May 28, 2021
Q&A: Horatio’s COO – Alex Ross
Life at Horatio
Alex is the COO of Horatio and is responsible for operations and client service. Prior to founding Horatio, Alex was a Vice President at J.P. Morgan’s real estate investment group. Alex also worked in the private bank at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. He received a B.A., with distinction, in economics from The University of Michigan and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. We recently sat down with Alex for a chat on the CX industry, his role as COO, and the importance of celebrating the small things.
You spent nearly 7 years working in the banking industry. What drove you and your co founders to collaborate together and take on the risk of starting your own company after graduating from business school?
Business school has this way of opening your eyes beyond your current job function. For me, I learned that there’s a lot more to the world than Wall St. While at Columbia University, we were exposed to so many amazing entrepreneurs that came into our class to tell us their story, success, and even failures. It was the passion that these founders spoke with that caught my attention – they deeply cared about every aspect of their business. Yes, making money was important, but you could see that they cared just as much, or even more, about building their company.
That’s when I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Now the question was – doing what? Jose, Jared and I floated a number of ideas like building a coffee brand or developing real estate internationally…but they never stuck. As a side project, we began helping startups raise capital by connecting them with our network. In this process, we found that so many founders were great at building businesses, but just couldn’t figure out this customer support part. First, they didn’t want to deal with it and once they realized they had to, it was super expensive and time consuming. The smartest founders realized how important it was and that it could build brand loyalty and generate revenue.
That’s when we had the idea of Horatio and our tagline was born – “do what you do best, let Horatio do the rest”. We learned that if we could become experts at the customer experience space and find a way to provide it in a cost-effective manner, companies would be willing to partner with us. And that’s exactly what started to happen and Horatio was born.
Jose is CEO, Jared is CFO, and you are COO. How did the three of you determine who would be doing what at Horatio?
When we first came up with our titles, it felt like more of a random assignment than a strategic decision. But when I look back on it, it makes perfect sense. Jose is a natural seller and loves to build relationships with clients, so making his role as CEO a nice fit. Jared is one of the most skilled financial operators that I’ve ever seen, so his role as CFO has done wonders for our business’s ability to scale. For me, I’ve always been laser-focused on process and optimization. More importantly, I focus on where the process breaks down. As COO of Horatio, we manage a large number of employees so the process is key for us being able to scale.
The title of COO can mean many different things. What exactly does your job entail? Give us a rundown of your day-to-day.
I’m sure many founders would tell you that there is no “day-to-day” at a startup, but there are some themes that generally arise. At Horatio, we are always thinking about how to scale effectively and efficiently. My job is to see a few steps ahead of where problems might occur and then build a plan to overcome them.
I focus a lot of my time on the employee experience which is, at its core, what makes Horatio…Horatio. Specifically, in 2021, one of our top initiatives is to build a better employee experience. To do that, we are focusing on defining what a career path looks like at Horatio, how we build skills that facilitate employees’ growth, and how to invest to create a more communal culture. Historically, our industry hasn’t focused on that and we’re pushing to change that.
In addition to that, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help our clients optimize their customer experience and scale their business further. When our clients do well, we do well so we have a vested interest in helping them optimize everything from their customer voice to utilizing their customer data.
Onboarding clients is one of the most important aspects of the BPO industry. How do you identify prospects for a successful partnership?
We’ve worked with a wide range of companies, but they all seem to have the same theme – they truly care about the customer experience. The onboarding is the most important part to get right at the very beginning and requires a lot of attention as it often defines how the rest of the partnership will go. That’s why you will see one of the founders actively involved in the onboarding to make sure we are set up for success. The first month is critical in this regard, so we invest a lot of resources throughout. For instance, we over-staff teams to make sure we get the best client-agent fit, we deep-dive into the current CX structure of the company, and then we build our own training process to streamline future headcount needs.
After the first month, we do a review of the business and offer our clients strategies to improve their customer experience. Sometimes it’s proposing new software, other times it’s analyzing data to better define policy and process. We are essentially learning your business from scratch, documenting it all, and then searching for areas to optimize.
What are 3 main factors to consider when choosing a new technology for Horatio?
- ROI: Because of the nature of our business, we have to be very conscious of the return on investment of technology. That has become even more true as most companies have switched to the SAAS model pricing per user which gets expensive given our headcount.
- Flexibility: We are a scaling company and we need to work with partners that can offer us flexibility. Some of our best partners have built new features based on our requests which is a win for both parties.
- Customer Support: As a customer support company, we have high expectations of the customer support from our technology partners. So fast response times and knowledgeable agents are essential.
What do you miss about life before the Covid-19 crisis?
I miss my team the most. We have scaled very quickly during this period of time and there are so many people that I just haven’t met yet. For those that I have, I miss being able to turn around and bounce ideas off them. Horatio is only as good as the people that work there so learning how to build meaningful relationships remotely is super important.
Any New Year’s resolutions?
Yes, I have a few. My first is letting others take the lead. I have a way of doing things and am very hands-on. As we scale, that becomes more and more difficult. Therefore, I need to focus on training other leaders and recognizing that their style, while different than mine, can still be very effective or even more effective.
My other resolution is to “just stop and smell the roses”. Generally, when we win a new client, I rarely focus on the win. Instead, I tend to focus on what needs to get done to set up their onboarding and make it as successful as possible. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, which is important. But it’s also important to step back and realize the efforts you and your team made to get there – spending less time on thinking about what’s next and more on celebrating the small things.
Horatio is a leading provider of white-glove customer experience and omni-channel support services. At Horatio, we like to say “do what you do best, and hire Horatio to do the rest.” Horatio partners with high-growth and innovative companies to develop their customer support strategy and provides a dedicated handpicked team to execute. Horatio’s number one focus is on providing high-touch, brand-focused customer support. Our team is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and expertise to ensure a great customer experience every time.