the company that that is positioned to be that that will provide also a great financial return. Now, if it so happens that along the line, we will find out that this potential could make a good acquisition, we can have that conversation, if that’s what the company wants us, a lot of these investments, I suspect will be actually really good partners, like gave me just one example where and there are many of these were, they could be partner platforms, potentially they could be in some examples could be our closer relationship. So in the way that we will operate is really to look after the baby a good investor and be a good partner to the company. That’s really important. That’s what good intrapreneurs expect. And that’s how we think of us of our old.

Evan Kirstel 15:54
Fantastic. And I’m guessing there’s some good opportunities right now in the world of hybrid office as we return to work in different ways. But you’re looking at companies that might help bring central today or in the future, or both, what’s your time horizon?

Kira Makagon 16:13
It would both because you know, interestingly enough today was was startups, you expect them to find their product market fit much faster, I think, than before, therefore, the rounds are larger earlier. And so yeah, if we see companies that make a good partner for in Central, then that makes sense. But again, not all investments need to absolutely be a partner to ringcentral.

Dave Michels 16:35
I think the reason I’ve been asked about hybrid is because it’s kind of an obligatory term that we have to have in every podcast, right? Around this time. And so what are your thoughts on the hybrid office? Because Because ringcentral, in particular, has always been enabling work from home and distributed teams, it’s been a big part of your value proposition for years, well, before the pandemic. So what’s different now, and this whole hybrid thing? Is it just marketing or what’s different for ringcentral, in terms of work from home around enabling hybrid, the hybrid office,

Kira Makagon 17:08
hybrid means that you really can move between an office in your home and movers in your house. And a good example, as an example, has this functionality where I can be with you on my desktop computer, and then you know, I have to go move around, I have to go leave the house, get into my car, I can flip the conversation to my mobile phone and move on. And you’re in the same meeting, nobody knows that you’re, you know, you have your media turned on. If you don’t have it, then it should be people want to know where you’re on a virtual background, then solves that altogether. So those are examples of ways that people really need to be, they have to be able to participate in a conversation in a meeting, wherever they are, they shouldn’t feel disadvantaged, whether they’re in the office, or home. That’s kind of the way that we think about it. So we do everything possible to create that inclusion. And one of the ways that we do this is connecting meetings to conversations, because that really provides that secondary channel beyond sort of simple chat, for context reservation for sharing documents and conversations.

Dave Michels 18:16
He says it’s important that they have RCV, and that they can flip to glip. I get that right. Oh,

Kira Makagon 18:21
you can flip you can flip on our CV conversation on one device to another device, you can flip a foot you can do this was a ninja call, and was the voice call, you can also escalate a voice call to an easier call. Alright.

Evan Kirstel 18:35
Now that we settled that, Kira, you joined ringcentral in 2012, that, you know, that seems like a lifetime in tech. But what do you think enabled during your tender ringcentral to break away from the pack of UCAS and, and related companies and take this leadership role? And also, do you take full credit?

Kira Makagon 18:58
The credit goes to the team? It definitely a number one, come

Dave Michels 19:02
on? I thought it was me. I thought I did.

Kira Makagon 19:05
And to be honest, the credit goes to you know, at the helm of the of the companies is lab. One is the CEO and his leadership is I think, ultimately is why we’re here. And he hired me so and so

Dave Michels 19:17
that’s obviously a man that makes good decisions. Hopefully he’s listening. Yeah, I don’t know if he’s listening, but he’s listening. You can’t be CEO of a company like ringcentral. That was talking heads on railer basis. That’s, that’s ridiculous. Okay.

Kira Makagon 19:32
But I don’t mean that and really, the vision, our vision has always been to be a global communications company. And we’ve done all the work necessary at the base of the company, not cutting corners, whether that’s on quality, on stability, on the foundation that we have to be able us for us to continue to grow the company and that’s fundamental in central is extremely focused on execution and results and so That clarity in what to do next in terms of being able to organization towards excellence really helps organize the entire company towards a set of what I call step functions. And so innovation was one of the step functions, we have plenty in go to market execution. Just recently, the things that we have done was our partners on the not so much in pure technology. But in signing up and having, you know, a wire, add us al take to market relating Central’s products, and then the global service providers. That is really like Vodafone and Verizon and Deutsche Telekom that we just announced. And our first one was att. I mean, I could go on, ideally, that each one of these pushes us to build a better product to build a product that can scale for direct sales get consulted for channels that can scale for distribution, and scale to use our needs around the globe. Who is the foundation that can sustain it all? That kind of sums it up? Okay.

Dave Michels 21:04
So most of the companies that that I cover, I was gonna say that we cover but but haven’t covers anybody that has free candy. But most of the ones I cover are not in Silicon Valley, you ringcentral is one of the few that is entering Silicon Valley, with all the competition for talent, all the high costs, not to mention fires and droughts and all that stuff. Is that been an asset or liability? Do you think the ringcentral

Kira Makagon 21:27
to be in Silicon Valley? Yeah, I like to think that Silicon Valley has, especially early on when the company is being established, especially in the days of when we didn’t have all these communication channels all developed. So I would say that being in Silicon Valley, especially early on was absolutely helpful to ringcentral. Because you’re in the heart or work, all conversations take place. And now I think we’ve changed was the technology that we’re all we just all talked about. You can be I think there’s more acceptance that you can be anywhere. And during the pandemic, we’ve proved that, but back in the day, and I would almost say through through the years of our growth, being in the valley and being so well plugged in was definitely a benefit.

Evan Kirstel 22:19
And cure. How long have you lived in the Bay Area? Because I suspect it’s not a California native accent?

Kira Makagon 22:25
No. So I would have liked it by now to be a California native accent. You know. I was born in the Soviet Union, my parents immigrated back when I was not even I think in middle school. So my formative years are actually war. I spent as a Soviet child, did you come straight to California? Or did you go straight to California. fortunate enough, this California was actually hard to get into. My uncle was here first. So he laid the foundation for the rest of the family to come to California.

Dave Michels 22:57
I love that. You went to Berkeley, right?

Kira Makagon 23:01
I went to Berkeley, both undergrad and MBA. Alright.

Dave Michels 23:05
So why stay there? I mean, post pandemic, life means you can work anywhere. And I understand a lot of people are leaving the Bay Area looking for greener, cheaper pastures.

Kira Makagon 23:16
True. You could probably water from anywhere. But I do value being close to our headquarters and actually be able to be as one of the members of the executive team in the headquarters on we do go back to the office, even if it’s not full time.

Dave Michels 23:33
Are people scared of you?

Kira Makagon 23:35
people scared of me? No, I hope people expect me and like it’d be pretty forceful and firm. But I hope they’re not scared of me.

Evan Kirstel 23:43
People are mostly scared of Dave Michaels. And that’s a whole different podcast. But speaking of returned to headquarters returned to the office of Have you at ringcentral made announcements internally about about returning to the office.

Kira Makagon 23:56
And this is probably one of those topics that’s that you hear news change every day from one company in the valley or globally. So we’re still deliberating on exactly what it’s going to take. But it’s California opened up today. So officially, California is open for business. And so we’ll see. Now,

Dave Michels 24:17
you’re all kinds of calls and inquiries from people across the industry. And I got a call the other day and somebody told me that they heard that ringcentral is about to acquire Avaya. Can you confirm or deny that? I couldn’t confirm or deny that. I tried. Okay, I try. Speaking of confirm or deny I have in all fairness I’ve not you know because I deal with a lot different companies. And every company’s done a little bit of a different culture. I’ve noticed that ringcentral is a bit more secretive than most of the companies that I deal with in this space. So my question is, is that true within the your executive group as well? Do you have exact meanings to talk about things open? We, or is everything that I need to know basis internally.

Kira Makagon 25:03
The executive team obviously gets together and discuss topics. And we actually very collaborative culture as it was in the company. Maybe I don’t think we’re secretive. I think again, we’re kind of deliberate when we deliver news, we don’t like to do sort of flash news. And typically when we do announce things, and we do talk about things, that decision is well thought through, and has a Ford was in the company. So that’s probably closer to how we behave. Even though maybe from the outside, it seems like we’re more close than others.

Evan Kirstel 25:36
And I would imagine that as a chief innovation officer, in your new role that AI comes up a lot wouldn’t be a tech podcast without at least mentioning AI. What opportunities do you see for AI and in UCAS?

Kira Makagon 25:50
Yeah, and I think I’ve touched upon this a little bit earlier in the podcast, I think that for you, Cass on CBS AI is going to be like a base functionality, you’ll be part of every platform out there, we have a very large AI effort in a team led by our CTO, that is focused on AI, and they have a bunch of bunch of things that they’re putting into the product, a bunch of things that they’re working on. And the reason for it is because you know, users demand more efficiency, they want to spend less time thinking about how to answer the question, and more questions, kind of taking actions. That’s one way to describe it. And so that intelligence that is being built into the apps is essential today’s sort of ever so demanding users who have to deal with floods of information, you know, jumping from one technology to another technology. And they just think all of that in real time. So you need to be able to assist them. And that’s where AI comes in. We’re also a lot more efficiency conscious. So I gave one example in contact center, contact center agents are spending less time figuring out how to answer the phone call, and switching to digital channels, which is like we acquire the company in that space, where it’s got some intelligence behind how calls or chats or other being routed towards agents, and they’re being assisted by technology to be able to not even have to answer every question, right? There’s there’s bots behind it. The same is true across the ward, in terms of making it easier and users to move faster, by essentially assisting them was they just think of the information and that be in the form of this podcast is transcribed and was in transcription, then you’ve got tags on what was said the topics are covered which topic was covered most often. So all of that natural language understanding then leads to basically a much more effective intake of the information. If I wanted to see you know, what was this about and likely want to listen to this.

Dave Michels 27:57
I find it interesting how much the concept of UCAS is expanded. First we call it call you call it a Hosted Voice, then it became UCAS and when it became you guys was mostly around polyphony, then it became you know, part of chat was part of it. And then chat became part of more of a spaces rooms capability. We’ve added video, which was totally separate is now an integral part of of the you guys formula. What do you think is going to be next? What kind of functionality not just at ringcentral, but for the industry to kind of as you guys continues to expand and mature, what do you think is coming up next?

Kira Makagon 28:34
Oh, I wish I had the, you know the crystal ball to really be able to call it out. But Ailey. As we get more visual and more voice sensitive I there’s going to be continued to be innovation in understanding voice and understanding visual expressions in identity management behind all of that, I think there’s some startups that are out there today. And that’s probably going to continue to evolve, for example. So use of basically, this visual invoice information for being able to enhance business processes is what I think we’re gonna see that definitely take place. I think that being able to, what you see out there is you can see chaos. Now you can, understanding how people interact, you bring into the conversations, a lot more intelligence about who is interacting, and how should you take that that information, and I suggest next level actions, so that you make more effective use of people interacting for sort of social interactions, such as you get to meet this person who was in the meeting, it seems like you had eye contact, I’m just kind of making this up right now. Or seems like you know, you’re asking similar questions. So you know, perhaps I can suggest that I’m Robert and I can set up a meeting for you. And then we’re seeing kind of just the beginnings of this and here. I’m just gonna really step out of what I know well, but at some point, right now we’ve got c dimensional meetings that are emerging, we’ve got virtual events that got like, you know, incredibly Netflix level production behind them. But elite kind of like I’m, I’m at my house, and I want to be able to feel immersed. And so what that form of immersion is gonna place gonna take, it’s hard to say, you know, there’s an element of obviously virtual reality, augmented reality that’s gonna come in, when it’s available without having to put on yourself these humongous goggles, that we’re not that productive to be in all the time, because it’s so heavy. And you have, so unless you’re in game, or I guess, but this immersive experience I think is going to happen. Because if you are like using technology, this communication technology to basically share ideas, and you want to look at a 3d model, that’s something that’s gonna continue to get better. So those aren’t just some examples that I can just throw out there.