40 min 41 sec
Published on February 4, 2021
Jeff brings over 25 years of Internet, software, and consulting experience to leading Phase2. In his role as CEO, he sets vision, focus, and direction for the company and leads efforts to define the services we offer and markets we serve. He plays key roles in strategic partnerships, client acquisition, client success, and talent development.
With over 15 years of sales experience in digital services and having hosted exclusive Agency Leaders Dinners for CEOs globally, Piyush has taken his penchant for engaging digital change-makers online with “Humans Behind Digital Experiences (DX),” an Axelerant Podcast. His goal is to host an uncommon conversation that goes deeper than the platforms big organizations run on today, to a level that’s more personal—more human.
So we, we formed Phase2, and he wrote us a check and I went down the street and found a bank and walked in and opened in an account and the rest is history as they say.
Hello, I'm Piyush Poddar and you're listening to Humans Behind DX Podcast, where I talk to leaders from Digital agencies and organizations delivering awesome digital experiences. Today, I'm going to talk to Jeff Walpole, CEO, and founder at Phase2 Technologies. Welcome, Jeff.
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me.
Do you want to talk a bit about who you are, you know, introduce yourself to our listeners?
Sure. Yeah. My name is Jeff Walpole. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Phase2 Technology, which is a digital agency. We started the business in 2001. So we'll be 20 years old next year, which is kind of an exciting, big landmark.
Well, that's, that's amazing. And, you know, congratulations on such a long successful run there. Hope next year is gonna be a huge party time. Hope, you know, we are able to do a party in person.
Yeah, we'll see. Right. But yeah, I hope so.
And so besides Phase2 Technologies, Jeff, do you do you want to take us through your own journey, your your story, you know, maybe starting from your early career days, and you know, how you navigated? And what made you do what you're doing today?
Yeah. So it's interesting, right? For for everybody. It's a windy path. Definitely a journey, not a straight line. So... yeah, I went to I went to undergrad at Tulane University in New Orleans. And I got a political science degree, thought I was gonna study architecture when I came in, and then changed paths. And didn't end up really doing much with the political science, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I, you know, I took the the only job that was available when I graduated, for me, which, which was in sales. And I did sales, in Telecom, early internet days. So showing my age here a little bit, but sort of selling data and what we would consider Internet bandwidth now, but two businesses, and that got me into computers a little bit, because they needed someone to volunteer to roll out the the very early laptops and email and CRM software that they had. And so I volunteered to do that, in addition to my sales responsibilities, I ended up getting so into it that, you know, pretty much spending all my time on that and not not on closing sales, which they didn't like too much. So I left that job, and I went to work. I went moved to Washington, DC for another job. I worked in software for a couple years. And then I ended up at a systems integration company, a very large. Now one very, very large company was originally called SRA. And I did work for the government on databases for military and DOD and then civilian agencies. And they learned a lot about kind of how IT and the government works. During those years. I was there about four years. And then that was kind of the height of the internet boom. I had been going to school at night and on weekends to get my MBA. And so I got my MBA and the internet was just booming. This is 1999-2000. And I really just wanted to be a part of what was going on with with the web. And so I went to join what we would now call a digital agency. And that company was around for a couple of years and then as they like as they say dot bombed so it it disappeared in the in the crash, the internet bubble bursting of 2000. And so I found myself responsible for a programme for sports clients, the NFL and the NFL players Association. And at that point, we had no other work. I was let go, everybody in the team was let go, the whole company was let go. So I grabbed a couple of the guys that worked on my team. And we got together and said, Hey, we there's more work to do here at the NFL players Association, we'd built a, an internal CRM type system that handled everything from contract, player contracts to royalties and licencing deals. And we really felt we had more work to do on the system. And we decided to form a company. And we went to the head of the Players Association. And we said, Hey, if we, you know, good news is, you know, we're still here, and we're working for you. And we got good stuff to do. Bad news is our company failed. And we're thinking about starting our own company. And would you sign a contract with us if we did, and he said he would. And so we came up with the name Phase2, which is kind of a nod to the second phase of the system, second phase of the company, second phase of our careers. So we, we formed Phase2, and he wrote us a check, and I went down the street and found a bank and walked in and opened an account. And the rest is history, as they say. So I like to say it's an overnight success, 20 years in the making.
Well, that's, that's really fascinating. And, you know, I was kind of curious, like, have you started planning for third phase? Now?
Um, yeah, I mean, you know, I think that's like, the work that we all do is always planning for a third phase, right? And we like to be agile and iterative. I mean, you know, for me, it's like, we try to reinvent the company every week, every month, every year, in small little increments of constant improvement. And, you know, that's, that's how I see it. It's like, we're always in a kind of a third phase.
Very interesting. And, you know, from what I know, Phase2, I mean, I've always seen Phase2, right from day one, when I came to know about Drupal. And since then, you know, you guys do a great job. Very active in the community, open-source. You yourself have been on the Drupal Associate board, I think a couple of years.
So yeah, six, six years. Yeah.
Oh, wow. Is that like three terms?
Two terms- two three year terms.
Yeah. So yeah, yeah. Yeah. I'm free. I'm forgetting already.
Yeah. So you know, and lately, I was just browsing to your website and came across this programme called Tech Unites Us. Yeah. pretty fascinating. Do you want to talk a bit about it?
And how long have you been running this program? Like, when was this conceptualized?
Ah, that's a good question. I think probably this was formalized about two years ago. Okay. And we came up, that's when we came up with the sort of the brand around it. Tech Unites Us, we wanted a theme that we could refer to instead of just, you know, our social impact, or, you know, something like that we wanted to have a theme so that we could refer to it created a logo and T-shirts and swag giveaway we can give to clients to get them interested in this. And so eventually, we'd actually like to open up opportunities within our clients for internships, for job opportunities, and those things. So the goal is to get is not just to really train people and get them in, you know, get them interested, it's to actually get them employed. In the tech field.
Right. Yeah. Which, which, which makes more impact? And obviously, you know, has a long term impact again? Yeah, the person. That's what's very interesting. You know, I think, you know, if you haven't, you know, probably a great talk for one of the DrupalCons to share what you've achieved as part of this program.
Yeah, yeah, that's a good idea. You know, it's, it's interesting, I actually hadn't thought about that as a topic, but I think it would be a good audience for it, I think people would, would respond, and we could even maybe get other people interested in participating and helping so that would, that's a good idea.
And the program is still running this year. Right? especially through the COVID.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, at like, everything, it's, you know, things have changed enough that, you know, our focus has been has been, I think, a little bit distracted on this. So we haven't done, we meet monthly. It's a, it's a committee that everybody in the company is welcome to participate in, if they want. So, we have a published monthly meeting and meeting notes and topics and people can come and attend if they want or just listen in. So we've been doing that, but we haven't actually done any of the program delivered any of the programming because of COVID. Originally, we were gonna do things physically from Portland. The it shifted to virtual before COVID. And so we in theory, could be delivering those services now, but we just haven't because just been so focused on just getting through this year. So I think a lot of us are interested in getting back to it in 2021.
Right, yeah. So yeah, speaking of that, I mean, you know, this year has been particularly unique in different ways. And the world around has definitely shifted dramatically. So you know, do you want to share about it, uh, what's one most important thing you've accomplished this year? Professionally or, personally, that you're really happy about?
You know, for me first, I'll start with personal I think, personally, you know, I feel like, while yes, it's been a terrible year and a lot of ways with what's been going on in the world. You know, hunkering down at home and spending more time with family, spending more time outdoors, spending less time going out spending money and shopping and doing, you know, things like that, it's actually been kind of good. It's created for my family a lot more quality time. And for me, personally, I think just a lot more, more meaningful time and a lot less just business. In my personal life, right, so just being at home all the time. And it's brought us closer to our neighbors. And so, you know, we spend a lot of time with the kids spent a lot of time with the neighbors, we spent a lot of time with the neighbors. So we have really gotten to know, our house, our neighbors, and our home and our family in a way that, you know, you wouldn't if you were out running a busy life. So I think that's the one silver lining, you know, kind of good thing for, for me coming out of it. Professionally, you know, it's it's been challenging, you know, our revenue is down, a lot of people have asked me, you know, people that, you know, that know me from, you know, personally, they say, Oh, you must be doing great, because you guys build websites, and you guys are making digital stuff for people and everybody's trying to go digital. And while that logic makes sense, I think, you know, I mean, certainly, you know, right? That, that, that logic doesn't necessarily apply in the real world, because our clients, of course, are not in our business. And they have their own challenges. And so their budgets have been slashed, and their, their initiatives have been put on hold. And they're, you know, they're cutting down on costs. So, so we've seen different reactions from our clients, depending on the industry, but a lot of them have had to put new projects on hold this year. And so that's had an impact on us, even though what we're trying to do, ironically, is make them more digitally successful, which would, which would have been great in this year. So it's a little bit of an irony. So for me, as I said earlier, the goal of a company is to some extent, constant improvement, right? continuous improvement throughout. And so this year, again, similar to my personal situation, it's allowed us to look internally at the company as a whole and try to improve upon things. So that when we emerge from what's been happening with COVID, that we're an even stronger company, that's even more well-positioned to capture new clients, new revenue, the market, you know, achieve all the wonderful goals that we have. And so I think, you know, this year has been enlightening. We've looked internally, we've made organizational changes, we've made personnel changes, we've made strategy changes. And we've really tightened our view of our focus in our position in the market. And so for me, it's all about setting ourselves up for success as we go into the new year.
That's very interesting. So yeah, on both the personal and the profession grounds, you know, seems like you're deepening those relationships and getting to know people in these zones better, which is great, actually.
Yeah, yeah, sure.
Now, you know, traditionally, we are almost no wrapping this year, transitioning into 2021. How do you see the digital experience ecosystem evolving in the near future? With or without COVID impacts? I mean, you've been to this space for a long. Phase2 has been doing a lot of innovation on, ongoing basis. So what kind of trends are you, you know, excited about? Or where do you see this ecosystem evolving?
Yeah, I mean, there's, there's always something emerging. Right. And I think right now, what's worked, you know, really well for a long time is, is, you know, so-called digital transformation, which is, for me, you know, businesses bringing everything that they do on into the digital space, being able to interact with customers serve customers transactions, exchanging of data content information through a digital means so that they can conduct business in this medium. And as I said before, I think, you know, this year, if anything has proven to the whole world that we need to do a whole lot more of that. So I do see a wave or I anticipate a wave of digitalization occurring, post-COVID. That's driven by an even more stark reality of how necessary This is. Specifically, though, areas that I think have not evolved as quickly or as clearly as they need to. One of them I think, is so-called omnichannel, right? So one of the things that's interesting is we've had a proliferation of different channels come out, right. So by channel, I mean, mobile and tablet, and PC to everything from that to kiosks. And, you know, I mean, there's, I could go on and on, the number of, you know, digital delivery channels available today is exponential. And of course, every consumer, every user expects that when they're on these different channels, they're interacting with an organization or a brand, that there's a seamless experience that they've come to know, which is a very personalized, you know, me, you know, what I want, you know, what I need, you know, my account information, you know, everything right, and I want to pick up where I left off the last time I was transacting with you, and I want you to recognize what I need. And that, it turns out is a really difficult problem for organizations to solve. And part of it is the experience itself, it's just transitioning and picking up between one medium and the other. But a lot of it is the data, right? So data into me is really the, it's, you know, it's the new currency of digital in the sense that, on the one hand, we have more data than we've ever had before to help make that transition seamless. So personalization, for instance, I know your behavior. So I know what you want, I know what you're looking for, I can make recommendations, I can deliver you relevant content and offers and things like that. But on the other hand, we also have increasing regulation. So privacy and security are more important now than ever before. And so we've got governments and individuals and groups that are pushing back against the collection of personalized in, you know, individual data, right. And so we've got to walk this balance. And I think it's really delayed the organization's ability to provide that truly omnichannel, as I move between these different channels and mediums that I'm delivering this personalized experience. I also think that it's just the hard problem and that many of the organizations, even the biggest organizations that we work with, they're just generally not sophisticated enough to deliver it on their own. And so I'm hoping that we can find a way in industry to do this in a way that is both good for the consumer for, you know, the human at the other end, so that it's not a forced experience, it's a good experience for them, and it helps them whether it's in healthcare, financial services, or government, you know, people need to have that experience. And on the other hand, we're protecting individual privacy and security in a way that, you know, is reasonable. And, and walking, that balance is going to be the challenge, I think, for the next couple of years for the digital experience industry.
Yeah, no, totally. And also, I think, you know, we should add it add to that, is that you know, all of this should be delivered in a, in a human, more humane and, you know, rather than, right, I mean, you know, just getting the job done. Yeah.
Yeah. And that's, that's what, that's what I find interesting about, you know, the title of your podcast, and the focus, and really, what we're focused on at Phase2 is remembering that there is a human at the other end of that, right. And so for the industries that we serve, like health care, for instance, which is our largest vertical focus, you know, we try not to forget that we're really trying to improve the patient experience, right. And so, at the end of the day, that has a real impact on people's lives. It's not, it's not a frivolous exchange of information, it's actually a necessary human service.
And do you have any advice or suggestions or maybe next steps for, you know, other peer agencies and organizations looking to kind of embrace and deliver those experiences better, you know, evolve, start evolving?
Who? Yeah, that's a big question. Um, you know, I think one thing that that's helped us over the years is, is just getting spending enough time on really understanding sort of focus, strategy positioning so that there's so many opportunities in this industry to go out and build whatever someone wants built or to do whatever someone wants you to do. And that, to me is a trap that a lot of, I see a lot of agencies fall into, they become sort of jack of all trades, master of none, right? And they, they, they just do what people ask them to do. And I think for us, we've certainly slipped into that at times, it's a temptation that's difficult to avoid, when you have people literally coming to you and approaching you and asking you to do these things. So what we've really tried to do, and what I really advise other people to do is to look at both our kind of our horizontal and our vertical focus and say, Who are we here to serve? Who is our buyer? Who is our target market? What are the demographics? What, you know, literally down to geography, right? I mean, so you certainly will appreciate this, right. But, you know, this digital experience business is a global business, right? You know, a great example, like, you know, you and I are friends, and we, you know, we literally see each other a couple of times a year, even though, you know, you live half a world away. And, you know, so I mean, you know, there's a focus issue there, we got for a while, a lot of opportunities to work in Europe, and you know, you and I've been over there a lot for Drupal, and certainly met a lot of people and had a lot of opportunities. And, you know, one day I just said to myself, like, this is insane. Why would I be selling work on another continent, when we have our offices in Washington, DC, New York, and, and at the time, San Francisco and Portland, there's enough business for us in Manhattan, I don't need to go to Germany to get business, right. So that's just an example of narrowing down the focus. Because then it just takes things off the table, and I don't have to worry about them or think about them anymore. And that kind of focus is really, it provides a lot of clarity for the employees too because they understand what it is that's ideal, what we're looking for what's, what's good work, what's not good work. And you know, we're doing the same thing. Now, with vertical industries, we're really trying to say which industries Do we have the unique ability to impact the most. And let's put all of our energy into those and not worry about all the others. And again, it takes discipline to do it. But once you start asking the critical questions about where your best fit is, it creates clarity for the leadership team, for the sales team for marketing, and for all the employees. So I strongly encourage everybody to take that time to do the soul searching to get you there.
Well, that's great advice. And I know that you know, back in an accident, we've been having similar conversations as well. Yeah, that's right. I mean, you know, let's identify one thing that we do good and do it best and keep doing it. I mean, everything gets to, you know, start falling in shape.
Yeah, I know, I think you guys do a great job of that. You know, it's something that I did have noticed about Axelerant is, is the ability to, yeah, to really say this is what we're here for. And it's, it's hard. It's tempting, it's tempting to say, you know, oh, we need that, oh, we do that, right. I mean, like, that's, you know, that's sort of like the easiest thing to do. And, and, you know, especially if you if you're, you know, if you need work at the moment, which we all go through, you know, times when we've got enough work and times when we don't have enough work, and when we don't have enough work, that's when we're most vulnerable to making bad choices.
Yeah. So right before this podcast, I was in another meeting with a prospect. And, you know, when the question came that, can you guys do this as well, which we have been doing a bit, but not a whole lot. I was very transparent and said, Look, I know this bigger opportunity and revenue in this, frankly speaking, we don't do that. Yeah, but what we do is this and we can do this really well. And that was, you know, highly appreciate it. And I think, you know, left with a positive note there. So it's so yeah,
So I'm actually really glad you said that because I agree with you. It's, it's amazing how, saying no the right way to something that you don't do is it can actually create trust, right because what the person hears is that you're willing to tell them if something isn't in your if it's not a good fit for you. So the next time that you say, you can do something, they're thinking, well, he said he couldn't do it before, you know, so when it wasn't a fit, so now I trust that if he's saying, yes, it is a fit, right. So it really does work.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, what, more than that, I mean, we've kind of, you know, been learning and following, you know, you and Phase2 and, you know, select few agencies in this ecosystem to really isolate, you know, what are the best practices of running an organization and, and being successful? So, yeah, really, thanks for being there. Thank you.
That's very flattering, that you consider us that way. So thank you.
Absolutely. And I'm sure you know, a lot of other people and, you know, friends in this community will have similar opinions and thoughts. So, okay, with that, yeah, one last piece on the advice, but what do you have any suggestions for, you know, someone starting their career, you know, maybe at 22 years old, guy or gal, with a career into this digital ecosystem, like any quick advice to them, okay, this is what you should do, or this is where you should focus on?
you know, I think, I think just starting with it with this sort of perspective that, you know, you're there to learn in the beginning, right, and so absorbing everything that you can, that is new and different, and learning it. And I think sometimes people who are just starting out their careers are coming in with a, you know, I have to prove that 'I'm the best to these people' mentality. And, you know, that's not really what we're thinking on the other side, we're thinking, this is an investment in somebody who might not be our best programmer, or designer or whatever, this year, but in two years, the learning that we've put into them will pay off. And so I think, understanding that that's the, that's the transaction that's going on, you know, right. And being humble enough and modest enough to know that you, you're not gonna be the best that in the beginning, and that your goal is to absorb all of that learning that they want to put into you. And try to return that to them in you know, two year time, something like that,
yeah, reminds me of a talk I saw on YouTube by Jack Ma for Alibaba, where, you know, he was he was talking about the ideal career ladder and how you should focus the first 10 years and second 10 years, and you know, 360, and the first 10 years, he's he said, was the time when you should learn the most and make most mistakes. Because the cost of doing and committing those mistakes is the cheapest, then. So yeah, totally plus one. Right, you know, instead of flattering someone.
Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Now, are there any books or resources or blogs, you frequent, you know, something that has have a huge, huge impact on the way you work or live? would like to share with our listeners?
Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, I try to read a lot, um, you know, I've done periods in my life where, you know, I make a real sustained effort to read and then fall out of it, like everything else, just like exercise or diet or whatever. But, you know, but when I'm, you know, when I'm really in it, what I'm, what I'm doing is I'm spending, you know, an hour a day, looking at certain resources online, it might go to, honestly, Harvard Business Review. I know, it's, you know, kind of cliche, but the quality of work that comes out of HBR whether it's podcasts, or it's you know, it's the magazine itself, or the Digital Archives, it's just really high quality, you know, Management Science, and it just, you can't you just sort of can't replace that with, you know, stuff you find on the internet, right? I mean, I think sometimes you just gotta, you gotta bite the bullet, you got to buy these subscriptions to this high-quality content, because there's a reason that it's that you know, it's known, all right, so I definitely read HBR you know, in terms of books, I like. I like all kinds of genres, but within business, I do like to sometimes read specifically about the agency business because I find that there are people, you know, like us who've been doing this even longer, and they've got great expertise. So right there's a great podcast called the 2Bobs, have you heard of the 2Bobs?
No, I haven't. Okay. Sounds interesting.
Yeah, you're gonna love it. So it's two guys that have been in the agency business a long time, David C. Baker and Blair Enns. And they do a podcast where they just talk about the agency business. And they cover everything from sales and marketing, to hiring, and you know, all the different areas. So it just, it feels very relevant when I listen to that. And then I've gone on to read their books. So David C. Baker wrote a book called The Business of Expertise, which is very good, where he very much talks about positioning, the way I was just talking about it. Blair Enns has written a couple of books, one of which is The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, which is a sales book. And it's essentially about negotiation. So really good. And I love those books. And I love that podcast. Another book that I really like that I've been talking to a lot of people, basically anybody who listened is The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, I think it's Coyle. I think that's how it's pronounced really, really interesting book about how organizations develop unique cultures that guide their activities and make them successful. So he profiles, a lot of different organizations, I mean, not like the most diverse organizations, you can imagine. It's like the navy seals and a comedy troupe in New York, and what they have in common in how they instill their culture to make them successful. So it's really almost humorous that way. And so that's a really good book. So, you know, beyond that, you know, I think, obviously, you know, understanding and reading about history are good. So I love to read about, like, you know, the history of particular, you know, US history is really interesting to me. But, you know, certainly, world history as well, and just understanding how, how we all ended up where we are today, you know?
Absolutely, yeah. Now, these are great recommendations. And HBR, obviously, is, you know, a solid resource, you know, a lot of people I personally know, refer to, and I've already made a note that I'm going to refer to some of these myself, including agency business podcast, is upcoming holidays. So So thanks for sharing those, Jeff. With that, you know, you're almost at the end of this interview. And here's a favorite question of mine. Supposed COVID 19 when the world is back to normal? Where would you like to travel? or do anything exciting that you'd like to share with us?
Oh, yeah, God, that list is long. So I'm a big skier I love to ski. This year is going to be you know, I'm going to really miss skiing. So you know, and I've done a lot of skiing here in the US out west, I'd love to go to South America or the Alps. And ski somewhere, I haven't, it'd be amazing to ski in Japan, I've heard it's just, you know, great and amazing. So just some kind of an exotic, or faraway ski destination would be amazing for me personally.
Sure. Sounds very exciting. And I hope you are able to make to it soon. So with that, yeah, we're wrapping up where we can, you know, listeners find you on the internet, you know, your writings, your work, or you know, about you in general?
Well, yeah, um, you know, obviously, our company's website is phase2technology.com. And, you know, I've promised myself in the new year, I'm going to write a blog post a month, we'll see that happens. I've also opened up a Medium account, try to put more of my non-face to specific writing out there, which I which again, has been, you know, commitment that I've made to myself, which is not come to fruition yet. But you know, I'm on Twitter, @JeffWalpole on Twitter and, and I'm pretty active on LinkedIn. And so those are kind of my go-to, Twitter and LinkedIn and my go-to platforms. And we'll see if this Medium thing takes off as well.
Yeah, well, all the best for your Medium platform and you know, hope to start following it soon. With your first piece of shared that whenever you publish it.
I am planning a blog post right now on lead leading with data where I want to I want to write all about how we how we use metrics at Phase2 and how to use metrics to kind of inspire and motivate people and link together this strategy. So it may end up being a couple of different posts because there's so much to there's so much there. So we'll see.
That sounds very good. Awesome. Well, as I said, you know all the best and thank you for your time Jeff, this was amazing. Wish you a great holiday ahead and hope to see you soon in person at one of the events.
Thank you so much. This has been really great. I really appreciate it.