Jon Ruby of Jonar tells us about delivering business solutions that help businesses work better.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jon Ruby: Relatively well. I’m grateful that all of us have come through this without getting sick. We have two young children, and it’s been hard on them, but we got a puppy early in the quarantine, and that was really helpful.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Jonar.
Jon Ruby: I’ve always thought of myself as something of an entrepreneurial mutt. I’ve worked in a whole series of industries, from finance to medical devices to software. I try my best to learn from my mistakes and constantly improve. I worked in different places all over the world, and 10 years ago, my father asked me to take over the ERP software company that he had founded 25 years earlier. I looked at what the business was and saw an opportunity to try to do something disruptive in a very stagnant space.
How does Jonar innovate?
Jon Ruby: Innovation isn’t about any one thing. Innovation requires a fiercely honest culture that is willing to ask questions in situations where the majority accept how things already are. Being willing to fail and allowing the team to feel safe enough to try entirely new approaches has to be built into the culture. Trying new things, learning from them, and then making them better is a constant cycle.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jon Ruby: Our product allows businesses access to tools that let them manage their operations from anywhere as it is delivered through the Cloud. So, in some ways, the pandemic is driving demand. On the other hand, a lot of planned projects were delayed or canceled due to the impact of the pandemic, so just as we were investing in growth, some of the bottom fell out of the market.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jon Ruby: Given that we grew the team in anticipation of growth that was delayed, the obvious choice would have been to reduce headcount and stop hiring. We almost did that, but given how much we value our team, we worked instead with some partners to come up with creative ideas for projects that allowed us to stay on track. We slowed down some of our raises in compensation in favor of protecting the team as a whole. I think that the fact that we were honest with the whole team contributed to their feelings of safety, which allowed us to stay together even if we were all working remotely. We also kept reminding ourselves that our team was made up of people, not resources. People were scared – they had lives and families that were disrupted. We tried to do everything we could to support our team members, more than just in a professional capacity. Work was one of the few social connections people had during the lockdown, so it was our duty to step into the breach and provide those connections as best we could.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jon Ruby: We use the Cloud-based Google suite extensively, Zoom, Slack, GitLab, and a whole host of tools, including our own ParagonERP. But the tools were secondary to learning the discipline of completely remote communication. Nuances we took for granted when working in person were lost. The energy that we got from collaboration with each other was reduced and changed. Scheduling carefully became far more important. Leadership at all levels was challenged to adapt to the new reality.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jon Ruby: In a broad sense, any business software is, in some way, a competitor. The way we see it, though, there is a massive, underserviced, and growing market of changing needs for a whole new breed of companies. There is a lot of room for healthy competition. We plan to stay in the game by continuing to focus on making comprehensive and easy-to-use tools for companies struggling to succeed and helping them by keeping the price of our products low.
Your final thoughts?
Jon Ruby: From the first days of the pandemic, I talked to a lot of peers in other organizations who were trying to predict when things would go back to “normal.” Our team realized early on that they never would. There is a new normal. While disruption can be stressful, even painful, it can be an opportunity for us to learn to be better. Our internal support system that evolved over the past year will not disappear when it is safe to go back to the office. The new product approaches that are based on empathy for customers facing obstacles will survive. Resilience is about acknowledging how hard things have been for so many, but instead of dwelling on the misery that we can’t change today, focus on being better for the future.
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