1851: Tell us about yourself.
Chris Fountain, CEO: I joined FranConnect as CEO in March of 2015. I’m an enterprise applications software guy. My whole background is working with technology and providing critical applications to businesses around the world. I grew up on the sales and marketing side of technology businesses,but I’m an engineer by background. 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 great people along the way.
1851: What is FranConnect in a nutshell, and how did you get to be its CEO?
Fountain: FranConnect is a set of enterprise class business applications for franchises. 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 part of FranConnect. After a three-month courtship between Amit and the PE firm, Amit sold the majority of the company to them and now serves on the board as a minority shareholder. Part of his agreement is to help with the transition in leadership. I had the good fortune of stepping into a healthy company, and it's a very unusual situation to step into a CEO role where things are going great. In this case, Amit steps 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 the FranConnect Sky Field Ops module. We launched at the IFA’s annual convention in 2016 after we felt the product was rock solid and had enough customers starting to use it. Today we have over 250 brands on FranConnect’s Sky Field Ops module, all within the last 1.5 years, which represents a paradigm shift for our company. The difference is we are now marketing a leading cloud computing standard for software as a service. We have made big improvements on system-wide updating. Furthermore, we have three mobile apps now and have received very positive customer feedback with respect to our product line, with more to come.
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 technological deployment of software as a conversation centerpiece. Now those conversations focus around value creation. As a consequence, we basically support the entire franchising life cycle. We have modules that cover every business process for both the franchisor and franchisee.
1851: What drives value for franchisors?
Fountain: If you look along the franchise life cycle, 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 an outside study where we hired a third party to talk to our customers and market influencers to try to understand the market from an outside perspective, through the eyes of our customer. What we heard loud and clear is that unit economics and unit growth drive our customers’ businesses. So we changed our approach to focus on those two things. It’s now the conversation we orient our internal conversations around and how we deliver our products. In the past, many conversations were about getting the software installed.
We do ROI modeling now, and we start the ROI discussion early with our prospective clients. We started investing a lot more money into the people involved in the delivery of our products. We also have a lot more experience with best practices in change management.
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 researching customer satisfaction. Our new services leader, Gabby Wong, is a thought leader in customer success and app software.
1851: How were you able to scale?
Fountain: You have to have the right people 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 in the last two years, and we’ve also invested a lot in our infrastructure and processes. We are using tools to serve our customers better. We are improving our company culture. At every quarterly company meeting, our company knows our results and all have a stake in the economic success of FranConnect. All executives are compensated on our customer satisfaction score. This reward reinforces to us that we center our core values around the customer, and we try to live them.
1851: How do you keep thinking big?
Fountain: To keep thinking big, we have structured meetings off site with a good-to-great type of goal-focusing sessions to think about the future. The executive team gets together off site for an annual strategic meeting and to take a 4–5-year look into the future of our business. We ask ourselves questions centered around getting our company in the right place 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, our September 2016 meeting resulted in a 2020 strategy, and to come up with that, we had several off-site meetings where we discussed various paths we could take. We are always looking at how we can create value for our customers. Our products are better; they are not just cool or different. Our customers are spending money on our products to have better unit economics and more growth. This outcome helps us focus on 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 a 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 online, but it didn’t always service multiple tenants as a SaaS product. Now every time FranConnect Sky Field Ops is updated, every customer using the module gets the update. Previously, everyone had a slightly different version, although everything was still hosted in the cloud. Now that’s all we do.
1851: What kind of leader are you in the franchise space?
Fountain: I spent a lot of time studying the franchise market. I am an outside CEO, and I don’t sit behind spreadsheets. I bring all this business applications enterprise experience, and I have dealt with all kinds of companies. One initial criticism was that people said I don’t know franchising, which was true. However, this critique was presented to me, and I took it as a challenge. That’s why I stay outside the office a lot and meet with C-level executives with small and emerging brands. I am going to keep learning and focusing on the franchise industry. 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 that I could prove I knew and market to them. I’m now a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE), and I know how to read an FDD. It’s been a great ride, and 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.
FranConnect is a comprehensive SaaS solution that helps leading franchise brands sell more franchises, manage franchise operations, and build successful relationships with franchisees, including driving demand via local marketing solutions for franchise owners. The company is the industry leader in franchise management solutions, having served over 600 franchise brands and over 110,000 franchisees.
About Chris Fountain
Christopher Fountain has an extensive track record of leading and growing companies in the information technology industry, including security, compliance, infrastructure, and application software and services companies. He’s operated as a C-level executive for over 15 years. Mr. Fountain's experience includes raising capital, recruiting high-performance executive teams, completing successful mergers and acquisitions, serving on boards, and serving as a senior executive through a company’s IPO process. Mr. Fountain has run global operations for companies headquartered in the United States and the United Kingdom, where he lived in 2004 and 2005.
Throughout his career, Mr. Fountain has successfully grown shareholder value by maintaining a customer-centric, results-oriented culture that recognizes the critical role all employees play in a company’s success.
In addition to his work as an operating executive, Mr. Fountain serves as an adviser to early-stage companies and has served on multiple boards as an independent director.