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CEO interview: David Obrand, head of Fuzebox

Last February, Fuzebox, a creator of cloud-based communication technology, was named to Forbes’ list of Most Promising Companies in America. Then, in September, the company made headlines again by raising $26 million in Series B financing, and by poaching a new CEO from another buzzy player in the digital space -- Yammer, a social media service for business. 

While at Yammer, David Obrand served as Chief Customer Officer, and, according to the FuzeBox website, played “an instrumental role in the company’s explosive growth and eventual acquisition by Microsoft for $1.2 billion in 2012.” Before that, he spent a decade -- a true lifetime in the tech world -- at another similar star in that industry,

We spoke to Obrand. He opens up on everything from how he’s managed to ride the tech wave so well for so long, to what he looks for when hiring new talent for his teams.

MoneyWatch: What do you think is your greatest daily challenge as a manager?

Obrand: The two areas that I spend an inordinate amount of time on, because I think they are critical to the success of the company, are hiring and shaping our culture. Nobody is hired at the company until they have a final interview with me. I try to give them a forum to ask questions of me [because] corporate culture is really important. A great culture attracts great talent and I want to be around people who share a common passion, aka building a great company. [With that goal in mind] I lead all hands calls for the whole company. We try to do it once a week. I also hold monthly round table lunches with a random group of employees and it rotates each month. And I do final interviews every day with candidates using Fuze.

MW: What do you think positions FuzeBox for success amongst its competitors?

DO: First, our pace of innovation. Second, our maniacal focus on customer success. One of the things that we [the new executive team] have done in the six months since we have been here is become more data driven. We’ve brought in a head of analytics, and on the engineering side developed methodology which allows us to capture how users interact with our service, and feed that info to our development team. Then, they can be constantly innovating the product in a relevant way. On the other side, we say everything we do is measured by the lens of customer success. We hired a head of customer success and a new head of customer support. It’s very important to me personally, and all of our employees, that every customer has a successful interaction with our service and all of our employees.

MW: What do you look for when you're hiring?

DO: We have a set of competencies we look for depending on roles but here are four we look for regardless: raw intellectual horsepower, a passion for what we do, a passion for customer success and a humility and work ethic. And then the fifth one which is odd, is the philanthropic aspect in a candidate’s personal life. We feel that people who are philanthropic -- the fact that you have this notion that the world is bigger than just you, and you have a role to give back to the broader community, is a motto that grounds us and keeps us humble.

MW: What is your best advice for people starting careers in tech?

DO: The biggest thing is to exercise patience, pick a great company, and focus on finding mentors in that company that can help you learn and grow. The last piece of advice that I would give a college student or entry-level employee is to be thoughtful about your reputation. There is a trend going around about ‘building your personal brand.’ I hate that concept because it’s manufactured, but your reputation is not manufactured. It’s a byproduct of two things -- the quality of your work product, and how you treat others. If you have a good reputation, it works for you 24-7. If you have a bad reputation, it works against you 24-7.

MW: Do you have any specific tips on finding a life/work balance?

DO: This is one I personally struggle so much with. I’ve been married 20 years. I have two awesome kids, a freshman and senior in college. We are a very tight, close family, but I’ve traveled a tremendous amount in my career, and I work 70 to 80 hours a week. For me, both physical and mental health is important due to the demands of my role and the pace of play. I feel grounded when I’m with my family and I get exercise every day. Regardless if it’s an hour in the gym, a 30 minute walk, or 100 pushups. It’s good for the soul. And if I’m not traveling I make sure I’m either there for the kids in the morning or before they go to bed. It helps them and it helps me tremendously. When my children call me, wherever I am in the world, I always answer the phone -- period, end of discussion.

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