1851 sits down for an in-depth interview with CEO, Christopher Fountain
1851: Tell us about yourself.
Fountain: I joined FranConnect as CEO in March of 2015. I’m an enterprise applications software professional. My whole background is working with technology and providing mission critical software solutions to businesses around the world. I’m trained as an engineer, but grew up on the sales and marketing side of technology businesses. I worked in relatively large software companies and then in more emerging companies that were higher growth and being built and funded by private equity or venture capital. I’ve met some incredibly talented people along the way.
1851: What is FranConnect in a nutshell, and how did you get to be its CEO?
Fountain: FranConnect is a company exclusively focused on providing a comprehensive set of enterprise-class business applications to the franchising market. I met Amit Pamecha, our founder, through the technology legal practice at DLA Piper. We were connected through one of their partners in 2014, and Amit further connected me with the private equity group who now owns a majority of FranConnect. After a long courtship between Amit and Serent Capital, our private-equity partner, Amit sold a majority of the company to them in late 2014. He now serves on the board as a minority shareholder. Part of his agreement was to help with a leadership transition. I had the good fortune of stepping into a healthy company. It's a very unusual situation to step into a CEO role where things are going well. In this case, Amit stepped down from the position he managed well, and I picked up where he left off.
1851: How is FranConnect evolved since you’ve been on board?
Fountain: FranConnect has gone through a major technology transition in last 2.5 years and introduced FranConnect Sky, an advanced franchise management suite of applications. We launched FranConnect Sky at the IFA’s annual convention in 2016 after we felt the product was rock solid and had enough customers using it in stealth-mode. Today we have over 250 brands on FranConnect Sky, all onboarded within the last 1.5 years, which represents a paradigm shift for our company. The difference is we are now delivering a leading fully mobile enabled software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution designed exclusively for franchising. We have made big improvements across the FranConnect Sky suite and continue to provide updates every 90 days. We also now have three mobile apps. Our customers are very pleased with the advances we’ve made and continue to make with FranConnect Sky.
1851: What do executive conversations focus on at FranConnect?
Fountain: We have done a lot to improve service delivery and customer success. FranConnect was always a great company. In the past, we focused more on the technical deployment of our software. Now we focus on creating value through the deployment and use of our software. As a consequence, customer conversations are focused on how we add value across the entire franchising lifecycle. We have modules that address every franchising business process for both the franchisor and franchisee and each of these modules has a tangible value proposition.
1851: What drives value for franchisors?
Fountain: If you look along the franchise lifecycle, the two primary things that drive economic value for franchisors are: 1) unit economics, and 2) unit growth. Therefore, we look at orienting everything around better and better unit economics and unit growth for the franchisor.
We did a formal study using a third-party consulting firm who talked to our customers and market influencers to develop an in depth understanding of the market from an outside-in perspective – we put the most weight on what our customers shared. What we heard loud and clear is that unit economics and unit growth drive our customers’ businesses. As a result, we changed our approach to focus on those two things. It’s now the conversation around which we orient our internal discussions and how we build, deliver and support our products.
We do ROI modeling now, and start the ROI discussion early with our prospective customers. We started investing more money into the people involved in the development and delivery of our products. We also have a lot more experience with best practices in change management and what best practices to apply to all aspects of franchising.
1851: What does FranConnect focus on?
Fountain: We focus on people, products, process and technology. You can have the best tools in the world, but if you don’t have the right processes in place, you won’t get the best results. We have really focused to make sure our products and technology are helping our customers put the right processes in place. With customer service and delivery, we spend a lot more time understanding customer satisfaction. Our new services leader, Gabby Wong, is a thought leader in customer success and business applications software.
1851: How were you able to scale?
Fountain: You have to have the right people building, servicing, supporting and delivering the software. It’s about getting the right people in place and having a strong team. We have a lot of new folks who joined us in the last two years., We’ve also invested a lot in our infrastructure and processes. We are using tools to better serve our customers. We are improving our company culture. At every quarterly company meeting, we share our results – all team members have a stake in the success of FranConnect. All executives are compensated on our customer satisfaction scores. This incentive system reinforces our customer core values.
1851: How do you keep thinking big?
Fountain: To keep thinking big, we have structured meetings off-site using good-to-great goal setting sessions as we think about the future. The executive team gets together off-site for an annual strategic planning meeting where we also take a 4 to 5 year view of our business. We ask ourselves tough questions about how to put our company in the best position to achieve our goals. These forums are very candid, with a lot of good, healthy debate that encourages disagreement, because one point of view doesn’t always make for a good outcome. For example, throughout the first half of 2016, we developed a 2020 strategy – the strategy was developed after several off-site meetings where we discussed various paths we could take. As part of our planning process, we are always looking at how we can create value for our customers – through superior services and products. Our products are better; they are not just cool or different. Our customers are investing in our products to drive better unit economics and higher unit growth. These outcomes inform how we sell, support, deliver and build our products. Getting the right people around the table and giving them the freedom to collaborate makes a big difference.
1851: How do you know you’re doing the right thing?
Fountain: You never get it all right, and you have to constantly reevaluate and trust the process. I personally like short-interval feedback loops with a commitment to adapt, and I don’t set an overly firm path. We are constantly looking at data and results and asking ourselves if we need to refine what we’re doing.
1851: Is FranConnect cloud-based?
Fountain: Our software has always been hosted in a world class datacenter, but it didn’t always serve multiple tenants (customers) within a single SaaS product. Now every time FranConnect Sky is updated, every customer using the product gets updated. There’s a robust quarterly process for delivering these new versions, including updated training and documentation which are a key part of the process. By contrast, in the past, each customer had a slightly different version of our software. We continue to support these customers and intend to do so going forward – however, now they have an option to migrate to FranConnect Sky and enjoy all the capabilities it has to offer.
1851: What kind of leader are you in the franchise space?
Fountain: I spent a lot of time studying the franchise market before joining FranConnect. I came to the company as an outsider – what I did bring was significant and highly relevant enterprise applications experience. One initial concern some people shared with me was that I didn’t know franchising, which was true –I took this as a challenge. I began spending a great deal of time with the IFA and attended numerous franchising events. Most importantly, I spent and continue to spend a great deal of time outside the office meeting with C-level customer executives representing all types of small and large franchisors. I also began work on my Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) certification which I received in early 2017. And, I was recently nominated and accepted as an alternate to the Franchise Supplier Forum, an organization comprised of leading suppliers who represent the broader franchise supplier community. While I’ve learned a lot, I am going to keep learning. I love the diversity of this market and the kinds of companies that are represented because the franchise business format applies to all sorts of companies. It’s been really cool to become immersed in these franchise ecosystems. Sitting in this seat affords me to opportunity to have meaningful interactions across all sectors of franchising as well as within the various franchise industry associations. It’s been a great ride so far and promises to be even a greater ride in the years to come.