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98. Business Blueprints: Lessons from Leaders Pt. 1/3 with Dan Foster, CRO at Telarus

December 12, 2023

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Join us as we kick off this new series as we wrap up the season with Business Blueprints: Lessons from Leaders to give all our partners tips and tricks from our leadership team about all lessons learned when building. Today we’re joined by Telarus Chief Revenue Officer, Dan Foster, as he dives into revenue strategies, growth, hiring, and more. You won’t want to miss all the tips and tricks we get to glean from Dan with his years of experience in high-growth companies!

Hey everybody, welcome back here. We’re kicking off a special series of episodes. This one is titled “Business Blueprints Lessons from Leaders.”

So who better to have on than our Chief Revenue Officer, Mr. Dan Foster. Foster, welcome, sir. Hey, Mr. Telarus thank you for having me. Good to see you. Good to see you too. I want to kick this thing off. I want to go into some backstories. You know I love winding paths. My favorite part of this is hearing everybody’s journey.

Yes, we know you as Chief Revenue Officer now, and maybe we can get a little later to what that means, but walk us through just your path. How did you get here?

How did I get here? Well, well you can see I’m in my office, so it was pretty easy this morning. In fact, as a worldwide traveler, I guess I could give you a very circuitous route, but I’ll start out with I’m in Japan. I graduated from college, and I’ve maxed out my credit cards. In fact, I’m hanging out with my girlfriend, now my wife. She was doing a semester abroad, and you know, I get in a job in investment banking, and you’re supposed to wait for the entire summer, and you’re supposed to maybe backpack around Europe. Well, I got to go get a job because credit cards are maxed. Mommy and daddy aren’t paying any bills for me, so I actually go out and get a summer job. Well, that summer job lasted 10 years, and had a real fun time learning along the way. Started at, I was employee number three at a consulting firm, and one of the guys who started it eventually became Dean of the Harvard Business School. So we’re growing internationally, competing in the likes of McKinsey and Bain. In fact, rating them for new hires, we knew we ranked when we got a cease and desist letter.

So fast forward 10 years, and I’m sitting in India, while working on a joint venture, and I realized Josh at that point, it’s going to be hard to have a family. If I’m living on flying so much that maybe I go by and go through the cul-de-sac, you can do the math there.

But effectively what happened was I jumped off in Denver. I’m in Denver, and I go, we get a startup, some venture capitalists put me into, and we go public. It’s in this whole internet economy, and they end up funding me to go run a little business and of all places, St. Louis. So we’re seven months in St. Louis. We end up merging with a company that I think a lot of the channel people out there know called Megapath. At that point in time, we were $2.5 million in revenue. So we took Megapath, grew them from $2.5 million through organic growth, M&A, up to about a half a billion dollars.

When I came in and out of that, but a funny little story is just to jump ahead, I’m then at another startup just a few years back, as you recall, and we sold it to Ericsson.

And who of all people do I get to actually help me sell this idea of the channel into Ericsson because they just don’t have the channel. They don’t know of the channel. There’s a whole backstory there. The Adam Edwards to come on and help me validate the channel.

And we’re going all the way to the group of… It’s called the Technology Group within Ericsson. Eventually, we got to go to Boria and we convince him to go into the channel.

Adam and I were actually quoted in a Wall Street Journal article about a week before I, oops, came here to work for Adam. So it was a little awkward Wall Street Journal featuring Adam and I. And the next thing you know, I’m over at our partner there. So that’s how I got here. I love it. Just say I was quoted in Wall Street Journal once. Nobody needs to know where, how, why. Yeah, exactly.

Mic drop. Yeah.

So, you know, over the path, right, over the path, this journey, there’s had to have been some pivotal moments. So help us understand, what are just a couple of these pivotal moments for you over the years?

Two, yeah, pivotal moments in a career, a lot of them. But I’ll try to boil it down. Probably maybe, you know, off the cuff here, probably one of the funnier pivotal moments was not your traditional one. It was my buddy, in fact, the guy I grew up across the river from is managing this band Fish.

And we’re out. In fact, they’re growing. Nobody knew him at the time, you know, they had a small following mid 90s, late 90s. And we go out and check out a band, a band by the name of Dave Matthews.

And nobody knew who they were. In fact, they hadn’t signed a contract with Electra yet.

And so I go home and I’m like, hey, John needs help managing. Fish is becoming a full time job. They’ve got a couple other acts that they may want to help manage. And my wife’s like, are you kidding me? You think you’re going to become a rock manager when, you know, we’ve got kids and all the rest going through. I was like, OK, so that’s pivotal. Number one, pivotal moment. Number one, probably weren’t expecting that, Josh. No, I did not. But no, but really, what it was is it was hanging around early on some of these academics that were focused on growth. Clay Christensen, a gentleman, read out of Salt Lake City, esteemed

academic and life coach, even at the towards the end of his life. He wrote Innovators Dilemma, and we built a practice around that. Marco Ian C.D. A lot of the guys that Kim Clark, that that that whole group, it gave us this growth bug. Like I was focused on it. And, you know, we did a lot of operations, but it was really those

really interesting seminars that we go to monthly that talked about these high performing businesses and the productivity that they were getting out of these businesses. You know, it’s interesting.

And, you know, I mean, I didn’t set out to be a salesperson, but one of the guys I got to see talking a wine cave actually right up north of here in Napa Valley, Daniel Pink. He’s now he’s very well known author at this point. He wrote Drive, but he also wrote a book to sell as human. And it was interesting because here I was hanging out with these academics. But really, in fact, Pink talks about this in his book. There was none of these elite business schools were studying sales as a function. You know, you’ve got finance. You got I mean, I got to take accounting with this guy, Bob Kaplan, who’s like the king of activity based costing. But nobody was focused on sales as a as a enabler in the business schools. And it was really folks like our tech advisors and folks out in the really street smarts doing it. So it was pretty exciting to be part of it.

So I want to talk about, you know, I think the one thing I’ve always admired about you is just when I think I’m looking out far enough, you’re going, no, no, no, no, no. Let’s look a little bit further. Right. So you’ve always had this great visionary mindset.

Walk me through what is your long term vision for driving revenue growth in our industry?

Well, you know, it’s interesting, Josh, is this is a five five point four trillion depends on who you want to talk to. But the ICT market is just massive.

It’s massive. But what’s interesting is increasingly, in fact, as you know, our tech our tech advisory, our new tech trends report talks about this. Increasingly, customers are looking to a third party to really say, how should I go about this? How should I think about this digital transformation?

So when I think about how we need to drive the business, it’s really how do we make our tech advisors look smarter in front of their customers through enablement methods? A lot of the stuff that you do, Josh, and your teams and the whole business. But it’s also really looking at that as a buyer journey to say, where are they going to be in five years? What are they going to be doing in five years? You know, interestingly enough, our our background and network really enabled us as the burgers to add fries and shakes. And now there’s whole different meals that are being considered. Right. In fact, I love the you know, we’ve gone through the pivot, but I love the pivot stories of our tech advisors. And that’s what you have to keep in mind. Think about Stuart Butterfield and what he did at Slack or, you know, we talked about Howard Schultz and Starbucks. You know, going from espresso machines, you know, selling machines to this in our technology advisors have done that pivot. They focused on, you know, they were selling some of them. You and I both know a few of them. They were selling circuits a few years ago and they pivoted to hit on that focus of the CEO challenge, revenue generation, productivity, brand experience. It’s those things. Yeah. OK, so so you get to travel and talk to a lot of these partners or at the event, right? Whatever it might be. So you get to see, all right, here’s what a successful partner looks like. Right. So taking a consideration, we’ve got this big audience of entrepreneurs.

What do you think all of these guys and gals that have built their business? What are the top couple strategies that you believe were most successful, you know, while they’ve built businesses and you’ve built businesses? Is there some overlap there?

Yeah, you know, it’s one of one of the things I heard long ago was strategies what you don’t do. And if you think about that, it’s going to come down to this idea. In fact, I’m going to give you a little bit of a story. But so I’m sitting in London with this guy, Kim Clark, and you were in downtown London with this company, Unilever. Unilever makes tea, toothpaste, ice cream.

They they own like Fendi, all these brands. In fact, it’s much larger than Procter & Gamble. But we think about Unilever as this kind of small European company. And he’s sitting there with this guy, basically the CEO of their personal products division. I got to spend a year in Paris, a little known fact, working underneath him as a consultant for their shampoo and deodorant. So I’m actually a shampoo, I used to be a shampoo expert. So anyways, here we are in London and Kim basically says to this guy, Perry, listen, with all you’re trying to do, you need to go after two key principles, focus and discipline.

And so, you know, it was this seminal moment where he realized they’re trying to do too much and they wanted to look at their innovation portfolio, but he took that. And so here I am, we jump on a plane. In fact, you know, on that trip, I got to take the Concorde because I needed to be back in the States. And I’m literally the next week at Cummins Engine Company,

great company out in Columbus, Indiana. And here Kim Clark is again, he’s talking to Tim Salsa, the CEO.

And he again talks about they’re trying to do too much in this idea of focus and discipline. So why am I so so focused on so enamored with this? In fact, I’m going to bring in the great German-American architect, Mies van der Rohe, his design philosophy, less is more. And so Kim would recite that less is more. In fact, it goes back to this idea. I mean, Tim Ferriss in his four hour work week is simplifying the focus. And that’s what I see with our technology advisors who are incredibly successful. They’ve designed a approach in their business that is sometimes bootstrapping their total risk takers, sometimes they’re cowboys and cowgirls. But really what they’ve done is they’ve focused on a singular model and then they build that up as a base.

Yeah, that makes sense. Good, good. Yeah. You know, we had a CEO on here of one of our major suppliers and I said, you’ve been instrumental in the contact center industry. What’s the what’s the good and the bad that you’ve seen our partners do that if you could change it, what would you? And that was exactly that. It was partners become really successful. They do this one thing and then they go, oh, my gosh, I could do all these things. And then they’re not wrong. Right. They’re entrepreneurs. They can get it done. They can figure it out. But when they focused it and narrow it back, they saw a massively, massively successful partner. So now couldn’t.

Yeah, less is more. Yeah. OK, let’s let’s talk about leadership here a little bit. Right. So I know you’ve you’ve been part in kind of building some large companies.

If I remember right. Hiring to the tune of what was it? 80 80 salespeople a month. It’s at one point. Yeah. Oh, so that’s I mean, my team did that just to be clear. Like, can you imagine the interviewing that you would do? But we had we had eight talent acquisition people in my group. Well, HR working for my dear friend Linda. But yeah, crazy. So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about building an innovation mindset. So is your is your hiring, is your bringing on leaders, is your as you’re doing all of those things? Why is it so important to have an innovation mindset when we’re talking about growth? Yeah. I mean, first off, it’s so critical because our industry has never moved faster. And so you have to be you know, this idea of the pivot, whereas you’ve got to be focused in discipline. You also have to be looking around the corner. And so what I find is building a team of diverse things, like I look for when I’m building a team. And I think we’re there today, Josh, I think about, you know, you, your colleagues, you know, the the broader team that we have here. It’s first up hiring, to your point, hiring is the hardest thing you do. I think you know, you’ve shown a lot of leadership and really built a team. And I think you understand this, which is hiring is so critical because you’re figuring out what chemicals to put into this to make this new compound called growth. And in doing that, you know, you’ve got to you got to set out some big hairy goals to say, you know, how do we own a sector or, you know, what are the three steps ahead that we need to be thinking for the partners to be successful in front of their customers?

To do that, to do that, you need a diverse set of thinkers first off. So, you know, I mean, obviously with you, you know, I always make sure my team has smarter people than me. I’ll take it. Let’s go golden. Yeah, I make sure, you know, you’re I take an IQ test, personality test. And I mean, it’s not a high bar here. But so no, but I think diverse sets of thinking really bring to bear kind of that innovators mindset. It’s good.

All right, let’s so so part of this part of the series is that I want partners to to hear and understand not just the good but the bad, the really hard stuff as well. So talk to me about the significant challenge that you faced at a previous company at this company anywhere. Right. From a revenue growth perspective and how you turned it into an opportunity. Hmm. I got like how long does this podcast go for? Like four hours, I got a few of them. I got a simple one. I got a simple one, which is so I come back. So I told you the story of Megapath up to a half a billion. We actually sell off a few of the assets I leave. Go do this Solar City Tesla energy thing and I come back. They bring me back. Board brings me back. I go as president and it was in a decline. So 10 percent revenue reduction.

You know, importantly, I did a baseline when I got in and the customer sat and the employee sat wasn’t good. OK, I wasn’t good. I’ll just leave you. I don’t want to run numbers here, but it was not good. So I’m a month into the new gig and I take a call. Actually, I got a message. So I get the message and I call this guy Max. He’s a New Yorker. I call him back and it’s one of these hot ones. So as the president, you know, the escalations I’m going to get, as you can imagine, are not the ones who want to call up and say, hey, you guys are doing a great job.

So he says, listen, after 11 people, 11 calls, you’re the only one to call me back. So he says our culture is basically sideways. And he says, listen, I’m an investor. You hosed up one of these companies I’m with. You know, I forget what it was. We didn’t do the install. But I really remember clearly what happened. He said, I want to take you on a cultural journey. I want you to meet with the CEO of a company that I help fund. And if it’s OK, I’ll meet out in Vegas maybe two, three weeks. You figure out what works. We’re going to go to a company called Zappos. So I get to go out and meet Tony, Shane, his team. You know, it’s the culture of the customer. And I realized at that point in time that with our sale, our employee engagement in the tank, our customer sat sat not in a great spot. It’s even hard for me to say that customer satisfaction at a not a great level. We needed a new program. And so we did this whole best over easiest program. And I learned it from the actually the HR personnel at Zappos. I kept in touch with her for a bit. And we it worked. I mean, two years later, what we realize is by focusing on employee engagement, that means we had better tools so they could solve customer problems. In fact, in my staff calls, Josh, I haven’t tortured us like this, but we would call into each of the groups. So imagine the accountability in your org. So when you call into billing, you call into support. And the first time it happened, we did it impromptu. So I didn’t prep any of my folks. I said, hey, we’re going to have it. We’re going to go off script today, folks. We’re going to call into a company called Megapath. And everybody was first off in their chairs and not excited by the result. Two years later, we grew that business 10 percent, quarter over quarter, almost diametrically opposed to when I got back there. Two years in, I had a great team.

We ended up doing like first SD-WAN service provider with UCaaS as a bundle. It was fun. And we unfortunately, we ended up selling the business because we’re having such a good time, but it was focus on employee engagement and really through tools that helped their customers. Love it. Good stuff.

Let’s talk a little bit about mentorship.

So, you know, it’s been it’s been awesome to kind of be surrounded by you, right? From from how you’ve helped me grow personally, mentorship. But let’s talk about, you know, as you’ve mentored others, how does that influence your approach, you know, as a chief revenue officer and maybe strategies for growth that we just might not realize?


Well, one is, you know, we talked about that earlier. We’ve got to be looking out around the corner to say what is 2x and 5x look like? And then helping, you know, the team look through and manage to a framework that gets you there. So what I had a, I had a CEO that I worked for for quite a long time and he taught me that idea of a framework. So we have the today, the objectives and key results framework works great, right? Gives you that ability to see out over a year. You then put it out two, three years. And what you can do is from a mentoring perspective is build frameworks and management systems that you, you know, as we think about five years out and Talaire is having, you know, taken over the free world, it’s those frameworks that we are enabling through that mentorship. It’s painting bold visions and building alignment around that. It’s it’s also, you know, not answering, but asking the questions and pushing guys like you to go out and kind of say, here are a couple options. And then it’s finally what I like doing is it’s never bringing, you know, teaching folks to bring resolution plans. There’s a lot of issues in business really pushing your team to say, well, come to me with three, two options. Don’t come to me with issues. Come to me with the issues, frame it in a way that you can then paint a picture of here’s how we are going to affect change in a positive way. And it shows that you’ve thought it through. Love it. Love it. All right. Let’s let’s keep going on this change mindset. So if you look at, like you said, in the beginning, we’re at a spot where it’s just never changed, technologies never changed this fast. And I think we just, we always seem to say that I think the people before I said that people after and say that, but it really does. At least if we zoom out over the last 20 years, it’s changing now faster than ever. So how do you stay ahead of the curve in that from a revenue generation, from a sales strategy perspective, do the basics come into play? Do you use some of these advanced tactics and strategies? What are your thoughts around that?

Well, we can’t give all of our secrets out, right? But like water it down a little bit.

No, first off, the idea of how you execute is foundationally in the basics. You know, you learn fundamentals around follow up in the focus and you put in programs to go do this. Sure. The, the technology, you know, Moore’s law is out the door, I think, right? You know better than I, but in digital transformation is coming. What’s really interesting is where we are at, we’re at a crossroads. We’re enabling these technology advisors to compete against the global system integrators, you know, that what I know the team jokes about not having lost to Deloitte in, you know, a couple of years or something like that.

The technology advisor is really what we’re pushing to also stay up to

what’s the right word here, stay up to almost a new standard for themselves to say, how do I enable that digital transformation? The digit, think of it going from selling a network and you and I know a few of these partners selling a network or even selling circuits to now, not just selling contact center, but full on from website all the way through to support the digital transformation. And I love Diane Hinchcliffe, who, as you know, drove a lot of the thinking behind the technology report talks about this idea of DX digital experience. So when you think about the technology advisor pushing the CEO to think through the branding customer experience, it’s now become more than ever a full digital experience. So what do we do? We’ve got to have a buyer journey for the technology advisor who needs to learn. Hey, it’s not just fries with that burger, but what does it actually mean to have identity management or zero trust network access together with that network? So we’ve got a lot to deploy from a sales enablement perspective.

And, you know, you guys do it every day, Josh. I mean, you see that it’s critical to keep doing what we’re doing around the sales enablement function for those technology advisors. Yeah, yeah, I think the you said it there a little bit. The hardest part about this is finding the opportunity to let your customers know all these things that you can do. Right. So there’s strategies around QBRs and opportunities for that where it’s less tactical and more strategic. But it’s just such a different problem than it was years ago. Now, there’s just so many things that you can sell to these end customers for the the advisors. It really opens up that door of, you know, I can do everything at this point. Yeah, right. That you need as a customer. If you’re buying it, I can help you with that. That’s right. That’s right. But, you know, you’ve got to be careful, too, right? Like you’ve got to not come across as though you’re trying to sell them a catalog. Yeah. Yeah, fair.

Final couple thoughts here. So so if we look back, you know, we’ve had a lot of people who have been looking back as you kind of reflect a little bit, right, your career from a revenue perspective, revenue officer. What does what does true success mean to you? And how do you I guess how do you measure that?

Well, you know, I’m a numbers guy, so we we measure it in numbers. And I love winning.

But actually, you know, it was interesting. I’m going to I’m going to rely on Clayton Christensen again, who actually in the later part of his life wrote a book, How Will You Measure Your Life? And sure, I measure it as success. I measure it as really my ego is in seeing people be successful. Like it was so fun. I’ve got a guy who worked in L.A. In a past life we talked about, he had seven people and I knew the guy scaled. And three years later, I check in with him and he’s got he’s got 800 people working for him. So I love seeing those success stories. In fact, for me, success was a little different.

I had a son diagnosed with autism and right around that same time, I had a new son born. I just lost my dad. And I’m in one of these amazing, amazing jobs, in fact, just scaling up. But I realized I needed to be around more. So that was an 80 hour a week across the peninsula.

And I took a step back and I took I went back to a business that offered me a job so I could be local. And, you know, I mean, the the idea of time as a currency, I wouldn’t have been able to coach my kids in soccer.

And so when I sure I I had a heck of a time building a framework for go to market for that business, but it was hard to step away. But balance is key. That’s what I’ve learned is the measure of success is back to that idea of how do you measure your life in the near term, I obviously measure, as you know, I measure every month, every every week. We know that meetings do you? I don’t miss much on that front. It’s my, you know, as you know, I trained as an engineer and a quantitative economics guy coming out of college. I left that in the box, mind you, coming out of college. I think the engineering degree never actually got cracked.

But, you know, that’s how I think about success. It’s good. It’s good balance. If I look back, you know, we’re

been doing a lot of episodes here, right, as we wrap up season two, doing a phenomenal job. Thanks. And as we look back, there are some key trends, right, from the leaders like yourself that we’ve chatted with balance is key.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t keep it in balance. And I know there’s those people that are like, oh, if you love what you do, you know, no, balance matters. You have to be purposeful about balance. So awesome call. That’s right. Personal leverage. You know, I use that. I use that. I learned that more. I learned that later in life. Personal leverage, which is, you know, achieves balance. Yeah.

Final final thoughts here. We’re going to we’re going to look out to the future a little bit. And I know, again, we’ve said it. We’re probably a broken record about it just changes so fast. But any emerging trends, anything that you think that for the partners that are listening out there that you really want them to pay attention to?

I mean, there’s the obvious ones you like. I’m on stage pitching, AI and DX and cyber. But I want to go back to this idea that, you know, we we went out and interviewed

150 CXOs. So there are CIOs, chief digital officers, and increasingly they are buying through the channel. So when I look out, sure, there’s lots of technology. You and we are going to be on top of the next one. But I think the most interesting trend is the fact that the affinity towards this channel is only accelerating. The propensity for success is really the CXOs. These are larger corporations, but importantly, those mid market have validated and are doing nothing other than running to our technology advisors for advice and to buy services.

Yeah, yeah, it’s it’s such a it’s a great point. And it’s such a, you know, like like you mentioned earlier with the Erickson story, but if we just flash back and flash back and flash back further, how many conversations have we had to be in where we’ve had to convince people why the channel is important as a vendor, why you would want and now just that that rate of adoption of selling here versus trying to sell it direct as a vendor. I mean, I love obviously selfishly. We love that that trend, but it proves the value, proves the value in a customer’s eyes. And there’s so much more room. So much runway. I love it. Yeah. And there’ll be some transactional stuff. Look, things are going to go through marketplaces, transactional. But that’s why the complex sale starts with the technology advisor and teams like you. All right, Dan, I’m questioned out, man. I really appreciate you doing this with me, buddy. No, I love it. Thanks. And I love the new background there, too. That is looks like an anaconic chamber or something to that effect. No echoes in here, baby. Yeah. Well, all right. Hey, man, that wraps us up for today. Thanks, everybody. I’m your host, Josh Telarus SVP of Sales Engineering at Telarus Dan Foster, chief revenue officer. This kicks us off with business lessons. Until next time.