Horn Group talks to Ken Ross, CEO of ExpertCEO, about how his network of resources helps other CEOs navigate through complex business issues and weather an unpredictable economy.
HG: On the ExpertCEO network, senior executives can ask questions, pose scenarios, solicit input—quickly and in confidence—via an online exchange with other professionals. What was the impetus for creating ExpertCEO?
KR: I was in the process of leaving my prior job, CEO of Seriosity, in the fall of 2007 and debating what I should do next. At the same time, social networks like Facebook were incredibly popular and the idea struck me to leverage this type of technology, but gear it toward senior executives. So, I founded ExpertCEO to provide the type of trusted management resource I wish I’d had during my career. With ExpertCEO, I was able to fulfill many roles I really enjoy - a CEO, an advisor to companies (virtually) and go back to my roots as an entrepreneur.
HG: Do you think it’s truly lonely at the top?
KR: Yes! I can state with 99% certainty that every CEO has issues which he or she is passionate about that they don’t feel comfortable discussing with their management team or Board.
HG: Before you started ExpertCEO, where did you get most of your advice?
KR: Back in my Ross Systems days (1970s and 80s), I found great comfort in talking with CEOs of other software companies, on an informal basis. I didn’t belong to any particular CEO groups. I did have a few friends with whom I talked, but they weren’t close to my business. When I spoke with my peers, I was really happy to hear that the problems we experienced were also being experienced by others in my industry.
HG: How is the current economic climate affecting site traffic and the types of questions being posed?
KR: Our site traffic continues to increase as our membership increases – we are currently not charging a fee for membership, that being said, we carefully screen all applicants to ensure they meet our standards. I believe that the financial crisis will drive more members to our site as CEOs look for inexpensive (or free) ways to get the answers to tough questions. We do see an increase in questions related to the crisis such as a recent thread titled, “Deals slipping?”.
HG: What is the most interesting question you’ve seen on the site?
KR: There are many, but two of them stand out now – not just because they’re interesting, but because the quality of the user-generated content is very high and very valuable to our members. The first is “employment terms” – accelerated vesting of stock options on a change in control; and the second is the future of SaaS. The employment terms discussion touches on an issue every CEO will likely consider when joining a company, while the SaaS-based question is an intriguing dialogue amongst members who share their challenges with this business model.
HG: How do you see the site evolving over time?
KR: We want to continue to grow our member base while we build out more functionality in the different sections – such as our resource center. We will probably add premium services of some type for our members.