|Home - CEO Spotlight - Oct 05 Issue
CEO Spotlight: Bob Cramer, Live Vault
By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search
LiveVault made its name by tapping into the exploding market for online backup and recovery to SMBs - and now the gorillas want a piece of the action. Angel Mehta, Managing Director at Sterling-Hoffman, chats with LiveVault's CEO Bob Cramer about leaving a startup for the dark side, what not to do in your first CEO job, and how to get big by leveraging others brands.
Angel Mehta: How important was school to you when you were younger? How relevant was it to your career later on?
Bob Cramer: To be frank, early on I didn't pay a lot of attention to school. My SATs just happened to indicate a strong aptitude for Math…I think I scored near 800…and almost the opposite in English. I had very little money, so I applied to a state school for an engineering degree knowing that I could get a job when I got out, but also knowing that I didn't really want to be an engineer long-term. But I got in there and ended up doing well and was the president of the Engineering Honors Society. As a result, I got hired by Bell Laboratories, which was the top research arm in the world at the time. They basically paid me to get my graduate degree in engineering at Cal Berkeley, so my first job after my Master's Degree was with Bell Laboratories. Deep down I always had this understanding that I needed to be moving closer towards the customer, so I moved quickly from engineering to strategic planning, to product management and then product marketing.
Angel Mehta: How did you get into enterprise software?
Bob Cramer: One of the things I had to do at Bell Laboratories was negotiate software deals for AT&T's new 3B computer line and through that I got some good exposure to the early '80s software companies, such as Oracle and INGRES. Then in 1984, the guys at INGRES convinced me that I should leave Bell Laboratories and jump on board with them…it (INGRES) was just a tiny start up company then in the database world.
Angel Mehta: I actually sat down with Mike Stonebraker not too long ago….
Bob Cramer: Mike Stonebraker was one of my research advisors at Cal Berkeley when I was doing graduate work in distributive relational databases. INGRES was a major learning experience for me, because I was a product manager and totally focused on creating the absolute best product in the world. You know what we found? It didn't matter. Oracle kicked our asses because they focused on positioning, marketing and selling as opposed to building the best product. Here I was at INGRES and reporting to the Vice President of Sales and Marketing as a little kid and realized that I was never going to get any further without understanding what sales was all about. At the time, the best place to learn sales was at Oracle. I had a recruiter friend who convinced me. He said, "You absolutely have to go and talk to Gary Kennedy over at Oracle". I went to Oracle three times and said, "No" each time because it was like going over to the darkside… joining the evil empire. The fourth visit, I finally realized that every time I walked into that building the energy level was immense and the 'evil empire" paradigm was entirely wrong…it was just a bunch of young and really bright people on a mission. I decided that if I was ever to get anywhere in my career I had to learn sales and there really was no better place to do it than at Oracle. So, I joined Oracle in the mid 1980s.
Angel Mehta: Oracle must have been no larger than $50m at the time, right?
Bob Cramer: Right. A small company, really. Over 4 years, we went to a billion dollars in revenue - an incredible ride. But when I started, Oracle was just a three-story building with two floors for the engineers and the third floor for everyone else.
Angel Mehta: Who was everyone else?
Bob Cramer: Guys like Ellison…Gary Kennedy…Tom Siebel…Craig Conway…John Luongo…Mark Benioff .. Just a who's who of enterprise software - an amazing group of talented people.
Angel Mehta: How did they manage that kind of growth without falling apart?
Bob Cramer: Oracle had its problems scaling, like any company does. But what they did really well was define a set of clear measurable corporate objectives, and push those all the way down on a quarterly basis…measuring quarterly, and making sure that everyone understood their role in participating towards whatever that year's and quarter's target was. That's what really enables an organization to run at 100 miles an hour without having any kind of low-level task management.
The other thing that Oracle did well was hire for intelligence and drive rather than experience in a doing one particular job. Ultimately, if you hire people who are smart and driven, they'll figure things out - even if they confront problems that they've never dealt with before. When you hire for a specific position, it can trip you up because in any rapid-growth environment, the challenges keep changing.
Angel Mehta: What was the worst, or least enjoyable role, you've ever held?
Bob Cramer: My first CEO role was tough. First time CEOs inevitably don't get the "A" companies to lead because you're an unproven commodity. No matter how good a job you do, the challenges are often tough to overcome.
Here's how to totally screw up your first CEO job: ignore the founder and your Board. What I was able to do was re-position and re-launch the company and the product, hire a tremendous executive management team, and grow revenue by 100%. We got to cash-flow positive, and things were going well. But while I focused on all the results, I ignored the relationship with the founder and paid no attention to moving him into the right role with the company. I also allowed the founder to maintain primary communication with the Board. The Board were basically friends of the founder and I did nothing to establish a strong relationship with them. Stupid!