Street Culture: A New Way to Keep Score at CrowdOptic
After many years of being asked about the technologies that his companies develop, the money he’s making, and then more about the technology, Jon Fisher is grateful to talk about the small but super-tight team he works with.
“I’ve been with the same core engineering team for 20 years now,” Fisher says. “We’re like a less good-looking version of Ocean’s 11. But we do it legally, of course.”
Fifteen employees are currently employed by Fisher, co-founder and CEO of IoT software company CrowdOptic, which combines data from multiple devices to create a bigger picture, seeing around corners and through walls. While Fisher is not planning to hire for dozens of new positions in the very near future, he also thinks that CrowdOptic is well-placed for potentially explosive growth.
This company is six years old and Fisher’s fourth. It’s special for how static its concept has been.
“With my previous companies, we’ve iterated a lot,” he says. “The clients affected a lot of choices we made and how we moved as a company. CrowdOptic was really one of those bolts from the heavens. People don’t think they happen, but this really did. The idea has stayed pretty true through this execution and with the team and I.”
The company’s head of engineering and the CFO have been with Fisher for 20 years, he says, and most of the lead engineering staff has been with him for 15 years or more. Part of the reason is because Fisher – called “an actual living legend” by entrepreneur Jordan French – is able to forecast a degree of success for this specific group, both financial and personal success.
“The majority of my private investors have also been with us for a long time, at least the largest ones, although we certainly have new relationships,” Fisher says. “As a team, it’s almost like we have been able to operationalize a degree of startup success. We are formulaic about how we do this.”
The odds of success are low, especially the odds of super big success, he says, and his team’s formula maximizes both financial and personal. The financial is pretty simple, and Fisher’s “sweet spot” is growing a company up to 100 employees and then selling it.
“Oracle, they bought our last company [Bharosa]; the two companies before that; one of them [NetClerk] is now owned by Roper Technologies, a leader in construction, and the other, AutoReach, is owned by AutoNation. All three of those companies are S&P 500 leaders. We do this in a very deliberate and specific way,” he says. “I think that speaks to the cutting edge nature of our technologies, and certainly the quality of this team.”
The personal success is somewhat straightforward, but also has a bit of an esoteric element to it. The uncomplicated part is that everyone is remote.
“I don’t have to commute to an office,” Fisher says. “For the most part I run CrowdOptic out of a boathouse attached to my house. Of course, we certainly have offices and professional places to bring in clients and partners, but I don’t force my guys to commute to an office.”
By “guys”, he clarifies that he actually means both men and women – the CrowdOptic team doesn’t delineate between men and women, as some Silicon Valley tech startups are reportedly prone to do. And an entirely remote team of employees does work for some startups, and for CrowdOptic it means that the individual employees aren’t missing milestones as their kids grow up. That leads into the more ambiguous reasons for this team’s success, and what Fisher says is what really binds them.
“The argument is, build a large company to be insanely great and change the world, right?” he says. “As we operationalize the financial part, the path to making a real contribution in the world can be formulaic. Why not sell to a world-class company and have your software go around the world?”
The success Fisher’s team sees is meaningful, he says. Creating that meaning happens in the same deliberate, strategic way that the company itself is built.
“What binds us is that the outcome is not just financial success, it’s about the real reach,” Fisher says. “You see your software go around the world taking the path of least resistance, rather than trying to build up the company by itself. It takes many more years, many more hundreds of millions of dollars, orders of magnitude of more risk, and most people who try to do that, fail.”
Tech is an ultra-competitive field to be working in, and many leaders are intentionally ruthless. Oracle in particular is known for its cold-blooded management tactics, Fisher says, and though he doesn’t subscribe to those methods now, it’s not like his team is running around the country with no understanding of the way business works.
“Just don’t sue each other,” he says. “Don’t sue your co-founders. I think there is a really human and elegant way to do business.”
It’s a new way to keep score. It’s not just about the size or the scope of the company, success is also about the cohesiveness and longevity of a team, and how they treat other people.
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.