Insight's Growth Gurus series showcases inspiring leaders from our portfolio of growth-stage software and internet companies. In this interview, we sat down with James Norwood, CMO, Head of Strategy and Chief of Staff of Episerver.
How would you describe your job at Episerver and how has it evolved over time?
I used to wear two hats when I came into the business. I was the Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Strategy. More recently, I took on the role of Chief of Staff. It's a title that began in the military and has more recently moved into the political and technology sector. The Chief of Staff at Episerver is responsible for taking the CEO and the board's mandate to the company and making sure everybody's executing on the key priorities of the business. With that responsibility, I inherited more of the business, which includes marketing, product, research and development, and operations. Basically, my job is to shuffle between other C-level executives and make sure everybody's on the same page.
How did you get your start in business?
I have over thirty years of experience in enterprise software, so it's been quite a long ride. I started in 1988 by building a tech startup before the term "tech startup" even existed, which taught me a lot. I’ve been in different sectors in enterprise software; I've been in ERP, CRM, customer service, and now on the digital marketing and commerce side. This has given me a broad view of the overall customer journey, which has helped me understand how to engage with our customers. My role today is a result of everything that I've put together to this point.
What attracted you to join Episerver in the first place?
Episerver was a "hidden gem". The business focused on developing markets and investing in digital transformation. They had high-quality software, was loved by its customers, and was doing well, but the company was unknown from a brand perspective. What attracted me was the fact that they had the fundamentals in place, their sales and marketing function just needed to be taken to the next level.
Since you’ve joined Episerver, the company has become globally recognizable. What enabled the company to expand successfully?
It’s one of those age-old questions is, "How do you grow a company globally?" From Episerver’s perspective, about five years ago, it was a predominantly European business that believed that expansion was possible through acquisition. We knew that if we could crack North America, the brand awareness from that endeavor would help us elsewhere. Initially, we attempt to do this by sending Europeans employees over and they ran the business as they would in Europe. That ultimately was unsuccessful. Then, we found a similar company that was based in North America that gave us the infrastructure, customer base, partner channel, and employees that we could leverage within the market. This early acquisition gave us the foundation to make additional acquisitions, which gave us geographic reach and product to expansion. To summarize, successful global expansion began with M&A and followed with solid execution.
What were the biggest challenges in operating a global organization?
A challenge that comes with M&A is that you become a distributed business. Even as a mid-sized growing company ourselves, we have eighteen offices around the world and four of them have more than 150 employees. So how do you manage that? You have to lead from the front and travel a lot. While you can do remote work, there's nothing like walking the halls and meeting with the people in each office. You have to do that in a global company because of the cultural differences.
Everyone always says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You need a strong strategy and be able to communicate that, but you also have to be empathetic to cultural differences. Do not try and change people, but rather embrace them and understand the unique difference in each location. We have executives in each office that are responsible for ensuring that the local culture is maintained and developed, as well as being an ambassador of the company culture.
When you look at the latest trends, where do you see the next growth lever for Episerver products?
In my opinion, most of our core development work and acquisitions are market leading. Two and a half years ago, in fact, we were the first to invest in artificial intelligence in our space. We believed that machine learning algorithms were the heart of the platform, which paid off for us very well in terms of B2B and B2C customers getting results. Today, we are more focused on how we improve the platform to keep delivering value for our customers by levering new technology and innovations.
What key factors would you attribute to Episerver's ability to scale up so efficiently?
No surprises here but getting a strong nucleus of talent on board is important. You have to have strong leaders that are able to lead from the front and take everyone with them. It's also important to find talent within the organization that is underutilized that you can develop and get them to take on more, which requires a strong culture and flat organization.
What factors were most important to you and your team in choosing which investors to partner with and how will you leverage the investment to scale the company to the next stage of growth?
We’re at a very important juncture in Episerver's trajectory. We're now with our third private equity ownership; a point in time where we need to scale to the next level. That takes a unique level of not just of investment, but of support.
With Insight Partners, what we've found is a company that supports management teams with a level of operational assistance that we never had access to in the past. As we're looking at some major initiatives which will help us grow, we can tap into this incredible resource called Onsite. The team has done it before, multiple times before, with multiple portfolio companies who we’re able to consult with. This helped us to either validate or to say, "Well this is great, but did you think about that?" And that, for us, is important as we look to grow.
Getting an investor that understands the right mix of growth and profitability is also important. We've grown very well in the last few years by maintaining high levels of profitability. Now with Insight, we're also able to free up a little bit of that profit to go work some of those levers around growth. And that's really exciting.
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