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Circling Cambridge: From Thinking Phone Networks to Harvard Business School (and Back Again)

August 22, 2013 by

Discovering Thinking Phone Networks—the first time—was a fortuitous happenstance. I was a green graduate of SUNY Buffalo with an aspiration to work for a successful serial entrepreneur and a yearning to have a direct impact on a small and nimble company.  Fast-forward two years to my third role in as much time—I was running a newly-built account management program and selling the TPN UCaaS solution as an outside sales rep. It was at this point that I was admitted to the class of 2013 at Harvard Business School. I made the arduous decision to leave TPN, despite being one of the first 20 employees at a growing company that truly satisfied my hunger for impact.

While it is impossible to summarize what two years of Harvard Business School is like in a mere paragraph, I will give it a shot. The program is fantastically intense and all-consuming. Success requires a balancing act between analyzing 13 cases per week while participating in extracurricular clubs, sports, conferences, networking, recruiting, and (of course) socializing with brilliant peers. The Case Method teaches a form of unparalleled critical thinking and gives students the confidence to make gigantic decisions. The philosophy is simple: arm 90 Type A students with data, present them with a difficult decision, give them a world-class professor to mold the discussion, and let them go. It works.

The second year at HBS is filled with critical career decisions. There is only one first job post-business school, so there are dozens of factors to consider: job function, geographic location, day-to-day activity, company size and status, summer internship location (mine was at Groupon). While many students are pulled towards management consulting, finance, and various Fortune 500 rotational programs, I again found myself looking for a high-growth, high-impact, early-stage technology company. And this is how I discovered Thinking Phone Networks for the second time.

Before leaving for HBS, I could see the market moving straight towards TPN. The sales cycle was shrinking, customers were interested in our UCaaS services, and people were beginning to take our phone service as a given. All three of these factors were strong indicators that growth was looming.  Thus, when TPN partnered with Bessemer and Advanced Technology Ventures (ATV) in late 2012, it was clear to me that the explosion was truly happening.

I was hired as a product manager to build a roadmap, ensure that our innovation outpaced that of our competitors, implement product release processes, work through the backlog of feature requests, and manage communications between sales, provisioning, customers, and our Ottawa-based development team. Although the job description and growth would have been reasons enough to choose TPN as my only first job post-HBS, there were four other factors at play:

1. Belief in management. Co-founders Steve Kokinos and Derek Yoo are competent leaders with a track record of success. As one of their original 20 employees, I learned that it is possible to find entrepreneurs capable of both starting a company and leading it through its period of growth. If Noam Wasserman and his book Founders’ Dilemmas taught me anything, it is that a co-founding team can make 100 mistakes that preemptively doom their venture. These mistakes can range from misallocating founders’ shares and underestimating the importance of a properly structured founders’ agreement to poorly hiring your first set of employees. Steve and Derek have avoided these pitfalls and will lead TPN to our potential home-run state.

2. Belief in the product. I used to tell people that I would never work for a company I didn’t believe in, and here I am back at Thinking Phone Networks shaping the future direction of our product. Being in sales taught me that the only way to win a deal is to exude confidence in your products and the business impact that they will have on customers. TPN’s product suite is conducive for just that, and I want to help make it even better.

3. Belief in the opportunity. As mentioned above, I believe that TPN’s share of the UCaaS market is poised for major growth. The market is expanding, services are being delivered at a record pace, and retention is at an all-time high. My goal is to provide TPN with additional products and tools to facilitate an even larger and more successful period of expansion.

4. Belief in the core team. This last factor is perhaps the most impactful. Seeing nearly 100% of my TPN colleagues from my pre-HBS tenure still at the company—many of them now in senior roles—excites me. You can’t argue with an almost-nonexistent level of turnover. There is an immense amount of talent radiating from this company, and it’s addicting to work with such a smart group of people.

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