TalkingHeadz with Five9 CEO Rowan Trollope
I do enjoy Rowan. We met back in 2018 when he arrived at Cisco, and over the years I’ve had several opportunities to interview him. Despite is successes, he’s largely remained the same guy: accessible, sincere, and articulate. He’s a rare breed that combines business acumen with technical vision — oh and the gift to convey that vision.
I always felt his departure from Cisco was premature, and his arrival at Five9 was, at least initially, confusing. That confusion dissipated in 2019. In 2021, I’ve never seen Rowan so engaged, and it’s contagious. We agree the contact center is on the precipice of radical change, and this is about a lot more than AI.
This interview ran a little long. That’s in part because Rowan suggested about a year ago that we do much longer interviews.
TalkingHeadz can be found on most podcast apps. We do two, unscripted interviews a month that feature the most interesting movers and shakers in enterprise communications, plus we have good guests too.
Dave Michels 2:08
Today we have with us Rowan Trollope, the CEO of five nine a returning guest, Evan, he’s giving you a second chance. Don’t blow it this time.
Evan Kirstel 2:17
Hey, how dare you
Dave Michels 2:18
Rowan Trollope 2:19
Hi, guys. Hi, Dave. Hi, Evan. Thanks for having me on again.
Dave Michels 2:22
It’s great to have you. So last time when you were here, that was a summer of 2019. You were a brand new CEO in general on a brand new CEO of five9. Have you got that licked yet?
Rowan Trollope 2:35
I don’t think I’ll ever have that licked. That’s a lifelong learning process.
Dave Michels 2:39
It’s a tough one, isn’t it? But I remember when you left Cisco, Chuck Robbins, the CEO Cisco wished you the best, of course. And he commented that he was sorry that you’re a first time CEO role was at a public company. Yeah, that was May 2018. And, and fivn or FIVN was at about $34 a share today it’s at about $180 a share. So I’m no expert. But was Chuck’s concern justified or is being public an easy thing? Now,
Rowan Trollope 3:09
it’s definitely not easy. And there’s additional challenges that come along with being a public company, and you’ve got a lot of investors and they want to make sure that they understand the business really well. So no, I certainly understand what he was saying.
Evan Kirstel 3:23
Yeah, and CEOs don’t have the most popular perception these days among the public. So do you like being a CEO? Do you maybe find yourself wanting to be an SVP at a bigger company again, one day, what do you think?
Rowan Trollope 3:37
I love my job. And you know, being popular has never been one of my life goals. So I don’t really particularly care about that, or what the perception is, I mean, you know, I think that more is made of that than really needs to be made of it. We have a big company here that’s thriving. And you know, there needs to be one person that sort of has that mantle. But at the end of the day, it’s really about the team, not about me, and that’s what I tend to focus on.
Dave Michels 3:59
Now, we’re mostly obviously going to talk about five nine. But before we get there, we just got to ask you a few obligatory questions about your past. Now you were at Cisco, I think it was like 2012 to 2015. And while you were there, you were, let’s say mostly focused on a new product, mostly called Spark. Now, some of your critics say that you were too focused on spark and some, some say you weren’t focused enough on Spark. For those that don’t recall, spark was conceptually similar to slack. Both were about the same timing. slack didn’t have the sales force that Cisco has, or even existing customer base. So my question to you, Rohan is how did you feel when Salesforce acquired slack for $27.7 billion?
Rowan Trollope 4:45
You know, I thought that was an awesome acquisition by Salesforce. And it really validated the market for a separate team based messaging app. So I felt great about the fact that we were right, in terms of where the world was heading. You know, that was a bet that we made. Early on, at Cisco that the world was going to move towards this conversational based messaging, more real time kind of messaging app and away from the more asynchronous email. And I think that has really played out. And perhaps it was sort of the exclamation point on that, which was Salesforce buying slack. And, you know, I think also Microsoft entering teams in a big way was also a big validation. So we were certainly right about the direction. We didn’t get everything right, in terms of execution, obviously, and, but from the perspective of knowing where the markets headed, huge validation.
Evan Kirstel 5:32
Interesting. And speaking of chat and messaging, just out of curiosity, what are you using internally at five, nine, you know, zoom, slack teams chime? Is it like Dave Michaels, you just use all the above?
Rowan Trollope 5:45
Yeah, we use slack for internal team communications, and we use email. So those are the two platforms, we use Microsoft, outlook for email, and then we use slack for messaging. I find myself right now, this is maybe controversial, but moving, I don’t think it’s actually that controversial funny. Moving back more towards email, I’ve found I’ve been getting overloaded on Slack, from the perspective of the way that the app works is quite hard sometimes for me to find things I end up getting like this. unread anxiety, I call it where if I read a message, that’s important, and I’m on the go, if I leave that message thread, or that channel in Slack, I have an anxiety that I won’t find it again, and often I don’t. And I find myself looking for these threads. And one of the things I think we got right, and some of the messaging apps have really gotten right was sort of a blend between messaging and email in the sense that having a time ordered list of messages and channels is something that we still don’t have in slack. And I’ve been finding more and more folks actually moving back to email for a whole host of reasons. So I think it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting trend. And one that I certainly understand now, as a user, one thing I think I loved about what we had done with spark is we had it by default, with time sorted less last read was, you know, always at the top or,
Dave Michels 7:04
you know, the whole email is dead conversation was always a bit of an exaggeration. But I hear what you mean about about email that it does have an important role. And as far as I can tell, it’s not going away.
Rowan Trollope 7:14
Absolutely not. And frankly, I think what has also emerged in the last few years is I use a product called superhuman, amazing email client. And they’ve sort of taken the perspective that if you build an incredible app experience, that there’s has not been a lot of innovation in email, it’s really been stifled, you could breathe new life into that format. And I think they’ve done that. I mean, at least for me, and I know a lot of other people who use the app, it’s made email fun again, and it’s, it’s fixed some of the core problems with email. So I think there’s an opportunity for a new wave of innovation in email clients, that I think probably has been underserved by the by the fact that we have essentially a company that has a monopoly and corporate email.
Dave Michels 7:56
That’s really interesting. I’d like to try that. But I don’t know if I qualify for but it’s an intimidating title superhuman. Okay, so I don’t know for sure. But I had the impression that your successor, Cisco was not one of your fans. But that’s pretty typical. You know, it’s called King is dead, long live the king syndrome, whatever you want to call it. But you didn’t do that. Right. When you came into Cisco, you relieve oj and by the way, he and Simon have neat work on recent Talking Heads episode. But anyway, you didn’t hate oj, as far as I can tell, you actually became friends, key buddies and even business partners. So what’s with
Rowan Trollope 8:29
that is a great leader oj incredible a patient and sort of understanding where the markets going? I think he’s one of the most, not only the one of the most successful, but also one of the most forward thinking leaders in the collaboration industry in general, look no further than a lot of the innovations coming out of neat. No. And so yeah, absolutely. I I have built a relationship with oj, he’s he’s a great guy. And we’re friends.
Evan Kirstel 8:53
So let me see if I can transition this conversation to five, nine, maybe. So one context that was more interesting than what you were doing at Cisco, or even in prior roles?
Rowan Trollope 9:05
Well, what I was seeing at Cisco, and it actually hit contact center had become a really big focus for me while I was at Cisco running the business there, you know, we had built a new leadership team for the contact center team, we were putting together, we had been working on some sort of go big plans for the contact center. And one of the reasons why that had emerged as a big priority is that we were hearing it from customers, the feedback we were getting from the largest customers, you know, Cisco gets, essentially sells into you name it, every large customer that’s out there is probably a Cisco customer. And they wanted to talk about the contact center all the time. And I found that in our executive briefings, that the contact center was just had an outsized influence in terms of the conversation and the amount of time we would spend on the agenda versus how much money was being spent on it, which was for Cisco, less than 1% of revenue for Cisco is context on a revenue but it’s a hugely important part of the stack for their big customers. And that was one And the other thought was, if you think about the experience of customer service, with most big brands, you generally don’t get the warm fuzzies, you don’t sort of go, Oh, I just can’t wait to call, you know, my cable provider and talk to them about upgrading or changing the service or fixing a problem. In general, it’s an experience that most people find to be frustrating, and somewhat anachronistic, you know, leveraging telephones too much. And it’s a huge source of customer dissatisfaction actually, is the customer service process. And that, to me, is a huge opportunity. And when I couple that with the amount of money being spent in the contact center, so it’s not as if contact centers are ridiculously underfunded, businesses understand that this is an important part of, you know, their overall, how they invest their money, they know they, it’s important to spend money on customer service. And in fact, around the world, if you look at businesses globally, they’re spending 260 to $270 billion a year in contact centers, that’s technology and labor. So you have this condition now in the world, where you have a quarter of a trillion dollars being spent by businesses all over the world to deliver an experience that basically no one likes. And that’s a huge opportunity. five, nine is a was a great place for me to come because it’s a company that was born in the cloud, that had really, really great reputation with customers for helping them solve some of these more thorny problems around customer service. And they were looking for a CEO. So
Dave Michels 11:32
that’s really interesting. And I find it kind of contradictory, almost, because you’re saying that most customers are unhappy? I’ve heard you say that with customer service that is, but you also say that five nine is a leader in the contact center space. So isn’t that kind of contradictory? Isn’t the bad thing for you to be saying that if you’re a leader, and the most of customers are getting bad service, or frustrated by service, what’s making customers unhappy? And how are you going to fix it?
Rowan Trollope 11:58
Yeah, so most customers are unhappy with the general state of customer service? Not, not those customers that have moved on to the five nine platform Oh, okay. Okay, is that care about delivering great customer service are investing, they’re upgrading their infrastructure moving to cloud providers, like five, nine. And so you there are these companies out there and more and more of them every day, who have recognized the importance of sort of upgrading this experience. And by leveraging modern technology and other things, they are actually making a difference there. So that I think that’s the story there. Now, what is it that people don’t like about customer service? Well, one, they don’t like waiting on hold. I mean, Dave, you and I’ve talked about this, if the only way for me to contact the business is to call them that’s a fail right out of the gate. Because today, you know, especially Gen Z and millennials, like the preferences to text first. And I’m not either of those, I’m Gen X. But that’s my preference to you know, I don’t want to wait on hold and go, you know, the second thing that people have a problem with not just waiting on hold, but going through the classic IVR, push one, if you’re having this problem, push too, if you’re having that problem, those generally, you generally try and escape that by pushing zero to talk to an agent. So that’s another sort of anachronistic part of the technology stack that most businesses still use. But when you move on to the five, nine platform, we’ve got all this great technology that can a replace your IVR with something much more modern, much more conversational, where you can just speak to it, and it finds the right answer for you automatically or connects you with an agent if needed. So we’ve we’ve kind of got a whole bunch of new technologies to make that overall experience better. And we actually lead with digital channels, when we talk to our customers, the messaging that we have is what you really should be focusing on as a digital first experience, where you enter the experience from your entire customer service Doc, try and get the customer down a digital channel First, if you can. And that’s of course, that’s been the trend for some time. But it’s not easy to do well. And what’s really changed over the last few years is companies like five nine, we’ve seamlessly blended the legacy telephony kind of technologies, with the more modern digital technologies, but you can have a single seamless experience. Okay,
Dave Michels 14:02
well, that sounds really good the way you just said that. And you talked about digital first. And that’s great. But that’s not what you’ve said before. And I’ve shared with you that sometimes I think context under vendors are kind of full of it. And I’m sure that’s something we could agree on, actually. But let me give you the opportunity to clarify something that you said, that might be confusing to the casual observer. You recently said that five nines mission is to make the contact center more human. Now, that’s nice because I for 1am getting tired of all the darn bots. But you were attempting to accomplish this humanization through AI and automation.
Rowan Trollope 14:38
Can you clarify that? I know it sounds strange. So the first problem is if we back up and say what’s the Why is connecting to customer service, a tough experience for a lot of people. Why is it something we don’t like? Well, there’s a few sort of problems with it first. The fact is we use humans for almost everything. It has been traditionally very hard to automate technology in the contact center in a way that’s pleasing for customers. So if you make it hard for them to get ahold of you as a business, because you don’t want to spend the money on human beings, you’re creating a bad experience. So if you’re trying to leverage technology to automate the experience, you can often make the experience worse. And that’s what we’ve seen over the years, if you’re going to go all the way back to sort of pre automation days contact center, everything was handled by human beings, okay? And the simple stuff and the hard stuff, no matter what the problem was, if you needed to get an answer to a question, you had to talk to a human being. So over the last 30 years, we put in lots of technologies to try and take humans out of the loop. And why is because those human beings are very expensive. They’re hard to schedule, we spend 10 times more in the context center on labor than we do on technology. So it’s a huge part of the cost in a traditional contact center. So for decades, companies have been trying to figure out how can I take technology and put it in place of those human beings. And what has happened as a result of that is that the experience has gotten worse for most customers, for example, the IVR, the IVR, was a great way to do steering so that you could actually, you know, instead of talking to an operator and saying, I’m having a problem with my bill, and and they transfer you, you could just kind of enter, you know, push some keys to get past that step. So they took out that first sort of tear that tear one of the routing engine that used to be done by human beings by switchboard operators.
Dave Michels 16:24
That’s my first job, by the way, there you go.
Rowan Trollope 16:27
But that technology is not that pleasing. And you know, sometimes you end up in these loops, and you end up in these crazy IVR trees that basically people don’t like the same thing. Now, fast forward to chatbots. The same thing happened with chatbots, when we discovered that, hey, chat is awesome, but you have to have a human being on the other end chatting with your customers, that became problematic. So we started implementing chatbots. And it turns out implementing chatbots was harder than everyone thought. So now that modern version of an IVR is go to any company’s website, go into their chat, and start talking to the what’s often a bot, you’re not usually talking to a human being. And my version of sort of press zero to speak to an agent for chatbots is are you human? And can I talk to a human and because I don’t want to go through a poorly written chatbot. So essentially, what you can say has happened is automation technologies have really failed to live up to customer expectations, we thought they were going to make the experience better, they actually made the experience worse, okay, over decades. Now, the opportunity. And so as a result of all of that, it makes the experience feel less human, like you’re not talking to a human being you’re talking to a machine, it doesn’t really understand the context of why you’re calling it doesn’t understand you as a customer, and all these other problems. So in an attempt to sort of pull humans out of the loop, and to kind of make that experience kind of better for the business and better for the customer. It’s actually gotten worse for the customer. And it’s not necessarily even better for the business, even though it’s cheaper. So our mission has been looked to say, Can we make the overall experience better? Are we at a place now where technology has evolved, and become more mature in such a way that we could create a more human like experience for businesses, even if they’re using technology. So it’s not to say that in order to create a human like experience, that you can’t use any technology, that you just have to have a bunch of human beings answering telephones, that’s not what we’re saying at all. What we’re saying is that technology has changed. And the key change that happened, I’d say over the last few years, is the maturity of machine learning and deep learning technology, specifically, which can create a much, much better experience than just, hey, that what you’ve been experiencing with chatbots or IVR is before and so that modern technology platform is really what we’re all about is about delivering a great experience that doesn’t make the customer feel like they’re being treated like a number. That’s the important part of this, this scenario. But you have to leverage technology even more, and actually pull even more human beings out of the loop in order to create that incredible experience. That’s where we’re actually at.
Evan Kirstel 18:59
While super interesting, let’s drill a bit deeper. I mean, the challenge with AI and automation in general, is getting good data. And that’s also been a challenge is, you know, better than I from any contact center vendors where when enterprise has data scattered across apps and systems, even silos organizations. So how does five nine specifically address that?
Rowan Trollope 19:21
Yeah, well, I guess that’s one of the other enabling one of the other enablers that’s letting us solve this problem now is as you move to the cloud, you end up being able to capture all of that data across many, many customers. So five, nine, for example, has 7 billion minutes of recorded phone calls per year. That’s customers that are using it. And then we’ve got many more chats and email messages and everything else flowing across the platform. So that’s a ton of data that we can leverage to train machine learning algorithms to be much more human like and much more accurate and better in general. So data, that data problem was really is being solved the lack of data that you had with traditional sort of siloed contact centers and on premises software is really being solved by public cloud. And the fact that you can leverage a multi tenant public cloud is the key, because that that creates one big giant data source of information that can be used to train machine learning algorithms. And that’s what we have on the five nine platform. That’s been such a big enabler. In fact, when I was at Cisco, one of the bigger problems that we had was getting data. Because when you sell on premises software, those customers have NetApp filers and other like on prem hard disks, basically, that they use to store all that data. It’s not accessible by an on prem software company, by a Cisco or whoever selling you that software, they don’t have access to that customer data. When you move to the cloud, you do have access. So it’s created this really interesting opportunity, the maturity of machine learning technology, and access to data has created this unique opportunity.
Evan Kirstel 20:55
Fantastic. Well help me clarify another confusion I have about the contact center, which is when I used to walk around occasionally a physical center there lots of agents, etc. But now agents were sent home during the pandemic. So just teleworking. So in this new normal, what is a contact center? And do agents have, like Dave Michaels a full pull cord switchboard in their kitchen and a fax machine in their dining room? Or? Or is there something else going on in this new architecture?
Rowan Trollope 21:25
Yeah, I’m not I don’t know, this is particularly interesting what’s happened. But all these customers, of course, during the pandemic, especially in the US decided to send their agents to go work from home, that was a lot easier for customers who were leveraging cloud platforms. If you were still leveraging an on premises PBX with literally like phone, hardware phones sitting on desks, it was much, much harder. Or even if you’re using soft phones, if you had on premises PBX or an on premises contact center software, you had to deal with all of the problems of VPNs, and security and access and all this and that. And so people that were leveraging cloud solutions, companies that were like five, nine customers, for example, it was a non event, because essentially, you send your agents home, they have their laptop, or their desktop, they plug in a USB headset, they log into their web browser, and they’re done. All they need is a great internet connection. So the business continuity challenge that emerged during the pandemic was sort of easily solved by cloud vendors. And in fact, I think that’s drove driven an acceleration and an awareness amongst IT folks that, hey, that’s just one more reason why cloud makes a lot more sense than the on premises software model. And so we’ve seen an acceleration of customers saying, Wow, this is a yet another good reason for us to move in that direction. Now, the other thing that changes pretty dramatically, and this is perhaps the more interesting part of what’s happened with work from home, is it may usher in a new era. And I think it kind of does signal a start a shift in terms of how businesses think about contact centers. So you no longer have to have a huge building with hundreds of agents and cubicles and this and that. But if you’re going to move to a more work from home environment, which is more flexible, and more friendly, potentially, for contact center workers, you need more technology to enable that. So in the contact center, the way that a lot of training, and that happens is supervisors that walk around, you know, they walk around, they listen over your shoulder, they, they see you crying after a call, like what happened, let me help you out, you know, or they see you struggling on a call or somebody’s yelling at you, like the supervisor is there to help and train and coach, as are the peers and the other agents in the context that when you go home that that capability just sort of vanishes. There’s no supervisor that’s popping into your house every once in a while. So that has to be enabled with technology. And so it’s made a category called workforce optimization, or workforce experience management, much more important, we have a product called Virtual observer, that essentially allows you to have that same experience that you can have in a physical contact center, but with a remote workforce, so that the supervisor can listen in on telephone calls anyone they can see on a web browser, all their agents in their team they can listen in, they can whisper This is all technology. By the way, it’s not revolutionary, it’s actually been around for a while, but it’s become much more important in the work from home environment. And we have talked to a lot of customers who are saying, We’re not going back to the big office environment, we’re going to leverage at home agents much more boring going forward. And so I guess the other interesting thing that this may usher in is a new model for contact centers where we leverage at home, or almost gig economy workers, potentially there could be a shift to gig economy for contact center work, because of the fact that it’s been enabled through technology, and then the ad home environment. So lots of lots of changes, I think on the way as a result.
Dave Michels 24:34
Now the most common question, I get about five, nine, want to give you a chance to respond to it. It’s something about five nine being a 21 year old company, and people ask if their architecture is cloud one oh or obsolete. Now I basically tell them the stupid question and go away but but what do you tell people when you get a question like that?
Rowan Trollope 24:54
You know, I think let’s look at some other 21 year old companies, Apple, Microsoft, I don’t think you would look at it. 21 year old companies, conflating the age of a company with the quality of their technology is never a good idea, because it’s just not the right thing. So that’s, that’s just totally inaccurate. Of course with us, we have a very, very modern technology platform, all actually running in Google Cloud now. So we leverage containers and the most modern architectural platform to sort of deliver our service. You know, it’s been a huge shift over the last few years, as we’ve re architected, any company that’s been around for a while Salesforce is another for example, if you built your software stack, more than five years ago, there’s some new company that’s like, Oh, that’s the old way of doing it. And this is the new way of doing it. That’s definitely present in the contact center space. About three years ago, when I started, it was a huge initiative that I launched to refactor our code base and to re architect our code base and to modernize the code base and to move us into public cloud and to leverage all the new architectures and so on. So we’ve done that. In fact, one of the first things I did as a public company CEO, was went back to Wall Street and said, I’m going to be investing more in r&d. I’m a software engineer, that’s my my background. I like building software. So you know, we spent a lot of time effort money over the last three years, sort of architecting a new platform, and modernizing the platform that we had. And as a result, we now have I think, leapfrogged most of the other companies that not all the other companies from a technology platform capabilities, and modern pneus perspective. So I’m very proud of the work that the team has done there.
Evan Kirstel 26:30
So five, nine has seen some unbelievable growth. And I’m pretty upset with Dave Michaels, actually, because where was your stock tip? Dave Michaels, you know, the by the by five, nine advice, because I totally get them buy low,
Dave Michels 26:43
sell high. I don’t know why you can follow that.
Evan Kirstel 26:46
But you did enact a lot of change to accommodate that growth row in your executive leadership team at least doubled in three years. I’m not going to go through the whole list, but just a few of my favorites, certainly on social media, Geneva and a new cmo callin panels, tell us about this team, and really how you accomplished what you did.
Rowan Trollope 27:08
Yeah, well, you know, wasn’t made, but the company was set up really, really well by my predecessor, Mike Berkland, to did a great job getting the company over the decade that he was here into the position that we were in to really be able to compete for this transition to the cloud contact center. And so my job was really to help to scale what was put in place there before and, and then also, as I said, to refactor and re architect our platform. So those are kind of the two big things we did was scaling up. So yeah, we did bring in a bunch of new leaders, we took the company from growing in the low 20s. To growing now our last quarter, we grew at 45%. So you know, we’ve accelerated growth while improving our bottom line. So you know, we’ve been able to do that been able to invest more in r&d, more in sales marketing, while growing the top line. So that’s, that’s something that’s fairly unusual in Wall Street, a big factor, there is the culture, it probably the biggest single factor of what’s going on at five nine, is that we took a great culture and strengthened it, it’s a great place to work, we’ve been able to attract some of the top talent, not just in Silicon Valley, but around the world. You know, we we’ve always been a work from home kind of company, more than half of our employees do work primarily from home. Of course, right now, more than that, we were already a sort of a work from home flexible environment. So we have we’ve been able to bring in people all over the world, some of the best and brightest talent in engineering in sales and marketing. And as you also mentioned, our leadership team has been bid have been a big part of that success story janessa. And panels, who you mentioned, are the most two most recent additions to the leadership team, Jeanette for running marketing panels running cloudops. But we also added Dave Pickering who came in from Intuit to lead our engineering team. We added Jonathan Rosenberg, our CTO. So we have brought in this world class leadership team. And the idea there is, you know, this company, there’s a huge problem to solve 280 250 billion thereabouts, being spent by contact centers globally, to deliver a service that basically no one likes, and we think that automation and AI are going to be a huge part of that transformation. So we needed to go invest there and build a leadership team that can sort of help transform an entire industry. So that’s the mission we’re on. It’s a decade long, if not decades, long mission, I don’t think we’ll ever be done per se. But we’ve been able to attract some great talent who said, Wow, that’s a big problem. That’s like a really interesting problem to go solve. And so that ranks at five nine have incredible talent have really swelled very dramatically over the last few years.
Dave Michels 29:37
You mentioned Jonathan, we have a prior episode Talking Heads episode with Jonathan. But that was just before he joined five, nine. So we didn’t really talk about context, and we
Rowan Trollope 29:45
should have him on again.
Dave Michels 29:46
We should. Now you recently unveiled a new five nine mission statement. Let me ask you about that. Let me read it first. Because, let’s say to enable customers to deliver a reimagined see Extra customer experience by delivering practical AI and automation, persistence and personalization and powering the multi modal
Evan Kirstel 30:11
Bingo. Bingo did I win?
Rowan Trollope 30:14
Is that the buzzword bingo?
Dave Michels 30:16
We’re not we’re not playing buzzword bingo during the podcast, we do that during enterprise Connect keynotes. But thanks for playing that. That’s so empowering the multi modal workforce of the future. Now, I know mission statements are hard work and a lot of groupthink. Is there a part of that that is your favorite or that you want to emphasize?
Rowan Trollope 30:35
Yeah, so let me let me unpack it, if I don’t have it in front of me. So thanks for reading it out. I think the first thing that really jumps out to me is creating that more human experience through leveraging technology. And that’s what we’ve been talking about in this whole podcast is, can we how do we solve this sort of fundamentally hard problem of a long tail of complex issues that customers often have with businesses, and the fact that it hasn’t been easy to leverage to scale those kinds of experiences, because it required human beings. And now we’re in a place where technology has evolved and gotten to the maturity level where it actually can start to help businesses deliver that experience in a way that is cost efficient. And that’s kind of part one. And it’s, I think, the most important part, because it kind of opens up the door to everything else. And we use that word practical, very specifically there, because for the last few years, and you know, the joke about buzz, buzzword bingo, I think is funny one, because it’s real in that every company says that that’s what they’re doing, right. I mean, any tech company worth their salt, you know, five years ago, started putting AI somewhere in their mission statement or vision statement and saying, that’s what we’re gonna do. And a lot of it wasn’t very practical, it was sort of more science experiment kind of stuff. And we took a different approach, which was way more practical way more grounded in helping like trying to create technologies that every business can use not only those companies that could hire an AI and machine learning team to take advantage of what is ultimately sort of somewhat complicated technologies, we took the approach to say, this is an opportunity to democratize this technology, we can solve some, I would say relatively straightforward problems, but do it in a way that everyone can get access to it. And that’s a big part of our strategy is like, this has to be a technology that everyone can use. And it has to be easy. And that’s where we are now, you know, our our platform, and where we’re having the most success in our product portfolio is with our iba intelligent virtual agent. And that’s the technology that is really starting to hit mainstream, it’s practical, you don’t have to be a developer. And these Contact Center Operations person can, you know, configure our technology, you know, with a visual user experience. And there’s a lot of complexity underneath the covers that we wrap and cover. But ultimately, it’s just about making that technology practical for end users. So that’s what that vision is all about.
Dave Michels 32:58
Phil, when you were at Cisco, you are competing head to head with Microsoft and zoom. And at five, nine, you’re all of a sudden partnering with both of these companies. Is that transition mentally hard. I heard that Microsoft had pictures of you in dartboards. I mean, so tell me about that transition.
Rowan Trollope 33:17
Yeah, I don’t know about that. But no, that hasn’t been hard at all. I mean, in fact, I had built very good relationships, I mean, that the world of technology has always been one of Co Op petition, you have to cooperate and you have to compete. You do that respectfully. One of the I would say fiercest competitors that I had, while I was at Cisco was Eric Yuan. And he’s become one of my fiercest friends and colleagues at this point. And similarly at Microsoft, you know, I was competing against Zig, we were competing against zig and the Microsoft, sort of UC team over there. And he’s now the CEO at Qualtrics. And we have a great relationship. So I think it’s really important in my life anyways, to maintain solid relationships, even when you’re competing. And that’s something that I’ve been able to do for sure.
Dave Michels 34:05
I love that. I love that.
Evan Kirstel 34:06
Although I am surprised Microsoft and zoom, still don’t have their own contact center solutions. Do you anticipate these being long term relationships for five months.
Rowan Trollope 34:16
I think consolidation in our industry is inevitable. I don’t know in what form that I don’t know what form that will take whether they’re going to go build their own, I think ringcentral has discovered it’s quite hard to build your own. So if you are to use them as the the prior here, earrings ring has built a partnership with nice incontact I think they expressly stated their intent was to build a contact center and they began they’ve acquired a couple of assets and demello and connect first i think is the other one. But I think they just recently announced that they’re renewing and re upping their partnership with nice and that’s a little bit of a reflection of a reality in the context on are witches. To have a viable contact center platform at scale requires a huge long tail of capabilities that take a long time to build. And it takes just time to build that maturity. And to understand the complexity in the context. And it’s something that I’ve found somewhat unique and different than the rest of the collaboration industry, which tends to be focused on knowledge workers and very different kinds of technology stack, the contact centers, totally different doesn’t look really anything like the rest of the technologies in the collaboration stack. And I think it’s important to recognize that, that hasn’t changed. Like, it’s still kind of the odd man out in a way in the rest of the collaboration tools, and looks actually a lot more like a CRM kind of product, in the sense that we’re, you know, kind of a back end DRP system, it’s while it does do communications, the Contact Center also has to deeply integrate with all these back end systems. And that’s part of the complexity. You know, I don’t know what the future holds with regards to those guys, but we’ll be partnering with them for as long as we can.
Dave Michels 35:48
Your comparison with ringcentral is interesting. But I just, I just have to point out that about four months before they launched ringcentral video, they re upped their agreement with zoom and the big press release very similar to the one they just couldn’t help but think of that when they announced their new agreement within contract.
Evan Kirstel 36:07
That’s good. Good point, Dave. It’d be fun to watch. Shifting gears here. There’s a possibility that the pandemic is over here in the US. And some say that that’s bad news for the contact center as an industry what would say, you
Rowan Trollope 36:20
know, I mean, I totally disagree with that. I mean, I think, well, thank God we are. Seems like we’re looking at the backside of this pandemic, which is nice to be in that place. I don’t know about you, but I got to have my first you know, kind of big dinner with friends over the Memorial Day weekend without die. Amazing. Yeah, it was really nice. I wasn’t there. Were a year in Colorado, right? Yeah, which I was in Colorado. So we, uh, we see that the pandemic was an accelerator for the acceptance of cloud, you could think about this as almost like the straw that broke the camel’s back. You know, there’s lots of other reasons to move to the cloud, but a lot of business, a lot of the larger companies Anyways, we’re still a little bit skeptical in the contact center space. I think we’re past that now. I’ve been pushing cloud and SaaS sort of technology since before we call it that it’s been something I’ve been doing for 15 years in the enterprise space, talking to customers since the early days, and essentially evangelizing cloud and why cloud was a good option and why people should think about cloud. And you know, there’s been so many words printed and conversations had about that. I’m no longer finding that I think the pandemic, if there was any last remaining question about whether cloud was a good idea, this pandemic, and the business continuity challenge of sending every agent home, I think, really just reinforced for companies, Oh, my gosh, this is the future. And I think the other thing that it did is it put the contact center into the spotlight, from the perspective of becoming the front door for many businesses, whereas it used to be kind of like, the contact center was the channel of last resort. Like if you have a problem, and you can’t solve it yourself. And you There’s nothing else for you to do, then you call the contact center for many of our businesses, who had to shift very quickly to digital and remote experiences, and put the contact center into the spotlight as the front door for the business. So retailers are a great example of that telemedicine is a great example of that. And I think that customer perspective, if you’re the end user, that’s a much better experience in many cases. And I don’t think that customers are going to let that go away. I’ll give you myself as an example. You know, I’ve been to the doctor maybe four times over the last year, I’m healthy, but you know, had to go to the doctor for various things. And three of those times that I went to the doctor were telemedicine experiences. And they have asked me, in fact, when I made my most recent appointment, the doctor, this was Stanford Medical Center, they said, Hey, do you want your next appointment to be in person, or virtual over zoom? And my answer was, of course, virtual. I mean, that’s such a better experience for me, I’m not very close to Stanford, it’s a long drive, you’ve got a schedule with the doctor, blah, blah, blah, I can just slot that in with my day. It’s awesome. That’s something I’m not going to let go of, you know, I’m not going to be jumping, you know, chomping at the bit to dive back into a doctor’s office and fill out the form on the clipboard. It’s so much more efficient. So I think it’s kind of a one way door, we’ve moved into this digital first kind of, you know, virtual experience world. And the contact center is going to be permanently more relevant for almost every business out there.
Dave Michels 39:14
The Moon River joke doesn’t work on virtual doctor appointments, by the way, just so you know. But anyway, let me ask you something. I’m a little confused about something I read in one of those influential analyst reports. I think, as I recall, it said something about five nine not being very strong in Europe, but that kind of contradicted some of the stuff you presented recently journalists event. Could you elaborate your status in Europe?
Rowan Trollope 39:37
Yeah, that’s been a huge investment for us. And it’s been a big area of growth. It’s one of the fastest growing or maybe the fastest growing at five nine. So our bookings last quarter were up 300% year over year, just as a for example, and outside of you know, Europe, the rest of the world, Latin America as another, for example, was up 250% year over year, so we’re seeing really major adoption outside the US, I think the US is this big homogenous market, with deregulated telco and a bunch of other sort of factors that has made it a very attractive place for cloud base, particularly communications, but also context on our companies to get traction. It’s obviously powered a lot of our success. But the conditions are have been lining up in the in the right way, in Europe and outside of the US to see that expansion sort of start to pick up now. So I think it’s, it’s been a little bit further behind in terms of adoption, but it’s very quickly catching up. And one of the big enablers for us has been re architecture of our platform to run in public cloud. So for example, in Europe, as you know, one of the biggest challenges is data residency, keeping all of those recorded phone calls and customer messages on a server in Santa Clara is not something that he has, it’s just not acceptable. So we’ve been now able to close some really, really big deals in Europe, because of the fact that we can deploy in country, you know, we can deploy in the European Union on the continent in a way that is compliant with GDPR. And also sort of other days data residency regulations. So that’s a huge deal. And I think it’s just opening up the opportunity for us in Europe in a major way. That’s great.
Dave Michels 41:07
We’re running out of time. So just a few questions before we wrap this up. In addition to a lot of product development, you’ve done internally, a five, nine, you’ve also made I think of three, three acquisitions, virtual observer, Windu, and interference. We can’t go into all three of those individually right now. But generally speaking, do you feel acquisitions are more about employees technology, or acquiring customers? Well, they
Rowan Trollope 41:31
can be about all of those things. But for me, as a relatively small company, the hardest thing is the team, I mean, the thing that I pay the most attention to in these acquisitions, and those three that you mentioned, was the team that we’re acquiring, because you can buy a technology, you can buy customers, but it’s really hard to get a team in a culture. And so we paid a lot of attention to making sure that we acquired three companies where the cultural alignment was going to be really strong. And where the employees were going to find a place where they could continue to pursue whatever vision or dream they had, you know, whether it’s when Lou was sort of working on the no code future, or inference, who was working on the applying AI towards digital agents, and you know, helping augment labor, we’ve given those employees a great platform and a great place and a great culture that’s very aligned with their values. And so that’s from my perspective, really, really important part of the picture is actually team dynamics.
Evan Kirstel 42:24
I love that. And having been through several disasterous acquisitions, I appreciate the sentiment, those companies previously sold to non five, nine customers as well. Is that still the case?
Rowan Trollope 42:35
Yeah, yeah, we still absolutely are doing that. So for example, with inference, and our iba, we can deploy that in front of anyone’s technology, we can deploy it in front of Cisco broad works, we can deploy it in front of talkdesk, we can deploy it in front of Genesis, it’s totally standalone from the five nine platform. Now, we are also integrating it. But that’s not required. And we’re still allowing it to run standalone so that we can continue to sell it to any customer who needs it. And some people might argue that we should just tie it directly natively, and not allow customers to do that. But that’s sort of fundamentally again, our cultural values of trying to do the right thing for the customer. And if that means that they want to stick with their existing contact center, sort of core platform, so be it, we’re happy to kind of make sure that they can get access to this new technology as well.
Dave Michels 43:20
Nice. All right, now we got to dive in here the crypto assets, I need to ask you about your laser eyes that you had on your Twitter avatar. Now everyone knows that crypto assets are a complete scam and all that stuff. Great way to start. But have you been rambling on about aetherium and smart contracts? Now, were you drunk? Or can you can you clarify what was going on here? What was your thinking?
Rowan Trollope 43:45
Yeah, I mean, I think, well, crypto in general, I’ve been a big fan and believer in the what’s possible as a result of the core innovation of blockchain, the blockchain technology, and the decentralization that enables. And as far back as I don’t know, what the Satoshi white paper came out, I mean, this has been part of my focus. And I think I wrote a blog post at one point at Cisco about the decentralized web, which is sort of fundamentally enabled by crypto and by blockchain. So that’s been an area that I’ve been really interested in as a software developer. Yes, I’ve, I think that the best, most interesting platform that’s emerged through all this mean, Bitcoin is interesting, certainly. But the most interesting application of the decentralization enabled by blockchain has been aetherium. In that it’s, you know, a platform where you can write, essentially, these smart contracts or apps distributed apps that run on the decentralized web. And I think that there are number one, just as a fan of technology, this is an area that I just kind of geek out on. So it’s just fun, but also, it’s going to affect our ways in which decentralized technology are going to affect potentially every business. And so certainly, I think the context center is not exempt from that. I think there’s some really hard problems in the context center into decentralization and decentralized payments can actually solve in a way that’s never been solvable before.
Dave Michels 45:07
I’m with you. And I’m really excited about that, despite the way but I opened that question. I’m pretty excited about aetherium and Bitcoin and many of the other crypto assets
Evan Kirstel 45:16
and the b2b coin from Evan curse Scott.
Dave Michels 45:19
Yeah. b2b from Evan, his own coin is probably one of the one of the most fascinating.
Evan Kirstel 45:25
And it’s going cheap. It’s really taken a bit of a dip. So now’s a
Rowan Trollope 45:28
good one of my personal investments in this space. And I’m that was the first money into company called bit wave, which is enabling crypto investors to file their taxes. You have made investments in crypto, I’m trying to avoid taxes on crypto Come
Evan Kirstel 45:43
on, what’s what’s going on here?
Dave Michels 45:45
Yeah, it’s not gonna
Rowan Trollope 45:46
stay compliant. And I think most people who are investing in crypto these days want to stay compliant. Certainly businesses need to stay compliant. And this is a company that’s essentially making it easy to, you know, essentially enter your wallet addresses and connect it all in and basically get tax reports out so that you can stay compliant with the US government. So
Evan Kirstel 46:04
that’s bit wave is the company they’re really interesting technology. Finally, a good tip, see what a good tip sounds like Dave Michaels gonna do? One of those tips on five, nine, maybe
Dave Michels 46:14
two years ago. Ron, you’ve written about crypto and distributed blockchains at Cisco, but is there a play here? 459? And if you’re excited about smart contracts, are you excited about cardano?
Rowan Trollope 46:28
Yes, and yes. So where I think the application of smart contracts and crypto in the context, I think it’s there, potentially a whole bunch of places, but one of the specific areas is around decentralized payments. And we talked earlier about this idea of like the gig ification, potentially of the contact center, there are huge potential benefits to enabling the gig economy, opening up sort of contact center work for gig workers. And in order to do that, you kind of need to have payments that work anywhere in the world. It’s not an easy problem. It’s something that, in fact, the entire BPO industry, in some ways exists to solve this problem. I normally need 100 agents, but every Mother’s Day, I need 1000. And you know, I’m not going to go hire 900 people for two weeks, I just can’t do that. How do you solve that problem? Every business has ups and downs, and they need to solve that problem. Well, the way they solve that problem is through these labor consolidators called bpos. And the hard problems that they solve is payments, like if you’re gonna hire all those people, and they’re gonna be offshore, how do you handle payments? They’re sitting in the Philippines or here or there? How do you handle salary and complying with local regulations? Well, crypto solves much of those problems. Number one, you can pay people directly in crypto, and you’re seeing increasing new assets that have emerged that are stable coins. So you know, you’re not getting Bitcoin or some other asset that may go up or down, but you’re actually tied to some sort of local currency, the evolution of crypto in that area is getting to the place where you know, you could actually accept crypto as payment as an individual. And then as the, you know, as that becomes more and more mature, be able to cash it out for Fiat, if that’s something that you want to do to buy your groceries or whatever. So I think solving the payments problem globally and enabling sort of at home, agents that can do contact center agent work from their home and get paid in crypto is an interesting enabler. There are other I think, interesting applications of the decentralization and that blockchain is made possible and particularly with aetherium, and maybe also cardano, that, that solve some other hard problems in the context center. So I think there’s real interesting applications here in the context center. And probably I mean, I’m certainly every other industry. But context center is obviously where I’m focused right now.
Dave Michels 48:38
That’s really something to think about. We have to wrap this up. This is a I think, fantastic episode, but one of our longer ones. So we’re gonna wrap this up. I can’t thank you enough for joining us on this interview. Rowan’s great to talk to you again. And we’ll have to have you back sooner next time.
Rowan Trollope 48:52
It’s an honor. Thank you, Dave. Thanks, Evan. great talking to you today.
Evan Kirstel 48:55
Thank you and look forward to seeing you.
Dave Michels 49:00
Well, that was an insightful interview. What do you think Evan?
Evan Kirstel 49:02
Rowan is a fascinating and insightful guy. I always love chatting with him either live in person or on Twitter.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai