My Native Advice: Gerald E. Starr: Chairman, CEO, & Co-Founder of Cloud9 Technologies
Gerald (Jerry) Starr is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned business leader. With over 30 years of experience starting companies and leading larger businesses Jerry has an exceptional track record of success. Jerry was founder and CEO of Tec Turrets, which was acquired by Tie Communications. He also founded Bridge Electronics which developed pioneering technology in the foreign exchange markets and was ultimately acquired by IPC. Following the Bridge acquisition, Jerry became CEO of IPC, leading the company through a LBO until its acquisition by Global Crossing. Jerry was also founder and CEO of Lexar, which developed cloud communications services for the financial markets. Lexar was acquired by Westcom Corporation in 2006.
Cloud9 Technologies is Jerry’s fourth business venture as founder and CEO. With a passion for the financial markets, Jerry’s and the teams goal is to introduce transformational technology that changes the way financial institutions engage, connect and collaborate.
How did you get into Financial-Tech industry?
I had a passion for the financial markets and the financial communications space early in my career. Trader voice communications is a fascinating piece of the financial industry – it presents very nuanced challenges that aren’t present in other industries. It’s a hectic, competitive, and incredibly high-stakes environment, and I became interested in helping firms improve the quality of their business through technology that supports effective communication.
I have sold several startups in the space, and ended up being an executive at a number of traditional telephony providers before deciding to start Cloud9 with my current co-founders.
Any emerging industry trends?
There are a number of incredibly exciting things happening in the communication and collaboration space right now. One of the key technologies that our system is built on, Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC), is a very significant piece of technology built by Google is just now starting to hit the mainstream with Apple and Facebook starting to leverage it in their applications. It supports high-quality voice and video connections, and enables us to build a very targeted application for the financial services sector that we can use to layer in security and compliance features that meet the demands of some of our largest financial customers.
The technology also gives us the ability to extend our solution in the future to other uses cases. I think this is just the beginning, but WebRTC will not only change the way we think about enterprise communications, but it will also affect the way you make a call or send a message going forward. The possibilities of WebRTC are limitless, and we’re lucky to have experts on our team that have been leading the adoption of this technology in the industry.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
There is a huge opportunity for our solution in the in financial services industry. Most firms have been dealing with the same communication technology that hasn’t evolved in over 40 years. Leveraging modern infrastructure like AWS we’ve been able to quickly build a cloud-based application that has a greater degree of security and better voice quality and controls than the industry has ever seen – while significantly reducing their communication costs. We’ve also got an unrivaled user community that is enabling our customers to connect to new counterparties they may not have previously done business with. It’s fundamentally changing the way the industry operates when it comes to voice trading.
Inspiration for Cloud9 Technologies, and your vision for it?
After working for so many years in the trader voice communications space, it became clear to Cloud9’s founding team that there was a huge opportunity for innovation in the industry. We looked at consumer messaging applications like Facetime and What’s App – and thought there has to be a way to make trader communication better using modern technology. Voice trading and turret technology was invented in the 70s, and it hasn’t been adapted for modern trading floors. We realized we had the expertise, the drive, and the right technology was available disrupt the space.
Today some of the world’s biggest banks, including J.P. Morgan and Barclays, have invested in us. We currently have clients 21 countries around the world, we’re used by 2,000 traders at 350 firms. We’ve been able to build a world-class team and make incredible impact in just over a year and a half. Our vision is to build a product that can be used beyond the financial services sector.
What’s next for Cloud9 in the near future?
In the short term we’re focusing on continuing to build a product and community that traders love. We’re also focused on expanding globally.
Your key initiatives for the success of Cloud9?
We’ve really focused on building the right team of people, and taking talent from outside of the fintech sector. Its helped us to build a modern application that is truly transforming the way traders communicate.
We’ve also worked hard on building a culture of approachability and innovation. Employees are encouraged to take risks, and anyone can approach senior management with their best ideas.
Your most difficult moment at Cloud9 (and what did you learn?)
I think one of the most difficult moments with this business, in particular was getting a consortium of banks together to fund us and then getting them on the same page. This was my first experience with a consortium for funding, and I learned a lot about patience.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
When we give demonstrations of our product, one of the first things people comment on is the sound quality and the second question people ask is who can I connect to. So part of our ideal experience is ensuring that the voice communication aspect of our product is high quality, and that people can easily connect with their counterparties and find new ones. We also want to remove the hassle and costs associated with private lines and traditional telecom equipment.
Voice communication should be as easy as instant message – and that’s what we’re striving for with Cloud9.
How do you motivate others?
It’s incredibly important to myself and my executive team to foster a welcoming and supportive work environment, where people feel comfortable taking risks. We’ve worked hard to bring people onto the team that excel in their respective areas, but also bring positivity and fun to the office – we want people to enjoy coming to work every day and feel like they are getting the support to move upward in their careers. We work incredibly hard, but we also make time for weekly happy hours, ping pong tournaments, pizza lunches, and celebrations for new hires. One of my favorite traditions, which I’ve taken with me through my professional career, is the office-wide Jenga game – each member of the office has to go up and pull a Jenga block- needless to say, it reveals a lot about different personalities very quickly!
Career advice to those in your industry?
The career advice that I give everyone is that in business if you make 10 decisions, for example, you hope at least six are correct. Then you take a look at the four that aren’t, and you go back and fix them. It is okay to make a few mistakes along the way – and how you address them counts.