“I would love to see a movement pushing real diversification of opportunity in our workforce. It’s encouraging to see more and more CEO’s speak out and strive toward a world where race, gender, orientation and economic background have no influence over how a person is treated and the opportunities they can seize. But the harsh reality is we are still battling huge inequities in our education system and subtle, often unconscious bias in the workplace. I don’t have a magic answer on how to fix it, but I hope in my lifetime our nation realizes how important this movement is for our long term success and happiness.”
I had the pleasure to interview Dave Labuda, founder, CEO and CTO of MATRIXX Software. MATRIXX was co-founded in 2008 by telecom industry veteran Dave Labuda. His revolutionary vision: making it possible for every Telco & Digital Service Provider to realize the benefits of digital transformation. Dave co-founded Portal Software in 1994, creating the first real-time billing and revenue management solution for internet and communications service providers. As CTO, he led the architectural design and product strategy of the company. After stepping into the CEO role in 2004, he successfully sold the company to Oracle in 2006. Dave then served as CTO of Oracle’s Communications Global Business Unit.
● Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m very lucky — I was born to do what I do. My father was a physicist at Bell Labs, solving incredibly complex challenges in the early days of integrated circuits and lasers. He instilled in me a love for math and physics and “tackling the hard problems”. When my high school purchased a TRS-80 computer, I realized software was for me and left a year early to pursue a BS & MS in Computer Engineering from Case Western in Cleveland. I then moved to Silicon Valley to work for Sun Microsystems in their OS group. In my 8 years at Sun, I was able to hone both my software architecture and people management skills.
In 1993, I recognized the paradigm shift the internet would bring and founded a company that developed the first real-time, object oriented billing system to fuel that revolution. When the iPhone was introduced 14 years later it was obvious another paradigm shift was coming, so in 2009 I founded MATRIXX Software to enable digital commerce on a massive scale. At MATRIXX, we’ve tackled the incredible technical challenges of providing a true digital customer experience at “Global scale”, and now power some of the biggest Telecom operators around the world.
● Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In the first six months of MATRIXX, we concluded that to build a platform to handle the complexity and scale of the digital revolution we had to start from scratch and invent a whole new technology platform, including our patented non-locking database. All my software friends called me crazy, and the incumbent vendors in our space said it would never work. For the next several years, we forged ahead, continually enhancing our revolutionary platform while our competitors stuck to their legacy architectures. As the phones and networks continued to get faster, the operators and legacy vendors all started to realize that completely new technology was in fact necessary. We are now seeing all other vendors scramble to hurriedly ‘invent’ a next generation solution, many years too late. Moral of the story — if you have a vision that no one else can see yet, you might be crazy but you might be right, so stick with it!
● How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Keeping the MATRIXX team synchronized is especially interesting because we have customers and employees spread across dozens of countries. Our solution is mission critical to our customers’ business so issues must be addressed immediately no matter the location or time. I find there are three critical aspects to keeping the company focused and aligned — clarity of mission, a team-oriented culture, and constant reinforcement of both.
One of my key messages to the MATRIXX team is that customer success drives our success — we cannot win if our customers are not winning. This clarity of purpose helps keep everyone motivated and working together as they navigate the complexities of their jobs. I also enforce a culture of “zero politics” — I reward people for helping each other, not climbing over each other. If someone starts to tell me how another person or group is not getting things done, I don’t sympathize, I ask “okay, how are you going to help?” Finally, I try to beat these drums as often and widely as possible. I talk to as many employees as often as I can, reinforcing these messages so everyone knows what’s important to me.
● What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
With a globally distributed team, I am sometimes reminded of the children’s game ‘telephone’. I push what I think is a very clear message into one end of the line, and when I am out in the field at the ‘other end of the line’ I find the message has been subtlety blurred or even confused. Making sure our corporate messages are clearly heard and understood by everyone around the world is definitely the biggest challenge. There is no magic bullet here, the only solution is frequent, consistent communication so any transmission errors get resolved quickly. I also try to visit all our employee centers as often as possible so everyone can hear the messages firsthand.
● What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Stay out of the ivory tower and build real connections with key members of your team. Listen to what they think is going well and what is getting in their way. If you promote a culture of open, honest communication, employees will tell you how to help them thrive. In my experience, employees will take on any mission with earnest if they understand the “why” behind it. As a CEO, prioritizing my time is a nightmare, but I make sure to get on the road to visit customers and employees as often as I can.
● Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
There’s no way to eliminate all personality clashes and disagreements in a company, just like in a family. The key is making sure everyone reacts constructively when they happen. People will only ‘quit their manager’ if they don’t feel loyalty to the CEO or the corporate mission, otherwise they’ll work to resolve the issue instead of leaving. I try hard to make sure every employee, whether I know them personally or not, feels respected enough to know they can talk to HR, their line executive or me directly if they have an issue that’s threatening their happiness. I also work hard to ensure every employee understands what we’re trying to do, why we’re doing it, and how it’s important not just to us, but to our customers and all their customers. As a result, we have quite a few folks at MATRIXX that have worked with me for 20+ years.
● Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, ideally an example from your experience)
I can actually distill it down to one — Everyone must be aligned to the same simple goals. Let’s be honest, we all work to the incentive plan we are given. The worst thing you can do is have different departments with incentive plans that are unaligned or in conflict with each other. It creates conflict and drives unproductive, even damaging behavior. We can easily see the tremendous effectiveness of strong alignment by looking at a sports team in the playoffs. In spite of vastly different pay grades, personalities and egos, the whole team solely focuses on a very clear goal and works together as one.
When I took over as CEO of my previous company, we were stuck in a rut of negative cash flow for the past 12 quarters — an imminent threat to our survival. I found that every department had specific goals to achieve their bonuses, but none of them were based on cash flow. So I made positive cash flow our Super Bowl — basing all bonuses across the company on achieving that goal. Within 6 months we had turned cash flow positive, so I’d say it worked!
● 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 would love to see a movement pushing real diversification of opportunity in our workforce. It’s encouraging to see more and more CEO’s speak out and strive toward a world where race, gender, orientation and economic background have no influence over how a person is treated and the opportunities they can seize. But the harsh reality is we are still battling huge inequities in our education system and subtle, often unconscious bias in the workplace. I don’t have a magic answer on how to fix it, but I hope in my lifetime our nation realizes how important this movement is for our long term success and happiness.
● Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ayn Rand says in The Fountainhead, “Throughout the centuries there were men [and women] who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.”
I’ve always kept that quote in mind when having to make those “do we go for it?” decisions, not only in my career but also in my personal life. I haven’t always been right, but I’ve never regretted facing risk and leaning forward anyway if that’s what my gut told me.
Originally published at medium.com