Huddle appoints new CEO in surprise move: what’s up?

SUMMARY:

Enterprise cloud collaboration vendor Huddle appoints new CEO Morten Brøgger; founder Alastair Mitchell becomes president and CMO

Morten Brøgger CEO Huddle 700px
Morten Brøgger, Huddle

In a surprise coda to last month’s $51 million funding round, cloud collaboration vendor Huddle has a new CEO.

Morten Brøgger took over the reins this month from founding CEO Alastair Mitchell, who becomes president and chief marketing officer. The CMO role was vacant after the departure of Chris Boorman last summer to join UK based business automation startup Automic.

Brøgger’s appointment raises three important questions about Huddle. Fortunately I was able to get time on the phone with him last night to put those questions to him.

Is Huddle up for sale?

The company’s press release today takes care to point out that Brøgger was CEO of mobile roaming interconnect business MACH when it was acquired in 2013 by private equity-owned Syniverse for €550 (equivalent to $715m at the time). Many will wonder if that background suggests he has been hired to find a buyer for Huddle, especially in the wake of the Box IPO, which has likely firmed up the value of similar companies.

Brøgger denied that a sale was on the agenda. He insisted his focus is on driving the company’s expansion:

I’m certain it did not damage my chances of getting the job offer. But that’s not something we spend a lot of time discussing. There’s no [acquisition] process going on or planned.

Is this the right person?

Huddle has put a lot of emphasis over the past two years on growing sales in the US market. Top executives have been spending much of their time in its San Francisco office. So it’s perhaps surprising to find the company hiring a European for the CEO role rather than someone with a Silicon Valley track record.

Although based in the US for the past year in his prior role as chief sales officer at Syniverse, Brøgger was born and began his career in Denmark. At MACH, he was based in Luxembourg, and he has also worked in Switzerland.

He told me he believed he has been hired because of his experience, skills, and personal fit with Huddle’s culture:

It was about chemistry, it was not about nationality. I have a Scandinavian, open, pragmatic, people-oriented management style.

Brøgger pointed out that he has been dealing with large enterprise customers globally for the past 10 years and had built sales for MACH and Syniverse “across all continents except Antarctica.” He went on to reiterate the importance of the US market to Huddle:

The US is the most advanced market in terms of readiness to deploy cloud-based services. A lot of online collaboration best practice is going to be defined in this market.

You need to be here in order to ensure you are leading-edge in functionalities and the values you bring.

What about the relevance of Brøgger’s experience? Huddle’s press release stretches a point when it refers to “a decade of experience bringing innovative cloud-based services to market.” MACH and Syniverse both specialize in providing roaming interconnect services to mobile network operators. That’s a far cry from Huddle’s cloud collaboration applications, designed for use by knowledge workers in public sector, professional services, pharmaceuticals and other industries.

Brøgger conceded his prior experience has been more focused on enabling “the ecosystem” rather than “the handset.” But he argued that the sales process was comparable:

Enterprise sales is very much the same. It’s about understanding the business of the customer. If you understand the business and the pain points and you have a good experience and a good benchmark on how to solve it, it becomes a good dialog.

What’s going to change?

Huddle logo on wall in its San Francisco officeIt’s always a milestone whenever a founding CEO hands over the reins. Brøgger was emphatic that Mitchell (known to colleagues as ‘Ali’) will continue to play a pivotal role as president and CMO — most notably in evangelizing Huddle’s proposition to the market.

Ali’s role of president and CMO is perfect for him. He is the inventor, the soul, the founder.

If anyone has Huddle in his genes it’s Ali. If anyone can help us articulate the value of Huddle to customers, to analysts, to investors, to the market, it’s Ali.

He explained that the motivation for bringing in a new CEO was to add “bandwidth and capacity” to the management team. Co-founder Andy McLoughlin remains as executive vice president of strategy. Brøgger elaborated:

I am not a replacement I am an addition to the team.

They wanted to add some experience, to add some extra capacity, to the management team — to accelerate growth of revenues, customers, verticals, geographies.

Although a key part of his brief is to lead “expansion into new territories in 2015,” Brøgger wouldn’t be drawn on which specific markets or industries will be targeted under his leadership.

Current areas of strength are in professional services and in local and central government. He said the team is currently examining market knowledge and customer presence in each industry sector and geographic territory before deciding on any new expansion. When it is ready, Huddle will target systematically:

When we want to enter a geography and a vertical we want to be the absolute leader and best provider [in that territory] for secure online collaboration.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Meanwhile, it’s clear from his remarks that Brøgger has been drinking the ‘Kool-Aid’ at Huddle and admires the company’s strengths. That will reassure any employees, partners and customers who may be wondering how the handover of roles will affect them. He told me:

One of the top priorities of executive leaders today is finding out how people can collaborate better. This means a product like Huddle is going to change the way we work. It’s pretty cool to be part of that.

There’s a lot of really good people in Huddle. Clearly my job as CEO is to make them feel they’re part of an interesting journey, they’re developing personally and they’re impacting the ccmpany in the hours they spend working at Huddle.

Just as my core task is making sure we have very satisfied customers.

My take

With Microsoft, Google, Box, Jive, Egnyte and many others all making a strong play in the enterprise cloud collaboration space, it’s a crowded, highly competitive market. Huddle has done well to date to keep pace with the growth rates of rival startups but the going can only get tougher as we move into 2015.

Therefore it makes sense to strengthen the management team, especially now that it has secured a new round of funding (though I’m assured by the company the round was not contingent on bringing in a new CEO). Huddle is bolstering its management team in order to move up another gear.

What came across strongly to me from Brøgger’s comments is that he is an individual who is very focused on establishing strong processes and then executing on them in a measured, disciplined way. I suspect he will bring new rigor to how Huddle operates, which at this stage in its evolution should prove invaluable.

Although something of a surprise, today’s announcement of a new CEO therefore seems logical. Now let’s see how it works out.

Image credits: Courtesy of Huddle.