Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheena Srinivasan who has over two decades of experience as a Silicon Valley executive. Since 2014 he has served as the CEO of Kaleidescape, Inc., a company he co-founded in 2001.
Srinivasan built Kaleidescape’s worldwide system integrator channel, and established Kaleidescape as the leading brand in luxury home cinema. He negotiated the company’s ground-breaking license agreements with the major Hollywood studios, enabling Kaleidescape to provide the first and only Internet delivery of full-quality Blu-ray and 4K HDR movies.
Previously, Srinivasan served as vice president of marketing and worldwide sales development at Mirapoint, Inc. Prior to that, he was the director of enterprise marketing at NetApp, Inc. during the period when annual revenue grew from $2 million to more than $200 million. Srinivasan began his career at Sun Microsystems, Inc., leading product marketing for the company’s file server products. Srinivasan holds a master’s degree in management from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in operations research, also from MIT. He earned his bachelor’s degree with high honors in industrial engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ispent many years in product marketing at different companies, working with sales and engineering teams, and I loved it. Product marketing touches almost all facets of an enterprise, which is a challenge I enjoyed. I loved solving complex problems and achieving measurable results.
In late 2000, Michael Malcolm, a successful serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, invited me and a few others to start a new gig. Over many weeks and months, the founding team had settled on building a company that was to deliver video over the Internet. It took us a decade to achieve our dream while not compromising on the cinematic experience that consumers love for their home theaters. Today, Kaleidescape is the leader in products and content that enable the finest home cinema experience.
As founding members frequently do, I’ve had to learn an incredible number of things over the years and have served the company in numerous roles. After Michael Malcolm retired in 2013, the Board asked me to lead the company as its CEO, a responsibility I have held since that time.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
An established company has many moving parts. An established company that is changing its business model presents even more challenges. To transition from knowing and doing one thing to taking charge of the whole enterprise was an overwhelming challenge. I learned that it is important to quickly figure out how to only focus on the few things that truly matter. I am still learning to avoid working on distractions that won’t matter to our business in the long run.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I was raised with values that have served me well throughout my life. I have a strong sense of commitment and a core set of beliefs about purpose. I was determined to make Kaleidescape successful. My team and I recognized an opportunity to do something different from what everyone else was doing. Being different presents enormous opportunities and challenges. For example, streaming platforms catered to the on-demand consumer need for personal entertainment, while Kaleidescape addressed the social experience of watching movies on a big screen with great sound. Fast food chains didn’t wipe out the fine restaurants, and inexpensive cars didn’t replace the luxury automobiles. There is a place and a need for both. By staying in the high-end market for home cinema, Kaleidescape has been able to focus on high quality and cinematic experience.
A few years ago, a perfect storm of events, including key supplier issues, a shift in consumer perception that content is mostly free, and a set of unsustainable financial obligations coincided. We had to restructure the company, reinvent ourselves, and transition Kaleidescape from disc-based products to become the leader in Internet-delivered cinema. We successfully pivoted our business because I had the passion, grit, courage, and patience to persevere, and I had a dedicated team.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- Self-confidence comes with experience. I struggled at first because I was used to being an expert in my work domain. But leading a company required that I be responsible for things I knew very little about, and that was a new and uncomfortable position for me. I had never negotiated a content license deal in my life. Kaleidescape was seeking licenses from major Hollywood studios to deliver movies for the finest cinematic experience. That’s way different from a streaming service license. The first deal took over eight months due to its complexity and the myriad compliance and technology issues required by the studio.
- Hard decisions must be made, and it’s the CEO’s job to make them. I can seek opinions, but what if I make the wrong choice? Fear of making a decision that could harm the company irreparably made me sick early on. Streaming video was on the rise, and our customer value proposition, which depended on shiny discs, changed rapidly. We had to evolve to a new business model with experience and content taking center stage. To go forward, I needed to settle a decade-long contract dispute case. I had run out of options to avoid a temporary shutdown of the firm that I had helped build for over 15 years. All I had to work with was my dedicated team, and my core principles and values. Hard decisions can make you feel miserable, but you must make those decisions to move forward.
- Optimism and hope encourage employees and create positive energy, but when the sunny outlook deviates too far from reality, the result is a lot of broken hearts. When tough decisions have to be made, a CEO’s job is to set realistic expectations. Almost everything takes twice as long as you thought it would. Those entrepreneurs who dealt with business turnarounds can tell you that it’s a brutally painful period. You have to sell what you have while working hard to pivot the business to a new offering. You want to make rapid progress, but it’s often a slow and steady process over time. To build something great takes time and patience. Our turnaround took nearly five years.
- If you want something improved, don’t just ask people to improve it — ask them to measure it. It’s unlikely that something will be improved unless it is measured. When transitioning business models with resource constraints, it seems impossible to develop processes, measurements, and key reports for the things that must be measured. I wish I had spent more time developing useful metrics for progress and results. For example, did the new product rollout matter to our revenue growth? If the adoption rate wasn’t impressive, what was our expectation before we launched it? What data led to our expectations, and why did we fall short? Was it the product? The marketing? We can’t improve if we don’t have data.
- If you’re in a consumer business, focus on the consumer’s experience. It’s important to build great hardware and software, but it’s essential to effectively communicate to the consumer what distinguishes your product and service from the rest. With Kaleidescape, customers who have invested in a luxury home cinema can enjoy an exquisite movie experience they can’t get anywhere else.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find a trusted individual who has already endured the startup, turnaround, or growth experiences successfully. Talking things through with someone outside the company can help provide a fresh perspective. It took me a decade to train myself that doing more is a never-ending treadmill. Doing a few things well is far more important.
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?
Our founder and chairman believed in me. He never minced words and gave direct and blunt feedback on where I needed to improve. He saw my strengths, but he also advised me about my weaknesses. His guidance helped me change my mindset, become more assertive, and make decisions even when the outcomes could be painful. He has also helped me learn to break down complex problems into sets of simpler challenges that can be solved with a finite amount of time and resources. Reviving the brand after restructuring the company was an incredibly challenging thing to do. Getting there required many small steps, and several different stakeholders’ needs had to be addressed.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I have a voracious appetite for learning new things and improving myself. Right now, I’m working to improve my communication style and effectiveness. I also want to get better at recruiting and hiring great executive talent. Every entrepreneur wants to build a talented team of people who are clear and sophisticated thinkers and who get things done with a great sense of urgency.
Luxury home cinema is a young and dynamic market with tremendous growth potential. Screen and audio technologies are constantly evolving, and the competition benefits consumers with rapidly declining prices. Kaleidescape focuses on the high-end, and is the leading brand for a great home cinema experience. We are well-positioned to capture a large portion of this billion-dollar market.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Startups are uncharted territories in many ways. They’re full of challenges. In Kaleidescape’s case, it has been an incredible journey. Failure was never an option for me. I want to leave a successful company that improves the quality of life for millions of people as a result of what Kaleidescape has accomplished.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Be genuine. It’s such a simple idea that it might not seem worthy of a movement — but consider for a moment the impact it would have if everyone around you communicated and acted from a place of sincerity and authenticity. We crave authentic relationships in our personal lives, and they’re equally important in our professional lives.
As a CEO, I’ve learned that building trust is the best way to cultivate a culture in which people work together effectively and feel driven and fulfilled. And the best way to build trust is through genuine — sincere and transparent — communication.
Everyone needs to feel like they are living a meaningful life, true to themselves, and authentically connected to the ideas and people around them. I do, and I hope I inspire my staff as well. Be genuine. It’s simple.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I use LinkedIn more than any other social media site.