First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mike Juran: My family has been lucky so far. Everyone is healthy, and no one has had COVID yet. We are just now hearing about close friends and family who have or have recently had the virus. We’re hoping they heal quickly – and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that things turn for the better soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Altia.
Mike Juran: At heart, I am an engineer. I love the profession of engineering. I love to solve problems.
My career began as an EE in Computer Engineering at Bell Labs, where I designed microprocessors. After Bell Labs, I moved to the software at Hewlett Packard. Once I realized I understood hardware and software, I figured I might as well start a company. That’s when I co-founded Altia.
How does Altia innovate?
Mike Juran: We have two paths to innovation at Altia.
The first path is intentionally driven around business planning and product roadmap. The second path happens somewhat organically and randomly as our very smart and creative people come up with ideas. When they are passionate enough about these ideas to continue to pursue them, then – when appropriate – these ideas will sometimes make it into our business plan. Those other ideas don’t get thrown away. We like to keep those interesting ideas around to leak into our consciousness and potentially drive our long-term planning.
Great ideas are never tossed away; they’re just bookmarked for later. In almost all these ideas, there is a grain of value to what we’re doing in both the short and long term.
No great innovation is ever done in a vacuum. One of our team’s greatest strengths is how our engineers, product developers, designers and staff gain energy and momentum from simple brainstorming and dialogue. We purposefully schedule regular lunch and learns and bite-sized meetups to talk about topics of interest. These are often company-wide meetings, so we tend to keep them virtual so that our global team can participate. It’s during these meetings and the discussion sparked from them that start a real fire.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mike Juran: Surprisingly, the pandemic has helped us to hone our processes and communication technologies within the company. We have also gained even more respect and understanding for the value of time and attention. Obviously, not just for us but for companies like us, quarantine has created unexpected efficiencies for our employees – not spending time commuting or traveling (airports, traffic, parking cars), for example. We have been doing our best to take advantage of and optimizing that saved time so that we can be prepared for the downsides of what the pandemic might deliver as it continues.
Another important upside of the pandemic is that quarantine has allowed all of our global employees (who traditionally work in our centralized offices or remotely) an equal footing. This has really produced some inspiring results and relationships.
While many people lament the weakening of relationships during the pandemic, in many cases, ours have gotten stronger. The downside is that there is a lot less time for organic and random communication and connection with people. But we have seized the opportunity to be really intentional about making connections happen with our team — with virtual meetups, company-wide zoom calls and the like. During COVID, you don’t get the opportunity to run into someone from another department in the parking lot or at the coffee maker. Those random connections provide new ideas and perspectives. Now we work really hard to make those connections happen on purpose. Everyone is as busy as ever these days – so making these connections happen on purpose is a challenge. But we think it’s worthwhile.
That said, the pain and suffering that this pandemic has caused other people in our community who are not so lucky to be in a situation where they can thrive have brought our team together in philanthropic, charitable, community-related projects. Helping others in need has allowed us to replace a pre-COVID happy hour conversation with one where we’re collecting Thanksgiving baskets for our neighborhoods who are desperate for food. People from all walks of Altia have been rallying together to help our community…and that has been really rewarding.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mike Juran: One of the hardest things we’ve had to choose during this pandemic is to be really disciplined about not going into the office to meet under any circumstances. There is always a temptation to find excuses to get together in person; but we know that the right thing to do – in all cases – is to stay home. There is nothing is more important than the health and safety of our team, their families and the rest of the community.
Months before the pandemic, we finished building out a large, very cool, new office space. We signed a 7-year lease. Because of COVID-19, we know that there will be two years where we will not be able to use that office space. That’s hard! But, of course, no one could have predicted this. We would have done it all over again.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Mike Juran: The best relief for stress and anxiety for me has been getting outside. I really enjoy exercising – running, biking and hiking. During quarantine, I try to find as much time as possible enjoying outdoor activities.
How do you project yourself and Altia in the future?
Mike Juran: When the world heals from the pandemic, I think it’s very likely that fewer of our people will go back to the office full time. We have opened the door for those who want to or need to stay home to do so. For some of our team members, their life situations call for this. For others, their personalities are such that they’re just happier working from home. We are committed to ensuring our team can work where they are most comfortable and productive. If I had to guess, I think 50% will continue working from home, and 50% will go back to working in offices regularly.
Going forward, we will be much more judicious about travel – face-to-face meetings with customers and partners and others around the world. While those will still be very important and critical to our success, I think we’ve discovered through a quarantine that there are some efficiencies to be gained by thoroughly analyzing the value of in-person meetings and travel.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mike Juran: There are several companies like Altia. However, I would say that our biggest competitors are software organizations within our own customers’ companies who try to do what we do because, before us, there was no other solution. Altia stays in the game by being better, always innovating and providing really great value for the money. In doing so, we enable our customers to use their own valuable resources on something that is more germane to their core competencies – like making cars.
Your final thoughts?
Mike Juran: Of course, none of us chose this pandemic, but we can choose how to respond to it. This is the time to hit the reset button; to rebuild your baseline on who you are and what platform you can build from so that when the world is finally released from quarantine, we’re all better than what we would have been had the pandemic never happened.