Eric Spadafora just completed his first 100 days in the role of VP and General Manager of BlueJeans by Verizon – the cloud-based video conferencing and event platform that Verizon acquired in the first half of 2021. We spoke recently about Spadafora’s transition from leading a U.S.-based sales organization to general manager of a global workforce. We also covered how to compete with a verb, and what the BlueJeans platform gains from its partnership with Verizon.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Karen Walker: Let’s start with your first hundred days.
Eric Spadafora: The first hundred days were reminders that the pandemic was not over. At the time I’m ramping into this role, the COVID pandemic is peaking. We think it has peaked in India, and that puts tremendous pressure on our workforce. About half of the BlueJeans workforce is outside of the U.S., while Verizon is predominantly a domestic U.S. company, although not exclusively.
I’ve personally moved from sales to a general manager role, and our product development, innovation and roadmaps are dependent upon a globally distributed workforce.
That’s a fundamental shift. It involved focusing on around -the- clock development cycles, updates on the health and wellbeing of our employees first, then how that translates into product deliverables, timelines and expectations. Managing through that was quite a new experience, and you draw you’re your leadership fundamentals. The pandemic didn’t stop. It didn’t slow down just because I was new.
Walker: No time zones off in this role!
Spadafora: That’s right, we derive about 50% of our revenue from outside the U.S. The sales force in each geography has its place in terms of the pandemic and its own pace of adoption of the technology culture. Some are more in the office; some are more remote. There’s not one homogenous message, or end-user or customer. Everything is bespoke.
Walker: Please help me understand the BlueJeans business model. There is a Xerox in copiers, a Kleenex in tissues and, it must be said, a Zoom in video conferencing. How does BlueJeans position itself when these other brands have become “verbified?”
Spadafora: One aspect of the pandemic that is very real is that video has now become institutionalized. It’s now a corporate application and here to stay. Before that, The question was, “How would you use it,” and you’d show certain workgroups and use cases. Now it’s a horizontal application, meetings and videos, and it becomes a switcher market.
We understand that market perfectly. Think about the DNA of Verizon and smartphones and FiOS and different assets we have in terms of switching it out. We’ve got a unique market position to be able to compete head-to-head with a competitors in the SMB and mid-market space. We think about segments. Our corporate clients have a mix of technologies and tend to have multiple providers, but they also have rooms that are dedicated to video. They have large-scale events, where we are a global leader in terms of capacity. They integrate CVI (cloud video interoperability). BlueJeans was the first to integrate with Skype rooms a decade ago. Now we have Microsoft Teams integration.
We do those three or four things exceedingly well. In addition, you have the horizontal application, so it’s a slightly different lens of how we approach the market. We can bring the full breadth of Verizon’s product portfolio, which no one else can offer. That is the advantage of our global footprint.
Walker: The Verizon partnership enabled you to be the global leader in terms of capacity. What is that capacity?
Spadafora: Today, we can include 50,000 attendees registered and active in an event, and then stream out to Facebook, to YouTube and to any other RMTP streaming media service.
So that opens an unlimited audience. People already consider us the global leader and we will triple our current capacity by the end of the year. It’s not just capacity, but we believe it will be quality. We will offer the best in professional services, security, access to bandwidth, wireless and wireline – using Verizon technologies in the events.
Walker: I know that security was one of the attributes that interested Verizon in BlueJeans. What created BlueJeans’ interest in Verizon?
Spadafora: As part of the M&A team that evaluated all the technology in the marketplace, we believed and still do that unified communications will have a video component, and that it will be more prominent in the future. This partnership was a tremendous architectural fit, in addition to the security, quality, and scalability perspectives.
We have the most significant smartphone business base in the U.S. If you start to unlock a better experience – 5G speed, quality, distribution, for example – at an improved cost structure, that’s synergy.
Walker: Let’s talk a little more about your leadership. As you’ve transitioned to general manager, I imagine you inherited a team, plus you probably brought in others. How have you put your team together? What are the skills that you look for when you’re building a team?
Spadafora: I’ve been with the company for 17 years. I started my career at MCI and Verizon acquired us. I remember being an employee on the “acquired side.” I’ve been very intentional. I’ve worked in every segment within the business markets. I’ve worked in wireless wireline, in distinct geographies, different business units and for various leaders. That experience provided me with a good forum of trusted professional leaders across the business.
We’ve brought these colleagues onto leadership positions in the sales capacity, in marketing and business development, core product engineering and innovation strategy. That’s what BlueJeans does well. We have a nice fusion of leadership capabilities and talents. We’re not just a Silicon Valley, cloud-based software startup. We’re a global company.
We like to think we’re taking the best of both worlds, that innovation, speed and agility of BlueJeans and Verizon’s organizational effectiveness and ability to deliver at scale. That’s how we’re getting one plus one equals three out of this new team. It’s very exhilarating.
But one thing that’s been tough – our integration was done during COVID. No BlueJeans employee met in person with a Verizon leader or employee for a year and a half.
Walker: Those in-person meetings are so important. I facilitated a leadership meeting recently, and people were so grateful to be in the same space together that you’d didn’t have to tell anybody to put their laptop lids down.
Spadafora: We just had our first leadership meeting, and the combination was electric. Put business and technology aside, there’s something special about getting to know somebody in person.
Walker: The tagline for my consulting business is “up and to the right.” On a 2×2 matrix, you always want to be in that upper right-hand quadrant. If you think back on your career, were there moments when you knew that you had made an up and to the right trajectory move?
Spadafora: My experiences have taught me that you learn a lot from not succeeding the first time.
When you have a setback, it’s critical to have the grit and determination to say, “Okay, what can I learn from this?”
There are two types of people: one type adjusts to not succeeding and becomes super committed and figures out a way to succeed, and the other type tends to blame other people.
Early in my career at MCI, I didn’t get an expected promotion to director. And I’d been sure that I was going to get it – I believed that I was the best candidate on the planet for that role. But I took the honest feedback and made the adjustments, and then became a director, a VP and so forth.
I share that story with the folks that I coach in our organization, then I look back a year later and see that they’ve made it into the roles they wanted. If you’ve got great people in critical places, they will produce outstanding results if you fuel the right culture.