The Pavilion Podcast
The Pavilion Podcast

Episode · 3 months ago

Ep 213: Navigating Covid as a CEO w/ Jim Sharpe

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Ep 213: Navigating Covid as a CEO w/ Jim Sharpe

Part of the "Is This A Good Time?" series hosted by Brandon Barton.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the pavilion podcast. I am your host, friend and Martin. You are listening to is this a good time? The show where I put a billion members on the hot seat for fifteen minutes. They answer questions. It's a lot of fun. Shows are out on Thursday, so hit subscribe. Don't miss hearing from our experts, and we have an expert today. His name is Jim Sharpie's of former CEO of eventry, former glger to two time glgre. Just an incredible human and we talk a little bit about navigating covid as a CEO, as time at Glg and just the incredible career Jim has had. This episode was brought to you by Docibo, an award winning industry leader and trusted enterprise learning platform for more than two thousand of the world's best brands. All right, let's see this episode one hundred and four. Is this a good time? All right, everyone, I'm here with Jim Sharp he is the former CEO of a ventry, former because they just recently went through an exit. Jim, you know admire you and always look at you as a CEO. I'd like to be like so great to have you on the podcast. Far too kind, brandon, but thanks for having me and looking forward to the conversation. Awesome and well, I'll meet no filler, especially with you. Ladies and gentlemen, you are not on one point five speed, but we are on Jim Sharp speed. So we're going to go. We're going to go fast. As a lot to talk about. Jim, you know, tell us a little bit about not only a Ventry, but, man, how do you get in there? I know your early days at Gelg. I mean you have such an interesting pass. Give a a little bit of run three your resume. Absolutely so, I think, working backwards, I spent the last two years as CEO of Eventry, which was a private equity backed software business that focused on event management. So we were software for live events, COVID, which obviously wasn't great, and then we became a virtual event software provider as well, which ultimately helped us with a merger and exit in in January. So that's something we could talk about. But before that I spent a lot of my career at GLG. So I did two different stints of six years each...

...at Glg. saw that business scale tremendously, which was a great experience. Yes, is most most recently running their largest business unit, which woulds financial services, so a little north a two hundred million in revenue. When I when I left that business prior to joinning. Eventually, I've had a stint in manufacturing. In between GLG stands, I built and sold a manufacturing business, a small manufacturing business a southeastern United States. And and then, way way back when, was involved in the the foundation of Luxe capital, which is a PC fund which is gained some steam. So yeah, I've been all been all over the place, but I guess, primarily speaking, tech enabled services and software in recent history. Yeah, and so look, I mean I think it's I think your career so interesting in the definitely the read the rebound back to Gelg. Many people probably know geog, especially because of Sam and his time spent there. I mean, I wonder when you were sitting as, let's say, when you're in college or in postgride or whatever it was, did you envision your career to be this or, I mean how did you kind of level up to this, you know, CE SUITE? You know, some would say that you're somebody to come in and help sell a company. At this point, like is this what you wanted to do? Well, I think that. I mean, I think the back of my mind I always knew I was like an entrepreneur and an operator, like I liked leading teams of people to do things, whether it was, you know, school clubs or officer positions or whatever may have made have been. But then, when I was in college, I remember driving around Fairfield County, Connecticut and I saw some big houses and I said, what are those people do and someone said their investment bankers. So I said, okay, I'm gonna go do that. And so that's why my first job that I didn't talk about was actually did a year as a investment banking analyst way back when, but quickly pivoted from there, just realizing that, like, at the end of the day, for me, I like ideas, I like products and I like leading teams of people to do great things. So I thought that operating would be a better step for me. So that, you know, ultimately led to starting Lux capital. Again. We were very young at the time, right, but hold my position since then have been related to operating a business and trying to create great outcomes for everybody. Right. So I can't say that I knew I was going to be where I am today, but I do think at the end of the day, I knew I wanted to be a CEO of a business. Sure, sure,...

...and and even like getting into venture in two thousand must have been. That's insane, right, you know, that was not that you were leaving a probably pretty steady yet super stressful job and investment banking and getting into venture, you know, which probably helped you understand that you want to operate things as opposed to invest in things. Right, exactly. I think at the time, like so, we had this idea that we could create like a technology incubator idea essentially, and this is still when things are riding high prior to the one, you know, crash, right. So we had this idea that we could create this technology incubator. We were young guys, so we could go to college campuses and and find great ideas coming out of college and all the type of things. So we started getting that going. We raised seed capital from some very interesting people that helped us get it off the ground. And Yeah, I think that point too, though, I was finding myself analyzing a business, for example, that made some sort of micro chip and found in found myself kind of over my ski tips in terms of how do I analyze this micro chip and still, at the end of the day, probably far more interested in building an individual business than analyzing them or investing them at the time. So that that at the time also just led me into a period of time where I worked it lux capital, but then GLG had called. They were getting up and running. Is relatively small the time. It seemed like it was a great opportunity and ended up jumping ship a couple years into the luxe capital story. Yeah, to go over to Gelg the first time, and at that time the company was twenty employees. I think it was a twenty four employee glg and maybe doing five million and revenue. So very early days of that business. And from there was a rocket ship. And the great thing about being a Glg in those early days was that you were getting stretch assignments all the time, like the business was just forming itself and everybody the company was so young and new and energetic and like weird just all being dispatched on something new every quarter, so to speak, and that was a great place to get some training and how to be a leader and in a very young age, I had a team of say forty people and there was global and whistles, you know, probably maybe even before my twenty five birthday. So I mean it was or you know, it was a pretty fast experience to learn a lot in the early days of Gelog. Wow and and look, I mean you know, obviously we understand how...

...the the hard work is gotten new to where you are. I wonder if there's any of these like strokes of luck, I mean taught maybe even that phone call, like how did that phone call coming out? Somebody, somebody knew somebody who knew you, or how did the opportunity of GELG come up? Well, so I think, I do think like luck place a big role in this. So GLG was founded and if initially launched by a number of people that went to the University of Virginia, which is where I went, or Sam went, and so some of the early employees, like the the third employee, the ninth employee, were people that I was connected to and they had reached out and said, we're trying to build this business, what do you think? And so that's where sort of the connections come in, which I think is actually a sort of a thread throughout my career, honestly. And then the other is just luck, which is that I didn't know that GLG was going to be all that successful. I mean, I think if we could have sold the business for a hundred million dollars back in those days, we would have thought it was the greatest success story ever. But I think when you created sort of the growth of hedge funds plus Regg F D plus the use of the Internet to do primary research, it was sort of this perfect intersection at the time that that was able to run for a long period of time with our competition, because it wasn't a super sexy business at the time, so you know it wasn't it wasn't facing a lot of technology competition, and so you had a period of almost a decade where nobody else was doing it at scale, and I mean that was really what allowed the business to grow because you could you could fund new investments in the business on your clients dime, essentially a your clients were paying for the Rd because you could almost name your price on what would cost to launch this new product for them and there wasn't really competition to get in the way of that. So it was a really really cool experience to be a part of and see if you exits there early on as well, give it end recaps and private equity coming in and out, things like that. I love that. And and was there anything that you can recall in those early days of Gelg that that made you you all, you know, budge of twenty something, you're old, as you're saying, successful, like something that accept what was it? Just the market pull, right, because there is always that Oh my God, there's a new product, there's this research, you know, for First Party research that we can be doing and getting information that could give us an edge. Right, yeah, you know, could be market pull.

But like, was there anything? I wonder how you source so many quote unquote experts at the time when I don't even think linkedin was around at that point. Another there was no linked in at that point. So I think that you know, why was it successful? Well, there was some certain some market tail winds, but you know, it was just an amazing team of people that got together in those early days, like very hard judging people that really wanted to win. And I think we are getting good, good signals from the market. Like you would go pitch three hedge funds and get three contracts that day, right, so you're getting these amazing signals from the market that you were doing something great. So that really led to an attitude where we were excited and sort of created this sort of cultis feel about being a glg or, which I think still is it exist today, especially in as evidence by the fact that I talked to someone from the firm or a former almost every day still, you know, and so I think that was great. And so, yeah, I think that it was just a almost forget your question here, Brandon, but yeah, just so some of the specific things that that got you. But it sounds like it was just the culture, you know, of wanting to win. You know, that's it to propel things. Yeah, and that's something I pay attention down now to, especially like an early stage business. I would think that the importance of having a team early on that really wants to win, and I think one of the things that is a hallmark of the early people of glg is that they really loved it, like they love the business, and I think that and therefore that led to that feel of like teamwork and come out camaraderie that that still exist today with a lot of people there around them. So I think that was a just a very unique experience. But also keep in mind that like we had a lightning bolt growth story behind us. So it was hard not to get excited. Sure, sure, I mean, I've heard you speak a couple times now about your time at eventry. You know, you joined an event business that then went into covid times. I think it's amazing to hear the way you navigated that. Share a tidbitter two about that time. You know. I think you you started talking about weekly or Bi weekly board meetings that that, you know, as the news was changing on a diamond at every point. I mean I think our listeners would certainly benefit from hearing you talk about how did you navigate a probably like the worst position business possible during the covid yeah, you know, and then and then...

...six to have a successful exit with it. Yeah, and I that's a great question. I'd been brought into to help the business a bit. You know, it needed better financial footing, it needed a clear strategy and it needed it like a more accountability in its culture. So I started to do that and then covid hit six weeks later. I was very fortunate in two ways. The team out of entry was a super talented group of people that really wanted to win as well. And then I also had great backers, that the the investment firms that were behind us were very open to ideas. So so that we have those things going for us. And then when when covid hit, yeah, I mean Qu two thousand and twenty was awful. I mean our are are dropping by the day. If the client wasn't canceling, they wanted a one year extension. So you basically had this, you know, very problematic baseline and of course our trade show business went to zero and until recently made a zero. But what, you know, what we did was we we had to make some very difficult decisions first of all, like we reduce the size of the workforce nearly forty percent very quickly, which was not fun. But but need to occur at that moment in time, raise some capital internally to make sure that the balance sheet was short up. But I did also move into the sort of hypercommunication phase which I first of all with our employee base, went to very frequent written and spoken communication and certainly just frank like what's going on here, like the Friday before we were going to have layoffs on the Monday. Like I gave a speech where I told everyone we're going to have layoffs the next day, you know, on Monday, and like. That was very difficult to do, but I thought it was the right thing to just be up front with everybody. Similarly with our with our investors. We and ended up going to weekly board meetings, and I'm not talking about a fifty page deck every week, but I'm talking about a ten page template that we had that we were using to inform ourselves or what was going on week to week. And these are big decisions. You saw revenue numbers moving around four million, five million dollars a week. It was crazy and that communication, I think, is something I would recommend to anybody who find themselves in a in a difficult situation, because if you're bored and your your stakeholders can trust you that you have a solution or an idea for a solution for every problem you're going to you'll have their trust,...

...which meant that I had their trust and I could operate and I think the firm, I think I had the firm's trust as well, because, even though there are people being negatively impacted, they felt like they were being communicated with in a frank manner, which meant that, you know, everybody was on the same playing field, right, and you know, those were those were wow, busy days. You know the number of meetings or phone calls you'd have in a day to try to navigate everything that was blowing up around you. But would ultimately happen was our move into virtual events, plus the markets move into virtual events, which supported our core registration software, ultimately put us in a much better position than we then we would have expected. And but you, I mean eventually was already a software company, so it was it was a software company, doing live event software company than doing virtual events. So you have to build things on top of kind of where where you are. I mean that's it is a little bit of a different pitch, right. You're doing all of a sudden live voice, broadcasting, video, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, yeah, and we did, and I give credit to our CTO at the time. So we essentially we had a our software was for anybody throwing a bdb event, you know. So we sponsored like Seventyzero events a year and that basically went to zero in Qto but then people started doing virtual and so we ended up doing was building a our own version, using some of the the aws software to create our own virtual event platform that would sit on top of our software, right, and so we essentially had our core registration software. We linked it to this new virtual events software. The one wasn't that great and was a little late. The two is pretty good, and that put us in a good position where we could win any enterprises business in the virtual event side. And then we also saw was that people that were using other broadcast mediums for virtual we're still using US for registration. Right, if their virtual event was relatively complex and they needed good registration software or good a mobile APP to still run the event, they would go through us. So the goodness is we were kind of like double dipping their meaning we could win the core virtual software and then we could also sell them the the registration software. So that was something I didn't...

...expect and that led us to restore. I mean again, remember, like the outflows of are are were pretty dramatic. Q. So, right, we're having to like scrape your way back by adding new business. You're slowly rolling off of that extension book that you'd created with your existing clients and we also landed our three largest customers in history during that period of time. So, man oddly enough, there was just like a huge bank, a huge online retailer and another firm in the financial services space that came on during this period of time. So we're very lucky in that we locked in some huge rr like during this period where everything was was shifting right. Yeah, the market became very commoditized in terms of virtual so I think the people that have the virtual only platforms right now or suffering because there's a million of them. Like we're on our room, you know, but we were one of the people with the meat and potatoes registration software. That kind of fell out of favor for a while, but since it's become interesting again and now, in the post pandemic world, we're all clamoring to get back in in person right to in person events, and like we're done with the zooms, we're done with all this other stuff. So even more of you. So interesting and congratulations again on graving that exit. Any of it in your minds over the years? Any shoutouts that you want to give to folks that you you know have helped inspire you, been mentors to you and or or you know folks that you've kept an eye on and appreciated, you know kind of what they've put out. Well, I love the you, you know, I love they're asking this question and I think I'm interpreting it to be people I've worked with that I want to give a shout out to, sore could be could be anybody, people who you have interact with on linkedin strangers. Yeah, so, no, I think that you know. One person I think I learned a lot from in my professional experience was the former CEO of Glgena, Alexander Sat Amand, and I think that, you know, what I've learned to appreciate over the years is somebody that is so dedicated and fired up about a business's mission and really lives it every single day and and I think that can go a long way toward how that leadership transit shows up throughout the organization right someone who's like truly dedicated to the cause, and so I think that's somebody that I've really learned a lot from. And throughout my recent board experience I would get a lot of feedback on my ability to storytell effectively at the...

...board level and I think that. I learned that through countless dozens of board meetings at GLG. Yeah, you know Alexander as a mentor. Right. One other shout out I would give to a person that joined our team about a year ago was someone named for run AFI and Veron. was brought in as a basically a high level VP of finance when we had a transition at the CFO level and he stepped into a very complicated finance situation. Sure we learned that a lot of the numbers that we relied on we're not as correct as we had we had thought, which is joy or the thing I had to iron out, and he really stepped in quickly ironed it out just get on much better financial footing. became a great partner to me. You know, I knew he was a CFO, a rising CFO. He now has his he left eventry after them the transaction. He now has his first CFO role which is announced this week. So I'm very proud of him. Ruin was a great business partner and somebody that just like a super steady hand in a hurry to be a firm. The funny story about ruin is like I recruited in myself off Linkedin. So like one day, like you know, paying somebody off, Linkedin, start a conversation. That conversation was a year prior and we just remained in touch and then under you look together and I just love one things like that happen. Yeah, you know, going back to the luck thing, I mean I guess you're making your own luck there, but you never know, when, when the opportunity, I'm sure there's ten other conversations that have not led to working together and it just makes it makes them all worth it, right. Yeah, you having a hundred conversations for two of them to pan out to be a great partner. Look at you know, you know, having a great cfo at your right hand when you're going through the time like covid and a transaction. It's essential. So yeah, all that's worth it. Absolutely. And it's interesting too, because when people are were kind of singing the blues about recruiting to me at the company, they go, I can't find an svp of this, I'd say, okay, well, if you tried, you know, while you're having your morning serial, just search for search yourself, you know, as opposed to like relying on HR, relying on to the search firms, like why don't you just go look for some candidates yourself? You'd be amazed how many people respond when it's actually you writing to them, right, and you actually have a job that fits what they want. It's not like a cool blank...

...reach out. Hey, I need you for sure. Yeah, look, exactly. I totally agree. It's like, Hey, how many people did you reach out to on Linkedin today? Right, yeah, actually, it doesn't take that long to like write someone a nice three sentence note and Sarah, you willing to have a call? Ye, so, anyway, that was that's a good experience. Shout out to room. Anyway. Well, look, I mean hearing about your experience is awesome. I appreciate that, Jim. I also care about your palate. You got to tell me what's a great restaurant that you have to doesn't need to be a secret or anything, but what something you want to share with with with the audience here, and we can we can all go check out. All right. Well, I know you're you're a Foodie and you're in that business. So I don't know if you've been to this place, but so I live in Westchester, New York, in a town called Bronxville, but up the road there's a town called Scarsdale, and scarsdale has a an Italian restaurant called cafe a Liah, and cafe a Lia ALAIA has been growing. They actually just took over a bigger space out of a valet, so things are going well. But it's this amazing Italian restaurant that makes their food in house. It's very, you know, homemade. The owner is walking around checking by every table every night that I've ever been there. And the thing I like about Cafe Alia because that we've we introduced it to a lot of our neighbors. Will bring people like a couple. Is that I called a fight club of restaurants because actually nobody really talks about it, but everybody goes there and then they come back again, right and so, like what ends up happening is you'll you'll take another couple to to cafe a Liah and then you'll go back the next Saturday night and that other couple will be there with two other couples right have them there and it's like everyone's getting credit for introducing people to Cafe Alia and I've never met a person who had a bad meal there or much less said. You know anything bad about the place, so shout out to Cafe Eliah. They're also very good. If you call up in a pinch like they try their best to help you out and get into the place. So just what are we what are we ordering there? Wow, that's a great one. Theo. So there's a couple of salads I really like. There's a cart Chophi salad with artichokes that I order often, great meat balls and then, if you're if you're hitting the Pastas, there's just a just a number of outstanding, you know, either simple or more complex options that you can...

...go with. And then they also have, like many Italian restaurants, you know, a number of specials every night that are worth trying. So it's it's a good spot. I'm sure it'll be harder to be to get a reservation going forward. That's right, I love it, man. Well, you know, I'm just down the road there, so I'm going to I'm going to make it up there. Jim, I always learned something when I talk to you and and I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your story with us. Can't wait to see whatever's next for you. I'm sure it's a little bit of rest and then you're probably going to jump right back into something exciting. So looking out for that and can't wait to see what that is. Well, I really appreciate it. Always a pleasure speaking with you, Brandon, and I'm sure we'll connect again soon. Yea, and thanks for having me on the show today. Awesome. All right, that's a show. Thank you so much for listening. If you love the show, rate and review apple podcast, spotify APP, send it to friends. Make sure to smash to subscribe button. Shoot me a note tuming like dm me and say hey, this was a gun, was a great show. That would be fun. Let's see if anyone listens. This episode was brought to you by DOC BOT. Do See bow is redefining the future of enterprice learning with this AI base learning speech. But do Seebo. You can create and manage engaging content, deliver training to customers, partners or employees and measure how learning impact your people and your business, all within a single suite. Find your learning and development sweet spot at seebocom. I had so much fun today. I hope you did too. Now get out and crush your numbers.

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