Q: You’ve worked for big companies and started your own company. How are the experiences different and what lessons did you learn from them?
December 23, 2014
Q&A: Excerpts from Bronto COO’s Commencement Address
Chaz Felix, a Bronto Software co-founder, addressed Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham grads on December 19
Chaz Felix has spent 12 years alongside Bronto Software CEO and co-founder Joe Colopy building up the email marketing provider to 230 employees around the world servicing the Internet Retailer Top 1000.
The company recently doubled in size at the American Tobacco campus in Durham, in preparation for more growth. And because of Bronto’s relationship with neighbor The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, the college invited Felix to address its graduating students last Friday at Carolina Theater.
Here are some of his talking points, Q&A style, and stay tuned for the full video of his speech:
Felix: I’ve been fortunate to have a wide range of career experiences. I worked at NationsBank when it merged with Bank of America in the late ’90s. Between the two companies, they employed over 100,000 staff and had market leading positions from coast to coast. During my tenure there, I learned the importance of brand and the impact it has on growing and retaining business. I also learned the power of scale and how large companies can justify dedicating staff and budget to big initiatives like corporate training programs.
I also had the opportunity to work at Red Hat, the open source Linux company during the period when it pivoted from selling a box product version of Linux in stores like Best Buy to launching Linux into the enterprise with a compelling total cost of ownership story against the likes of Sun Microsystems. At Red Hat, I saw the power of a strong vision and how a team will rally around a compelling cause. I also learned how challenging it is to move your business up market and redefine your operations to meet the needs of a different customer set.
At Bronto Software, the company I launched with Bronto CEO Joe Colopy out of his house in 2002, we have attempted to incorporate the best aspects from past employers, while clearly defining Bronto’s own identity. I’ve learned a vast amount of lessons during Bronto’s first twelve years. Near the top of the list is defining your most important values and constantly reinforcing them. At Bronto, our three values are transparency, approachability and passion. These values come from Joe and myself and now define what it means to be a Bronto. Focusing on only a few values enables an organization to drive them deep into the culture and operations with benefits for both the team and customers.
Q: Are there certain traits of a good entrepreneur that everyone should try to cultivate, whether they’re launching a company or not?
Felix: Entrepreneurship at its core is nurturing your passions until you see opportunity and then through sheer will and perseverance building something to a sustainable existence and growth beyond. I think the same principles apply to one’s individual career. Focus on your passions and over time you will see career opportunities to capitalize on. These opportunities will require commitment, lots of hard work, perseverance and continuity so you build a clear and compelling story around yourself just like an entrepreneur’s business.
Q: Which skills—perhaps including some you wouldn’t normally think of—are most important for graduates hoping to launch careers in tech?
Felix: Even business professionals need to be technical. At a software company, every role needs to understand the underlying technologies and software offerings. Know enough to be dangerous … at a minimum. Also, building a network of connections across your company will lead to success. At growth companies, a great deal of change occurs and with it a need to increasingly leverage your network within the company to solve problems and complete projects. Wherever you go, build your informal network from day one. Yes, that quiet engineer knows a lot and building a relationship will be mutually beneficial!
Q: As a society, we seem to increasingly look to tech companies to solve our biggest challenges. How do you view the promise and the limitations of technology?
Felix: I think it is less about technology and more how companies problem solve. Tech companies get a lot of credit, but there are companies in lots of other industries taking innovative approaches to solving problems which may or may not include a technology component. Innovative problem solving is the key to solving society’s biggest challenges.