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Leader Insights

Centercode CEO Talks Tackling Challenges with a COVID-World Mindset

August 20, 2020

As the industry gets rocked with viral and economic disruption, consumers want more for their money. Meanwhile, the audience leveraging technology is broader than ever before — meaning the demand for seamless and delightful product experiences is the highest it’s ever been. How can companies fulfill higher customer expectations when resources are strained and the path forward is unclear?

Since 2001, Centercode has helped hundreds of iconic tech companies bring amazing products to market. With two decades firmly rooted in tech under his belt, Centercode’s CEO Luke Freiler is in tune with those challenges. We tapped him to find out what he’s seen successful companies do in the past and how to apply that knowledge to weathering the uncertainty ahead.

What mindset will companies need to survive the challenges that come with the uncertainty ahead, like continued COVID disruption or an economic recession?

Luke: What we’re dealing with now is really nothing like any recession we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. It feels like a recession because everyone has put the brakes on spending. But in truth, the COVID disruption has completely changed the world for the foreseeable future.

You and I now operate incredibly differently on a day-to-day basis than we did six months ago. Your morning then looked nothing like it does now. In some ways, it’s a good thing. Not having to commute is pretty cool. In other ways (such as the typical experience with distance learning), it’s a different story.

When major disruption happens, the first impulse is to wait it out and assume it’s temporary. This is very natural — nobody wants to invest in fixing temporary situations. You certainly don’t remodel the bathroom in the house you’re renting.

What we have to realize is that if we simply tread water, we’re only going to fall behind. The world has changed, and many of those changes aren’t going away any time soon, if at all. Since we can’t control it, we have to deliberately adapt. The businesses that will both survive and thrive are those that are accepting there’s a new norm and aggressively adapting their strategies to suit it.

Are there any tactics you saw successful companies adopt in the past that companies are starting to adopt now?

Luke: The most successful tactic we saw during the Great Recession was accepting that you had to narrow your focus to fewer products — and making sure those products were winners.

When the market is behaving predictably, there’s more runway and more bandwidth for some products to be flops. Obviously, you don’t want a flop — but it’s often just a numbers game. With the COVID disruption, we don’t have the numbers on our side anymore. You have to ask yourself, “How do I achieve the same results with fewer products?”

The businesses that will both survive and thrive are those that are accepting there’s a new norm and aggressively adapting their strategies to suit it.

It’s not saying, “We were planning to release 20 products this year. Now we’ll take the same approach, but we’ll only release half.” Instead, it’s saying, “We’re releasing 10 products this year, and we’re going to marginally increase our investment into each of them because we need them all to be hits.”

How has this disruption shifted your plans for 2020?

Luke: As you adjust your strategy, you measure your changes against the market — which is effectively your control. But when you have a year like this, where everything is very, very different in ways you can barely wrap your head around, you’ve lost your control. It’s so hard to know what is or isn’t working when the circumstances have changed completely.

Everyone is adapting their roadmaps to this new reality. For example, I’d be blown away if high-end consumer brands weren’t at least talking about introducing new product lines well below their typical price points — something unfathomable a year ago.

We had to accept that there’s a new norm and that our previous plans wouldn’t work out the way we expected. While we’ll always have a purpose as long as companies are committed to building better, more seamless products, we’re also rethinking what our product is and what it needs to be to fit the demands of what’s happening right now.

That said, we see this as an opportunity to have an even greater impact on technology. We’re optimistic that this sea change will generate even more success for Centercode.

As a society, we’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on the negatives of COVID. Can you speak to any silver linings you’ve seen come out of this?

Luke: You know, I spend at least an hour every week with my Director of Ops, discussing how we can recraft the company in the image of this new world — from little things like how we communicate meaningful information via simple Slack statuses, to important things like how we treat and encourage time off. It’s a balancing act. We want to help our team feel connected to each other while still giving them the autonomy to solve challenges and cope at an individual level.

As part of this, we asked everyone at Centercode to share how COVID has impacted them. A response that really stuck with me said this: “Even though my hours have increased, my work-life balance is the best it’s ever been. Having the freedom to just go outside and garden for 10 minutes is a helpful break I’d have never taken after a long day at the office.”

That was a real eye-opener for me, as so much focus has been given to the negatives. In reality, I was experiencing the same but hadn’t realized it.

We’re also rethinking what our product is and what it needs to be to fit the demands of what’s happening right now.

Beyond supporting your team and your customers, what’s something you’re watching on an industry level?

Luke: More companies are going to be shifting their mindset to how they can take advantage of that new world. What I’m most looking forward to seeing are the companies that are absolutely going to kill it because they identified a new demand and seized the opportunity.

An example is DSLR companies who previously served high-end photography exclusively— which is basically sunk right now, seeing as we can’t go anywhere — that instead started pitching them as high-quality webcam stand-ins. Webcams are in high demand and they’re almost impossible to get. That ingenuity is really interesting to see.

It also means product testing is more important than ever. It’s a chance to sync up with your target market and set a new baseline, to see firsthand what new things your customers are going through and how you can continue to serve their needs as the world rapidly changes.

Let’s Make a Plan

How do you move forward through the unexpected? Let your customers drive. Centercode connects you directly to your target market, putting your product in the real homes of actual customers and their live technical environments. Perfect your beta and delta tests — and open up the possibilities with profound product insights — by chatting with our customer testing experts.

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