Entrepreneurial Spirit and the Drive to Survive
Rob LoCascio, Founder and CEO of LivePerson, discusses the grit needed to overcome obstacles and how to instill that spirit into your company.
Building a business is a path fraught with difficult decisions. For every hard-won success, there are equally hard-learned lessons. Fred Smith gambled FedEx’s last $5,000 to save the business, Henry Ford went through two bankruptcies before founding Ford Motor Company and for Rob LoCascio, the CEO of LivePerson, survival meant he had to do the unthinkable and cut two-thirds of his workforce just one year after taking the company public. He is the original bounce-back guy, having survived three major world disruptions: the dot-com bubble, the credit crunch, and now, the pandemic.
In this incredible journey, LoCascio started out having to make a hard pivot right out of the gates. It was the 1990s, and LoCascio had to hit the brakes when he realized that his first business — information kiosks on college campuses — would be obsolete quickly thanks to the proliferation of the internet, the idea of college campus information kiosks were going to be swamped by the Internet. When that business went belly up, LoCascio tried to restart his life in New York, but it was hard. He was depressed and wound up sleeping on his office couch. But the lows weren’t enough to make LoCascio quit on his entrepreneurial dreams.
He had started a company called LivePerson and the technology behind it was working, the world just needed to catch up. LoCascio trusted his vision, but living up to the long-term goal meant making really difficult short-term decisions. Just a year after taking the company public, things were not looking great on the balance sheet. LoCascio said, “I made a decision to restructure the company to get profitable and that meant laying off 140 of 180 people. So, firing 70% of your company in a day. I’ve never done that in my entire life, but I dealt with reality.” One of his mentors during this time was Bob Matschullat who told him of the importance of being truthful to his employees. Bob said, “People are going to look at you and they’re going to remember you for what you say and if you bullshit them, that’s what they’re gonna remember. So just tell them the straight scoop.”
The company survived and LoCascio stayed with his vision that he defined as “the digitization of conversation that was going to power commerce in the digital world.”
For the past two decades, LoCascio has been building and growing LivePerson to a roaring success and he learned many lessons along the way. One of those lessons is to push through problems, get products out and keep iterating.
“Push [products] out quickly,” LoCascio said.“Don’t worry about all the problems. You’ll always fix the problems; it is a bigger problem not to put it out.”
Today those in-app and website chats are literally everywhere, and AI is powering the chatbots. LivePerson is striving to create the ability for its platforms to develop high-quality conversations. In August 2020 a LivePerson conversational cloud was announced, which is an “AI-powered command center for brand consumer conversations.” LoCascio says, “conversational commerce allows you to ask a question and get back a response and ask a follow-up and get back a response. So, you’re getting true personalization by using the conversational user experience.” He believes that’s where the future’s going where you interact with a brand without a website or an app, by what he calls, ‘talking it out.’ A platform called Maven which LaCascio describes as “a true conversational commerce platform” is being developed by LivePerson which allows for full end-to-end commerce.
It has been a long bumpy road to get LivePerson to the forefront of the everyday consumer experience. He pinpoints the X factor that has ensured the company’s survival through disruptions as the entrepreneurial spirit of the company.
It is this ability to adapt, pivot, and to adopt new practices and ideas to LivePerson that has made LoCascio one of the longest-standing founding CEOs of a tech company.
“The world I envision is a world in which primarily the machines are powering the conversations you’re having with brands and not humans because consumers don’t really want to be put on hold,” LoCascio said. “They just want to have the information and want to connect with the brand. They want to buy things and, and we allow them to create this very personalized feeling by doing that over a messaging AI framework.”
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