Set up clear processes — Internal politics get in the way of progress. Make your team’s jobs easier by creating systems that cut through bureaucracy and accelerate with innovation, as opposed to hampering it.
As part of my series about “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Bone.
As the general manager of the Americas for ECOVACS, Eric Bone is a strong technology executive with exceptional experience in consumer electronics and hardware/software portfolios. He has led ECOVACS to be the top-selling vacuum+mop robot in North America, and previously led Leef, Logitech and SanDisk into new product categories, building pathways for revenue and profit growth on a global scale.
With extensive go-to-market and product innovation expertise, Eric is considered a visionary in the consumer technology space. Eric helped Leef increase company revenues +30% YoY with new product line contributions as the vice president of products and marketing, and achieved 200% YoY growth for the speaker/audio division of LogiTech as the director of product marketing. He also accomplished incremental gross revenues of $500M in worldwide retail sales for SansDisk as the vice president of product marketing.
Eric’s background in both large corporate environments and small start-ups has equipped him to understand how to generate demand and recognition for a company and its products. With his expertise in finance, P&L management, marketing/branding, and product analysis, Eric knows how to achieve results in fast growth and lean environments to ultimately take a business from good to great.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
Absolutely. My very first job out of college was in public relations and brand management. Working in the communications industry taught me the importance of communicating my ideas effectively to people that were extremely busy and didn’t have much time. I learned the importance of succinct, clear and strategic communications, which I believe is a critical and still undervalued skill.
After my start in communications I was fortunate to have the opportunity to transition into product management, fueling my love for innovative product development and management. I started at SanDisk, then transitioned to executive roles at Logitech followed by Leef, and ultimately, ended up as the general manager of Americas at ECOVACS, where I am now. It’s been a great fit, allowing me to combine my background in brand and product with my interest in team and company leadership and customer interaction.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
With a midwestern upbringing, I was taught to persevere through tough times and to never quit. Did I want to ever quit a job, or even my career? Of course, but I’ve had great mentors that coached me to run towards new opportunities, and to not run from the tough ones. This is a mantra I’ve continued to follow to this day.
Additionally, I’ve made it a personal policy to focus on harder sell products and have prided myself on the ability to step in and just do the work. During my time at SanDisk, a company known for flash memory products, I spearheaded a product line for the company called Sansa that would ultimately become the top selling MP3 player behind Apple’s iPod in the early 2000s, subsequently earning the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Even though executives and companies don’t want to go up against Apple, we had a core strength with flash memory, and the boldness to take a product risk — and it paid off.
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?
When I made the transition from my job as a product manager at NEC Technologies (small pond, big fish) to HP’s Consumer PC division (big pond, small fish), I was feeling pretty good about my skills and wanted to make sure that I could show off all that I had learned. I jumped in feet first, sharing my opinion at many meetings trying to impress my new boss. He turned to me and said, Eric, “opinions are just that, it’s the data and insights that make you a great product manager.” Suffice it to say, I changed my approach rather quickly and that advice has stuck with me throughout my career.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
ECOVACS has been a leader in the robotic vacuum cleaner (RVC) market for years, but has only been in the U.S. for 4 years. Despite being very well known globally, we still have the opportunity to both define and refine our brand to the U.S. consumer.
We stand out by bringing new cleaning innovations to the market at a value price. While most robotic vacuums are just that, ECOVACS brought the combined vacuum and mop to the market, and remains the leader in this multipurpose category thanks to a technology we developed called OZMO. This solves a huge pain point for a consumer. Robot vacuums give you back the luxury of time, but that time is meaningless if you still have to take another step to have clean floors. How much time are you really saving? That’s why we developed OZMO.
We are also innovating in robotics in the areas of air purification and window cleaning, with products in these areas already in market overseas. It’s exciting to be a part of a company that is not afraid to take risks and innovate into entirely new areas.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s important to recognize your own signs of burnout, whether its lack of new or fresh ideas, waning enthusiasm for the work, lack of patience with team, or just feeling overwhelmed. When I recognize my own burnout, I refocus on the basics and lean into a single project that I know I will enjoy, This is usually something product-related, since at the core I’m really a product guy. I love to crack open a new product package and think about ways that we can make it better.
Taking a step back and focusing on the one thing you love most when it comes to your job and remember why you do what you do in the first place.
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?
At SanDisk, the company strongly prioritized investing in its employees, employing extensive coaching and mentoring. I was lucky enough to work with an executive coach, Dan Foxx, who helped me make the move from individual contributor to a management role. He recognized the crossover between skillsets for the two functions. Beyond helping me pivot my career path and fine-tune my hard IQ-focused skills, he also taught me the importance of empathy. A high emotional quotient (EQ) is just as important today, if not more important, than a high IQ. EQ makes you a better leader — a better mentor, teammate, and boss. In turn, it helps you better understand your customer — what pain points they have and how you can solve for them. Being able to understand your customer is critical for building a sustainable business.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
I believe that good companies talk extensively about being customer focused instead of product focused. Whereas great companies offer the perfect marriage of the two, while also being future-facing. Great companies ask the right questions and are able to actually do something about the answers they receive now and in the long-term. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Which, continuing with our sports theme, ultimately means seeing the whole field and understanding where the ball is headed.
To be great, companies also need to have a true north star, driving them in every single thing that they do. Whether this is a mission statement or a strong, universally understood KPI, having that common goal can help align and guide all business decisions. Great companies also need to strike the fine balance of staying ahead of the curve, while also not getting ahead of themselves and overlooking what they are currently offering to their customers. A good metric for understanding where you are now and where you want to go in the future, is if a company’s current work makes you feel just a little uncomfortable. This means you are truly pushing the envelope, while also not going overboard.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Embrace the discomfort — All too often, fear gets in the way of people reaching their full potential. Instead of letting that anxiety dictate your life, you should acknowledge it and use it to fuel your decisions. As I mentioned, there was a lot of anxiety around launching an MP3 at SanDisk when Apple already owned that product space, but I embraced it head-on and used it to guide my focus.
- Set up clear processes — Internal politics get in the way of progress. Make your team’s jobs easier by creating systems that cut through bureaucracy and accelerate with innovation, as opposed to hampering it.
- Simplify — Chaos, misaligned priorities, too many competing projects — all contribute to loss of focus. When you get in too deep and lose sight of your goal because there is so much going on, cut out the noise and focus on just one thing at a time. When I feel overwhelmed, I close all my tabs, restart my computer, and reset myself with a clean screen where I then choose the one thing that is most time and priority critical.
- Leverage virtual employment — There is so much untapped talent worldwide. The best person for the job might not live in the same city or even the same country as your office or headquarters. At Leef, I built a team that had employees from Ukraine, the US, and China, which helped us get the job done more effectively and efficiently. Hire the right people and the right fit, regardless of where they are located. The pandemic has been a litmus test for many companies in this area.
- Learn how to motivate others — Great companies are creative about how they motivate their teams, and that creativity is discovered through ongoing learning and growth. Make sure to educate yourself — there are great resources out there from Ted Talks to podcasts, to books and more — that empower you with the tools you need to help others grow.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Employees want to feel that their job is more than just doing something day after day. Great companies relate work to a higher purpose, whether it’s a customer-driven one or a social-driven one. When employees have that purpose, they are more likely to work creatively, which leads to more innovation.
Think about when you were a kid and your parents made you volunteer. You probably didn’t appreciate it at the time. but as you grew older and recognized the value of tutoring students, working at a soup kitchen, or whatever service you enjoyed, you began to recognize the merit of it, which made you feel more intrinsically inclined to do it. The same thing applies to employees. When they are doing work just for the sake of having an income, there is little motivation to think outside of the box and go above and beyond. Yet, when there is a purpose or a social impact angle, they have a North star to direct their efforts towards.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Always be innovating against yourself, don’t let someone else do it to you. There has to be a healthy part of paranoia and skepticism in your business. And if that’s not driving you to innovate or stay on the edge, then you’re not going to be a successful leader.
Despite how terrifying a serious business downturn should be, every leader goes through it and they should appreciate the perspective it gives them. When you’re in that downturn, “restart your engine” by analyzing the processes in place and identify ways to optimize company practices. You’re already stuck at the bottom of the hole, so use that space to re-evaluate, go back to the basics, then rebuild better.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
To be honest, we’re lucky that we’re a cleaning product used in the home during a pandemic. But luck can only get you so far. It’s crucial to think of why your product exists and how it is valuable to a customer — luck and circumstance can only do so much. A great company manages a level of a potential downturn appropriately, by figuring out ways to make their product work, regardless of circumstance. They also think through potential up and down cycles, and plan accordingly, for both product and cash flow.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Human resources (HR) tends to be the most underestimated function of a business. The time it takes to hire the right people, to learn how to maintain their motivation without losing, and continue to grow them, all play into a strong HR team and program. Having the right people in your organization plays into every single aspect of your company. It’s crucial to build an environment that fosters growth, work-life balance, and success to guarantee high retention rates within employees and an overall great business structure. HR is critical to making this happen.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
First, you have to establish value for your customer by having a product that solves a real problem for them. Once you associate intrinsic, emotional value to a product, you can then translate that to your future customers by raising awareness through communications, marketing, sales channels, etc. To retain that customer, establish word of mouth, and attract new customers and loyalty, you also just have a have a really good product, and continue to develop and deliver on a level that will keep them coming back.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
A great business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand by ensuring that the product meets the expectations that it set with customers. Communicating with accuracy and transparency will ensure just that. Brands should also be upfront about pricing to maintain customer trust, with no hidden charges or unexpected upsells, especially in the digital age when customers have numerous platforms to share their grievances.
On the flip side brands make mistakes — they’re sadly inevitable. It’s important that they own up to them instead of trying to brush them under the rug. Customers will hold brands accountable, so brands need to maintain open communication and be honest and approachable when they slip up.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Customers have so many different avenues to engage with customer support — whether it’s through Facebook support groups, Twitter, Reddit, etc. — that the barrier between the customer and support has changed drastically. Especially now, many customer service operations are run outside of the U.S. and we’ve seen a rise of artificial intelligence (AI) over human interaction, which can leave customers confused.
To create positive customer experiences the key is really listening — listen to your customer when they have feedback (both good AND bad). Listen and respond across multiple channels, to make sure you are understanding how each channel is being used and how feedback is being delivered — and responding appropriately.
Lastly, even as a manager, I still make time to take customer service calls. I think it is really important to have my finger on the pulse of day-to-day product concerns. I truly believe that one customer can make a difference in how we market, sell or develop products and features.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media is a really powerful tool when it comes to interacting directly with customers. The old fashioned way of selling through distributors and to retailers is gone. The customer has become the most vocal advocate or critic of your product, so brand have the opportunity to address and mitigate the negative and amplify the positive.
If you’re creating clear communications channels, are honest in what you’re selling, listening to your customers, then you shouldn’t fear using social media and should actually leverage it effectively to build a loyal community of customers.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Lack of future-facing vision: Have a solid, future plan as to where you want your business to go. The days of transactional businesses are gone — with so much competition and penetration in the market, your company needs to have a story and growth plan that ladders up to that. This also increases buy-in and loyalty from your employees AND your customers.
- Don’t assume your team are mind readers: I’ve also seen founders and CEOs operating under the assumption that their staff are mind readers when it comes to understanding exactly what a founder/CEO is driving to. It is really important to be clear and direct when it comes to company elements like vision, mission, projections, etc.
- Clearly define roles: Though flat organizations are more common today, it is important to still have clearly defined job roles. This avoids internal strife and helps elevate employee satisfaction when your employees know exactly what they are meant to be doing within the organization.
- Build a diverse team: Diversification of thought and experience matters. Building a team that has a wide range of backgrounds and skillsets can often help accelerate innovation and growth.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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’m concerned about the amount of people that wield influence and the transparency that exists there. With so many different influencers across multiple platforms, it can be hard for consumers to understand who to trust with their purchase decisions. As we all grapple with “truthiness” when it comes to politics, I’ve seen this trickle to all areas. I’d love to see a “truth filter” that identifies who you should trust the most when it comes to purchase decisions.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!