When Mike Iacobucci was hired in 2009 as the CEO of Interactions, it was teetering on the precipice of defeat. Interactions, a customer service tech startup, had completed a few rounds of funding to develop its core offering: conversational virtual assistants that handle incoming customer calls for big brands. But they lost customers who were unsatisfied with the startup’s unreliable technology. With 30 years of experience building successful technology businesses, Iacobucci was called in to make changes.
Iacobucci transformed the business. It now has $100 million in revenue and has brands such as Humana, LifeLock, and Hyatt among its customers. He attributes this success in accelerating the startup growth to his open communication with customers, acquisition strategy, staying focused, and time management.
The importance of open communication
Be candid with customers about the capabilities, and limitations, of the product.
Interactions came clean with their two most important customers about the technical issues and told each of them that time was needed to fix the software problems. It worked. Not only did the company retain both customers, but reset the company culture in the process.
Acquire companies that solve your weaknesses
Acquire companies for their talent and market access, and to expand the core technology into new levels of customer interaction.
Interactions acquired AT&T Watson, a third-party company whose technology they had previously licensed.
“It was hugely strategic for us,” Iacobucci says. “They had a war chest of technology and know-how around speech and language technology that they had developed for 40 years.”
In May 2017, Interactions bought Digital Roots, a small startup that pioneered the use of artificial intelligence in customer engagement across social media.
“Could we have built that? Sure. But we acquired a group very dedicated to it, that had success in it, with years of know-how and expertise,” he says. “So what’s your overall strategy? Once you understand that, keep looking for opportunities and weaknesses and how to fill those gaps.”
Stay focused and manage your time
Keep focused on what your company does best. Change tactics, but not strategies, as you scale up. Time is one of your most important resources—you’ll know that better than anyone. One of the most important skills you need when running a business is time management, with an acute understanding of how to effectively prioritize the most important tasks.
“When companies get into a situation where they’re struggling, they’re looking for the next shiny object, so you start this snowball effect of not being effective at anything.”
The company now blends artificial intelligence with human understanding to create voice and text-based intelligent virtual assistants capable of comprehending and interacting with everyday human speech. Call up the multinational hotel corporation Hyatt, and the voice you’ll hear first will be an Interactions virtual assistant, speaking to you as if it were a person. Interactions now has about 50 customers, and recently completed a $56 million funding round to continue growing.