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CEOs in Conversation: Rob Castaneda and Randall Ward

Two dynamic companies—one dynamic vision.

Once upon a time, ServiceRocket and Appfire, both early partners in the Atlassian ecosystem, viewed each other as competitors.

Today, both companies continue to play a vital role in the Atlassian community. Over time, ServiceRocket’s Rob Castaneda and Appfire’s Randall Ward also cultivated a partnership of their own.

The two CEOs got together in Las Vegas at Atlassian Team ‘22 to exchange ideas and to clear the table. As to who sank more shots, it was more about play and having a good time.  

That camaraderie was reflected in a conversation that focused on fostering growth.


How did your partnerships with Atlassian first evolve?

Rob: We had been working with many software companies. When we first started working with Atlassian, it was clear that they were true to their mission and true to their values. They weren’t trying to recreate what everyone expected of them. I think that's been key to their success.

Randall: I echo what Rob said. Great businesses are built by great people. Atlassian wanted to attract the right talent. They built economies around their business, which attracted great people like Rob, and eventually, Appfire and other companies.

Rob: Atlassian was very small then. Both of us saw that and the pioneers that were there. Fifteen years later, we're still looking ahead at the size of the opportunity—it’s still massive.

Randall: Rob always reminded me of our place inside this ecosystem. We're downstream from a manufacturer. It’s about how you build a business with an upstream motion. Any stop along the way where I was stuck, the first person to offer advice was Rob. I am deeply, deeply grateful.  

What does it take to be a great ecosystem partner?

Rob: The biggest challenge to becoming a great partner is actually also knowing what you want to get out of what you're building. The market moves very quickly and you can get caught being reactive at times.

So the most successful partners are the ones that are very proactive and are defining a vision in mind with the platform partner.

Randall: And understanding also that this ecosystem is built on shared beliefs, open standards. And we as businesses have to walk into that partnership with an open mindset. We have to be here, willing to share and collaborate. It's not a competition.

Rob: Yeah. Play the long game. I think from the very beginning, Randall and I were competitors. But we were working together at conferences. We would wear each other’s shirts and we showed the community that we were part of the community. Not giving customers the feeling that, you know, it was a hostile environment.

Randall: I think that is a great open look and image for the community and for the ecosystem at large. If they see the two largest providers of services (at that time)  working closely with each other in close concert—not worrying about taking each other's opportunities, but collaborating with one another—builds a really great repeatable framework.

What role do services play in a product company's ecosystem?

Rob: Services are really important, because as platforms grow, there are gaps in what customers want and what the platform can provide. Some services really blaze the trail and make something into a full solution.

After that, apps are built to bridge those gaps, but services are really the glue that brings it all together and turns it into a solution.

Randall: And I think, for us, it would have been impossible for us to achieve what we've done at Appfire without service partners like ServiceRocket and others.

We can't be everything in terms of bringing value to the customer. A lot of the time it's the way our products are deployed, not the products themselves. It's about how they're used and how they're positioned within the company. And again, key to why service businesses are so special.

What role do employees play in your company’s success?

Randall: They don't work for me—I work for them. That’s the first thing that CEOs get wrong. I work for 600 amazing, talented people that I learn and grow from, that I trust and respect. It’s amazing.

For me, one of the things I think about often, and we were always clear about, is why our teams are in business. What is our purpose? What are we here to do and achieve? So beyond mission and vision, beyond BHAG, it's about reminding our teams every day why they're here at work.

For us, it's about leaving the biggest impact. We think the biggest impact for Appfire is to build a company that other companies can model themselves after. If we achieve even a fraction of that goal we'll have built an exceptional business.

Rob: I think getting the small things right and the small details, doing what's right for the business and for employees. If you take a lot of shortcuts, you end up going in circles.

Our [Rocketeer] promise is to help them learn and grow. It’s essential to me that they build their careers so they can impact themselves, their families and their communities.

Tech used to be a fringe business. Now it is mainstream. As tech CEOs we have a responsibility to help build great communities in the world.

How do your companies complement each other?

Randall: First off, we collaborate around our products. We have products that integrate with each other; they have a better together story. The product side, though, is the least exciting part about the way I think we collaborate.

The most exciting thing for me is, when I needed to go to Cloud with the Atlassian stack, the first call I made was ServiceRocket. Move my systems to Cloud? It's ServiceRocket.

When we want to build and scale a support organization globally, Rob's already done that for many ecosystems. First person I call: Rob. Can you help me build a 24/7 skilled, support organization worldwide?

I watched him do it for many, many years, and now I'm benefiting from watching him do that by having him as our vendor deliver that for me.

So in one direction, we're going to market together, and in the other direction, I can't go to market without the services. So it's a really nice symbiotic relationship between both companies.

Rob: Mistakes happen. What's important is that when they do happen, the customers and the teams know that we've got their back. That’s very different than errors or problems happening because of integrity or some other underlying issue.

So, you know, do great, do great business, do right by people, do right by partners and the customers. Sometimes you'll go sideways, sometimes a little bit back.

But for us, especially over the last five years, it’s just really narrowing in on growing the tree, making sure the company’s really strong and can provide lots of fruit for everyone.

A partnership of trust.

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