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“Enjoy the Journey.” with Mark Richer

What if there was a solution that was just as easy to use as a personal solution like WhatsApp, but allowed you to have central control of the data and accounts? Well, that’s what we do at StarLeaf. That is the fundamental technological breakthrough that we’re that we’re working on. And yes, I think it […]

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What if there was a solution that was just as easy to use as a personal solution like WhatsApp, but allowed you to have central control of the data and accounts? Well, that’s what we do at StarLeaf. That is the fundamental technological breakthrough that we’re that we’re working on. And yes, I think it will help people by allowing end users to do the job they want with technology they like, while at the same time giving businesses the reliability and security that they need.

As part of my series about the “The Future Is Now: Exciting Emerging Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Richer, Chief Executive Officer, Co-Founder of StarLeaf. He has a reputation for success in delivering innovative solutions that solve real-life business challenges. For over 30 years, he has successfully brought to market network, voice and video solutions that have irrevocably improved the way we communicate across the enterprise.

A serial entrepreneur, Mark was the Chairman and founder of Codian, which he established in 2002. Codian delivered a new generation of video conferencing infrastructure solutions, and was acquired by Tandberg in 2007. Prior to this, Mark was the CEO and founder of Calista, a company specializing in Voice over IP products, which was acquired by Cisco Systems in 1999. Calista’s products and technology are incorporated into the Cisco IP Communications product range.

At the very beginning of Mark’s career, he was a founder and Director of Engineering at Madge Networks, a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of close to $1 billion at the time he left.

Mark has a Masters Degree in Theoretical Physics and Chemistry from Cambridge University and is a graduate of the owner-directors program at INSEAD. Mark is a member of the Cambridge Angels and a Fellow Commoner of St Catharine’s College.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was nearing the end of my time at high school, the place I attended had an account on the local University computer. This was a sort of semi-secret arrangement, but somehow, somebody gave me the username and password for this account. I started using it, learning to program by running programs on the University mainframe.

I remember one day I was in a math class in the middle of the afternoon and the Deputy Principal came into the room with a weighty printout — dozens and dozens of pages. He didn’t look happy. He put the printout down on the desk in front of me. It was a long list of hundreds of programs that had been run on the university’s computer over the past three months — each, I learnt later, a chargeable item.

He said, “Richer, which of these programs are yours?” I looked through the list and I patiently ticked off about 10 items. He said, “So those are the ones that are yours? Are they Richer?” I said, “No, Sir. Those the ones that aren’t mine.”

I think from that moment, I was destined for a career in programming.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I don’t know about interesting, however one of one of one of the most impactful occurred just six months after I started work.

I was staying with my brother for the weekend. We’d had a late Saturday night and I was sleeping in on Sunday morning. Somebody knocked on my brother’s door — it turned out to be a work colleague, Martin. Martin said, “Mark, we need to go back down to the office in London right now and clear out all the computers. Our company has just gone into bankruptcy and we need to get all everything out before the bailiffs turn up on Monday morning.” And indeed, I found myself, just six months into my first job, backing up a van to the office door at midnight Sunday, putting the computers in it and driving away into the country so we could restart the company afresh the next day.

That seemed such a bad thing to happen at the time. But actually, that led us to creating a startup that was incredible, employed over 1500 people and was IPOed on the NASDAQ with billions of dollars in revenue. And it all started from that disastrous night with a van at midnight. What I learned from that was that you shouldn’t be too quick to judge whether an event is good or bad. It sometimes takes time to reveal itself. Sometimes a thing that seems quite traumatic and awful, can actually turn out to be a good thing in the long run.

Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Companies deploy many, many sorts of software in their businesses. And some of them, particularly Microsoft ones, turn out to be very complicated — indeed too complicated for their users to use. And so what happens next, is the users vote with their feet and choose a simpler solution. That’s good for the user, because they get their job done. But it’s very often bad for the company because they lose control of the data, and it’s the user that owns it, not the company.

If the user leaves, then it means it’s very difficult to gain back control of that person’s account, you probably can’t delete their account. If they’re a member of a messaging group, for example, it’s difficult to get them out for that messaging group. So many times, users stay behind and are still receiving confidential company information, even after they’ve left the company. If you have salespeople, then it’s impossible to know what they’ve told their customers, and indeed, to own those messages. So that’s a real problem for the business when people use their own technology.

What if there was a solution that was just as easy to use as a personal solution like WhatsApp, but allowed you to have central control of the data and accounts? Well, that’s what we do at StarLeaf. That is the fundamental technological breakthrough that we’re that we’re working on. And yes, I think it will help people by allowing end users to do the job they want with technology they like, while at the same time giving businesses the reliability and security that they need.

How do you think this might change the world?

It’s normally overreach for any piece of technology to think it changes the world. However at the edges here, clearly business is the engine that propels the world forward — it creates the wealth that allows us all to have better standard of living, better health care, and better social care. And so, at the edges, yes, I think that StarLeaf software can improve the efficiency of business and through that we can help drive all the good things in society that we all want.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I think it’s well established that the power of the large technology companies, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, is something that we all need to have some concern about. The amounts of data that they have access to, combined with poor ethics could easily lead to appalling abuses for individuals throughout society. So I think that’s undoubtedly a potential drawback among all technologies, that we end up with too much power concentrated in the hands of too few. If that is not treated with great care and responsibility, then I think the results will be disastrous for all of us.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Widespread adoption for StarLeaf? Well, I think there are two things. One is that we need to wave the flag and have more people know about us because if they know about us, then they can try us. And then the second thing is that when they do try us, to do an amazing job for them. To deliver for them on the simplicity, security and great functionality that they need in order to live their best work lives.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

People use the StarLeaf service for many, many purposes. And some of them are truly fascinating. One of our users last week made an online attempt on the world Guinness Book of Records whiskey tasting record. That’s to say we had over 5,000 people engaging simultaneously in a guided whiskey tasting — it’s just quite an amazing thing. Really, the ways that people use our service are just innovative, broad and continually surprising!

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?

My first boss was a gentleman called Robert Madge. Together we formed a company called Madge Networks that went on to be super successful. Robert was very, very helpful to me. He put a lot of faith in me very early on in the business and gave me a great deal of responsibility. And I think he was an amazing role model — somebody who was always happy to defy the odds and fight for what he believed in, even if it was sometimes difficult or intimidating.

One thing he told me has had a disproportionate effect on my life. One day he looked me in the eye and he said “Mark, if you’ve never missed a plane, you’re spending too long in airports.” And as a result of that, I’ve spent the rest of my life always arriving at check in about five minutes before it closes. And yes, I have indeed missed numerous airplanes.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

One thing I wish someone had told me before I started is: enjoy the journey. Life in business has ups and downs. The important thing is to enjoy it as you go. Because in the end, all there is, is the journey.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I think my favorite life lesson quote, was given to me by a friend who taught me “yard by yard life is hard, inch by inch life’s a cinch.” Whenever I’m stressed or in trouble, I try to remember Jim’s words. We need to face the challenge that’s immediately in front of us, and try to not worry about the vastness of space.

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 🙂

If Microsoft Teams was designed by Apple, then it would have fewer features, but it will be far easier to use and more effective for your business. That’s what we make at StarLeaf. Come and try it — we are the human connection at work.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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