Q&A session with Charlie Katz of Bitbean and Joe Vaccarella, CEO, CIA Omnigage
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I took a job in sales at a startup teleconference company in 1992. I eventually became COO and grew the company to over $15M in sales. We had an opportunity to get into a new market, which was blast voicemail. The owners had absolutely no interest in that product, so the sales VP and I joined to form Client Instant Access, LLC in 1997. We developed and marketed the service to the financial community and within 2 years, sales were over $4M and had some of the largest investment banks knocking on our door asking for our service. Our products have constantly evolved over the past 20 years and tailored to the needs of the financial services sector.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In the first month of operation I had a research analyst tell me that the service was so bad he would put us out of business. This happened to be on my birthday. Not a good day. I realized then that investment banks hold services to a higher standard. Because of perceived shortcomings of the service, I developed a product that addressed the specific concern of the analyst. Because of that upgrade, we had every large investment bank knocking our door to use the service. Our takeaway was to build products based on customer feedback and needs and since then this is what has separated us from competitors.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I read a lot of biographies and history novels of successful people. I like to understand successful personalities and gain insight from history.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When we launched Client Instant Access back in 1997, the technology that companies used was far different than what we see today. The Internet was still in its infancy and on Wall Street, traders conducted almost entirely over the phone. Our goal was to help financial services and banking professionals manage their data and communicate with customers and co-workers more efficiently without having to worry about losing customer information due to security breaches.
Ultimately, our goal was to raise the bar in workflow efficiency and, as a result of our initial success, we’ve been able to expand into other industries like healthcare, legal, education and retail over the last 20 years.
As workflows have become more complex and the technology that’s being used is more sophisticated, we’ve had to stay ahead of the innovation curve and a key part of that is constantly talking to our customers to find out what they want in a communication and customer engagement solution and what things are not working for them. Knowing these things, we’re able to continuously enhance our offering to ensure we’re providing the best tools so that firms are able to provide their customers with the best experience possible.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Stay the course. Adjust to client needs and maintain the long term goals and mission of the company. Difficult to do, but we’ve weathered the Dotcom crash, 9–11, the financial crisis in 2008, and now COVID-19.
Always listen to your customers and adjust your offerings to address what hurdles they are facing in the industry ecosystem. If you’re offering the same old things that others are already doing, there’s no value-add. You have to stay creative and continue to innovate and the foundation for that is knowing what your customers want and delivering it as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Mostly to keep everyone safe and still provide a service for our clients. We’ve helped by collaborating with clients to develop disaster recovery efforts. Some solutions have been one-offs, but we were there to help. We planned for remote operations, but no one could have expected it to be at this level. The plans have made the transition seamless and we are fully functioning remotely while empowering our client base to do the same.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Biggest challenge is to keep up with the increase in volume of business. Being a telecom company, demand for our service has increased. The challenge has been to continue to provide the same level of service. All our employees have done a phenomenal job of maintaining quality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way professionals in every industry work and communicate. Companies ranging from major global banks to smaller mom and pops shops are becoming far more comfortable with the idea of working remotely on a more long-term basis. One of the primary reasons this has been possible is because of solutions like the one that Client Instant Access offers. Communication channels can be consolidated within a single workflow and the technology can be deployed overnight if necessary. Without the ability to webcast and send blast email messages to entire client lists, working from home would not be possible.
Not only have we been empowering business continuity over the last two months, we’re helping to change the way industries will communicate in the months and years ahead, even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Primary concern for all is to stay healthy. Next is loss of income. No amount of words ease those stresses. However, I offer that the only thing to do is stay calm. I’ve encouraged friends and family to continue to pay service people if they are in a position to do so without anything in return. Helping those near you is the best we can all do. It’s a bridge to post-COVID.
As for clients, we collaborate to morph our services to adapt to their immediate needs and develop longer term strategies to aid in future crises.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
Supporting remote operations will be a huge growth opportunity. We see that with the ways our clients are using our services. They are looking at processes in an ‘outside the box’s perspective that doesn’t occur in day to day normal times. For example, we’re running virtual roadshows for clients. They have had great feedback and this will likely be how these meetings are conducted in the future.
Since the working and the general communication dynamic will continue to shift for so many companies — with COVID-19 serving as the catalyst for these shifts — there will be ample opportunity for technology vendors to step up and improve daily efficiencies. From the way companies communicate with customers to how they manage market and personal data, the pandemic has cast a bright light on how workflows can be improved now that everyone has been forced to work outside of a traditional office setting.
There will also be opportunities for companies to reevaluate how they employ technology across the organization. Over the last two months, many back-office functions have proven to be incapable of handling the level of bandwidth that firms are seeing during these turbulent times. Companies will need to take a hard look at how they are storing data, what security protocols they have in place and how they’ve approached disaster recovery up to this point.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Just like the experience I had in the first year of business changed my product, COVID will change some things for the better. Awareness of hygiene, handwashing, etc are things that will reduce all infectious disease. In business, the threat of a pandemic leads to a greater awareness and preparation for its effect. We will all be better prepared if and when there is another virus. People will certainly be more cautious when venturing out in public but it’s unfortunate that the loss of life and income is the price of knowledge.
From a business perspective, companies have realized that a remote work environment does not necessarily equal a drop in productivity. In fact, many companies that have leveraged the appropriate technology functions and tools have seen an uptick in productivity, largely due to the fact that the circumstances have forced them to communicate more often and provide a greater level of transparency to their customers.
Companies are finding new ways to leverage data and apply data to everyday tasks. The ability to capture data, analyze it, and make informed decisions is what will allow some companies to succeed while others will be left to reevaluate again.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-COVID Economy?
Mainly to strengthen the ability to productively operate remotely. For us, it’s always going to come down to how we can streamline daily workflows even better for our customers. Our Omnigage platform empowers clients to build stronger and smarter customer relationships, store and analyze data more efficiently, and remove the constraints of legacy telephony technology that firms have been using for decades. We’ve received such a massive increase in customer requests during the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve been able to pinpoint what customers will need in a remote work setting so that we can continue to enhance our product offerings as the landscape of different industries, especially financial services, continues to shift.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Collaborate with customers and your partners. One of the things that has made us so successful is hearing what others are doing in the industry and staying ahead of what customers will want. We have a great partner network and collaboration is what drives innovation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Not a quote, just a cliche….always look at the glass half full. There aren’t many problems that can’t be solved and I never start with ‘no’. Most times, you will not only succeed, but excel.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I regularly write about developments in the industry which can be found on CIA Omnigage’s blog page