The November issue of CUSTOMER magazine explained how TeamSupport is about getting the focus back to the customer, and not just closing tickets. In this issue, we’ll get to know Robert C. Johnson, TeamSupport’s CEO, and learn more about what makes him – and his company – tick.
You’re a serial entrepreneur and investor with experience in a variety of industry verticals. Tell us about your career path and how it led you to TeamSupport.
Robert: When I graduated college (Colgate University) in 1994 I didn’t have any job prospects and came back to Dallas with my tail between my legs to live with my parents. Through a stroke of sheer luck I ended up being offered a job as employee No. 2 in a small software company and jumped at the offer. Two years later the CEO quit (or was fired, depending on who’s telling the story) and the board gave me the CEO title and a bunch of stock options. The company was very close to failure, but I was able to put a spectacular team together and grow the company over the next 10 years into the dominant player in our particular vertical.
We did software for television stations to play back commercials, programs, and news. Basically, anything you see on your TV screen was controlled by software like ours. It was a great business to be in and very exciting since the results (and mistakes) of our software were visible to millions of people.
Our team learned some very critical lessons in that company – primarily that customer support was an absolutely critical factor in any software company. One of the main reasons we did so well is that customers came to trust us because we always took care of them. The TV space is a very small one and everyone talks to each other. Even though this was before social networks as we know them now, we effectively were dealing with an industry that was tightly connected and word travelled fast. We learned quickly that your reputation was made or broken by customer support and that our great reputation in the industry was because people were willing to talk with each other about their experiences.
Of course, that experience lead directly to the creation of TeamSupport. I sold my prior company in 2006 and stuck around for a year then decided to leave since I wasn’t happy being a minor cog (even though I was vice president of enterprise sales) in a large public company. After taking a little time off and spending some time in the oil space (I owned a small oil production company with a partner which we sold in 2011) I decided I wanted to get back into technology. I studied the market and quickly came to two conclusions: one, that I wanted to be in the SaaS (News - Alert) space, and two, that customer support, especially for businesses who sell to other businesses, was a space that wasn’t being addressed very well and that I had a huge amount of knowledge and experience in. It seemed like a no-brainer.
What is the Dallas Angel Network, and what’s your involvement in DAN?
Robert: The Dallas Angel Network started as a loose affiliation of Dallas-based technology investors, but has evolved into a true venture capital fund. We raised and deployed $1 million in capital last year in three companies, and have raised $2 million this year, which we plan to deploy over the next 12 months. My role as a board member for DAN means that I am involved in selecting the deals we fund. As with most VC funds, we look at a lot of deals and are very selective in the companies we invest in.
As a CEO, being involved in DAN also allows me to better understand how other companies are attacking similar problems that we face at TeamSupport and has helped expand my network as well.
What keeps you busy when you’re not working?
Robert: My family! My wife and I have two kids: a 12-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl. Between school, athletics (volleyball, baseball, basketball and football), scouts (Girl and Boy Scouts), and everything else going on it keeps us both busy!
I understand you’re a pilot. How many flight hours have you logged and on what kind of aircraft?
Robert: I was very lucky and started to fly when I was 19 between my freshman and sophomore years in college. Like many pilots, I learned to fly in the venerable Cessna 172 and have progressed into different airplanes as my experience and budget has allowed.
The airplane I fly for travel is a Cessna 421. This is a twin engine airplane which is very comfortable for passengers and is a wonderful travelling airplane that can get me to meetings faster and more conveniently than commercial travel in many cases. It also makes it easy to visit multiple customers on a single trip and maximize my time out of the office.
A number of years ago I was extremely lucky to be invited to join a partnership that operates two North American T28 “Trojan” airplanes. These planes are post-WWII military trainers, which were used to train several generations of Naval and Marine Aviators, and were also used extensively in Southeast Asia and other conflicts as light attack airplanes. While I never served in the military, I am honored to be able to fly a piece of history and display these airplanes at airshows around the country. While flying aerobatics or formation in our Trojans is an amazing amount of fun, the true honor is being able to meet veterans who have served our country. There have been a number of times where I have been able to show our planes to people who either trained or fought in them and watching memories wash over them as they sit in the cockpit for the first time in 40 years is a wonderful and humbling experience.
What about being a pilot appeals to you?
Robert: Like many entrepreneurs I tend to be a little Type A, and I enjoy controlling my own destiny. Being able to travel when I want and where I want, on my own schedule, is a great asset for a businessman, but it’s also something that is enjoyable and cathartic for me. I’ve been able to use my airplane in every business I’ve been involved with. The ability to visit customers at short notice to fit into their schedule, or take a software engineer to a customer site to fix a problem, or even fly a part for an oil rig from one part of the country to the other, are all extremely beneficial things that flying my own airplane has made possible.
While flying is a great business tool, it’s also fun. Flying aerobatics in an ex-military ‘warbird’ airplane, flying to an airshow with my kids, or just flying around on a pretty day bring a great deal of joy to me. Sometimes if a week is particularly stressful, I’ll go up for a flight just to give myself a mental reset and see the world from a different perspective.
How do your leisure time pursuits reflect who you are and your leadership style?
Robert: I tend to be a more strategic leader, and I’m always looking 12 to 18 months down the road. To be an effective pilot, especially when flying across the country and dealing with weather, you always have to be looking ahead and making decisions well before something comes up and surprises you. In both activities you also need to be ready for constant change and be able to think on your feet. Obviously, how I deal with issues in flight is totally different than how I deal with them as a CEO, but there are certainly similarities.
Flying also lets me look at the world from a different perspective and I think that’s a critical skill to have when running a company as well. You have to be able to look at problems and opportunities from multiple vantage points, and there is certainly a correlation between how I look at business issues and how I view the world from above.
What do you consider to be your biggest professional accomplishment?
Robert: My biggest professional accomplishment has been building and selling two companies and positively impacting the lives of countless employees and customers. Over the 10 years I ran my prior software company I lost track of how many people we hired as we built that company into a powerhouse, but it was definitely a lot! As a CEO you have to sit back sometimes and look at the team and people you’ve put together, and then think about their families and realize just how many people your bi-weekly payroll run is affecting.
I’m also proud of the products we’ve built and the problems we’ve solved. Whether controlling programming at TV stations or helping companies provide better customer service, my companies’ software has always solved real issues and provided tangible benefits to our customers.
What have been your biggest accomplishments at TeamSupport?
Robert: The thing that makes me most proud of what we’ve accomplished at TeamSupport is our ability to help our clients manage their customer support process and provide an overall better customer experience. One of our customers described us as their ‘front porch’ for their customers. All customer interactions come through TeamSupport so our software is their main method of communication with them, and often their first welcome.
It’s incredibly humbling to talk with customers or read their reviews of TeamSupport and hear them tell us how great our product is and our staff is to work with. We know we are solving a huge problem for our clients and making a meaningful impact on their operations. That certainly keeps me excited to come to work each morning.
What are your goals for TeamSupport going forward?
Robert: We’ve spent several years developing the technology to be the best customer support platform for B2B businesses, but our work is far from done. We work with our current and potential customers on an ongoing basis to refine our development roadmap and continue to improve TeamSupport. Our goal is to be the best customer support software platform for B2B businesses, and we’re well on the way to making that happen.
If there’s just one thing people need to know about TeamSupport, what is it?
Robert: We’re not your standard help desk software – we have very strategically and intentionally created a system that is designed for B2B companies with external-facing customer support. We understand how important customer service is to companies whose customers are also businesses, rather than individual consumers. If their software fails, their customers can’t operate properly. We understand the need to manage customers at a company level. And we understand the value of collaboration. Most important of all, we are our customers. We are in the same business, we experience the same issues, and we walk the walk, putting our customers first every day because it’s called customer support – not ticket support. We designed the system from the ground up to help companies manage their relationships and provide outstanding customer support by leveraging internal knowledge and letting teams work as a team to solve customer problems and increase their satisfaction.
Edited by Maurice Nagle