Plugged In: Software startup’s aim is to teach CEOs how to be CEOs


One reason so many CEOs fail is because they never really learn how to do their job.

That’s the view of veteran software executive Joel Trammell, and the reason he founded Khorus, a year-old Austin startup. Khorus, which launched last month, is a business management system developed to help CEOs run their companies.

“The CEO job is the most unique but least prepared for job in business,” said Trammell, who is also chairman of the Austin Technology Council.

About 70 percent of CEOs are first-time CEOs “and they rarely get the training they need,” Trammell said. “Every other person in the company has some sort of system that they’re using to help them run their area. And what does the CEO have? E-mail, calendaring applications, spreadsheets. The lack of a formal system is one reason I think many CEOs aren’t doing as well as they hoped.”

Using the Khorus system, the CEO creates a list of specific several objectives for the quarter, and employees provide weekly status updates on where they stand in meeting them. The idea is to prevent surprises at the end of the period because no one spotted issues in time to address them.

“Most CEOs run their business by relying on random information and metrics their various departments choose to communicate.” Trammell said. “But a spreadsheet or dashboard peppered with a bunch of slapdash metrics doesn’t cut it. We ask employees the question ‘What is the likelihood you’re going to accomplish your goal?’ Most data-driven systems all look backward. This focuses people on the future, which really is the job of the CEO.”

Trammell based the cloud-based software on a system he created and used while he was CEO of Austin software companies Cache IQ and NetQoS. Both companies were eventually acquired by Fortune 500 companies.

NetQoS, a network performance management software company, was bought by software industry giant CA Technologies for $200 million in 2009. Data storage company CacheIQ was purchased by California-based NetApp in 2012 for an undisclosed amount.

Khorus, which has 11 employees, is funded with $1.5 million from P180 Investments, Trammell’s personal investment fund.

The company’s name – pronounced chorus – comes from the idea of aligning everyone in the company to sing the same song.

Among Khorus’s early customers is Austin-based Consero Global Solutions, which provides accounting services to small and mid-sized businesses.

CEO Scott Tynes, who serves on the Austin Technology Council board with Trammell, said that when Trammell told him about the software, he was eager to try it.

“I felt this was the first tool I had heard of to help a CEO manage and keep the company rowing in the same direction,” Tynes said. “It helps you ask what’s the company trying to accomplish in the next quarter, and cascading that down literally to each employee and how they are contributing.”

In addition to letting the CEO monitor employee and team progress, workers can see what their co-workers are doing to reach their goals.

“That gives visibility to each individual in the company on the work they’re doing,” Tynes said. “I see it fostering more teamwork in the organization when there’s clarity in where we’re headed and how each piece fits into the puzzle in getting there. I think you should start seeing that this guy in another department has got this goal, and here’s how I could help with that.”

Consero has begun rolling the system out, and eventually wants all of its 250-person workforce, including 18 people in Austin and a back-office team in India, to use Khorus.

Tynes also thinks Khorus will give him a more accurate picture of where projects stand.

“It’s easy for a CEO to walk the halls and get status updates from different people and to misinterpret those updates. It never comes out clearly,” he said. “This tool is really meant to sift through that and provide a very clear sense of what’s happening.”


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