The founders of Stack8, Steven Karachinsky, CEO; Eric Losier, CTO; and David Perlis, COO looked back on where they’ve been, where they are, and where the company and the industry are going.
When Eric and Steven worked together at Cisco, they noticed how difficult it was for customers to get the service they needed from the partners that existed in the market space. At that time in the late 2000s, customers were working with telco type organizations for their communications services. Steven and Eric would talk to customers about all the amazing things that they could do with Cisco technology. But customers would report back that their service provider partner told them they couldn’t or that it doesn’t work.
Stack8 CEO Steven Karachinsky explains, “We got frustrated because we saw the potential for all these things that they could be doing, but they weren’t. And then a major lightbulb went off, and we said, well here’s an opportunity to provide a better experience for customers and to start a business and be successful with that, and that’s initially how this came to fruition.”
Steven Karachinsky, CEO; David Perlis, COO; and Eric Losier, CTO
Filling in the missing human-business layer with Stack8
David entered the picture as one of the customers who saw the potential of Cisco communications technology but couldn’t get the service support from existing partners. After many conversations and interviews with customers and Cisco to validate the model for a new type of partner, Steven, Eric, and David made the decision to fill that service gap themselves. Stack8 was created and named as an 8th layer on the 7-layer OSI stack model. The founders’ vision was and is for Stack8 to be the human layer that delivers on the promise of the technology.
The vision and assumptions proved correct early on, with Stack8 growing steadily from the start. Everyone they speak to at Cisco in North America agrees that adoption and utilization of communication tools is the key to success. Since Cisco is historically a hardware company and not a software experience company, Stack8 was providing a valuable service for Cisco customers.
Technology was different in 2010, but the same issues for users persist today
The promise of what unified communications is supposed to deliver for a customer has remained relatively unchanged: you should be able to connect with anyone from anywhere from any device and have as rich an experience with them as you do face to face.
Ten years ago, some of the more advanced communication technology that Stack8 was helping customers were tools like instant messaging, chat, and Webex. The partner landscape and communications service community weren’t supporting those technologies for customers. A lot of the work that Stack8 has done was to put those advanced tools in the hands of customers so they can reap the benefits. Today, video technology is much more widely used and available than it was when Stack8 started.
What’s happening in the consumer world, and the more sophisticated users are with their own communications has pushed a lot of the technology on the corporate end to have that same look and feel and simplicity.
However, even with consumers becoming more sophisticated about using communication tools, in general clients in the corporate world still, aren’t taking full advantage of the latest communication technologies. Stack8 COO David Perlis says, “Adoption of the latest technology is still lagging. The problem that we initially saw is still really prevailing where clients are still lagging behind because of a lack of knowledge and know-how and expertise.”
Solving disjointed collaboration issues caused by multiple systems
Another complication that has contributed to the ongoing lack of adoption of new technology over the past 8 years is the increasing complexity of integration. In 2010, only a few tools were used, but now clients may have a telephony solution from one manufacturer, instant messaging or chat from another, and then also use third-party web and video collaboration tools. Even if people are comfortable using these tools as consumers, in corporate environments the different systems often don’t work together as a cohesive unit. Integrating collaboration tools to work as a cohesive unit is a main focus of Stack8 right now.
Developing software out of necessity
Building software wasn’t part of the original plan for Stack8, but since some tools they needed didn’t exist, they had to build them. Looking back, the founders can see how they ended up building software such as their SMACS provisioning tool. The Stack8 mindset is all about being flexible and adaptable and finding a better way to do things. Since a better provisioning tool was needed but didn’t exist, it makes sense that Stack8 built it themselves.
Adding deployment and support to consulting services
Stack8 was initially set up with a focus on design consulting, but again, with a focus of being extremely responsive to customers’ needs, when customers wanted more, Stack8 agreed to do full deployment and support to help ensure that customers were completely satisfied.
Stack8 CTO Eric Losier explains: “After we designed systems for customers they would ask us, ‘Okay, please deploy it now for me and support it after because I can’t find someone who’s going to do as good as the job you did on the presale side of things.’ So that became part of our services very early on, but I don’t think we set out to do that as quickly as we did.”
Steady growth from the beginning
When Stack8 started in 2010, they had a 700 square foot office. They stayed in that office until it was literally stuffed with people. The next move was to a bigger office space which has since expanded again and has room for more expansion which will soon be needed.
One of the early mandates for a large managed services contract pushed the team out of its comfort zone due to the sheer volume of tickets that had been in a backlog, but the team quickly showed how strong and solid it was by delivering and taking on that heavy volume for months.
Says Steven, “We have people who want to do the right thing every day. They want to do whatever it takes, and that’s been one of the primary keys to our success.”
That early contract also helped show the value of the SMACS provisioning software, and how useful it could be to train customers to do provisioning rather than filling in tickets and waiting for provisioning tasks to be done after higher priority issues.
For that particular early client with high provisioning needs, Stack8 trained 60 administrators around the globe. When the client saw the results and the higher service level they received, they were extremely satisfied, and that experience helped shape the highly effective managed services solutions that Stack8 now provides.
Delivering on big promises to large enterprise customers
Although Stack8 was a small team at the beginning, the level of service they offered and the amount of Cisco expertise on the team was unlike anything in the market. An early milestone “win” for the company that highlighted the uniqueness and value of Stack8 services was when Cisco called Stack8 in to talk to a potential customer that had a large call center about switching from another provider to Cisco. Stack8 went on site to demo the technology, show how well integrated it could be, and explain how much more the customer could do in their call centers. In the end, Stack8 won them over for Cisco. That win opened the door to large enterprise customers, and Stack8 has been serving them successfully ever since.
Building a reputation and continuing to fight for customers
Being recognized by Gartner as a UC managed services provider was a tremendous accomplishment, as Stack8 continues to build its reputation and standing as a Cisco Unified Communications provider. Last year, Cisco asked Stack8 to take part in the invitation-only collaboration village at Cisco Live.
The Stack8 team has no plans to slow down or coast. Communication is always going to be critical to any business because it’s how a company speaks to customers, partners, and internally. The tools people are using are changing drastically, but the most significant change is how things are done. Stack8 is right there at the forefront of the transition to cloud-based services, helping customers get those products deployed and installed.
Says Steven, “I think this is probably the most exciting time to be in telecom since the internet…. We’re really trying to make a difference in this market and for customers and to deliver on the promise of unified communications. While we’re very proud of what we’ve done, there’s still a lot of work we have to do to fulfill our mission.”