Wednesday, August 26, 2009

EXCLUSIVE Tech Exec Interview - Jeff Cavins, CEO of Fuze Box - "5 Questions"

Today marks a first for me and my long-running blog, for today I kick-off my first of what I expect to be a series of informal -- and exclusive -- Q&As/interviews with top digital media and tech executives. My goal is to keep these short -- "5 questions" to be exact -- informative and interesting, giving you information that you won't find anywhere else. Usually I will know the tech exec in the "hot seat", which is one of the benefits of having been in the digital media and tech world for a few years.

My inaugural Q&A today is with Jeff Cavins, CEO of Fuze Box (formerly CallWave) -- a company that describes itself as offering hi-def real-time collaboration solutions. I have known Jeff for years -- from my days at Musicmatch and his days at Loudeye. Jeff and his company were recently the focus of a very positive feature story from TechCrunch, in which Jeff discussed his business and the perils of being a public v. private company (since Jeff just recently took his formerly public company private).

In this debut Q&A, I ask Jeff more about this public/private issue that many of you face, as well as some of the other things that differentiate his company and make it and him "tick". Jeff gives more detail about his products and overall vision for the company -- including a discussion of a very cool new product called "Fuze Movie" that is geared to the movie industry.

There are no rules here ... I ask the questions ... the tech exec gives his or her answers ... uncut and unfiltered. Enjoy -- and let me know if you like my "Tech Exec Interview" series by commenting or sending me a direct message (I am also a frequent Tweeter). Please also let me know who else you would like to have in the hot seat -- and what questions you would like me to ask.

QUESTION 1 -- CSATHY: How does it feel to be a private company CEO again?

JEFF CAVINS: It was the right thing for the company. The beta/risk profile of this company was inappropriate for public shareholders and the benefits of being public (liquidity, stock as a tool for recruiting and currency for M&A), was not being enjoyed by the company. Yet the company was burdened with public company expenses including governance, audit, disclosures, etc. We are glad to build long term value rather than focuses on 90 day earnings expectations.

QUESTION 2 -- CSATHY: Did TechCrunch accurately depict the travails of being a public company CEO?

JEFF CAVINS: To some degree. The cost of being public ranges from $1.2M - $2M for companies of our size. That number was mis-reported and may have been a result of a typo or a bad phone connection. However, the Tech Crunch article was directionally accurate.

QUESTION 3 -- CSATHY: Your advice to any private company CEO who is considering going public?

JEFF CAVINS: Know your after market performance forecasts at every level of detail and know that you have all metrics met for at least eight quarters after you go public. If you have a growth business and you have expanding earnings, even on an EBITDA basis, you should be able to forecast out by eight quarters. Unfortunately, many view the IPO as the “liquidity event”, and that is a viewpoint for exiting investors. The IPO is a beginning, where you have cultivated and encouraged new investors who are not exiting… they are entering. The CEO has a fiduciary duty to these new investors and must ensure that they get a return on their investment. This requires that the company must have a solid track record of earnings and revenue growth and a CEO who can forecast and assure that level of performance going forward. An IPO is a great moment, however it must be followed by increased performance. A take private is not a moment, but a long and difficult process that I equate to having a Tattoo removed, layer by layer. It takes fortitude in management, good legal and banking relationships and a great board to remove a company from the public market. My advice on going public is "Go only knowing that you are going to win in the public markets over the long haul."

QUESTION 4 -- CSATHY: Jeff, what can you and your company do better than anyone else?

JEFF CAVINS: We have developed and deployed a SaaS platform for the collaboration and communication of visual content. On top of this platform, we have developed and commercially deployed 4 applications – Fuze Meeting, Fuze Messenger, Fuze Meeting for Mobile and Fuze Movie. Fuze Meeting is an online, browser based collaboration/meeting service that enables users to share office documents, images, photos Power Points, media, film, video at HD Resolutions. The service also integrates Telephony and a conferencing Bridge capability that “Fetches” attendees into meetings, thus all meetings start on time as there is no wait for people to dial in. The service is browser based so there is virtually no implementation costs or hurdles and it is highly secure, conforming to the newest technologies and policies in security. It is widely used by banks, Wall St. firms, SMB, Enterprises and end users. Fuze Messenger is an optimized messaging service that gives users IM at their mobile devices with federation to all popular IM Networks such as Google Chat, MSN Messenger, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, etc. The IM’s that travel through our technology are safe and secure and are as well used by large, multi-national corporations due to the fact that we also extend Microsoft OCS to all mobile platforms such as RIM, iPhone, Nokia, Palm and Windows Mobile. We have over 1M users of this service world wide.

Fuze Meeting and Fuze Messenger are highly optimized for Mobile devices mentioned above. So in addition to online meetings in HD, we take that experience and deliver HD Meetings to mobile phones.

Fuze Movie is a “Pro-Apps” version of Fuze Meeting. It is very powerful and handles Film resolution collaboration in real time, where moderator and participants are in full sync and are able to annotate and markup film in real time and frame sync. Fuze Movie was used on last summer’s film “Traitor” and is being used on a big budget Warner Bros film for release after the holidays.

The online collaboration space is expected to grow to over $4.5B globally in the next few years. There are many who are underserved due to the limitations imposed by current online collaboration/meeting applications. Mostly because these applications were built in the 90’s and are client-server architecture in design. Web Service based applications will foster new growth in Collaboration services and end user adoption beyond the corporation. Social Media integration will make these service easier to use. Also, users have been constrained on visual fidelity. We have solved this and have recently entered the market with what is becoming a very popular solution.

We see are opportunity as very large, global in scope and importantly, the growing market of what is forecasted to be 6B mobile subscribers by the year 2013, is an important venue for our services.

QUESTION 5 -- CSATHY: What else do you find to be particularly interesting in and around the Internet video space?

JEFF CAVINS: We believe that the Internet is poorly suited, due to TCP/IP protocols, for the delivery of synchronized film content to millions of simultaneous and con-current viewers. However, our transport protocol enables us to deliver just that to hundreds of thousands of users who are collaborating on documents, images, photos, PowerPoints and Video. We think that the opportunities for digital distribution of film is a natural next step and that it offers an incremental channel for film makers and studios to reach an audience the is target platform oriented and mobile device centric.

BONUS QUESTION -- CSATHY: When you aren’t working, what do you like doing?

I serve on two boards, a Bio-Molecular Research company in San Diego, Fuze Box’s board and I invest in a couple of start ups, so business life is active. I enjoy my kids who are young adults now and we are very much into boating in the summer and skiing in the winter.