Don’t be the solution looking for a problem. Successful companies are those that develop a product or service in response to a recognized problem or need — not the other way around.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rory Cutaia.
Rory is the founder and CEO of the digital tech company, Verb Technology (NASDAQ: VERB). He began is career as an attorney at a major NYC law firm before changing the landscape of the telecom industry with a tech company start-up called Telx. Now, as CEO of VERB, Rory and his team have re-invented what a customer relationship management (CRM), lead-gen tool should be in today’s video-centric business and social environment. VERB is rapidly emerging as the market leader in interactive video-based customer relationship management (“CRM”) sales and marketing applications.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I think I’m one of those people born with an innate drive to create something, to build something. Even as a kid I looked at things and saw what they could be as opposed to what they were. I guess those traits were the seeds of innovation that later defined my professional career. Unlike many of my business-minded colleagues that went to business school, I went to law school as I believed a legal background would give me an advantage in business. In hindsight, I credit my legal training and the experience I obtained representing successful entrepreneurs with the tools I needed to deftly navigate the oft-times uncertain and treacherous waters one encounters doing business. I’ve always been somewhat of a tech geek and a ridiculously early adopter of any new technology, so it was easy to predict that I would ultimately pursue a career building an innovative tech-focused business.
I left my law career to launch a telecom tech start-up called Telx that I founded. After innumerable challenges, all of which tested my mettle, and none of which were taught to my colleagues in business school, I had an enormously successful exit, selling Telx formore than $200M. That was in 2006. While I attempted retirement twice since then, and much to the dismay of some closest to me, I resigned myself to the fact that I’m simply unable to slow down, step back and stop thinking about how to create something new or make something better or more effective. I’ve learned to embrace it, to surround myself with like-minded people and in that crazy, challenging, problem-ridden environment I thrive and am most happy. VERB, is just the most recent incarnation of all that I’ve learned and experienced over the years, and I have every reason to believe it will be by far the most lucrative for myself and my shareholders.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Choosing the “most interesting” is difficult as I have had many extraordinary experiences during what sometimes seems like multiple lives from a career as a practicing lawyer to tech company CEO and serial entrepreneur. The ones that stand out most for me are those that remind me how much more we learn about ourselves and others not through our successes, but through our failures. One such experience revolved around the sudden, unexpected bad turn a particular business opportunity took. I was informed that an important element of a business we were pursuing was not going to materialize and as a result the entire business model, the belief in which investors premised their investment, would not succeed. Faced with what I was sure would be a terrible backlash from investors, I decided to explain to them in honest and straight talk terms what happened and laid out my plans for how we would pivot and move forward. I made a point of stating that I would invest my own capital to finance the costs associated with the new business direction and would keep them all apprised of my progress. What followed was something I never expected; an outpouring of support and gratitude from everyone for my direct and honest approach and, even more surprising, millions of new dollars in investment capital from these same investors who not only believed in the new direction I wanted to take the company but who wanted to invest alongside me to reward the trust I earned. That trust was not misplaced as that new business was the predecessor to VERB and many of those same investors remain investors in VERB today.
Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Our latest, and potentially biggest value creator for our shareholders is our new verbLIVE application which allows anyone to add interactive, clickable buttons to livestream and broadcast videos. Think of it as a combination of Zoom and Shopify. Imagine doing a live stream broadcast promoting your new book and during your broadcast you place a ‘download now’ button on your screen which then appears on the screens of potentially thousands of people viewing your broadcast allowing you to point to it and say, “if you like what I’m saying, go ahead and click right here and download my book.” Or a boutique closed due to COVID-19 restrictions being able to invite their customers to a live broadcast of their latest wears in which customers can click directly on the screen to buy. Or an artist broadcasting a concert allowing fans to click on the screen and buy his or her merch — driving sales revenue by eliminating friction from the sales process.
How do you think this might change the world?
VERB’s technology will empower those willing to harness its amazing ability to drive sales, from the experienced professional, to the working mom, students, and others entering or re-entering the workplace, to generate a primary or secondary source of income. It will allow people impacted by social distancing restrictions and COVID-19 related job loss the ability to generate an income and it will help retailers who have been forced to close their doors to remain financially viable. For aspiring entrepreneurs or others just starting out, it represents the opportunity to start a business by broadcasting themselves promoting their products and services and encouraging their viewers to click right in their video to buy their products in ways that didn’t exist until now.
We believe verbLIVE will provide the world with the social connection we have been missing this year. People miss the sociality of the in-store shopping experience, including the interaction with store personnel and other shoppers, as well as the feeling of shopping with friends. verbLIVE allows viewers to regain that sense of connection at a time when they feel particularly detached and isolated.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
No — quite the contrary. Any technology that allows people to feel more connected, that allows them to collaborate, that allows them to remain relevant in a time of isolation should be widely adopted and embraced.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Well there were several ‘tipping points’ among the engineering team during the development process that produced the technological breakthroughs that led to the creation of the live interactive video product. But the ‘tipping point” as it relates to the genesis of the idea was when we saw the data reflecting the stark change in societal behavior around a preference for the consumption of information through video coupled with the rise of Amazon’s dominance through the ‘one click’ buy-it-now features, which played to our innate impulse buy and immediate gratification sensibilities. This generation has grown up on video games, which are themselves an interactive information consumption experience and as a result they have developed a preferencefor content with which they can interact, content that engages them, as opposed to the ‘lean back’ passive viewing experience the older generation became accustomed to.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
In a word: awareness. Anyone who experiences the technology immediately embraces it, they understand the enormous value creation opportunities it portends and they recognize its far-reaching economic implications.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
One of our strategies is to embrace partnerships with otherwise would-be competitors by incorporating our technology into their platforms, leveraging their customer base in a way that is a win-win for them and us. For example, we’re adding our interactive video capability and functionality into the apps of some of the larger incumbent players in the space — such as Salesforce — which we just recently completed, and Microsoft Outlook, which we expect to release in early 2021. Because we believe, as do many of our clients, that these applications are the most effective sales enablement and lead generation tools available in the market today, we use them ourselves to attract new clients and retain existing ones. We call it ‘eating our own chili.’
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes — definitely. I have a dear friend and mentor named Lenny S. He was someone I met very early in my career through a client of my legal practice. He saw something in me at that time that I may not have yet seen in myself and as he offered to finance my first business venture he told me two things that have stuck with me through this day. First, he told me he wasn’t investing in my business, he was investing in me because he always bets on the jockey, not the horse. The second thing he told me was that in business, like in life, each of us plays our part but true success only comes when we work together, always together, and that’s something that has become somewhat of a theme behind our successful culture at VERB and I owe that to him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Philanthropy and advocacy remain a vital part of my life, personally and professionally. I was the founder of the U.S. Chapter of Innocence In Danger, an international organization that originated through the United Nations UNESCO project to protect and treat children who were victims of abuse. I have also served on several non-profit boards, among many other philanthropic endeavors. At VERB, we have made it part of our core values to not just support social programs but to actually spearhead them and we are very active throughout our communities with willing and passionate participation from our VERB employees. Additionally, we have a very active ESG program at VERB, and have been chosen by NASDAQ as an example for what can and should be done by companies of any size to promote important environmental, social and governance initiatives.
What are your 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started and Why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Quoting my dear friend David Meltzer, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” When I started my first business, I wore multiple hats not because of financial constraints, but because I believed I could do each of those jobs better than anyone else. Once I realized I could find people to do each of those jobs far better than I could do them myself, my business took off.
- Though somewhat of an inverse corollary to the first item, it is nevertheless worth mentioning. Do a brutally honest assessment of your skills and experience. Determine where you are weak and then find a partner or associate that has the skills or experience you lack, that compliments your talents and with whom you have trust and a shared definition of success.
- Don’t be the solution looking for a problem. Successful companies are those that develop a product or service in response to a recognized problem or need — not the other way around.
- Hire slowly, fire quickly. More than once I hired someone who, as it turned out, was someone I now refer to as a “professional interviewee”. They know exactly what to say and what to do at the interview to instill confidence and push a hiring decision in their direction. But when it comes down to actually doing the job, they are a big zero. Failing to terminate that person immediately serves only to compound the problem as they invariably impact other people in the organization and never in a positive way.
- Take the money. When raising capital for a business many entrepreneurs strategically seek to limit the amount of capital they take from willing investors in an effort to preserve their equity under the assumption that they can get by with that amount of capital and that they can go back to the market later when they need more and raise money at a higher valuation and thereby give up less equity. However, experience has taught me that there is no such thing as “enough” when trying to determine the capital requirements of new business. Moreover, the market can change like the weather and just when you need it most, the capital won’t be there or not on terms that you can live with.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe we sometimes grossly underestimate the power and capability of the private sectorto address social and economic issues with which the public sector seems to struggle and bungle. As but one example, in times of economic hardship and burgeoning unemployment, the state government could offer private companies a dollar for dollar income tax credit for the payroll of every person they hire that is currently receiving public assistance, provided they also provide that person health insurance. I imagine unemployment numbers would plummet. The lost tax revenue could be made up through the reduction in public assistance payments as well as the sales tax revenue generated by converting public assistance users to spending consumers, not to mention the mental and social health benefits these people would derive for feeling productive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Though it may sound cliché, the expression “what goes around comes around” has had a profound impact on my life. I can recall countless instances of someone doing something for or against another and later witness that act come back to that person, sometimes with consequences far beyond what they could have expected. I’ve seen bad acts punished and I’ve seen good acts rewarded. A modern day, more positive version of that philosophy is “pay it forward.” I’m a big believer in that philosophy and have worked to inspire a culture at VERB that incorporates that “give back” practice into our business.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Allow me to introduce you to VERB LIVE.
WHEN I TALK ABOUT THIS DIFFICULT PERIOD OF TIME PRODUCING THE NEXT AMAZON, the next Facebook or Twitter — THIS TECHNOLOGY IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.
True live stream — IN VIDEO ecommerce — IT’S A COMBINATION OF ZOOM AND SHOPIFY — AND THE DISRUPTIVE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS TECHNOLOGY AND VALUE CREATION POTENTIAL ARE VIRTUALLY UNLIMITED.
TODAY PEOPLE HAVE ADOPTED WEBINARS AND OTHER VIDEO STREAMING PLATFORMS TO PROMOTE THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES.
you may have heard the term social selling — WELL WE’VE TAKEN THAT TO A NEW LEVEL.
IMAGINE YOU’RE WATCHING A WEBINAR WITH YOUR FAVORITE AUTHOR INTRODUCING HIS OR HER NEW BOOK — OR A HOST PITCHING ANY OTHER PRODUCT OR SERVICE FOR THAT MATTER –
AND WHILE YOU’RE WATCHING THE LIVE STREAM BROADCAST — THE HOST PLACES AN INTERACTIVE ICON OR BUTTON ON THE SCREEN WHICH THEN APPEARS ON THE SCREENS OF ALL VIEWERS — POTENTIALLY THOUSANDS OF VIEWERS — AND INVITES THE VIEWERS TO PURCHASE HIS BOOK BY CLICKING the Icon RIGHT IN THE VIDEO — AS AND WHEN THEIR INTEREST LEVEL HAS PEAKED — ELIMINATING FRICTION FROM THE SALES PROCESS –
AND IF IT’S AN EBOOK — THEY COULD PAY FOR IT AND DOWNLOAD IT RIGHT OUT OF THE LIVE STREAM BROADCAST.
Or how about a small business struggling with their store closed due to COVID using a live stream to show off their latest fashions they would have had on display in their store and allowing viewers they reached through their Facebook post to buy the items right out of the video.
Next month WE BEGIN OFFERING IT TO OUR CLIENT BASE OF APPROX. 1.6 MILLION PEOPLE WHO HAVE DOWNLOADED ONE OF OUR OTHER APPLICATIONS.
WE’LL ALSO OFFER IT AS A STAND-ALONE APPLICATION AND WE’RE ABOUT TO RELEASE A MOBILE APP VERSION.
AND WE’VE RECENTLY COMPLETED AN INTEGRATION OF VERB LIVE INTO SALESFORCE AND HAVE JUST LAUNCHED A JOINT MARKETING CAMPAIGN WITH SALESFORCE TO THEIR EXISTING CLIENT BASE –
IT’S OFFERED AS A $24.99 PER MONTH PER USER ADD ON TO THEIR SALESFORCE SUBSCRIPTION ON A REVENUE SHARE BASIS WITH US.
WE WILL ALSO COMPLETE AN INTEGRATION INTO MICROSOFT OUTLOOK BY THE END OF THE YEAR — THERE ARE OVER 1 BILLION OUTLOOK USERS WORLDWIDE.
WE’LL OFFER IT AS AN ADD-ON TO THE MONTHLY OFFICE 365 SUBSCRIPTION — PRICING IS BEING FINALIZED NOW.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU THINK WOULD LIKE TO CLICK RIGHT IN THEIR OUTLOOK TOOLBAR — RECORD AN INTERACTIVE VIDEO WITH ECOMMERCE CAPABILITIES AND SEND IT THROUGH OUTLOOK INSTEAD OF TYPING AN EMAIL.