David Politis Interview — Cloud to Ground Podcast Episode 4
Cloud to Ground Podcast Episode 4: An Interview with David Politis
In the latest installment of the Cloud to Ground podcast, we decided to change it up and go for a vodcast! We sat down with David Politis of BetterCloud via a Google Hangout and chatted about where cloud computing is going and why some people might be scared of getting there. Click here to listen to it now!
Andrea Bridges-Smith: Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of Cloud to Ground sponsored by Spanning. If you are a Google Apps user and you need backup – and trust me, we’ve heard lots of stories, you do need backup – please visit our website atspanningbyemc.wpengine.com. I’m your host Andrea Bridges-Smith, and today we are moving beyond audio and taking this podcast to video for our first ever vodcast from our new studio in our new office. It probably doesn’t look very impressive right now, but later on we’ll post a walk-through video so you can kind of see what our new office looks like – we’re pretty excited about it. So, today with me through the power of science and technology and Google Hangouts, from thousands of miles away I have Mr. David Politis, Founder and CEO of BetterCloud. Welcome David and thanks for being on the show.
David Politis: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
ABS: Sure. So first of all, can you explain a little bit about what you guys do over at BetterCloud?
DP: Sure. So our flagship product is called FlashPanel and FlashPanel is a management security reporting tool for IT administrators whose domains are on Google Apps. So companies that are on Google that need more visibility and control over their domain, managing users, managing groups, Drive visibility, they’re using FlashPanel on a daily basis to do that. So we do everything from onboarding new employees through a workflow for provisioning users to a deprovisioning workflow, scheduling email signature policies, password policies, Drive compliance. So all of that is what we’re doing inside of our flagship product, FlashPanel. We also have a site called Google Gooru, which is a video tips and tutorial site that actually we’ve worked with you on, so thank you very much for helping with that. And that site is very helpful for Google Apps admins and end users alike.
ABS: Okay, great. And just so you know I love the Google Gooru site and for anybody watching or listening that’s G-O-O-R-U, so please visit at googlegooru.com. It’s a great site for Google tips, I find out about all kinds of neat things that I didn’t know I could do before, so that site’s been really helpful and I hear nothing but rave reviews about FlashPanel. I’m not a Google Apps admin, I am just a lowly, humble marketing servant, so I don’t get into the heavy lifting on the admin side, but from everyone that I’ve heard that uses it, they absolutely love it.
DP: Thank you.
ABS: So what is the best trick that you’ve learned about Google from your own Gooru site?
DP: That’s a good question. I would say probably the Chrome profiles is for me the most useful trick that I’ve found from Google Gooru which is– if you are using– if you have a Gmail account, a personal Gmail account, and also your work Google Apps account and being able to switch between those two Chrome profiles very quickly by setting that it up inside of Chrome. So Chrome profile is probably the best trick I’ve learned from the Gooru site.
ABS: Yeah, that’s a really good one. I really like the ones that you have with– that have to do with organizing your inbox because, as anyone here will tell you, I’m very anal about organizing my inbox and I like to have things color-coded and in folders. I’m not one of those people that have a thousand things in their inbox, I usually have about ten. I’m also very fun at parties as you might imagine. [laughter] So you guys, you make software that runs in the cloud. You give tips on how to use Google Apps in the cloud. So I’m going to go ahead and call you an official cloud expert.
DP: [laughter] I hope so. I hope so.
ABS: So what was it about the cloud that made you decide to build your entire business around it?
DP: So it’s a good question. I think, first of all, my whole career has been– I’ve been in cloud businesses. So my first company was a cloud PBX provider, providing small businesses with phone systems in the cloud without the CAPEX expenditure to buy a phone system, put it in the closet, wire it all over the place. We’re one of the first companies to build a cloud-based PBX. Even though the technology was challenging at that time and running voice over the public internet can be a challenge or at least it was, the customer reaction to having the scalability and the flexibility and the cost savings of having this cloud-based telephony system, made me realize that this is definitely the way of the future. I think when I saw that, you realize that there was no longer going to be– people aren’t going to be saying this on-premise system versus cloud-based system. I think at some point it’s just going to be this messaging system and the assumption is it’s built in the cloud. So that was really– my career started there, and in terms of the Google Cloud specifically, I think that when you look at what Google is doing, what they’ve been doing in the consumer world, what they’ve been doing in the educational institutions with Google Apps, and I think you can – to me, I believe that they’re going to win and it may not be this year, next year or in five years, but I believe over time, they’ve set themselves up for long-term success. And because they’re natively built in the cloud because that’s in their DNA, I think they are the best company to bet on for the future and that’s what we’ve done with BetterCloud is bet that Google Apps is going to continue to scale and that enterprises will continue to adopt the product in huge numbers, and as they do, we want to be there to help them with that process and to ensure that they do it as effectively and efficiently and as securely as possible.
ABS: Yeah, I would have to agree with you there. I read a question on a forum this morning, someone was asking, “Is there any reason why I shouldn’t switch to Office 365?” and my response was, well, it’s made by Microsoft.
DP: Good answer!
ABS: I don’t know about you, but since getting off of Excel with its weird pop-up messages for no reason, that you can’t figure out how to turn off and the Word documents where I’d be creating an outline and then halfway through the outline, the formatting would completely change for no reason and you couldn’t fix it, that’s maddening! That never happens in Google. Google just does what I want it to do and–
DP: I think having access to the data from anywhere, I think for me that’s been the biggest change in my– in the way that I work is that I now literally have access from any computer at any time from my mobile device, from an iPad, it doesn’t matter and I think that’s actually changing the way that people work and when you layer on top of that the collaboration that you have– that’s very powerful and I believe that’s just changing the way we do things. One of our customers put it the best way, he said that the reason that they went to Google – it’s a large organization of about 15,000 seats and 15,000 users, and he said the reason that they went to Google Apps was that collaboration drives innovation and innovation drives business growth, and for me that was a very good succinct way of explaining why Google and Drive and Docs and Hangouts and Google Plus and all of that is going to change the way the business is working, and actually ultimately I believe will improve the day-to-day and the overall business for companies that make that move. So anyway, I thought that was a very good way of putting it and a good way of explaining it.
ABS: Yeah, absolutely. I can tell you from our experience, we started adding a Google Hangout to all of our meetings, so in case someone can’t be there in person, they can automatically sign in virtually and still attend the meeting. We’ve been able to pretty much– we’re paperless at the office here which is so much better and the collaboration capabilities – a lot of times we will be in a meeting and we’ll all have the same document open and we can all make notes on it like as we are working on it, but of course we don’t have to be in the same room to do that. So it’s really changed things for us here. How are you guys using those capabilities?
DP: I think it’s in similar ways. We have partners all over the world and so I haven’t been able– I wish I could, but I haven’t been able to travel to visit them in South America and then in Malaysia and all over and so we do all our meetings through Hangouts and so we’re meeting these partners virtually, but we’re still face-to-face and we can share documents, we can share presentations while we’re in the middle of the Hangout. I think that that’s been extremely helpful and it has changed the type of relationships that we have with these partners. So we use that quite a bit and then like you said while we’re doing meetings with customers, we’ll create a Google document, share it out with the customer and also with the project managers internally and everyone can collaborate on that and stay up to speed on what we’re working on.
ABS: Yes. It really does make a huge difference in the way that people work together. So one of the things I wanted to ask you about is, I’ve been hearing a lot lately– obviously you and I are both cloud fans, you know we’re dealing with the cloud all day, we’re big fans, we like it. But it seems like there’s a bunch of people out there who either are just flat out confused about the cloud or they hate it, not even whatever it is that they know about it, I don’t know what it is, but they hate the idea of it. What do you think is the big barrier for people getting into the cloud right now?
DP: I think that there are, there are probably three main barriers. I think first barrier is job security. I think that when it really comes down to it, there are people out there who are at their jobs. They’ve dedicated their entire careers really to becoming experts at some of these systems. They’ve gotten Microsoft Certified and Cisco Certified and this and that, and I think that when you look at that, that’s something that’s very challenging to overcome because this is actually people’s jobs, this is what they – these are their careers and I think there is a concern that if they make the switch to these cloud-based applications, that they’re going to lose the control that they have today and I don’t agree with that. I think there are other obstacles that they’re going to need to overcome for their companies in a cloud-based environment, but I think that there is that perception from some IT administrators and IT leaders. So I think job security I would say is one and that’s just human nature, I believe, is just to protect what is yours and that’s a challenge and that’s just going to take time. That’s a generational challenge and I think that’s going to just take time for a new leadership to come into place and for existing people to realize that they have an opportunity in the cloud as well. The second is inertia, I think just generally this has been– enterprise technology has been running on-premise for 20, 30, 40, I mean since the beginning of time. So this is just inertia and I think momentum is in the direction of the cloud and I think we have good momentum and I think it’s moving in the right direction, but there’s just a lot of inertia that has to be overcome, many, many years, decades of that and so there are investments that have been made, there’s huge infrastructure costs that have been laid out in the last however many years and all that has to be ripped out and that can be challenging. I think lastly and this is where we’re helping both of our companies is that these ecosystems are still very nascent, so the ecosystems and the marketplaces around cloud applications are relatively nascent, not– they are growing quickly, they’re maturing, but they are less sophisticated and less – they don’t have the same scale that you’ll see in some of the more traditional marketplaces and ecosystems around Cisco and around Microsoft and the likes. So I think that’s something that is happening, obviously we’re part of that, our partners are part of that, our resellers and that’s going to continue to scale. You see that in the Google Apps marketplace, you see that with the Salesforce AppExchange, so that is happening, but I think that those ecosystems need to be mature to really enable the large enterprises to make that switch and feel comfortable with that.
ABS: Okay. Those are very good points. I don’t think people bring up the job security point a lot, but that’s a very interesting thing to think about, especially in technology where you think that the nature of the business is to expect change constantly. So it’s kind of out of character to the– holding on to what you’ve learned in the past as far as technology goes, but you’re right, that is human nature for people to go with what they know.
DP: And I think it’s the same as the reason I believe Google is going to win long-term is if you look at it and say – again this generational shift is occurring. There are these people who are growing up with Google, there are people who have Google in their elementary schools and they’re using it in their classrooms and then they have that for their personal Gmail account and then they get it when they go to high school. They get it in their colleges and then they get to work and what are they going to want to use, they’re going to want to use Google, they’re going to want to use Gmail and Drive and ChromeBooks and Chrome and Android. So I think that, that generational shift is occurring, but again, that just takes years, that just takes time.
ABS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of the Apple strategy.
ABS: So looking a little bit into the future, what do you think people are going to start wanting from the cloud next?
DP: That’s a good question. I think the two things are consolidation and integration, and I think that kind of goes hand-in-hand with each other, but I think the idea that – and this is when we talk about the challenges for these IT administrators who are moving their companies to the cloud. I think that, that is the challenge actually is consolidate integrating across cloud applications. So in our organization, we’re probably using at last count, maybe 20 different cloud applications and so right now they’re pretty separate from each other, and so starting to pull in the salesforce.com information into Zendesk and pulling that information into Google Apps and connecting these various cloud applications that organizations are using. I think that that’s a very big– that’s going to be a huge need and I think that that’s what people are looking for is, even we’ve talked to our customers on, “What are you looking for?” The answer always is everything in one location, one product that I can go to that I can really use to administer all my cloud applications. So I think we’ve heard that over and over again. I think that’s where things are going and also as the market becomes more mature, I think there’s going to be some consolidation in the ecosystems because I think that those are– there will be some bigger, more powerful players and that will push these ecosystems and these markets forward. So I think those are the two things that are going to occur and I think that’s what people are looking for is, is this consolidation, integration, one vendor or a couple of vendors, but not hundreds of vendors. I think that that’s what I want personally, and I think that’s what a lot of our customers are looking for as well.
ABS: Yeah, I think you’re spot on there. I notice that a lot of the new applications that are coming out are– you take like HootSuite, for example. It manages all of your social media accounts in one place and with all the different plugins for Chrome, consolidating those and being able to manage them from one location – I completely agree with you and I think that’s going to be the next big thing. It is – you will be adding on more apps, but it will be one app that can do something with five other different apps and bring it under one umbrella.
ABS: My last question for you is what can we as cloud enthusiasts and cloud companies do to help people?
DP: I think what we can do is– and this is maybe a little bit of a different answer than you’d expect to get, but I think it comes down to customer support in my opinion. I think that’s an area that many cloud companies– mostly because we’re startups, we’re smaller, we’re growing but generally smaller organizations. I think the customer support is sometimes overlooked and I think that that’s an area where if we share best practices, if we actually spend the time engaging with our customers, be more prescriptive. For some people this is a big change for them, so I think being prescriptive, explain to people when should you backup, who should you backup, why should you backup but being very prescriptive, as an example, in Spanning’s case, I think that’s what– I think that will make the entire experience better and I think that will help people in this move to the cloud and I think them being able to rely on customer support organizations to respond and to be reactive and to be engaging and to be knowledgeable, not just about their one application, but about the cloud in general. That’s where we spend a lot of our energy when we’re training people, it’s not just train them on better cloud and not just training them on Google Apps, but training them on the entire ecosystem so that they can actually add value to these customers day-to-day jobs and help them with this big move that they’re making to the cloud. So I think that is in my opinion what we can do as early trailblazers in this space, I think that’s what we can do to make sure that experience is excellent and the customer experience is excellent, and therefore keep customers excited about continuing their move to the cloud.
ABS: Yeah, I think maybe kind of giving them a game plan and saying, “It’s all going to be okay. Here’s how you go about this, here’s all the stuff and here’s the things that you need to think about,” arming them with that information going in I think would be really helpful.
ABS: All right. Well good stuff. David, thank you so much for appearing on our podcast today. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you as always. And folks, if you need any help managing your Google Apps, please check out FlashPanel, it’s a great product, everybody loves it. You can check it out at flashpanel.com or you can check out at bettercloud.com for more information on FlashPanel. Also please be sure to check out the Google Gooru site. I wait anxiously every day for their email in my inbox so that I can find out what new tip I’m going to learn today. You can subscribe to their newsletter which I highly recommend doing. You’ll get a daily email with a new tip every day or an interesting article. It’s always great content. You can visit them at googlegooru.com and thank you to all of our listeners who are now our viewers for listening and watching. Again, if you need backup for Google Apps and trust me, you do– we hear a lot of horror stories around here about people that don’t have it and it’s something you should really have– please visit us at spanningbyemc.wpengine.com to get a 14-day free trial of Spanning Backup, no obligation, just try it out, see if it’s right for you. It is the highest rated backup solution on the Google Apps marketplace, so just think about that. My name is Andrea Bridges-Smith and we’ll see you next time. Thanks very much.