Oct. 19, 2021

How Ben Chodor Leads Notified Ep. 40


Ben Chodor is President of the Digital Media segment at Intrado. He rejoined Intrado in April 2018. Over the past 25 years, Ben has established himself as a global leader in the world of digital media and enterprise communications. He was co-founder and chief executive officer of Happtique and founder and chief executive officer of Stream57, and led both companies through successful acquisitions. Following Intrado’s InterCall business acquiring Stream57 in 2010, Ben served as global head of streaming and virtual events at InterCall, where he was a tireless driving force behind the company's innovative solutions.

Where to Find Ben Chodor

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Transcript
Ben:

You got to look around corners. The good and bad of that is sometimes you look around the corner and maybe you're not seeing the right thing, but you're taking a chance and you're moving forward and it's better to make a mistake and fix. Then everyone would be in it to make that mistake or achieve success so..

Natasha:

Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit these and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS, if you'd like to know how to scale and grow your business and make more profit sign up on my website, natashamiller.co to get on the wait list for my entrepreneurial masters course.

Today I get the inside scoop from Ben Chodor of Intrado soon to be Notified. We talk about what it's like to have your startup be acquired, managing and creating company culture for 1500 employees and what keeps them up at night.

Ben:

So in 2010, we were acquired by InterCall West, which eventually became Intrado. And I was hoping because we built this company ourselves. Self-funded the business grew into one of the largest players at the time in the space and innovative when everyone else was still using like windows, media and real player. We were the first flash-based streaming platform in the market. And we came from a production background.

So we understood good video in was good video out. And we were very, very customer focused, but we realized we were either going to have to go for a round of funding to really, really grow or someone knocked on her door and try to acquire us. And we looked at each other and go, okay, we might be worth a heck of a lot more in three years now.

We also might be worth a heck of a lot less. But one thing that we do get is we get a partnership or relationship where you already have thousands of customers and hundreds of salespeople globally. And I was a company. Around 70 employees. Right? So it instantly made us more global. We were New York base and we had a small office in London.

It made us a global organization. It put our platform in the hands of so many more people and put resources behind us and they paid us all cash for the business. So we got to make money. We got to give money to our employees, had stock and everyone did. We believed it was going to be just amazing problem with it is as a younger, not as old as I am now, it's a long way to go is a founder's syndrome.

You don't realize when you sell a company that you're selling it, and one of the reasons you're selling it for and what do you want to get out of it? And it's not your company anymore. You still want your vision. But you need to be really sure. Cause I know you talked a lot of entrepreneurs. It's what I do it.

And everyone asks me all the time. Listen, I would do it again. A thousand times over it changed my life. It changed my family's life. I changed my kid's life. I mean, it changed everyone's life, but at the same thing, do you know what you're giving up? You go from the situation of someone comes to you in a, as an employee.

When you run a company and goes, "Hey. I'm going to buy a house and I need $5,000 for a down payment or whatever. And as the person running a company, you got to look at the employee and go, sure. We'll give it to you. And we'll take a hundred dollars a paycheck for the next 50 paychecks, or we can forgive it.

The moment you join a really big organization, you got to look at them and go, Hey, listen, my hands are tied. There's nothing we can do, because if we do it for you, we have to do it with thousands of other employees. And you just need to mentally be prepared as a founding CEO. What's the next step is so you might lose a little bit there, but resources, you grow opportunities.

The amount of people after we sold that, I was on daily giving demos to the Who's who of the fortune 500. Where before, if we got a meeting with one of the fortune 500, we would be giving high fives to everybody in the organization. So it just a whole different mindset. And for me, it was, I looked at it as just a world of opportunity.

Natasha:

Did you have support for when you were acquired from other entrepreneurs that had made a similar say.

Ben:

No. I mean, 2009, 2010, it was a different world. The world of incubators do a world of online world wasn't the same, the meetups, the groups. No, it was a whole different world. It's one of the reasons why after I sold and as a good founder, after about two years, I left, right.

I spent a lot of time working with a bunch of incubators so I can actually give advice to. Startup CEOs and Founders, because one of the mistakes everyone makes is anyone can teach you how to write a business plan, how to pitch, maybe even set you up with the opportunities to meet money. What would they all forget is two things.

One you as the founder, I don't care if you're an engineer or technologist, what you are, you better be the best salesperson in the organization. And everyone goes, what do you mean? I'm the guy who invented it. I don't have to sell people are buying from you. So get used to putting on that dog and pony because you're going to have to do it.

And then the other thing, everyone forgets when they raise money is that's when the clock starts ticking, you are not judged by how much your round was. Now you have to deliver on that. And if you thought there was pressure as a garage CEO or a startup, the pressure is multiplied. And any VC that gives you money is going to be looking at you.

Okay, well, the ocean don't boil the ocean, change this, change that, and oh, they're not giving you the money to put in the bank. They're giving you the money to grow and spend. And then when you run out of that money, they're going to come back and they're going to ratchet you down and you're going to have less equity in the bit.

Natasha:

All over again. And that human, emotional impact. I think it's really hard to gauge, right? You have no idea. You're excited and elated by the ego boost and the finances and the reality. Then I can imagine I've not sold a company. It can be hard. I've seen a lot of my friends in entrepreneurs organization that sell their company and then hit a pretty deep depression, especially if they're still doing their time within that organization. Thank you for talking about that. The next thing I want to talk to you about is, Intrados brand story. Can you talk to me about the brand and how you develop that and how you include your culture and what your approach is to that?

Ben:

All right. So I am so about culture and people. I go to bed every night, worrying about my 1500 employees around the world. And I do right by them. What's interesting as a traditionally, a startup CEO, you go to bed worrying about three things, and it's usually a disorder. You worry about your customers because if you have X number of revenue and you have 10 customers and one customer makes up 10% of your business and you lose that client, 10% of your staff is going to lose their job.

There's nothing else to do because you're a small company. Then you worry about your technology, right? Because it's your product. And then third, you worry about your people. And then the thing on top of all that, you've got a bit of worrying about cashflow and how many months of runway do I have? So that's the mentality that I always grew up with in a bigger organization where we're big and we're profitable and we're focused.

And there's people that do things. It gives you the leeway to go to bed every night, work. People first, if you take care of your people, they're going to take care of your customers. Cause we don't have one customer. If they leave, it's going to affect 10% of our revenue. Right. Which is a good thing for us.

You know, we have 10,000 plus customers. So you worry about your people. If you treat your people well and give them something to believe in, they're going to take care of your customers. Then you worry about products and technology, and then you worry about payables and receivables and. But it allows you to have this army that if you get them invested and you empower them, they're going to move mountains.

And you know, what's really great because we're doing this podcast a little bit early, but starting next week, when you talk about our journey, we're changing our name. Right. So I will tell you now, because this isn't going live this week, right? So we're changing our name to Notified. It's the next step for us to sort of segment our business from global and Toronto, because global and Toronto is owned by Paulo.

Right. Which is great. It's the best part, but there's three other divisions inside by branding ourselves as Notified. We get to go into the marketplace and because of all the growth that we've had in the last year, year and a half, we can go in and build a new brand and I get to take our 1500. Who all came from various acquisitions, right?

We bought from NASDAQ in 2018, their PR, IRR and our web hosting business. They were also a series of acquisitions. And then we bought an expo, which is great streaming and virtual event company. And then we bought Notified, which is what I think is the best social listening, media monitoring PR tool. And then recently we just acquired hub, which is a great virtual hybrid and physical event.

And so we have all these people from all different walks of life and everything. For once now, they get to go forward and go. They were Notified. And this is what we do. We have, you know, an event cloud, that's everything for virtual. We have a PR cloud for everything we do with PR and then IRR we're huge.

And we have an IRR cloud and it allows us to build them something and build this excitement yesterday. I had my town hall where we announced everything that was going to go on to our employees. And just a rally cry of something that they can all believe in and help you climb up the mountain. It was energizing. It was a fantastic thing to be part of

Natasha:

Is that Notify or Notified? Wow. Okay. I got the cutting edge news story here. Maybe I will take this...

Ben:

That's the brand, right?

Natasha:

Right.

Ben:

We're going to go in there and it's Notified. We're all about delivering mission critical communications for our customers. Doesn't matter what it is. Now we get to put it all together in one package and its exciting.

Natasha:

So talking about brand story, I came into the Intrado brand in 2020, when the shit hit the fan and my profitable multi-million dollar event and entertainment company went to a flat zero.

And we hit the pivot so hard and we were one of the first to do it, mostly because of my fear, but in Toronto was definitely the big man on campus. The luxurious offering, since then 150 or more platforms have come up fine there's room for everyone. Everyone does a different thing, but I have to say kudos to you.

You were a part of. What then I found and discovered as a tool that was really necessary for our clients. So now that's merging into a whole new brand and excited for you. So can you talk to me about the digital media is full service platform?

Ben:

Yeah. So you want to know what everything we do in our full service site. So we'll start off with our virtual streaming, right? So we have one of the world's largest streaming platforms. It's called Studio and it's by an Expo. And it's meant for webcasting and broadcast. And we have thousands of clients around the world using it. We've also legally in the United States, every single earnings call.

If you're a publicly traded company, four times a year, you have to have a call, but you also have to. And we are the world's largest earning streaming company, and this was all pre COVID. Right? And even pre COVID. We had a virtual event platform that came out of it in expo. That's over 10 years old before we acquired it.

And they were the largest virtual event platform on the market. Back then in 19, it might've been seven or eight players in the space. And like you mentioned now, there's hundred.

Natasha:

Yeah.

Ben:

So those were our solutions and we played in hybrid. We did hybrid before it was even a term hybrid. We've always been streaming from conferences and making physical and virtual, either delivering the content to a physical location or taking it from a physical location.

So then when we came into the overall, as an organization, we were positioned and set to handle the business and the growth, no one had expected it to be the way it was and the demand, even our global organization of over 1500 employees, we saw the pressure of it. It truly was organizations coming to us going my event is just canceled in three weeks.

What are we going to do? It was fire drill, after fire drill, after fire, we started with our first virtual event for an organization in China in the end of February. And it never stopped or let down and,

Natasha:

And handle that growth. I know we're talking about all the traunches, but seriously

Ben:

Better than anyone would ever expected. I like to say we bent, we stretch, we tested the limits. We stressed out our entire organization. We couldn't hire fast enough. We couldn't grow or fast enough. And in not technology-wise, we're talking human wise because in the virtual world, pre COVID anyone who was using us, they knew how to do a virtual event because they've been using us for, so now not only we have two pro issues happening, more events happening than ever before, but in meeting planners, event planner, Who might've only done physical not even a virtual. And, you know, from doing it, it's not the same thing.

And not that you can have the skillset to do both, but watching on an iPhone and iPad a laptop is not the same. Sitting in a breakout room, a general session room walking around an exhibit hall, you and I having a drink together. It's not the same thing. Content has to be delivered. Different interaction has to be delivered different.

But what everyone thinks is when you do a virtual, it's not as hard. Technically in some ways it's harder because at a physical event, all your speakers are in one location. All your rooms that you're doing, it are down the hall. It might be a long hallway, but they're down the hall. If you have a hundred breakouts, they're all in the same building or next to each other in a virtual room.

If you have a hundred breakout rooms going on at a time, you have a hundred people logging in from their homes and virtually how do you manage it all? And it was a whole new learning that planners had to go through.

Natasha:

You look pretty good for having gone through that growth spurt. So I interrupted you.

Ben:

You should have seen me in 19. I was looked a lot younger in 19.

Natasha:

So go ahead and continue about the full service platform, I cut you off.

Ben:

So what we were on the virtual side and streaming side, it was a very event driven, you know, streaming was packages and subscription, but virtual was event driven where it's moving to now is an always on immersive, whether you're doing.

Physical event only, right? You still need this technology. You're doing a hybrid. You need this technology. You're doing a virtual only. And are you doing a tier one, two or three? How do I turn it on? Turn it off, bring it to different levels, but not have to use seven different platforms. Use one platform, manage it and have all your internal users learn one technology.

That's really where we are now and what we're focused on growth. And enabling planners like yourself and other organizations, just to tools to guarantee that this event fits this and not trying to what happened in COVID. Everyone took one size and tried to fit everything. They needed it to, it's not going to work going forward.

And then the other side of our cloud business is we'll call PR and I are one of the world's largest PR distribution products in the world. That's a great business on its own, but it's becoming more and more if you're doing a virtual event and it's not an internal, would it be great if you could use technology promoted, nothing gets better SEO than a press release rate way to announce speakers a great way to announce your program a great way to announce the archives.

It builds excitement. Why people go to these conferences to promote something. Great. We'll use it. We also have one of the world's largest social listening and media contact databases. So if you're doing an event or if you want to reach the right media so they can promote it and then social listening and media monitoring, it shouldn't be just what happens at the physical event.

It shouldn't be just what happens inside a virtual event, which I could give you great data back, but don't you want to know what the world was saying about your brand, your product, your attendees, what were your attendees? Um, social, what were they saying in print blogs, podcasts, television. We want to give you all that back.

So you can actually look at everything that happened from your program. So we're trying to combine it all for the customer so they can actually, today they might use us to deliver an event or a solution, but in a year or two years, we want to help them make business decisions because we're giving them all the tools and data with one log on to make businesses.

Natasha:

Okay. That's mind blowing and bending and very exciting. I'm going to look into some of that that I wasn't aware of. Obviously it wasn't my main lane. So I'd love to talk to you about. How you feel and how you, I would just say, give back within business, mentorship and entrepreneurship, you kind of talked about a little bit at the beginning, but it seems to be important to you.

Ben:

It's hugely important. Listen, one of the things I'm most proud about it just inside our organization is we gave over 110 about internal promotions last year. I want people to join our organization. Because they think it's a good, a job opportunity. The money might be good, but they stay because of the culture and the opportunity.

Everyone should have opportunity and what they do and move one of the good parts because you heard all that we do, you might take in an opportunity for us in PR, but you might end up going into virtual events. There's lots of opportunity. And in my outside of workload. I've always believed in mentoring and I've always believed in giving, you got to get back, you got to pay it forward.

You got to help people. I mean, I'm one of those people. If you reached out to me on LinkedIn and just randomly said, "Hey, I have a question for you about my career, my business." I'm going to respond to you really, really fast. If you come to me on LinkedIn and say, "Hey, I want to sell you something or if you check my company out." Which is 90% of the people.

That's different, but you have to pay it for, and you have to take what you've learned and hopefully help people maybe not make the same mistakes you make, help them navigate what's going on. And nothing gives me more joy. I'm a father of boy-girl twins, 27 years old. Now boy, girl twins. And they're both successful in their careers.

My son's a CEO of a startup. My daughter's a producer on a television show and I look at them and people haven't didn't give them opportunities. What have they got there and in my life, because I grew up without a lot of money and everything I had to do was on my own. But even though everything I did was on my own, there's nobody in the world that can say they've got to their position was zero help.

Zero help does not mean you're not self-made, but it means that somewhere along someone did something right by you gave you a job, gave you a piece of advice. So even with me, even though no one, I didn't come from a lot of money to opportunities, income from there, there were people. If I look back on my.

They did something solid for me or right from your gaming advice that enabled me to go down this path. And if you don't do that and you don't help people, I mean, it's your legacy. There's a saying that goes, you die twice. The first time you die is when you die. And the second time you die is when people stop talking about your remembering you.

Well, I'm pretty sure that in my family will always remember me. Would it be pretty amazing that if people, you touched along the way, they leave our company and they go somewhere else. That could take a little bit of the DNA. That's why, like, when someone comes to me and they resigned, right? Because they find a better opportunity as long as they're not going to my arch rival.

Right. My first line is, "Congratulations. I'm happy for you. Hopefully you gain something here." That's going to make a great down your life because all I want you to have is to follow your dreams and to me, that's the greatest. 5-10 years and then rope, they say something to one of their employees. You know, I used to work with this guy and he did this and this is how he engaged with the team. I think that's what it's all about.

Natasha:

I agree with you, Ben. And I think might be of similar age. I have a 26 year old daughter. It feels so good for me to help an entrepreneur. I say sometimes it makes me feel. Even better or a different kind of good when I've helped somebody else succeed in something rather than my own success.

So I don't know what that is, but you don't have to be 50 with a huge company with a grown up daughter. You can start this earlier. And I don't think I understood that in my thirties. Right. I was still climbing the ladder and trying to get, get, get, and take from other mentors and advisors. But if anyone's listening to this and thinking that they can't lend a hand because they're not the most successful or at the top of their game yet, that's not true.

Ben:

You got to believe in it. What's the worst is going to happen. If you ask someone for something, right. And what's the worst going to happen, it's what it's about. You know, it's funny. I tell a lot of employees when I do a crazy thing, I'm the final interview for every single employee. If they're client facing order executive which is the craziest thing, my wife thinks it's insane, but I do it for two major reasons.

First reason I do it is I don't want the first time I meet someone to be used when I go to your city or I'm on a call with you, the client. So that's one reason I do. The second reason I do it is I want to give them a chance to ask the guy, steering the ship, anything they want because they have choices, but it also ties in that.

I want to let them know that if you see something, say something and it's my biggest thing. This three piece of advice, I'd give everyone work really hard. That's like the throwaway one. There's no shortcuts everyone says that. And if you think there's a shortcut, you're totally wrong, but that's the throwaway one.

The second one is don't be a name on a spreadsheet. And what that means is if you have an idea, share it because the worst thing that's ever going to happen is someone's going to go, "Hey, it's a good idea Natasha but we're not going to do it for this reason." And that's okay. But the number one thing it does is now in the back of my mind, you're not a name on the spreadsheet because I know who you are.

And then when you're up for promotion against two other people inside the organization and your managers say all three are great. Your KPIs are at a hundred percent. Who do you think I'm gonna rally for is the person who I've engaged with and that's just human. And that way, same thing. If you don't work in my organization, if you reach out to me and you ask a question and you're not wasting my time, I'm not wasting your time. You're building a relationship and that's special.

Natasha:

That is special and that social currency is incredibly valuable. And so I would take it another step further and ask you if someone in your organization has great ideas, there may be introverted and shy. How do you encourage and pull those ideas from them?

Because I know from my company, I tell my team, if you are doing something repeatedly, And you can imagine that there is an automation or some solution for it. You've got to let me know. We can't afford not to address it, but there are some soft spoken people. And what do you say to those people?

Ben:

All right. So you got to get out of your comfort zone. I have a theory on social that sort of ties into one is if you see something online and it's business related, don't just like it engage, right. Because anyone can like, that's like kind of a passive way great comment, right? Engage with me at work. We say the same thing. Listen, I'm a big video person.

Since the day I took over April 13th, 2018, every Friday, since then we've done a weekly video that I just will randomly ask employees. They have to submit something and I do mine in one tape, no matter how good it is or bad it is. And sometimes it's three minutes. Sometimes it's nine minutes. Sometimes it's 20 employees involved.

Sometimes there's five, but kind of forced them to get a little bit out of your comfort zone and engage. And if you don't feel comfortable doing on video, you don't feel comfortable doing on call, write in an email, shared, bring a partner, someone else in the organization and jointly do it.

Natasha:

A wingman, wingman.

Ben:

There's something you're going to feel comfortable with. But if you sit around and go, you know, one of my frustrations in general, sort of like the Kennedy line, "Don't ask what you can do for you as what you can do for your country." it's the same thing. It's like, don't just sit around and if you don't like something, come up with a solution. Like the one thing I don't want anyone to do in general is come to me and go, I'm not happy about this.

And then you go, yeah, but what could we do? I mean, be prepared, come up with a solution. I don't think anyone realizes it doesn't matter what you do in the organization. You have a value in an organization and you have a mind and you have ideas and you live life, Share it make us better by making a better for us. I think you're making a better for you also, right?

Natasha:

Absolutely. And it's so great to hear you talking like this for an organization of your size, because sometimes as you grow, you lose sight of those really special golden nuggets. The last question I have for you is, right now you've got this incredible team you're coming out of an incredible time.

You're going to be changing the name and the brand story is going to evolve. What is your biggest challenge that today then you're like, oh gosh, okay. We need to work on this. I don't know what the answer is, but so biggest challenge?

Ben:

Biggest challenge to constantly innovate and disrupt ourselves. And it's hard, especially when you get to a size and it's.

But always in the back of your mind is like blockbuster, right? It was working. But come on, you could see the writing on the wall that people doing things online, and this thing Netflix was sending CDs to your house and then they moved to online. How do you keep in an organization? We've got to keep on growing.

We've got to keep on being profitable. We got to keep on giving opportunities for our team, but at the same time, every day we should be innovating and disrupting. And when you're smaller and you're looking at the bigger companies, we have the bullseye on our back, right. And when I was a smaller company, we would have bull's eyes on other people's backs.

And I knew I'm just gunning for that organization and whatever I have to do when I started streaming to beat on 24, I was going to do to beat on 24 and just something encouraging and uplifting about indigency. So when you become larger, how do you keep on instilling with everyone? "Hey, we still gotta be profitable. We still have to grow, but at the same point, if you don't innovate and disrupt, you will eventually die."

Natasha:

And so you have to have that now, right? So you just mentioned Blockbuster and Netflix night, you know, of course we all know Blockbuster did its thing and then tank because they didn't have the foresight to innovate ahead of time.

Netflix seem to have almost come to that, right. There was a moment where, oh my God, Netflix is going down. It's a burning ship, but whoa, what they did to ride that ship. And not only that go into innovation. I mean, that just gave me tingles just to think about it. And so your biggest challenge now, and I want everyone to hear this.

You guys are doing well, you are profitable. You're changing the name. You're going to have a new brand, but you in addition to going to bed worrying about your people know that what's working now and what's making you profitable needs to always be fine tune, changed, pivoted, innovated. So thank you for that message.

Ben:

Doesn't matter what any business, it doesn't matter. Your size, your business. You always gotta be. Innovating and disrupting someone used a term once that we were pretty good at. And I don't know if it was a thrower line, is that, that I'm pretty good at looking around corners. And I think that's what every executive has gotta be doing.

You got to look around corners. The good and bad of that is sometimes you look around the corner and maybe you're not seeing. The right thing, but you're taking a chance and you're moving forward and it's better to make a mistake and fix it, then never won't be in it to make that mistake or an a gene success.

Natasha:

Ben talked about the wild ride and trato had through the pandemic, the acquisitions they've made and what the future holds for the business. For more information about Ben, go to the show notes where you are listening to this podcast for more information about. It's got on my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast, now I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Ben Chodor

President at Intrado Digital Media

Ben Chodor is President of the Digital Media segment at Intrado. He rejoined Intrado in April 2018. Over the past 25 years, Ben has established himself as a global leader in the world of digital media and enterprise communications. He was co-founder and chief executive officer of Happtique and founder and chief executive officer of Stream57, and led both companies through successful acquisitions. Following Intrado’s InterCall business acquiring Stream57 in 2010, Ben served as global head of streaming and virtual events at InterCall, where he was a tireless driving force behind the company's innovative solutions.