Agile Businesses: Josh Berman of C2C Global On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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Build an intentional culture. Be transparent. Be honest. Encourage open feedback in both directions. Don’t feel like you need to stand in front of the room or stand in front of the initiative.

As a part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Berman.

Josh Berman is President of C2C Global and an expert in community building with a long track record of establishing connections between technology companies and their target audiences.

In his role at C2C Global, Josh curates and facilitates timely industry discussions for cloud users — oftentimes having representatives from partner organizations take part to provide expert commentary on how to use the cloud for success. He brings together thousands of users a day to collaborate to solve problems such as cybersecurity, data management, cloud storage and management and eCommerce issues.

As the largest community of Google Cloud users, C2C has helped forge relationships and develop new, cutting edge approaches to problem solving. For example, it recently launched its Google Cloud Startups group after seeing many startups join the community struggle to learn how to best leverage Google Cloud for their business. C2C serves a host of startups at various stages, from those who just launched, to startups in the trenches of scaling their business. No matter what phase of business they are in, these businesses seek this community to make connections, share ideas, ask questions, and contribute.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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?

I got my start in tech. In the late 90s and early 00s, I was doing hands-on work with applications and IT products. For the last decade-plus, however, I’ve made community my specialty. I’ve had the fortune to stand up user communities at some of the biggest companies in today’s tech and innovation universe. Including Oracle and Palo Alto Networks. Going into my current role at C2C, I knew I was entering a customer ecosystem with amazing potential for growth.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I remember standing in front of a group of a couple hundred people in an airplane hangar in Dallas, Texas. I looked at some rocketship looking thing, and something made me think of Houston and NASA, and I’m like, “Hello Houston.” The dude in the front seat’s like, “We’re in Dallas, man.” That reminded me to be in the moment and really shift as hard and fast as I can to active listening.

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?

I learn most from the teams I work with. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to hire many people I’ve built lasting relationships with. There is really no substitute for that. Some of my closest colleagues are people I’ve brought with me through several initiatives, even at different companies, and some of those people are still with me today at C2C. Mentorship is important, and I try to give as much as I take, but it also moves in all directions.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

What’s old is new again. In the 90s the original OEMs that had amazing software, like IBM, Oracle, they didn’t have great call deflection strategy. People just struggled when they had a problem, so what they did was they found each other and formed user groups, and then software got better. The need for what I consider the user group 2.0 or community has become incredibly valuable again, critical. It’s like an open source. You need to recognize that you only can do and know so much internal to your company. You have to be able to have your people connected outside to a larger ecosystem to stay relevant, stay on top of things, keep a good healthy relationship with the next hires, all that.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people.

Everyone needs their customers’ feedback, advocacy, and I think everywhere, getting connected, staying connected, finding your peers, whether they work with you in a company or just do something similar in other companies, other industries, finding them and connecting to them is critical, especially as we’re all working from home, we’re working elsewhere. The need for community is stronger than it’s ever been. C2C is here for that reason: to fill that need for Google Cloud’s customer base.

Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?

There’s been a confluence of shifts in the market in the last couple of years. Nobody is going to anyone’s website to ask and get their opinions of themselves. Everyone goes to Opentable or Yelp when they go to Chicago, and they want to pick the best deep dish pizza because there’s twelve of them. Same thing in B2B. A customer a peer-sourced platform is a critical path for any large tech company, for their customers to be talking about what it’s like to work with them.

What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?

When I had the opportunity to jump on to C2C, one of the things I asked for was the ability to get to know the current team, and ultimately to blow it up. We need to over-hire, we need to hire people who really could operate at the next level. I don’t know marketing. I like marketing, I have an opinion often, but I’m no marketer. I’m not a CFO. I’m not an events czar. So seeking permission, which I was super fortunate to get to do, to hire a very strong leadership team.

Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.

I think my team can relate to me saying yes to certain things and going, “What the hell?” So making sure you’ve got the support of them team and you’re delivering back to the client, whatever that client looks like, like whether it’s a community or a classic vendor relationship, what they need and not what they want.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

We’ve got the teams. We can operate at scale. We’ve built templates and frameworks and a philosophy and an approach. We’re not perfect, and we’re subject to change, but I think in many ways getting a strong leadership team in place has been a lesson I’ve learned.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?

I have this deep personal learned philosophy which is, go meet people in person. For me, personally, sitting at home was tough. I learned a lot, and I adapted, I evolved. As we’ve gotten this thing off the ground in the past year and a half, I’ve tried very hard to get on every airplane I possibly can to get to these events, to meet all of these important people, whether they’re team, Googlers, partners, customers, and I did that before, when I had an opportunity to help launch the Palo Alto Networks Fuel community.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?

I think it’s making sure that you’re building a very intentional culture. Everyone’s treated the same way to the degree that it’s reasonable and possible and consistent with the way the organization is laid out. I think companies can be really short-sighted with their hiring strategy. Going back, I would rather hire from the top down than just be putting out fires by hiring one thing after another based on what’s on our plate.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

A company always needs to invest in research and development, always needs to invest in professional development, continuous learning, has to be hard-wired to any person’s day, week, month, year, at any level of the company.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

I think change is the new constant variable. I don’t know when that started to be the case, but that is certainly the case. There’s been more innovation in the past year, in the past five years, in the past fifteen years, than there probably was in the past hundred years, in terms of how we all interact, how we buy, how we sell, so deeply believing in change and, to the degree that we can, all becoming comfortable with a dynamic fluid environment. The quicker you get there, the less anxiety you have, whether you’re leading a company or you’re an individual contributor.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that

Catering to rock stars who ultimately erode from the culture, from the team. I think that’s a terrible mistake a lot of companies make, where they get trapped. Maybe there’s a salesperson who does really well in terms of revenue generation, but is a toxic personality. That’s no way to grow a company. It depends on what you’re doing, but in the business of community, not good. Overcommitting resources early on to go get great people that you know can run with you is pretty key. I see a lot of hiring based on limited budgets, which I think makes sense, I get it, but it’s a short-term approach that I think nets pretty weak long-term growth and health and all that. Going to back to general leadership, saying yes to your customer over and over again without really thinking, bringing your team in, challenging what they’re asking for. Maybe they’re asking for what they want versus what they need, I think that’s a huge long-term mistake a lot of people make, companies make. It can be terrible on morale.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.

1 — Keep everyone’s skills up. It helps to constantly learn. Bring back new ideas, better skill sets, more innovation, more ROI.

2 — The grass is always greener. I think we all have that sometimes in our heads, and I think the more exposure we all get the more we really respect and appreciate where we are.

3 — Build an intentional culture. Be transparent. Be honest. Encourage open feedback in both directions. Don’t feel like you need to stand in front of the room or stand in front of the initiative.

4 — As opposed to hiring from the bottom up, I’d rather hire from the top down, which not all leaders would get behind. That’s an expensive approach, but I think it’s a much more resilient approach toward long-term healthy growth.

5 — I try not to take myself too seriously. I do think having a light friendly positive culture is often quickly dismissed. Work-life balance, having fun, enjoying work, not taking yourself too seriously. Take yourself seriously, take work seriously, but ultimately it’s a moment in time. It’s not the story.

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

I say it a lot, but the hokey line is, “My genius is I know I’m not a genius,” and what I mean by that ultimately is: be as self aware as possible, test for self-awareness frequently, be confident, and ultimately make sure to surround yourself with talent, ensure the talent feels like they’re in a very healthy environment to bring ideas, good or bad or otherwise, and then get behind them.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I’m very active on LinkedIn, and make a point of updating there when something exciting is happening. However, right now, what’s top of mind for me is always what’s newest and of most essence to the C2C community. To keep up with what’s happening there, go to c2cglobal.com, or better yet — join us as a member. We’ll come to you.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market