Leadership

Software Startup Profile: Q&A with Provade CEO, Edward Jackson

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Provade uses Oracle’s enterprise platform to deliver an enterprise-class SaaS solution for labor procurement. CEO Edward “EJ” Jackson spoke with SandHill.com on why staying focused is the best business advice he’s ever received, why team matters and his tips for fledgling software CEOs.

SandHill.com: How does Provade drive business value for its customers?

EJ Jackson: Our company enables large corporate customers to gain visibility and control over one of their fastest-growing expenditures. Most Fortune 2000 companies spend well over $100 million each year on contingent workers and Statement of Work (SOW) services. Our vendor management system has the potential to yield tens of millions of dollars in hard savings annually.

SandHill.com: How does your company change the software industry vendor ecosystem?

EJ Jackson: We deliver a SaaS solution that integrates with several key ERP applications, delivering on the promise of the extended enterprise. This is something other VMS providers are not offering.

SandHill.com: Describe the most hilarious meeting you’ve had recently.

EJ Jackson: I had a competitor disparage us in front of a customer who was on the fence about which firm it would award with a sizable contract. This resulted in the customer promptly awarding us the business. I guess the old saying holds true, “If you can’t say something nice …”

SandHill.com: What business or social leader has most shaped your career?

EJ Jackson: Colin Powell. I saw him right after he joined Kleiner Perkins, when he was a keynote speaker at a software event – I made sure to get ahold of his PowerPoint presentation about leadership. This should be mandatory reading for any executive.

SandHill.com: What is the worst advice you’ve ever received? What is the best?

EJ Jackson: The worst advice was to develop ancillary services because a customer asked us to; the result was lower margins and a distraction from what we do best.

The best guidance was the countless times I have been told to stay focused and say no. This is counterintuitive for entrepreneurs because by definition we are people who say yes to something other people reject or simply ignore. I think the key is to say yes to one and only one thing. That is the mission. Once that is solidified, then learn to say no to the majority of distractions that diverge from the core mission.

SandHill.com: What is the most fulfilling part of being a software executive?

EJ Jackson: Being a valued team member and trusted leader. World-class companies are built by a number of smart and passionate team members, not a sole individual.

The overarching belief that the buck starts and stops with the CEO is bullocks. It takes a highly collaborative team in today’s world to succeed. Authoritarian regimes are anachronisms. Understanding this means you have far fewer instances where you ask someone to jump and they respond, “How high?”

SandHill.com: Imagine you had a full day at work with an empty calendar. What would you do?

EJ Jackson: Call my largest customer and brainstorm about where our industry is going. I would bounce some zany ideas off him and see what sticks. Then I’d connect with my top two or three partners and have a similar conversation. Next, I would do a practice demo of our software and give my feedback to our product team – maybe even prove to myself I can do a full end-to-end proof demo. Finally, I’d get some quality time with people throughout Provade to thank them for their efforts, gather their input and share a few laughs.

SandHill.com: What words of advice do you have for leaders of today’s fledgling software companies?

EJ Jackson: Achieve small goals fast. Don’t get distracted and never forget you know far more than any prospect ever will. Don’t waste time with partners you don’t make lots of money for. Never lie. Don’t disparage your competition; just kick their ass in the market with a better product and customer experience. Get an independent board member who is not part of management or money investors and has operational experience. Try thanking someone on your team everyday – praise matters!

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