Lifesize remakes its culture as a ‘re-startup’

After more than a decade in the videoconferencing industry, Austin’s Lifesize Inc. has revamped its business and reshaped its its culture as it enters a new chapter of rapid expansion.

The company shifted a few years ago from concentrating its business on advanced videoconferencing hardware toward a new emphasis on selling videoconferencing as a service delivered over computer cloud-based software applications.

The shift was a huge one, both from an engineering point of view and from the changes required in the company’s workplace culture.

That is where Amy Downs came in. She joined Lifesize two years ago as its chief customer success and happiness officer.

Company co-founder Craig Malloy had rejoined the company to transform its business operation. He hired Downs to help create the new culture he believed the company required to succeed in the service world.

“I call us a re-startup,” Downs said. “We are transforming the company and rebuilding from the ground up.”

The shift hasn’t been easy. Downs describes the old company culture as “siloed.” The various teams in the company stayed on their own turf and didn’t collaborate much with one another.

“We had these pockets of people and no one was sharing,” she said.

Downs met with top customers took down their litany of complaints and promised the company would change.

It has, the company’s employees say.

And that has helped make Lifesize one of the “Notable Newcomers” to the American-Statesman’s 2016 Top Workplaces project.

Downs works with the company’s sales engineering and support teams that focus on improving customers’ experience with its service and that respond to customer suggestions for improvement.

“We start building teams around customers,” she said. “They get engaged and they ensure that every customer is realizing great value out of our products. Our customers have become a very strong voice around the company. We are driving our business around what they want us to do. We are listening to them about what is working. If something isn’t working, we go fix it.”

The change is producing results. The company, with about 275 employees worldwide, has added 3,500 new customers and is expanding rapidly.

Lifesize started out as a developer of advanced room-based conferencing hardware systems. It still makes such systems, but its business now is focused on delivering advanced video conferencing through cloud-based software that allows people around the world to join a video conference with just a smart phone, or a tablet or a laptop computer.

Scott Rankin, an engineer who heads the company’s global sales engineering team, said the changes have been dramatic.

“The easy part of the change was the technical part,” he said. “The new system required a shift in culture. We had always had a fairly strong customer focus. But there is much more immediacy with the cloud-based model. Things had to move faster. We had to up our game.”

The good part, Rankin said, was that the need for the business transformation was obvious to almost all the company’s workers. It was going to be the best way for the company to grow.

“We have always been a dynamic and nimble company,” he said.

Rankin, who works with an international sales engineering team, said the new business model has changed his job and those of other company managers. He does far less travel than he used to, which means he can get more accomplished in less time.

Once a week, he gets on a video call with his team in Europe, which includes two employees in different cities in Germany, one in the United Kingdom, one in France and one in Italy, along with a few others.

His TV monitor can light up with 10 or more different faces of workers from all over the globe. “My monitor looks like the deck of the Starship Enterprise,” he said. “It is the coolest thing I have ever done.”

Courtney Lashley, a national account manager on the sales team, said Lifesize has an energy that reminds him of Austin.

“I love being from Austin,” he said. “Austin is different. We have a unique spirit. We have fun. There is a great vibe about Austin. And our company embodies all of that

Part of the reason Downs says she took the job at Lifesize was that she knew it was going to be challenging. Now she is seeing the new culture take shape.

“People have a purpose,” she said. “And we are all doing it together as a team and not just clocking into work.”

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