UTS Startups Confessions: Rob Castaneda

Our CEO recalls his 20+ year ServiceRocket journey in this interview at his alma mater, the University of Technology, Sydney.

UTS Startups Confessions: Rob Castaneda

Our CEO recalls his 20+ year ServiceRocket journey in this interview at his alma mater, the University of Technology, Sydney.

“I didn't mean to start a company…”

The rest, as they say, is history. Twenty-plus years ago, Rob Castaneda founded a company that became ServiceRocket. Today, as CEO, he’s more driven than ever to innovate.

Rob’s professional journey is characterized by tenacity and pluck. It began at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) where he received a BSc, Computing Science.  

Being second from last in class rankings, he decided to intern in his second semester at Borland, the Silicon Valley company known for Pascal, C++ and Delphi. That began a deep connection with support, training and services that continues today.  

Four years later, the nascent entrepreneur graduated from UTS with honors; he founded CustomWare (a precursor to ServiceRocket) a full six months prior.  

Rob shared his story and wisdom with Murray Hurps, Director of Entrepreneurship, University of Technology Sydney, in a special edition of UTS Startups Confessions.

Insights from their conversation, edited for Under the Dome, are excerpted below.

It’s about service
If you've ever been to Ikea, you buy furniture, pay for it and then wait for them to bring it out on a trolley.

That was my first job—waiting at the printer, getting the order and organizing the items on a trolley.

It gave me pleasure to get the orders on the trolley before the customer got to the gate. It was fun to deliver that bit of surprise—that bit of service.

Essentially that's what ServiceRocket brings to enterprise software consulting—it’s what makes us different. #DelightTheCustomer is one of our five values.  

Nailing the basics
I started the company back in 2001. When I first moved to Palo Alto we would see Steve Jobs walking down the street—no one knew who he was.

It’s totally different now. Things are moving a lot quicker.

But I think the core thing in the Services business (actually with all businesses) remains the same—you have a customer who needs to enact change. Services continue to be at the forefront because they deliver change really quickly.

Twenty years on, we rely on the basics. What value are you providing to the customer? Is the cost to do business with you too expensive? Equally important: What value are you providing to the employee?

Our deep Atlassian partnership
ServiceRocket and Atlassian go way back. In 2003 we were doing training projects and support in the Enterprise Java space in Sydney; a friend from Silicon Valley said, ‘Hey, do you know Mike?’ So we got an introduction to Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar from Atlassian; they were also doing support in the Java space back then.

I said to them, ‘Can I buy Jira for the source code?’ (It was for our first client, Johnson & Johnson.) They said, ‘OK, let’s work that out.’

That was the first ever resell for Atlassian.

It helped create their resale program, which is pretty significant.

Over the years we've done many firsts with Atlassian: we built support centers and training offerings for them; we also built the first commercial apps for their platform.

That’s what we do: we partner with companies like Atlassian and create value for them as we help their customers get the most out of their software. In fact, it defines our purpose: To be the single most reliable partner in the acceleration of your growth.

After all, software itself doesn't solve a problem.

Having the right mindset
We work with CEOs of startups who go through an acquisition journey and then create their next start up. The first call they make is to us. They're like, ‘we want you on our team,’ because as they grow and scale, they know #We’veGotTheirBack.  

That’s not a product or a service—that's a mindset. You can have that kind of mindset in a company of one—no one can take that from you. Your second competitor and your only competitor from there is your cost.

Beat your costs and have that mindset—you can live forever.  

My best product
There’s a lot of innovation at ServiceRocket—Rocketeers are passionate about products; they’re driven by Accountable Innovation. You've got to be really focused to do that.

You also have to build a great culture, build leadership and support people to be the best they can be. That's my product.

Be aware of false truisms
Keep people happy and they'll take care of your customers. Hire smart people and just get out of their way.

Those mantras are drilled into entrepreneurs. They’re also not entirely true.

We wanted to keep employees happy. So when the HR manager in one of our locations  said, ‘We should provide this benefit for our team and it's only 50 bucks,’ we said, ‘sure, go ahead.’  

Over time those little decisions created inequalities. You end up in this pattern where you're continually trying to keep people happy. So we went back to the basics to explain things to the team in realistic terms.  

If the company is a tree and we take that branch, take the roots, there’s nothing left. So we changed our business mantra which became the Grow the Tree. Share the Fruit program.

We would rather grow the tree and have it produce a lot of fruit and share the fruit. Why? Because that's sustainable.

The best thing I ever did as entrepreneur
Years ago I joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a non-profit organization of 18,000 CEOs and founders in all different kinds of businesses. Not a lot are in tech actually—many are ‘real’ companies.

Through EO I met a lot of different people and got a lot of different perspectives. You can share problems and get pointers and recommendations about books or topics online. It’s been invaluable.

Values alone aren’t enough
We built our five ServiceRocket values in 2007. They’ve served us well.

But values are like a sign on the door that says, 'Do you agree with this—yes or no?’ They're interpreted differently.

Values can generate a lot of contradictory behavior.

So we added ten leadership behaviors to the mix. Each one includes behaviors and anti-behaviors—they’re very coachable points.

For example our second leadership behavior is “Develops Rocketeers”. The anti-behavior of that is micromanaging.

Every leadership behavior features four or five such points. They give managers a clear framework on how to manage and how not to manage.  

Recognize your limits
I think most of us have one to three 60 - 90 minute bursts of energy a day—that’s if you eat well and sleep well. You probably won’t have three if you're tired or emotionally stressed.

Putting them to use is far more important than having your schedule done in 15 minute blocks.

If you ever tried to have a totally organized schedule you end up wasting one of your units. You beat yourself up by two o'clock because you've missed half your goals.

Understand that you’re one person with limited energy. It’s why we proactively support Rocketeer wellness.

My top three things for entrepreneurs
Listening is a big one, mentorship is the second and a mirror would be third.

We all have a lot of blind spots—being able to see them is key.

ServiceRocket’s Leadership Behaviors provide a mirror that informs our decisions; our five values encourage us to #ShareTheKnowledge and #ThinkTeam. We celebrate our global diversity and promise to help Rocketeers learn and grow so they can have an impact on​ their careers, their families and communities.​ Join us.

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