Interview: Blue Jeans Network CCO Stu Aaron

Interview: Blue Jeans Network CCO Stu Aaron

Quick Bio

NAME: Stu Aaron
TITLE: Chief Commercial Officer
COMPANY: Blue Jeans Network
OVERTIME: Before Blue Jeans, Aaron was vice president of marketing and product management at Bloom Energy, a recognized leader in clean tech. Aaron was the architect behind Bloom’s blockbuster launch on “60 Minutes” in February 2010.

SCN: You’ve worked in the technology sector for more than 20 years. What initially attracted you to this industry?

Stu Aaron: I hate to date myself, but I entered the workforce before the web was the standard business tool it has become today. Back then we had libraries at work to get access to the reports and facts and figures we needed. Our phones and computers had wires that tethered us to our desks, and if we wanted to see a colleague, partner, or customer, we flew, drove, or walked there. I distinctly remember when the web started to take off in business. It was 1994 and this company called Netscape was generating a lot of buzz with its browser. I remember the discussions back then... Is the Web good for business? Do we need it? Will it kill productivity? What about bandwidth? What about security? Some companies embraced the shift and benefited from it dramatically. Others resisted but eventually had to embrace and catch up when their employees demanded it.

In the end no one could stop the movement to the web for business. It was inevitable because the benefits so significantly outweighed the downsides. Businesses found a way to adopt and everyone is better off today for it. This should sound familiar because the same discussions are happening today around video. Some companies are embracing and benefitting tremendously with cost savings and productivity improvements. Others enterprises are frantically blocking Skype, keeping their videoconferencing systems from dialing out, and resisting the adoption of iPads. But if history tells us anything, it’s that you can’t stop this movement. Projections for videoconferencing growth over the next few years are quite bullish, but I think they don’t fully capture the opportunity. Back in the ’90s, no one dreamed just how prolific the web would be 20 years later. It’s the same today with video collaboration. We’re just scratching the surface on use cases. This goes well beyond distance learning and telemedicine. Video will change business the same way the web did. We can’t stop it; all we can do is embrace it.

Blue Jeans’ new ad campaign highlights the disadvantages of traditional conference calling.SCN: You are very bullish on videoconferencing. Why do you think this is the moment that videoconferencing will go mainstream?

SA : There are several key factors that make this the right time and right place for a service like Blue Jeans. First of all, everyone’s business and social networks are getting more geographically dispersed, yet they want to remain in close contact with their colleagues and friends. Second, there is a growing aversion to travel. Whether it is for time savings, cost savings, carbon savings, or fear, people just don’t want to get on airplanes for business anymore. Third, we’re seeing a generation entering the workforce that has grown up in a collaborative, social, video-enabled world. I call them “Generation V.” Finally, we’re seeing the mass propagation of video-enabled devices. Every smartphone and tablet today is a possible videoconferencing endpoint. The appetite for video is there, all that’s been missing has been a service that could bring it all together, make it easy, and make it affordable. That’s the beauty of Blue Jeans.

SCN: Why are you called Blue Jeans Network?

SA : It comes from our mission to make videoconferencing comfortable, casual, flexible, and easy… just like your favorite pair of jeans. We liked the fact that Blue Jeans are versatile, hard-working, functional, and commonplace—something you can’t imagine living without. It’s the same experience we create for your meetings. We like to say that Blue Jeans is the fabric that ties together all your videoconferencing needs. Also, in a space crowded with people who have tried to creatively work “vid” into their name, we love having a name that is unique and memorable.

SCN: What is Blue Jeans network doing that hasn’t been done before?

SA : The hallmark of our success has been our unparalleled interoperability. We are the only people in the world today that can bring into a single video meeting participants on H.323, SIP, and telepresence room systems, along with users on Skype, Google, Microsoft Lync, or web browsers and phone callers. This unmatched flexibility and our “meet me” model makes videoconferencing for the first time as easy as audio conferencing. And that’s our mission, to convert every audio conference into a videoconference by making it as easy, open, and affordable. And we do it all in the cloud so you have no infrastructure to buy or software to download.

SCN: As the CCO of Blue Jeans, what are you doing to increase awareness about your offerings?

SA : Up till now we’ve primarily relied on word of mouth and the natural viral aspects of our product to grow our customer base. That’s served us pretty well. We recently closed a $25 million round of funding and we intend to use part of this to help us build awareness further.

For instance, we’ve begun doing some advertising. We just put up our first billboards in San Francisco, CA and Dallas, TX. These billboards are part of a new integrated marketing campaign we are rolling out to let the world know about Blue Jeans. It’s designed to highlight that what happens on audio, doesn’t happen on video. That means that the temptations, distractions, and lack of visual interaction too often drain the effectiveness of audio-only meetings. Audio fails to deliver the same effectiveness as real-time, face-toface engagement.

Businesses need better communication systems that support a distributed workforce, help eliminate wasted time, improve the effectiveness of meetings, and aid relationship building. The campaign is a little edgy, and we may offend some eyes and ears, but the On Mute campaign pokes fun at these widely agreed-upon assumptions and challenges—all in good fun. There are some funny videos and a voicemail that accompany the campaign too.

SCN: How do you expect videoconferencing to evolve in the near future?

SA : I think we’re going to see lots of new and interesting use cases that reach beyond that traditional distance learning and telemedicine apps. When you combine the ease, interoperability, and affordability of solutions like Blue Jeans with the reach of videoenabled mobile devices, there’s lots of potential. We’re already seeing it start with new and interesting use cases, from casting calls, to fashion shows, to cooking classes, to field service, to first responders. It’s only just beginning. At one time, using a cell phone was a novelty; now it is simply taken for granted. With an ever-increasing number of devices, which are video camera enabled, we anticipate a similar path for videoconferencing.

Chuck Ansbacher is the managing editor of SCN.